Saturday, October 24, 2009

31 Days of Terror!! Pt. 3

The Abominable Dr. Phibes – Vincent Price plays the titular Dr. Phibes in this tasty little revenge movie about a celebrated musician who decides to inflict his wrath upon the doctors who could not save his wife on the operating table. Due to a serious accident, Phibes can only speak through a bizarre stethoscope type machine he plugs into his neck. He also feeds himself through this hole. This of course means that an actor known largely for his voice, does not get to use it, and what comes out of his interpreting machine sounds much flatter than the sinister dialogue should imply. It’s a testament to Price’s genius that he still delivers such a memorable and campy performance. One need only observe his delighted handclap, applauding his own genius after one of his enemies is slain to consider this among his finest work. The movie plays out like a modern slasher film, most notably the Saw films. Characters are introduced when the plot requires another dead body, and they are disposed of in quite creative ways, inspired by biblical plagues. The finest being a lady’s face getting doused in a gooey brussel sprout concoction only to have hungry locusts attack her head and pick it clean. Great deaths aside, it’s worth viewing for the grandeur of the opening, with Dr. Phibes hammering away at his piano while his robot band plays along.

End of the line – Saw this one at TIFF a few years back. The gore and subsequent audience laughter provoked one man to storm out while yelling at us all for laughing. A religious cult believes the end of the world is near and begins ‘saving’ the less informed by dispatching them on the subway with their crucifix knives. This is a dark dark comedy, and has some tremendous gore in it. One scene in particular is probably pushing the envelope a little bit. This is a low budget Canadian film, (shot in lower Bay St. station!) so at times the lower end digital filming technology used is obvious, but there is no denying that it has some good jump scares and some unforgettable moments. By the end of the movie it’s hard to tell if this is a criticism of organized religion or not, but that doesn’t really take anything away from it’s enjoyment.

Jeepers Creepers 2 – So the first Jeeper’s Creeper’s was pretty scary until you found out that the bad guy isn’t a guy at all but rather an indestructible monster. Still, I thought this one might be fun. Nope. This was one of the worst I’ve seen in ages. Awful actors playing poorly written characters with all kinds of supposed racial tension added for no reason. By the way, if I was a director convicted of sexually abusing a young boy on a film set, I probably wouldn’t make a movie full of topless male teenagers tanning and urinating side by side, or have them hunted by a monster that represents a sexual predator of some kind. Really creepy and gross but not for the right reasons. This one gets a big zero.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

31 Days of Terror Pt. 2

The 31 horror flicks in 31 days contest continues. Still on pace, though I’ve slowed down a little bit. Looking forward to watching Sleepaway Camp, Black Christmas, Dr. Phibes, and I fear I will have to watch some more difficult films for a well rounded experience. Slightly worried by the concept of sitting through Cannibal Holocaust or Inside again, but one has to do what one has to do….

Rosemary’s Baby – With all this Roman Polanski media coverage lately, it seemed like an appropriate time for a viewing of this classic which I had not seen in five or six years. This second viewing proved much more enjoyable than my first. As often happens with younger generations reviewing older classics, it’s difficult not to be little underwhelmed by the lack of real scares or gore that they are accustomed to. Rosemary’s Baby can almost be considered more comedic than scary. Cassavetes plays the terrific shmuck of a husband, and the intrusive neighbors simultaneously elevate viewer curiousity while serving as comic relief. Nevertheless the general theme is quite horrible, with an unforgettable finale. Despite its 136 minute running length this one really engrosses the viewer and moves along quite tidily.

Pathology – More of a thriller than a horror film really, but it contained some gore so on the list it goes. A group of pathologists who all work in the ‘autopsy department’ form a special club in which every week one member kills somebody. The other members of the club must guess how it was done; an interesting and ridiculous premise. The new guy in the club turns out to be some kind of genius in this area and he immediately threatens the former champ who is a real bad-ass wild card. The whole thing kind of feels like a ski movie from the eighties, except instead of the best skier it is the best murderer that comes out on top. Lots of gore and sex beside corpses make this a fairly entertaining, though preposterous movie.

