Monday, April 30, 2012 

Film review: Straightheads.

(Major, major spoilers ahead. But seeing as the film came out five years ago and it's terrible and no one should see it I don't think it's going to matter.)

Or, as it should be known, Danny Dyer's Straw Dogs. Would anyone ever want to see Straw Dogs, as remade with Danny Dyer? No, thought not. So they called it Straightheads instead, which is a nonsensical, meaningless title. Is it implying that the two leads are otherwise completely straight, and that the crime that befalls them and leads to their response is the only extraordinary thing that happens? Frankly, who knows. The film itself certainly doesn't clear anything up, in every sense.

Made according to the IMDB for around £1.8 million, and you have to suspect the vast majority of that went on pay, Straightheads is another of those awful films which the UK Film Council saw the script for and somehow decided was worth funding. It must also rank as the worst decision of Gillian Anderson's career, as she is horribly miscast as the City worker Alice. Danny Dyer is Adam, a working class CCTV installer, hired by Alice.

From the very beginning the problems are glaring. Alice comes home to find Adam asleep on her patio, which with most people wouldn't go down well. Rather than getting him to show her the basics of the system he's installed and then shoving him out the door as soon as possible, she instead decides to take an immediate shower. Quite why she's having the system installed in the first place is unclear; as usual in films, the house/apartment/whatever is all but immaculate, she doesn't have children, and there doesn't seem to be anything obvious worth stealing. It does though provide Adam with the opportunity to spy on this gorgeous older woman getting undressed, and the implication is that Alice doesn't mind, or if she does, the fact that he's installed this voyeurism device has slipped her mind within seconds. Indeed, she doesn't seem to decide what to do next until she's in the shower.

Suitably refreshed, she returns while Adam is still replaying the images of her getting semi-naked. It's really difficult to get beyond the idea that the only reason the film exists is because it features Gillian Anderson, aka Agent Scully aka a 90s schoolboy's wet dream in a couple of scenes of partial nudity. It's also clearly playing on Anderson's mind or she was getting second thoughts as her performance is all over the place. Anderson has said in the past that she's one of those people whose accent adjusts according to where she is, hence why in The X-Files she sounds American while back here she speaks with a distinctly English twang. This makes her voice in Straightheads all the odder: it doesn't sound how she normally does anywhere; it's as though she's trying to sound slightly sultry and yet instead it just comes out as slightly head girl of a public school.

Equally, we don't get any insight whatsoever into how or why Alice might find Adam attractive. Inviting him along to a work party, although we first have to go through a car scene which involves them getting lost in the country, Alice mentioning that she grew up near where they are, which is important for later, and her getting out to urinate for no reason whatsoever (it's also worth noting that Alice appears to have a large skull tattoo on her inner right arm which you never get to see properly, suggesting that it was an allusion to how she's not this completely straightlaced City worker which they later thought better of), the only slight nod to how this might not be Alice's first younger man is that her boss finds Adam's age (23) to be fitfully amusing. Any wider comment on the mismatch between the two both in terms of class and age is quickly dispensed with for a sex scene, conducted on the very edge of the woods near to the house.

The coitus out of the way, the rape revenge must duly begin. It starts in time honoured fashion, as an ageing Land Rover driving slowly along a country road blocks their process home. Rather than just simply overtaking, they have to tail-gate, drive alongside and let the horn off, before Adam declares them to be onanists as they finally go by. Can anyone guess what happens next? Yes, they of course run straight into a stag. They can't just leave it in the middle of the road though, they have to drag it to the side and Adam, being this tough geezer, simply must adminster the coup de grace. At which point our friends in the Land Rover pull up, adminster a brutal beating to Adam, and then despite her attempts to escape, hold down and rape Alice.

If you thought the acting had been bad prior to this point, then here's where it really enters a whole new realm of awful. As well as blinding him in one eye, the attack also leaves Adam impotent, to the point where he can't even manage to get it up to squeeze one out to his first sight of Alice getting undressed. For some reason he decides to masturbate in front of a mirror, although happily we don't get to see Dyer's member, just his face as he tries desperately to show his sexual frustration and instead just scrunches it up. Just as he fails to spark, so the chemistry between Alice and Adam, as little as there was at first completely dissipates. Why are they still together? Didn't perhaps the whole unpleasant incident suggest their affair wasn't the best idea? Obviously not.

As this is a rape revenge/vigilante film, there has to be an explanation as to why they haven't gone to the police. It turns out that they have, although as Alice explains to her boss, it's "only" a GBH and so they don't seem interested. While in similar films the police are ignored or insulted as being too politically correct, generally useless or corrupt themselves, here it might well have helped if SHE'D REPORTED SHE HAD BEEN RAPED AS WELL. If you're going to do this sort of film, either keep the police out of it altogether (as in I Spit on Your Grave, which is the Citizen Kane of rape/revenge compared to this despite its numerous flaws), or make it clear they're not going to do anything for such and such a reason, not that won't because they didn't tell the police everything that happened.

In the most extraordinary of coincidences, her old man chose her time off to recover to kick the bucket, and apparently uncontactable, the funeral has already took place. She travels out to his house, which as we've established is near to where the party was, only on her way back to almost drive straight into a pack of horse-riders. One angrily berates her, and what do you know, she recognises his voice! Quick as flash, she asks the last rider what his name was, apologising, and so the revenge is set creaking into motion.

Amazingly, it gets even more nonsensical. Turns out that Alice's dad was a soldier, that he taught her to shoot as a girl, and he just happens to have left a sniper rifle behind. He believed in getting even, and so it seems does Alice. Dyer, despite being the atypical wideboy who subsequently was to suggest in a Zoo column that a jilted boyfriend should disfigure his former lover as a way of getting over the end of the relationship (he was misquoted, he says), isn't so sure, although Dyer is so unconvincing, even as he clears a table in the theatrical way which signifies his angst, that you just know that the roles are subsequently going to be reversed.

Before we get to the denouement, there has to be another character placed in the plot to make the entire enterprise seem slightly more complicated than it actually is. After disposing of the dog of one of the rapists with the rifle, the body of which Adam drags away without leaving behind a tell-tale trail of blood, we discover that he has a teenage daughter (Sophie) as she comes out the house calling for it. Their revenge plan still goes ahead however, which has to involve Adam installing an apparently unnoticeable security camera system in the house. All the while he's doing this Sophie must have been in her room and didn't hear him, as once the rapists return just as he's finished he hides in there. As the other two men also apparently have eyes for her, she is just about convinced not to scream as Adam comes in and places his hand over her mouth. For some reason though this seems to have excited Adam sufficiently for him to attempt to force himself on her, in what must be one of those most ill-advised and ill-thought through scenes in such a film. If this is meant to make his character more ambiguous, or to underline the effect the assault had on him, then it achieves neither; it just makes you dislike him even more intensely.

Next morning, Adam having escaped in the same way as Sophie did from his clutches, Alice hears (Adam must have put microphones in as well) the sound of a car engine going constantly on the feed. Determined that she won't be denied her revenge by a suicide, she charges to the house and pulls him out. Apparently not recognising her as he struggles to breathe, he thanks her for saving him from a mistake and begins to explain why he was trying to kill himself. Turns out that on the night of the rape they too had been driving home from a party, only for them to spot his daughter out at 4 in the morning too, walking by the side of the road. Knowing that his friends would try to force themselves onto her if they all drove home, he created a "diversion" with Alice and Adam. While the other two were kicking seven bells out of him, he got Sophie out of the Land Rover. Having not had enough unpleasant sexual assaults so far in the film, we then return again to the rape of Alice, entirely gratuitously.

All that remains to be said is that the revenge which follows, such as it is, is completely unsatisfying. A rifle and an anus is involved, Alice doesn't want to shoot as well as thrust to Adam's dismay as she doesn't explain that she was raped in part to save his daughter from that exact fate, Adam then literally decides upon an eye for an eye, the two others turn up and are swiftly despatched and that's that. The film minus credits lasts exactly 72 minutes, and those 72 minutes are some of the least rewarding, worst acted and most misguided you're likely to see for quite some time. It says something about a film when by far the best scene is left on the cutting room floor, as the deleted scenes prove: one of the rapists, played by Ralph Brown in the only decent performance in the film, dances in the living room with Sophie's father. It shows the chilling power he has over the others and hints at how with better writing, proper direction and different actors in the two main parts the film could have been a competent, low-budget British film, nasty certainly but worthwhile. Instead it's a blot on Gillian Anderson's resume and Danny Dyer can boast that he simulated intercourse with 1996's Sexiest Woman in the World.

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Friday, April 27, 2012 

The Iceman.


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Thursday, April 26, 2012 

One rogue newspaper.

For years we had the one rogue reporter defence. Now, courtesy of Rupert Murdoch's second session at Leveson, we've been given the one rogue newspaper defence.

You see,
Keith never really liked the News of the World. It was only the first newspaper he bought in Britain, the one which essentially kick-started his global ambitions. He didn't have much contact with the editor, not even phoning them up every week. His real love, the Sun, he lavished with attention. If you want to know what he thinks, read its editorials. Secretly, he'd wanted to shut the Screws down and bring the Sun out seven days a week, something he has now done. Funny that.

As any number of ex-Screws staff have now said, this account is utter bollocks. Yes, it's true that Murdoch didn't pay as much attention to the Screws as he did the Sun, but the idea that he didn't phone the editor every week (something Piers Morgan for one disputes) or that he was somehow embarrassed by the Screws is nonsense. Why would he otherwise have picked Screws stories in his witness statement (PDF) as evidence of journalism by his papers in the public interest?

It's hardly surprising then that he knew absolutely nothing about what was going on at the paper. Or indeed, that he didn't pay attention to little matters like the Max Mosley privacy case. He didn't know about the Gordon Taylor settlement. Or basically, any of the allegations against the paper until it was too late. When the Milly Dowler hacking story finally blew everything apart, he panicked. Nevertheless, shutting the Screws down was the right decision.

Some of this, it should be stressed, is believable. During 2008 he was focused on taking over the Wall Street Journal. He probably doesn't read the full rulings against his papers, or at least until he has to prior to the grilling he's received over the last two days. The idea though that absolutely everything passed him by is laughable. It seems that neither James or dear Rebekah ever mentioned the troubles the Screws was having thanks to the continued digging of Nick Davies. If we were to believe every word of Rupert's evidence, both this time and last, then he had apparently never heard of Neville Thurlbeck, one of the chief reporters on the Screws for the best part of 20 years. At least James admitted that he didn't really read the tabloids he was in charge of, although you can't imagine that was because they were too vulgar for him.

There was then a cover-up. Naturally though, this didn't involve any of Rupert's nearest and dearest. Both James 'n' Rebekah were kept completely out of the loop. Why, despite Colin Myler being brought in as the new broom after the resignation of Andy Coulson, it seems that he and the rest of the staff just wanted to forget about all the unpleasantness involving Clive Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire. Those who under Coulson had been co-operating with the industrial scale phone hacking had of course wanted the air to be cleared, for all of this to come out, for executives at the paper to know what had been going, but they were stopped in their tracks by the dastardly Tom Crone, the lawyer and drinker extraordinare! Except of course Rupert couldn't come out and say his name and accuse him outright; he just ensured that his description of the man couldn't be mistaken for anyone else. As Crone later said, it just happens to be a coincidence that the two main people Murdoch principally blamed also happen to be the ones disputing the evidence given by his son.

In any case, the idea that James and Rebekah were out of the loop and misled is absurd. Back in 2009 when the Guardian exposed the settlement with Gordon Taylor, either could have said if they had indeed been unaware of the scale of what went on that they wanted no stone left unturned. Instead Brooks issued that infamous letter claiming that the Guardian "has substantially and likely deliberately misled the British public". It took until the end of 2010 before News Corporation finally realised the story wasn't going to go away and set up the Management and Standards Committee to look fully into what had gone on at both the Screws and the Sun. Rupert himself briefly forgot everything that had been drummed into him and went for the jugular when Robert Jay implied that the overall desire of executives had to been to "cover up, not to expose", to which he responded, quick as a flash with "[W]ell, people with minds like yours perhaps [might think that]".

For the last two days have been a performance, and an incredibly good one at that. Murdoch didn't set out to destroy this government, as some of us both thought and hoped that he would, but he did ensure that everyone he loathes and wants to settle a score with got what he thinks they deserve. The Guardian was pretty much left alone while the Telegraph, the Times's main rival, was repeatedly pasted. Everyone he thinks has either failed or turned on him received at best a slight and at worst a smear. Anything that might make him look as though he was really in the wrong he'd forgotten about, while all the stories ex-staff and others had written were just nonsense. He admitted he'd made mistakes, but only slight ones. He regretted he hadn't acted sooner, but what he'd always wanted to happen now has done. It would be a blot on his reputation for the rest of his life, but he can clearly live with that. What endures is the myth, unaltered by this appearance and if anything enhanced by it, that he's untouchable, even infallible. Thankfully, there's still plenty of time for that particular spell to be broken.

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Wednesday, April 25, 2012 

The call of the Hunt.