Friday the 13th Part 6 – Jason Lives – This movie kind of sucks. Redeemable only by a group of horribly unlikable cops who just refuse to believe that Jason is back again. These guys are serious assholes and are pretty much the only reason Jason has so many people around to dispatch. Typically most of the victims are introduced only minutes before execution, including some bumbling paint ballers who attempt to add comedy to the film. A couple of preteen campers at peace with their expected demise is also quite funny. Too bad they don’t actually bite the big one. The worst of the first six, but not worse than Jason in Space. This franchise in general is pretty poor.

It’s Alive - Should of watched this right after Rosemary’s Baby, as it almost serves as the perfect sequel. This one was quite pleasing, and surprisingly bloody for a PG flick. Immediately after birth, a freak baby goes on a killing spree, starting with the doctors in the delivery room. The father has much difficulty coming to terms with his child’s problem. The tone of the movie is different from anything I’ve seen before. The pre birth scenes play out like an afterschool special, with everything going so well for the family that you know something must go wrong. And when it finally does it’s quite amusing how nonchalant everybody is that there is a killer baby out there. The baby suspect is discussed the same as any adult suspect, as if there is nothing at all bizarre about the situation. For how ridiculous the film is, it is actually quite serious and touching below the surface. Ultimately this is a film about a father accepting his abnormal son, kind of like a coherent version of Eraserhead.

Feast – Part of Affleck and Damon’s Project Greenlight initiative, this is probably the most successful of the series due to a fairly big home video release and a number of sequels. A self aware horror film that tampers with conventions isn’t really a new thing, but this still has a few surprises. The story of a group of strangers stuck in a bar with bizarre, horny creatures outside is a good gore fest but otherwise unremarkable. One scene in which a baby monster does something really foul to a female victim is particularly memorable. Recommended if you’ve seen every important movie out there and are just looking for blood and guts.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

31 Days of Terror!!

I’m someone who really relishes tradition, especially when it comes to celebrating the holidays. I’m one of those people that starts blasting Christmas tunes in November. I overdo it so much that by the time Christmas roles round I have to force listening to the four or five jam packed Christmas mixes I’ve made. Every October I go through something similar, watching so many horror films that I kind of have to take it easy for the rest of the year. While TIFF does include a couple of horror flicks that I catch, the majority of the films I see there are less gag inducing, opting instead for ‘artistic merit.’ So with TIFF still fresh in mind, and last October a year in the past, it is nice to visit the old familiar faces of this terrific genre. It’s always exciting to see how one film outdoes another, stretches the formula to new territories, or perhaps just new extremes of gore. This year I will watch at least an average of one horror flick a day, running the gamut of horror new and old. I start things off with:

Nosferatu: Werner Herzog’s version. To be totally honest I’ve always really liked the look of the Noseferatu movies more than the films themselves. So while I enjoy the beginning and end of this one, I find it drags a little bit in the middle. My apprehension to praise this movie may come from the familiarity of the plot and the countless versions of the Dracula story that have been put to film, but there is no denying the movie’s aesthetic qualities. The cinematography throughout is fantastic, with lighting that mimics Murnau’s original in many instances. Klaus Kinski is tremendously effective as Dracula, and all the rats spreading the plague in the city towards the finale are great. I can just see Herzog reassuring the residents that the rats won’t escape, but I don’t really imagine him hiring a rat wrangler. While the Nosferatu look is superior to other versions of this tale, I must admit that I prefer the campy feel of the Universal and Hammer films.

Lifeforce – I’ve been wanting to see this for a while. There are so few really good horror/sci-fi movies and I was hoping I would find another one for the list. Not looking for The Thing, but just a good simple gory mess in outer space. The plot of alien vampires trying to suck up human souls (or ‘lifeforce’) sounds pretty great. Written by Dan O’Bannon (Alien, Dark Star) and directed by Tobe Hooper (Chainsaw Massacre, Poltergeist) this seemed like it could be a winner. Aside from some terrific effects (especially the fast forward aging of human victims) and the fact that the lead alien is an attractive naked woman walking around all movie, this was really lame. The acting is just god-awful and the story jumps around so quickly that one has to figure major bits of plot were scrapped. There’s some mildly interesting AIDS context in there, but that can be applied to any movie about vampires made in the 80’s. If this were eighty minutes instead of two hours this could have been a mess, but an interesting mess. Instead, Tobe Hooper threw away any Hollywood clout he gained by being attached to Poltergeist.