Well, I think it's fair to say that was just ever so slightly disappointing.

After yesterday's fireworks with James, and I can't help picturing advisers and politicians running around Thick of It style while he was giving evidence about the Fred Michel emails, the hope was for more of the same from Keith himself. Instead, what we got was much the same performance he gave to the media committee, albeit without the crap about how this was the most humble day of his life. There were the long pregnant pauses, the occasional thump of the table, and also the same failures of memory. He couldn't for instance remember that David Cameron back into 2008 had interrupted his summer holiday to pay a visit to the mogul on one of his yachts, although thankfully Wendi Deng, not called upon this time to swat a twat with a pie, did recall the happy event and jogged his memory.

Likewise, he'd also forgotten completely about meeting with Mrs Thatcher back in 1981, right at the point at which he was jockeying to take over the Times and Sunday Times. Strangely though, despite being unable to recall what was discussed at this personal tete-a-tete with the prime minister, Murdoch is absolutely certain that Woodrow Wyatt was wrong to claim in his diaries that he had asked Thatcher to "bend the rules" on his behalf. Harold Evans, who Murdoch went on to claim had begged him to tell him how to edit the paper, relates how this meeting with Thatcher, details of which were only released earlier this year, is inexplicably not part of the official history of the Times. Any suggestion that the takeover would otherwise have been referred to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission, as it should have been, had this meeting not happened is quite obviously untrue.

That sort of thing just isn't Rupert's style. Moreover, with the possible exception of the above, when The Sun had not yet quite become the behemoth it was to be during the 80s, he hasn't needed to directly ask. As Paul Keating has said, and as Robert Jay threw at Keith, you don't make deals, or at least not in so many words; you have understandings that are in place until they are no longer to his benefit. Wyatt understood this as Murdoch made his "deal" with Tony Blair; it didn't matter that the Conservatives had cleared the path for him to build his empire, the political wind had changed. As long as Blair was amenable to his business interests, and he was, then he would switch his paper's support. It's true, as John Rentoul has said, that Murdoch didn't get everything his own way: he was blocked from buying Manchester United, and having come to a similar "understanding" over there being a referendum on the European constitution, Blair subsequently went back on it. The point was that as Alastair Campbell has said repeatedly, almost anything was worth it if the end result was that the Sun front page on the morning of the general election didn't have the Labour leader's head in a lightbulb on it.

Murdoch's power became such that the politicians had to go to him, not the other way around, hence the grating shtick from before that he wished they'd leave him alone. Blair flew round the world, Cameron went to his yacht, but once in power it just became too embarrassing for all concerned. Spin doctors had to tell BBC journos not to film Blair hugging and kissing Rebekah Brooks, Murdoch had to go in the back door of Number 10, Jeremy Hunt had to hide behind a tree. If you were to believe Keith, then all this nonsense about him controlling politicians through his newspapers is a myth created by the Guardian and Independent. Any suggestion from past editors and employees, like Andrew Neil or Martin Dunn to the contrary just doesn't stand up to scrutiny.

Only occasionally did he spout the most easily disprovable nonsense, as the new quote now residing at the top of this blog demonstrates. Really, Rupert? You've never once promoted Sky in the Sun, or torn shreds off the BBC in its pages? Are you sure you don't need a bit of a rest before you continue?

While he will indeed continue tomorrow, something even more hilarious was happening over in the Commons. Jeremy Hunt not only had the gall to stand up and give a statement on why he should still be a minister, he told the House that his special adviser Adam Smith had "unintentionally" gone too far in leaking and passing various incredibly helpful bits of information about what was happening with the BSkyB bid to Frederic Michel. Despite Hunt last night claiming that he had done nothing wrong, with the likes of Jacob Rees-Mogg on Newsnight more or less saying that Michel was a Walter Mitty figure, the following morning Smith had to be the sacrificial lamb. Dennis Skinner's bluntness doesn't always score points, but he was dead right in his observation that when "posh boys are in trouble, they sack their servants".

Hunt of course had absolutely no idea what his SpAd had been up to. What's more, his following of all the due process, consulting Ofcom when he could have just waved the bid through proved that his decision had indeed been "quasi-judicial". It didn't matter that in the emails his apparent stalling was explained as "[Hunt] very specifically said he was keen to get to the same outcome and wanted JRM to understand he needs to build some political cover", his behaviour had been of the very cleanest calibre. Michel was just doing what all lobbyists do, which is exaggerate their influence and try and pass themselves off as being just as powerful as those making the actual decision. That Michel was passed information before it was released to the markets that was identical to that subsequently released, or that he was informed of questions that were going to be asked in parliament before it happened was just over-eagerness on Smith's part. It also doesn't matter that the ministerial code is crystal clear on how ministers are responsible for the actions of their SpAds. The only person who can judge Hunt is Lord Leveson himself.

The absurdity of Vince Cable being removed from his role in deciding on the BSkyB bid for "blatant bias" on the back of one boastful comment while Jeremy Hunt stays in his job despite his collusion with News Corp being documented in black and white can only be explained by how if Hunt goes, it's another of Cameron's human shields that's bit the dust. While Gordon Brown was allegedly "declaring war" on News International, Cameron was setting out on how he wouldn't just respect Murdoch's business interests, he'd actively help them. He kept his side of the bargain, right up until he was forced into ordering the Leveson inquiry by a scandal that News International imagined they could bury. Murdoch's vengeance for that is not yet complete.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2012 

Hell hath no fury.

And so the vengeance of the Murdochs begins. For those who, like me, imagined that the Leveson session with Murdoch junior would just be a re-hash of his repeated denials that he was ever told anything about any aspect of his job as executive chairman of News International, then I think it's fair to say that we've pleasantly surprised.

First though, the stuff we've already gone over umpteen times. The early stages were dominated by James's insistence that everyone had misinterpreted, misunderstood and misreported the emails (page 27 of his witness statement (PDF)) that looked as though they drop him in it, even though he hadn't read them at the time. You see, the contemporaneous note written by Julian Pike of Farrar & Co wasn't detailing a conversation that Colin Myler had with James at all; it was in fact what Myler had said and Pike was simply noting that Myler had met with Murdoch junior!


Documented in his witness statement is just how unquestioning he was of the reason for having to pay Gordon Taylor £350,000 in damages; he was "content" with what he says Myler and Tom Crone told him, and it was "appropriate" for him to rely on them to deal with it. They didn't tell him that this case didn't involve Clive Goodman, and he didn't ask; he didn't see the "for Neville" email, despite both Myler and Crone saying that they showed him it; he says Crone and Myler were "very keen" to settle yet he didn't inquire any deeper about why they were so desperate beyond the bare minimum that he says they told him. As much as you believe that James couldn't care less about t
he newspapers he was also supposedly in charge of, this hands-off, completely incurious approach just doesn't ring true. Regardless of the company you're running, when underlings come to you and says you've got to settle a legal action for a total sum of just less than a million including costs, the idea that you don't inquire, that you don't ask questions, that you don't read the whole of emails is just completely unbelievable.

Asked by Robert Jay whether he was in effect complicit or incompetent
, he responded that he had been given "repeated assurances" that hacking was in the past and that he only had enough information to settle the Taylor case. Which, as far as it goes, was pretty much admitting to the latter.

Except, as the rest of Murdoch's evidence showed, he simply can't be described as incompetent. For the most part his dropping of Jeremy Hunt into the mire was pitch perfect; it was only when expertly asked by Jay what he thought of Hunt's department's help with the bid for full control of BSkyB that he allowed himself a revealing laugh.

This then is the start of the new Murdoch offensive. Having realised that in the short-term there is no way they'll be able to take full control of Sky, the family and all it controls has decided to take the entire political class down, or at least attempt to. There wasn't just the 163 pages of emails between Frédéric Michel and James Murdoch showcasing the contact between News Corp and Jeremy Hunt's team, making a mockery of the idea that he was in any way operating, as he told the Commons and as Gus O'Donnell ruled, in the "quasi-judicial" manner required of him, there was the revelation that James had personally made his case for the deal going through to David Cameron just three days after Vince Cable had been removed from his role. Add in how Alex Salmond had also apparently said he would be lobbying Hunt to let the Sky deal through, in effective exchange for the continuing positive coverage he was receiving in the Scottish Sun, and the ruling parties north and south of the border are both having their below-the-counter dealings exposed.

Just how much the takeover of BSkyB by News Corp would have changed the game is shown by the name chosen for the project: Rubicon. Had it been crossed, News Corp's domination of the British media would have been complete. As Nick Davies writes, the Murdochs thought they had it all sown up. The Sun's decision to endorse the Conservatives was taken jointly by James, Rebekah Brooks and you suspect with rather less input from Dominic Mohan and Tom Newton Dunn. This was intimated to David Cameron weeks before the paper itself let its readers and the world know. For his part, Cameron had already made clear that if elected he would cut back Ofcom and do the same to the BBC, the pet hates of a certain James Murdoch as made clear in his MacTaggart lecture. Cameron may not have abolished Ofcom as he said would, but he has cut it back, while the licence fee has been frozen. The only problem that remained was that Vince Cable was in charge of the decision over the takeover, and he was minded to send it to the Competition Commission, at the very least delaying it for months. Then the Telegraph had the wizard idea of sending undercover journalists to MP's constituency surgeries, and the Tories had their excuse for handing the decision over to "cheerleader" Hunt.

Rupert Murdoch may well have never warmed to Cameron, but he was increasingly leaving the decisions to James, or being persuaded to give the Conservatives a try by the ever clubbable, networking Rebekah Brooks. Keith has always been an arrogant hypocrite, yet he wouldn't have got where he was if he wasn't a supreme manipulator, and he always has something extra subtle left in reserve if he needs it. He would never have barged into the offices of the Independent and ranted at Simon Kelner for running an incredibly benign advertising campaign stating that he wouldn't be the one deciding the result of the election. That was the absolute height of News International's chutzpah, believing that they were untouchable to the point of rubbing their opponents faces in it. James today said he and Brooks went on their adventure because he was enraged at how Kelner had done it despite receiving "of my family's hospitality for a number of years", something that you can only characterise as resembling the mafia's attitude towards respect and slight.

Tomorrow sees the real Godfather giving evidence, and David Cameron must surely be having a sleepless night.

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Monday, April 23, 2012 

I'm the Prince of Wales, and if all else fails...

It's Monday, it's late April 2012, the coalition's second Queen's speech is fast approaching and I'm freezing my nads off, so it must be time for another attempt at reforming the House of Lords. Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, reforming the second chamber of parliament was a simple matter of principle, about how even if we must have a hereditary figurehead, it's bordering on the obscene that our laws are still influenced and changed by the unelected chosen through patronage, those there purely because they quite like God, and those allowed in because 5000 years ago their great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather (some actions have been shortened) was a good mate of King Ethelred.

One of the reasons this is no longer the case is that despite all of the above, the Lords has of late done a remarkable job in the circumstances. True, it rarely manages to block bad acts of parliament entirely, although it did in the case of Gordon Brown's attempt to ram 42 days without charge for "terrorist suspects" into law, but as a revising second chamber it stands in the way of governments of all hues putting truly wretched, ill-thought through and downright abominable legislation onto the statute book. Without wanting to sound like a pompous Tory, we really ought to be sure that the reforms we're proposing are for the better and not just going to result in a mirror image of the Commons.

The other key reason is that reforming the Lords gives innumerable opportunities for the main three political parties to do each other over. Having failed to bring in even the alternative vote for the Commons, the Liberal Democrats see Lords reform as something to fall back on, a legacy their voters can genuinely be proud of. Labour, by contrast, sees it as another way to cause the Lib Dems trouble; why else would the party be demanding a referendum, knowing full well this is also exactly what the Tory backbenchers opposed to both reform and the Liberal Democrats getting their way in any form in the coalition are also asking for? Having previously tried to "wrongfoot" David Cameron in the dying days of the third term, Labour has form in this regard. Cameron himself meanwhile, having previously regarded Lords reform as a "third-term issue", is perfectly happy with not ruling out a referendum entirely as the last thing he needs to do is antagonise his backbenchers further.

In keeping with the old traditions then, the slightly altered plans for reform produced by the joint committee are as much of a dog's breakfast as ever. They too agree that the chamber should be 80% elected/20% appointed, a compromise that reminds of Nick Clegg's characterisation of the alternative vote. They too said that those elected should serve terms of 15 years, which is a ridiculously long time, and that they should only be able to serve once, which makes holding those elected to account rather difficult. They only demure from the template drawn up by the coalition in that the chamber should be slightly bigger than they envisaged, with a total of 450 members, which seems more sensible than a bare 300. This means that peers (or senators, or whatever they'll eventually be known as) would be elected under the single transferable vote, meaning that the process for the second chamber will be fairer and more proportional than that for the Commons.

Which does rather suggest that, 20% appointed or not, the supposed revising chamber will have more of a democratic mandate than the Commons currently does. Just as it is absurd that the Lords currently has more members than the Commons, it seems farcical that this could be the constitutional position in just a couple of years time. Except, of course, that just as before there seems to be no chance whatsoever of MPs being able to agree on the subject. Is it any wonder then that so many hold Westminster in such utter contempt?