The Hills Have Eyes
– I needed a sure thing after the soul crushing experience of Lifeforce. Wes Craven’s sophomore effort may have been bested gore wise by Aja’s modern remake but this one still resonates for the simple reason that we get to know and cheer for the characters. After a middle-class family is terrorized by a family of desert dwelling cannibals they are forced to take extreme measures to fight back. Craven effectively creates similarities between the two clans, exploring the idea that all humans are capable of terrible deeds, including the viewer who ultimately supports violence as a necessary option. The gore is toned down by today’s standards, but the tension holds up, and unlike most horror films the viewer is affected by pain caused to the characters. It’s also got John Berryman, that scary actor with no hair or sweat glands.

[Rec] – When I first viewed this one it didn’t do too much for me, but when I saw a sequel was playing at TIFF this year, I began to think about it and actually got chills two months later. Upon revisiting the film I found it much more effective. A news crew following a fire department around for an evening wind up in a quarantined apartment complex, where something is terribly wrong. This Spanish take on the camcorder POV style used in Cloverfield and Blair Witch Project is terrifically effective in building tension among the residents who have no clue what is going on. I won’t say much more, but if you’ve seen the trailer for the American remake (Quarantine) try to block it out of your head. That spoiler filled trailer may have been what left me less than thrilled upon first viewing. The final ten minutes of this flick are terrific and terrifying, complete with images you won’t be able to shake for a long time. After years of redundant “Asian Extreme” horror flicks it’s nice to see an import that is worth the hype.

Carnival of Souls – Just as protagonist Mary is continually drawn to the carnival pavilion, I find myself returning to this film every few months. On late nights, when I want to watch a film but nothing seems to suit me, this classic is quickly becoming my go to pick. The story about a young woman who survives a car wreck and then begins seeing an ominous ghostly figure is an easy viewing with terrifically creepy atmosphere. By today’s standards the twist is nothing to write home about, but it’s fun to revisit all the ways this twist is foreshadowed throughout. A precursor to a slew of low budget horror films that followed, most notably Night of the Living Dead, this is a great one for just past midnight.

So after a few days, I’ve got good pace going. No signs of slowing. To be continued.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Fervourous Festival Flashbulbs

Once again the Toronto International Film Festival has crash-landed in the heart of our city like a giant bomb filled with celebrities, glitz, glamour, and the occasional film screening. With all of the red carpet galas, the “who will be in Toronto?” lists, and the critical “where will they be eating?” lists, it’s easy to forget that we are hosting a celebration of film. Over the years TIFF has become a launching pad for Hollywood’s newest product, despite it’s origins as a stage for art house, independent cinema. This year for instance films featuring Matt Damon, Meagan Fox, Ricky Gervais, and George Clooney will draw a good deal of attention from smaller films trying to pick up a distribution deal. But behind all of that big business, it is still these smaller films that are the true cinephile’s delight. Walking into an unknown film with zero expectations, and having one of the best viewing experiences of the year is incredibly gratifying. The viewer feels like part of an exclusive club, suddenly granted the right to claim, “I saw that movie before it was big!” Bragging rights are worth more than gold in the blogosphere.

Since there is such a vast array of product at the fest it is appropriate that there are several types of viewers to watch for.

The Film Fan: The viewer who wants to explore what modern cinema has to offer beyond the commercially viable blockbusters that keep the major studios in business. The Film Fan will often skip a more popular movie to see a small film from Holland that may never play in Toronto again. Usually carrying a peanut butter sandwich.

The Money Mind – Similar to The Film Fan in that they will go to see many smaller movies. The difference here though lies in the Money Mind’s intention to gauge the film’s marketability. The Money Mind may be a producer, a distributor, an exhibitor, or maybe a film booker. Often when you see somebody leaving within the first fifteen minutes, it is a Money Mind that sees no profits to be gained from involvement with the film. Usually blinding audiences with Blackberry glow.

The Critic – The critic is present to let us all know which films warrant attention. This can be very helpful for The Film Fan and The Money Mind who may be taking in multiple films but aren’t sure where to start. The Critic does however change one’s expectations of a film, erasing some of the mystery and excitement. Often heard scribbling maniacal praise for Pedro Almodovar and his use of colour.

The Stargazer – The audience members who come out to see the Bradley Pitts, Matthew Damons and Benjamin Afflecks on the red carpet. The Stargazer often doesn’t have a wide knowledge of film and generally attends galas just to be involved in a big event. If this weren’t the case they would spend half the price a week later when these major films are widely released. Usually swooning whilst taking photos whilst planning how to sneak into Penelope Cruz’s hotel room.

And where does the writer of this column fall? See answer below.

“Well, I don’t like labels but when Andy and I go to the festival we are definitely going as Film Fans. Then again TIFF also gives us a bit of an idea of what kind of films will do well at The Fox, so I suppose there is a bit of The Money Mind in us as well. Since The Beaches is so supportive of foreign and independent cinema, TIFF is a great way to pick and choose which films our members will be interested in viewing. At last year’s fest movies like Gomorrah, Waltz With Bashir, Pontypool and Hunger all debuted only to find themselves being played for our East Enders less than a year later. This month we are featuring The Hurt Locker and 50 Dead Men Walking, two more films that debuted at TIFF ’08.”

So there you have it. While on the surface TIFF seems to have sold it’s soul, it is encouraging to know that the programming staff still retain some of the early spirit, and these smaller films from the fringes can find an audience alongside the wolves of Hollywood. Without the avant-garde, the documentaries, and world cinema, TIFF would be nothing more than a collection of red carpet premiers. It’s important that we remember where the focus should fall. Support these rewarding films and encourage Hollywood to create something more stimulating than sequels, remakes and talking robots from outer space.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Shock and Awe Returns to the Fox Theatre

Presenting (ALL ON FILM! NO DVD!)

MONA (1970):
The first theatrical adult motion picture, complete with bad wigs and dungy allies! The trials and tribulations in the day of Mona, a Valleri Bertinelli knock-off and the weirdos she meets. Bukowski written actors seem like they've just popped out of the methadone clinic to do some summer stock. Complete with over the top, theatrical music sounded like it was ripped from "The Bible"

Lost West-German Eurotrash showing the sexy hijinks at Filander Manor. Can Alexandra endure an entire summer at her family's castle after her return home from school? Filled with more loins than plates of schnitzel at Octoberfest!

Jack Nicholson and REAL Hell's Angels terrorize the screen! A gas station attendant (Nicholson) finally gets into the Hells Angels & goes on a rampage of Sex, Drugs, Rock and Roll and violence! It's a battle of bikers against hippies! Ripped from todays headlines of Quebecois newspapers!

The under-rated horror gem from Louisiana which after seeing, you can see where "Friday the 13th", "The Evil Dead" and "Blair Witch Project" happily borrowed from. A group of teens camp out at an abandoned house and share ghost stories they have heard from the area. From it's opening credits, you know you're in for some VERY creepy thrills. Still unavailable on DVD.

An Ultra-Rare, seldom-seen film, guaranteed to delight! 

and ending with the Dan O'bannon classic:

Thrills, chills and chuckles combine in the 80's zombie classic as a gas released in a medical supply company brings the dead to life! Brains! Brains!

The All-Night Grindhouse Festival RETURNS! 

Relive the grindhouse experience with an all night (and Day) screening briging you back to the cinema experience of those "other theatres".

For ONE NIGHT ONLY, the Fox Cinema brings you back to the days of exploitation, shock, shlock and fun! 

Oddball Toronto film archivist Dion Conflict returns with one of his most ambitious projects to date with help from the FOX CINEMA and sponsors Rue Morgue Magazine and the After Dark Film Festival. "Shock and Awe" is an all night film festival running till almost the afternoon of the next day showcasing long lost drive-in shlock, and ending with the “unseen in ages on the big screen” Dan O’Bannon punk zombie epic "The Return of the Living Dead", long lost from Toronto Rep theatre repetoire. With a dossier of 6 films, SHOCK AND AWE promises to provide the authentic grindhouse experience, touched upon by the Tarantino/Rodrigues film "Grindhouse".