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Saturday, April 21, 2012 

Northern soul.


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Friday, April 20, 2012 

This person is trolling you.

It's quite something when a piece for CiF opens with a sentence this obtuse and then goes downhill from there:

When I broke the neck of my sick cat and then made a handbag of her skin, I honestly had no idea of what I had got myself into.

236 comments and counting.

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Thursday, April 19, 2012 

From bean to cup, they fuck up.

Omnishambles. The more time that goes by, the more I'm convinced that The Thick of It is the best comedy of 00s; yes, Peep Show is superb and the first series at least of Nighty Night is great, but neither compare with the sheer majesty of Peter Capaldi as Malcolm Tucker and the virtuosity of the writing. The great irony is that even as the language of the show is apparently being used in Number 10 to describe the budget fiasco of their own making, the show itself didn't manage to come up with something as farcical as the latest twist in the Abu Qatada saga.

In truth, the last minute appeal by Qatada's canny lawyers to the European Court of Human Rights's grand chamber shouldn't really make any difference. It was going to take months if not another year or more for his deportation to take place as he would have almost certainly appealed to the ECHR again anyway. Theresa May in her statement to the Commons on Tuesday said as much; those briefing the media however said that the hope was to deport him by the end of this month, something that was never going to happen. If rather than appearing completely triumphalist on Tuesday she had instead made clear that this was simply the next stage but that the end was in sight, the whole thing would not have blown up in her face as completely as it has.

As Carl Gardner writes, it's not immediately clear who's right on whether the deadline for an appeal was the Monday or the Tuesday, although it looks more likely at this moment that it's the court and not the government. Assuming that it is the court, the cock-up would still have been the equivalent of a semi-on if May and the briefers had not gone so to town on how this meant Qatada was as good as on a plane being manhandled by the finest from G4S. Instead it just feeds wholly into the narrative of how this government currently can't do anything right, that like Nicola Murray, from bean to cup, they fuck up.

Or at least this appeared to be the case. According to Justice Mitting's SIAC ruling (PDF) revoking Qatada's bail, if the ECHR's rule 39 injunction against deportation had been lifted as neither side appealed, then the process could have been a relative formality. May could have "short-circuited" the process by declaring an attempt by Qatada to quash the original deportation order as clearly unfounded, leaving his only avenues of appeal the Divisional Court and then the Court of Appeal, without the process having to start all over again at SIAC. Any further appeal to the ECHR would then apparently have to be conducted from Jordan. While it's still dubious this could have all been accomplished in 10 days, Qatada may well have been gone within "a few short weeks" rather than months.

If accurate, and again this isn't certain, then it really has been a colossal balls-up. The grand chamber might well rule that Qatada's appeal was out of time, or alternatively dismiss it as there is no danger that he personally will be tortured in Jordan, as the court ruled. This though will take at least at least a couple of months, or potentially if it does decide to hear it much longer. In the meantime, Mitting may well decide that while the process rumbles along Qatada can be safely bailed again. Having all but waved him goodbye, Qatada is left once again having the last laugh, or at least smirk. May, meanwhile, is looking like this.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2012 

"Give them the respect they deserve."

There really doesn't seem to be any great need to make lengthy comment on the trial of Anders Breivik. One of the great myths that crime writers and films have promoted is that serial killers are interesting, when the reality is that the vast majority of them are not. They tend to lead boring lives and have banal thoughts precisely because if they didn't they'd be caught much sooner: look at Dennis Nilsen, one of the most dull of his breed, who may well have escaped justice if he hadn't run out of places to store the bodies of his victims. There is the odd exception, like a Ted Bundy (and he's more intriguing than interesting), but they are very few and far between.

In these stakes Breivik could well be the dismal of them all. Anyone who writes a 1,800 page "manifesto" (if you can call an unreadable document largely made up of newspaper articles and blog posts quoted verbatim, as researched on Wikipedia a manifesto) as a justification for mass murder is instantly trying far too hard. At least the Unabomber had something vaguely original to say, even if it was nonsensical; with Breivik it's just the views of dozens of other like-minded individuals reproduced parrot fashion. Yes, we quickly realised that you're not much of a fan of multiculturalism, and that you blame cultural Marxists for its spread. What we're really interested in is why you decided you had to act, when all those other blowhards just continue to fulminate online at the how the West is committing cultural suicide.

An answer to which we simply aren't going to get. What we will get, as the week has so far shown, are those other traits associated with serial killers: sick-inducing narcissism, as when he claimed his actions were "the most sophisticated and spectacular political attack committed in Europe since the second world war"; the most pathetic self-pity, as when he cried upon viewing his own propaganda; and impenetrable delusions, like his insistence that his ridiculous Knights Templar organisation exists, and that it tried to "distance oneself sufficiently from national socialism because it was quite blood-stained". Just ever so slightly rich when his manifesto imagined a Europe-wide civil war where those he considered to be truly traitorous would be executed.

As much as the trial was supposedly meant to provide some sort of explanation to the Norwegian people, all Breivik has done so far is repeat his deeply unimpressive thoughts as released on the day. Writing last year, Simon Baron-Cohen stated that even if Breivik was a psychopath, that didn't begin to provide a reason for how his lack of affective empathy had led him to launch his lone act of terrorism. If the true point of the hearing is to establish whether Breivik is mentally ill or not, then there seems little reason for allowing him to turn the trial into a platform for spreading his own personal ideology when that can be achieved just as well behind closed doors. Indeed, the only reason for allowing him to attempt to justify his actions when other defendants would swiftly be silenced for being in contempt of court is that only the most maladjusted could possibly find anything admirable in his meanderings. Unfortunately, those are often the quiet, boring individuals that we still know so relatively little about.

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100 days to go...

and across the country channels are changed, entire newspaper sections go unread and holiday bookings fly in. The anticipation is truly unbearable.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2012 

Abu Qatata, finally?

Credit where credit is due then: the government could have taken the advice of the head bangers on the Tory backbenchers (and head banger is the only way you can possibly describe Peter Bone, whose surname seems to be lacking something) or followed the wonderful example set (allegedly) by the French and Italians, and just stuck your friend and mine Abu Qatada on a plane to Jordan (the country, not the model, although they could perhaps be the ultimate odd couple in a sitcom: she's had more surgery than Michael Jackson and Joan Rivers combined; he's never had a shave).

Instead, if we're to believe Theresa May, our need to deport an unwanted extremist has struck a blow for human rights in general in the country. In practice, this doesn't look quite so clear cut. The European Court of Human Rights ruled Qatada couldn't be deported in the main because the evidence of his co-defendants, which would make up the majority of the case against him, was obtained as a result of torture. May states that as they have since been pardoned, and that whatever they say will no effect upon those pardons, "we can therefore have confidence that they would give truthful testimony". This is dubious in the extreme. Their pardons might not be affected, but this hardly means that an authoritarian state can't put pressure on them in other ways.

May also seems to contradict herself. She said in her statement that Qatada will be able to challenge the original statements made against him, then states "[I]ndeed, one of the more significant recent developments is the change to the Jordanian constitution last autumn that includes an explicit ban on the use of torture evidence". Presumably if there's an explicit ban on the use of torture evidence then Qatada won't need to challenge the original statements as they won't be admissible? And in any case, there are plenty of vile regimes that in their constitutions have explicit restrictions on certain practices that they nonetheless indulge in. As nit-picking as this might look, these are exactly the sort of doubts that should Qatada appeal again to the ECHR will have to be addressed and answered.

On the whole though it's difficult not to applaud. As there seems to be no chance whatsoever that the government will reconsider and instead decide now that Qatada should be prosecuted here, especially after it's gone to all this effort to persuade the Jordanians to in turn persuade the ECHR that they can be trusted to try him fairly, this is undoubtedly the second best option. It not only shows, as pointed out previously by Maajid Nawaz, that we will not succumb to the very thing that the government's counter-extremism strategy defines as being unacceptable, the undermining of the rule of law, it also indicates that when really pushed we can work with countries such as Jordan to help them improve their systems of government without then in turn selling them weapons as a reward. It does mean that it's doubtful we'll ever learn exactly how intertwined Qatada was with the security services, and there's plenty of reasons why we shouldn't believe that MI5 only had contact with him three or so times prior to 9/11, but if it means we are rid of one of the main reasons for why the tabloids so loathe the ECHR and in turn the Human Rights Act, although there are plenty of others, then it'll at least somewhat make up for it.

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Monday, April 16, 2012 

Why Ken is going to lose to Boris. Again.

Dave Osler asks why it seems that Boris is heading for a second term as London mayor. The answer, sadly, is that nothing has changed since he lost four years ago. I wrote a post back then on why exactly it was that Ken lost, and those self-same reasons will be why he won't win this time.

Why for instance did Labour think that Ken could win again when he'd been rejected so soundly after eight years in the job? Admittedly, when it was between Ken and Oona King you can see why London party members went for experience, but all the same. Between eight and ten years is generally as long as we can stand to give one person the reins of power; Thatcher lasted just over ten, as did Blair. Yes, they could put it partially down to the unpopularity of the party at large in 2008, yet the current dislike for the Conservatives is having no discernible effect on Boris. Indeed, if anything it's in spite of his party background: 80% identify him as a mayor for the rich, and still he's odds on to win.

Additionally, despite all the ridicule from certain sections of the left at the time, Boris has been far from a disastrous Mayor. Yes, he said the phone hacking allegations were codswallop and his ludicrous mate Kit Malthouse is now in charge of setting "strategic direction" and "allocating resources" for the Met, but one of his first acts was to get rid of Sir Ian Blair, the man Ken refused to criticise for being out of the loop on the day Jean Charles de Menezes was executed. The one avenue Labour haven't pursued vigorously enough is that Boris quite obviously views this as a stepping stone towards leading the Tories, nor has enough been made of his pathetic performance over the riots. Then again, Ken made a fundamental mistake when he came straight out and said they were a result of the coalition's cuts: that's a perfectly reasonable position to take, but not when they're still going on or when those who voted for you previously are cleaning up the mess.

Far from the four years helping to dissipate the genuine distaste many then felt for Ken, if anything it's solidified further, helped along as before by the Evening Standard and Andrew Gilligan. And again, he couldn't help putting his foot in it: he might not have exactly said that rich Jews wouldn't vote for him, but that was his general gist, although he at least apologised this time round.

Why Labour couldn't see this coming is difficult to ascertain. In an election where the voters are being offered the exact same choice as they were four years ago by the three main parties, it's not difficult to see why Siobhan Benita has been garnering attention. One of those rumoured to be considering a run was David Lammy, only for him to endorse Ken. You can only wonder how the polls might look had he decided to take the newt fancier on.

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Saturday, April 14, 2012 

Derelict.


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Friday, April 13, 2012 

Film review: The Cabin in the Woods.


(Spoilers ahead. Natch.)

Caveat out of the way first: I haven't seen the whole of The Cabin in the Woods. Why? About twenty minutes before the end, the digital projector broke down in screen 10 of the local Odeon, or to be exact, the screen went green while the sound continued. Told it just needed rebooting, we waited through Underworld's Rez, Gerry Rafferty's Baker Street and another song before the manager came in and told us it couldn't be fixed. We got our money back and a free pass to a film within the next six months, so no problems on that front. As I said, these things happen.

I'd like to think it broke down because the projector simply couldn't take any more of this charmless, smarmy, far too clever for its own good film. It was so bad I contemplated walking out; having sat through 300 and Rob Zombie's desecration of Halloween, loathing both but not to the point where I'd had enough, that hopefully says a lot.

Co-written by Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard, who also directs, the idea behind Cabin is fine: just as Scream deconstructed and paid homage to the slasher genre, Cabin does much the same to Evil Dead. That's very far from its only influence and reference point, but it is the main one. 5 attractive college kids are going off for the weekend to the, err, cabin in the woods. We've got all the genre's archetypes: there's the stoner, the good girl, the jock and his party loving girlfriend, and as the love interest for the good girl, the friend of the jock who's actually shy, sweet and kind as well as being great at (American) football. Some have suggested that this is just as much the cast of Scooby Doo as it is the cliche horror film, and there's some truth in that; they're certainly as one dimensional as the characters in the cartoon.

The twist is that we're also following Sitterson and Hadley, two men in white shirts working away in what looks like an underground base of some kind. It soon turns out that they're in effect controlling the entire adventure of our other protaganists, although how they've been picked to take part isn't clear: someone connected to Jules has bought the cabin, and we don't get any explanation beyond that. Regardless, they aren't the only ones doing this; over in Japan another company is running a J-Horror equivalent, involving a ghost and school girls.

And that very brief section is by far the best part of the film, for the reason that J-Horror hasn't been pastiched or pointed and laughed at to anywhere near the extent that American horror has. That was the point at which I felt, well, there's not going to be anything to top that, I might as well go. Here's the thing: if you're going to go over the same old post-modern ground with horror, it's got to be either one of two things, or better yet, both. It's got to be either funny and/or scary. Cabin is neither. There are a few smirks and smiles here and there, mainly from Fran Kranz playing Marty, the classically paranoid but also perceptive stoner, and the scene where everyone in the base bets on which monsters will be called upon this time to stalk and menace our heroes, but that's about it.