"SHOCK AND AWE" pays homage to the grindhouse experience unearthing some of the hardest and rarest 35mm and 16mm prints of these long lost films (which themselves more than likely ran in grindhouse theatres or low-rent drive-ins), with some prints being the only known elements left of the films themselves. The titles include Jack Nicholson’s onscreen partnership with one of North America’s most notorious biker gangs (Hell’s Angels On Wheels), The Louisiana student film which later inspired films such as “Evil Dead” and “Friday the 13th” (Screams of a Winter Night), West-German sexy coming-of-age trash (Swingin’ Pussycats), the first theatrically distributed adult film (Mona) and a mystery film. Between films will be vintage short subjects, cartoons, and grindhouse movie trailers, all shown from original film prints.

Marketed as much of an event as a film screening, SHOCK AND AWE will also have tables of merchandise offering obscure explotation collectables including Super 8 films, B-movie DVD's, and small press publication from other GTA area film publications. Intermissions will also feature themed snack bar offerings at the FOX including breakfast items, film tie-in themed treats, and local area business restauranteurs. Curator and host Dion Conflict will also showcase some lost music videos, surprise celebrities, world premier short films by local directors, and trailers of other obscure grindhouse offerings from his archive (one of Canada's most eclectic private archives).

SHOCK AND AWE tickets can be purchased at the Fox Cinema box office and also at Suspect Video (605 Markham St., near Bathurst and Bloor) and Eyesore Cinema (801 Queen St. West above Rotate This). Tickets will go on sale Saturday the 23rd of May. Wristbands will also be given to patrons for "in out privleges" or "to get some air" for the marathon film screening, the first of it's kind in Toronto.

So come out for a night and morning of marathon fun! 

Sleep is suckers.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Its A Wonderful Life

Since we are playing It's A Wonderful Life starring everyone's favourite Tom Hanks impersonator James Stewart, I thought I would add an abridged 30 second version of the film here.  It's got bunnies in it.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Burn After Reading

After the consecutive disappointments of Intolerable  Cruelty and The Ladykillers, I was about set to give up on the Coen Brothers.  And then came No Country For Old Men, which was almost as good as their best films.  After the massive success of this Oscar winning film it was announced that they were working on an extremely violent spagetti western.  How Exciting! It would seem that the Coen’s were back on track, but when I saw the trailers for Burn Before Reading, I was caught off guard.  Brad Pitt dancing around is kind of funny I guess, but this seemed closer to the previously mentioned disappointments than to their recent success.  Still though, I jumped at the chance to catch an early screening, going in optimistic, but  leaving quite disappointed.  The movie plays kind of like The Big Lebowski, with simple (stupid) characters kick starting a series of events via a misunderstanding.  Also like Lebowski, a large cast of characters grow entangled in a mess they don’t understand.  The difference though, is that it’s hard to tell what the focal point is.  Which plot is THE plot.  This was my question for about 30mins and this is about how long it took me to get comfortable.  

On the page, it probably does all come together nicely, but execution to the screen seems rushed and clumsy.  The result of these plots never really connecting properly is a jarring effect on the audience.   Joe Veroni sums up my feelings for the movie with a question: “How would I feel about this film if it wasn’t made by the Coen Brothers?”  His answer, and an answer that I share, is that I would have thought it was a cheap Coen Brothers knock off.  This feels like it is trying to be a Coen Brothers film, with forced quirkiness, forced complications, and definitely forced acting.  

The majority of the humour comes from Malkovich, Clooney, and Pitt, and you get the impression that all three of them are quite aware of The Coen’s films and are trying to fit in with their other rich characters.  The actors that play it straight are the most rewarding though, and perhaps the most fun to watch.  Richard Jenkins in particular is refreshing as the sad sack gym owner pining over his employee Frances McDormand.  Both he and Tilda Swinton provide a nice break from the other actors hamming it up. Malkovich is funny, but out of place.  In the press release it is noted that the role was written for him, as was the case for many of the other actors in the film.  And I think that the lack of a smooth connection between the characters and their stories is a result of the Coen’s wanting to work with the various actors so much that they forced a script that would accommodate them, resulting in a very fragmented narrative.  Brad Pitt dancing is funny and against type to a degree, but is not enough to sustain this film.