The thing about Scream was that everyone in it recognised horror tropes, such as the person going out on their own, the sex and how that meant that they were not long for this world and so on. In Cabin it's as if that never happened, or indeed that none of the characters have ever seen a horror film, except perhaps for Marty. On their way to the cabin they pull up outside a garage, just like in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, where they're warned off by a deeply sinister man. The gag is meant to be that, secretly, they're realising how corny this is and yet they go ahead and do the wrong thing anyway. The other ploy used is another theme gone over many times previously in horror: whether or not our desire to see the carnage makes us complicit. How far do horror directors pander to the audience's expectations? Must it be the case that at least one of the female characters has to get naked? Does it always have to be the innocent, perhaps virginal young woman who either dies last or survives (Cabin says it doesn't matter either way)? And is there some much deeper, atavistic reasoning behind the latter?

There is still plenty of room to ask these questions within the genre, but not in the arch, winking, clever clever way in which Cabin does. What's more, it seems to be ignoring its main source material: in both Evil Dead 1 and 2 it's Bruce Campbell's Ash who's the last man standing, and he is most certainly not virginal. Which is another problem: it uses Evil Dead as the template, but ignores the radicalism of that film. When Curt and Jules go off into the forest to have sex, helped along by the pheromones being pumped up through the soil by our friends in the base, I was hoping that we'd get a double tree rape to one-up the original; instead we simply get the zombiefied former residents of the cabin turning up to perform a very perfunctory, off-screen decapitation.

Whether you dislike it as much as I did may well come down to just how wide your knowledge of horror cinema is. I'm nerdy enough to have realised that the death sequence in the RV truck is a riff on a kill in one of the Friday the 13th sequels (Part IV, I think), and rather than being impressed that just sort of bores me. I've seen it all before. I've seen the cabin bits done better, and far funnier, in the first two Evil Deads, so why bother essentially remaking the original when there's so little effort being put in? I've seen the reality thing handled fairly comprehensively in My Little Eye, which is by no means a perfect film but is vastly superior to this. I've seen the complicity question asked by Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, Man Bites Dog, The Last Horror Movie and the original Funny Games. And I've seen straight up horror done better over the past decade by Haute Tension and The Descent to name but two.

Moreover, you don't need a film like Cabin to deconstruct other genre fare for you. You can do it more than adequately yourself. The first Evil Dead especially is a flawed film, but it's fantastic fun to watch and see the creakiness of certain sequences and laugh at the decisions made by the characters. You don't need to watch every single slasher ever made to note that there is something disquieting about how having sex is punishable by death or how it's often the single white female left until last. And you certainly don't need a film as smug as Cabin to be suggesting that you, the viewer are in some way responsible for any of this.

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Thursday, April 12, 2012 

Lying and the passing of time.

It's a wonderful thing, the passage of time. Yes, we all of course edge ever closer to the grave with each second that goes by, but look on the bright side: it also means your memory of unpleasant past events in your life gradually fades.

This onset of forgetfulness comes sooner to some than others. Take Tony Blair for instance. He claims to have "no recollection" of the rendition of Abdul Hakim Belhaj to Libya, something that took place a mere 2 weeks before he jetted in to meet Colonel Gaddafi and in effect declare the country open for business. Almost certainly part of the mutual process showing that both sides would get something out of the new relationship, you would have thought the prime minister should have known that his foreign intelligence service was conspiring with the CIA to provide a dictatorship with one of its most high profile opponents.

Then there's Jack Straw, the former foreign secretary. You might recall (he probably doesn't) that when first faced with the exposure of the US rendition programme he was absolutely certain that the British government had no case to answer. What was more, unless you believed the lovely Condoleezza Rice was lying, there was no programme whatsoever. It was akin to believing in conspiracy theories. 7 years later, and while Straw has changed his tune somewhat, he's still vehement that he knows nothing about this specific case. Rather, this is an example of MI6 simply not telling him what they were up to, as the security services are apparently wont to do on occasion. As he said, "[N]o foreign secretary can know all the details of what its intelligence agencies are doing at any one time."

It certainly wouldn't be the first time that the security services have told lies to the toothless Intelligence and Security Committee, who most certainly weren't informed at any point of MI6's role in the rendition. Would they also though mislead the Foreign Office, and so close to the point at which our relationship with Libya was about to change so utterly? Either MI6 was completely out of control, authorising its own missions without informing ministers, delivering innocent people into the hands of torturers, or Jack Straw signed off on the entire thing. Which is more likely?

Happily, it's unlikely that should this or any future government think about doing anything similar that it'll be exposed as easily. I said at the time that it was a little early to welcome the cancelling of the Gibson inquiry when it was far from clear that we would ever get a replacement, let alone a more independent one, and with the continuing controversy over the secret courts plan which would stop them ever releasing the equivalent of the seven paragraphs again it just underlines that this government is not more enlightened, it's simply more subtle in slamming the door shut. Hands up anyone who thinks that there'll be charges once the Met have finished investigating the two Libyan renditions, regardless of the offering of £1m to Belhaj. Exactly.

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"It is unrealistic, in my opinion..."

Not in doubt is that some Arab newspapers, both state and privately owned, print articles and cartoons which are vehemently anti-Semitic and racist. Not as well known is that Israeli newspapers, in this case the biggest selling tabloid Yedioth Ahronoth publish material which is just as vile (via Angry Arab):


For all whose goal is to bring stability to this region, it is important to understand the rhetoric of those who oppose Israel as part of their religion. Understand that we are dealing with people who celebrate being detached from reality as part of their worship of Allah.

...
It is unrealistic, in my opinion, to believe that we can turn the Arabs into a society that truly embraces western concepts and values - like facts and sticking to truth. It makes much more sense to understand that fantasy and stretching the truth are very deeply embedded in the mindset of the Muslim and Arab culture. I do not mean to say this as an insult, but to suggest that we accept it as a fact, take it as it is and move on.

You won't be surprised to learn that the author, David Ha'ivri, opposed the Gaza pullout and advocates the annexing of the West Bank.

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A new definition of irony.

Deciding in China whether the human rights situation in Bahrain means the race there should be cancelled.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2012 

Film review: I Saw The Devil.


(Major spoilers ahead.)


For a good month or so, I've been going back over Mark Kermode's film reviews for 5 Live as posted up on Youtube. One of Kermode's great strengths as a critic is that he understands genre cinema and so is often far more forgiving of certain films, such as Basic Instinct 2, than other critics would ever be. This can also be a weakness, as it's also led him to give good reviews to the last few Richard Curtis films, all of which have been utter dreck regardless of their positioning as rom-coms or in the shape of The Boat That Rocked, rose-tinted nostalgia with sinister undertones.

One of my less attractive traits is that I'm someone who buys DVDs/Blu-rays, leaves them in an ever mounting pile and then every six months or so goes on a binge in an attempt to catch up. One of those that's been sitting there waiting for what must be almost a year was I Saw The Devil, the latest film by Jee-won Kim, who previously gave us the ghost horror A Tale of Two Sisters and the wonderfully over-the-top yet still lyrical A Bittersweet Life. Watching Kermode's review, who wants to like it but can't as it is just so grisly and its politics are so vacuous, and knowing that it's rare that I disagree with him, I thought I might as well make up my own mind.

In short, Kermode was right. I Saw The Devil does seem to be Jee-won Kim's attempt to one-up his contemporary Chan-wook Park, whose Vengeance trilogy, including Oldboy, did so much to bring South Korean cinema to mainstream international attention. As others have noted, the key word in the title also isn't so much Devil as it is Saw, after the US torture franchise that has thankfully now expired. Where Park's films were violent, as they had to be, he never once overstepped the mark into gratuity or into targeting the set-pieces towards gore hounds; every specific act of brutality had a point, every twist was choreographed perfectly, and it was always vital to the denouement. ISTD instead often takes its cues from Saw and other gross-out splatter fests where the plot is secondary to the intricacies of death sequences.

The film opens in an almost pastiche of horror conventions: Joo-yeon, played by San-ha Oh, is stuck in her car on a snowy night having got a puncture. On the phone to her fiancee, Kim Soo-hyeon, played by Byung-hun Lee, a stranger in a school people carrier pulls up and offers to help. Kim, who we can tell is a secret agent of some kind as he checks the status of his mission by talking into the sleeve of his shirt, advises her to wait for the pick-up truck. You can probably guess what happens next. The killer we soon learn is Kyung-chul, played by Min-sik Choi, Oldboy himself, and who also appeared in the last film of the Vengeance trilogy as a serial child killer. Having begged for her life on the grounds that she's pregnant, what follows seems to be a pitch black riff on Seven: a little boy finds her ear near to a river, a forensic crew is called in, and they quickly discover her decapitated head in the water. The rain pouring down, and with seemingly no attempt made to preserve evidence, the head is placed in a box, only for the man carrying it to trip while surrounded by paparazzi, camera crews and other police, conveniently just as Kim arrives.

Plenty of people will have already lost patience by this point. Is this meant to be taken seriously? Would the police ever allow the press anywhere near where a body search is taking place? Would they really just pick the head up almost straight away without taking photos of it in the water or intensely searching close by for other body parts? Would they not try to preserve the scene as best they could, despite the head being found in the water? Or is this all just a connivance, a further setting up of what's to come? In one respect, it certainly is that: like with all vigilante films, it shows the apparent incompetence of the police, something that continues throughout, as Kim is almost always one step ahead of them. What it also does is undermine the film's cohesion and theme: is it making a serious point, as it otherwise seems to be, or is it all one long joke on the viewer for doing so?

Promising his dead fiancee that he will not rest until he has made her killer go through the same pain that she did, Kim sets out on his mission of vengeance. Provided with a capsule containing a GPS transmitter and a microphone, Kim's plan is simple: he will find the killer, knock him unconscious, make him ingest the device and then let him go, only to then track him, capture him again, torture him some more and repeat the cycle, all of this happening under the very nose of the police. As you will have figured, things do not go to plan. Crucially, rather than being terrified and cowed by this experience, Kyung has never felt so alive: the game of cat and mouse invigorates him far more than his previous rapes and murders ever did. And in the process, Kim has become just as monstrous as Kyung himself, as no less a figure than the police chief tells the father of Joo-yeon in an effort to get Kim to put an end to the caper.

Indeed, so single-minded has Kim become that he has no apparent feelings for any of the innocents caught up in the madness he started. When he first finds Kyung he's just about to rape a schoolgirl he's captured; rather than comfort her or get her safe once he's knocked out Kyung he seemingly does nothing to help. Having been set free for the first time, Kyung kills two other men who pick him up, also seemingly murderers, but it's not clear whether Lee realises this or not when he follows the trial of carnage. Lastly, having failed to intervene quickly enough, he barges in on Kyung forcing a nurse to fellate him; after slicing Kyung's Achilles tendon, he asks the nurse for help in "fixing" her attacker up.

As a whole, women in the film are either victims, or to be ignored and abused: Lee ignores the plea of Joo-yeon's sister to stop what he's doing, while there's a deeply problematic scene where Kyung, having met up with an old friend who it seems is a cannibal as well as a murderer, rapes the woman who's staying with him, only for her to start genuinely enjoying it half-way through. I can only imagine that it's got through the BBFC uncut for the reason that she is willingly there and so complicit in the murders her friend is carrying out, putting into reasonable doubt her resistance in the first place.


If all this is making the film sound awful and contemptible, as it hopefully is, the problem is that when viewed as a whole it's not. What saves it from being truly abominable is that Kim's direction as shown in his previous films is first-rate: the cinematography is glorious, the lighting superb and every scene, regardless of how grim it is, is pulled off with a style that differentiates it completely from the so-called torture-porn sub-genre of the second half of the noughties. Just as crucial is Min-sik Choi's performance as Kyung, as he goes from exuding sheer menace at the beginning to pure terrifying mania towards the end. Not quite as convincing is Byung-hun Lee, whose character you just simply can't believe would be so numb to all that's going on around him as Lee portrays him as.

Nonetheless, the fact that it is this well made can't save it entirely. Just as the remakes of the 70s/80s horror films have in most cases improved immensely on the production values of the originals doesn't make them better; it in fact does the opposite. A deeply troubling film like Last House on the Left is as powerful as it is because the acting isn't convincing and because it has such flaws as the completely misjudged slapstick moments. It was a movie made on a shoestring by first-time film-makers who didn't properly know what they were doing but which said something about the time they were living in.

I Saw The Devil does none of these things. Its message, if indeed there really is one, that violence only leads to more violence or that if you go after a monster you have to be careful not to become one yourself has been done numerous times before, and better than it has here, not least in the Vengeance trilogy. The final sequence, which is all but an aping of Saw even if it ties with the scene at the beginning, just reminds you that despite what that series became, the first two films were decent enough that you could overlook their failings. What's more, they were honest about what they were doing; with ISTD, you simply can't tell what Jee-won Kim was truly aspiring towards. Whatever it was, it falls far short.

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