Yet Another Month of Horror 2015 – Chapter 1

Once again, October is upon us and a film fan’s fancy’s turn to horror. Though I’ll watch scary/creepy films any time, I like to pack October full of first time horror watches. My first four consist of: The Taking Of Deborah Logan, V/H/S: Viral, Creep and The Nightmare.


The Taking Of Deborah Logan (Adam Robitel – 2014)
I thought I would start my viewing with several “found footage” style horror movies – mainly because they are just so damn plentiful these days. Though many people are sick of them at this stage, I can usually still find something appealing in them if they make an effort to build atmosphere and don’t simply go for the cheapo jump scares. Much of The Taking Of Deborah Logan does indeed do the former we watch a documentary film crew slowly realize that the Alzheimer’s patient they are capturing on camera is not quite afflicted with the standard form of the disease. As the titular character starts to descend more and more into seeming madness and the supernatural angle becomes more apparent, the film loses a bit of steam – it forgets the basic premise of setting up an unsettling environment and goes for back story and plot. Neither of those are anywhere near as disturbing as, say, a simple shadow or an old woman’s unexpected appearance in an attic. Still, the film has its moments if you can get past some of the inherent problems these films typically have (e.g. the necessity to fabricate reasons to keep a camera running or the shells of characters that do little more than complain).

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TIFF 2015 Review: Legend

Brian Helgeland’s Legend owes more than just passing “respects” to Goodfellas. It should kneel, kiss its ring and swear to handle whatever favours are asked of it. From its use of period precise music to its narration to long take club-entering shots, Legend shoots for that Scorsese vibe and view of the intoxicating power of gangster life. It doesn’t achieve that of course (primarily due to far too many moments that are inexcusably mundane), but still manages to keep a good pace and remain mostly entertaining. And that is primarily due to two key performances: those of Tom Hardy and also Tom Hardy.

Legend covers the rise and reign of the Kray brothers – the legendary gangster twin siblings who grew up in London’s East End. As the film opens, the pair are already local celebrities who ingratiate themselves with the neighbourhood while also running protection rackets and a few nightclubs. Reggie has business sense and can put things into context, but can also suddenly “lose his temper”. As violent as he can be, it feels controlled and with purpose. His brother Ron, however, is all instinct, fight first and ask questions never. He feels that when in doubt, it’s always best to stir things up. He doesn’t easily mix in with general society, though has no issues in openly proclaiming his bisexuality even though the film takes place during the 50s-60s. He begins the film in an asylum, but is released after a little “convincing” of his doctor by Reggie. Clearly no one believes he is in his right mind due to his appetite for mayhem, but Reggie wants/needs him out – they’re brothers after all. Though Reggie wrestles with it occasionally, Ron always wins the competition for Reggie’s allegiance – a battle fought more often after Reggie marries the beautiful young Frances (Emily Browning with a fantastic supporting performance by her cheekbones). Though not necessarily looking to give up “the life”, Reggie does somewhat long to simply run his new club in the West End. It’s profitable, the rich & famous drop by and it’s a sign that they have moved towards conquering all of London and acquiring that broader respect. Of course, that doesn’t fit with Ron’s plans and he actively destroys the regular clientele when Reggie has to do a short spell in prison.

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TIFF 2015 Review: Our Little Sister

I want to bundle this movie up and hug it. Tightly. For a long time.

That was my first thought after seeing Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Our Little Sister (also known as Umimachi Diary or “Diary Of A Seaside Town”) due to its joy, charm and humanity. I simply wanted to extend my experience with it and let all of its wonder continue to wash over me.

Don’t take that as indication that the film is slight or sickly sweet though. It’s neither. The emotions, reactions and behaviours are all very real and relatable (regardless of your cultural background) and the story of 3 sisters discovering they have a 14 year-old half-sister gets to core aspects of family – what we share, how we relate to each other and how we make assumptions about our family members. The film drifts in and out of gentle melodrama at times with musical cues denoting the prevalent emotion of the scene, but none of these moments felt forced or constructed purposely to tell the viewer what to feel. Kore-eda’s style is always there to support the story and characters. And what wonderful characters…

The three sisters (ranging from early 20s to early 30s) all live together in the old family home and have different personalities and approaches to life. Though they all fit certain templates – eldest is the maternal responsible one, middle child has bad taste in men and drinks to excess, youngest is a bit goofy – they each have fully-fleshed out characteristics that make them endearing, interesting and a bit frustrating. Kind of like everyone’s own family…Though their Dad is on his third wife by the time they attend (with little emotion) his funeral, their half-sister Suzu was actually the daughter of his second wife (who had passed away previously). This clues the older siblings into realizing that she won’t get any attention or love at all in her remaining non-blood family. Even though they have just met her, Sachi impulsively invites Suzu to live with them and the household brightens considerably with the teenager’s arrival. They share the house with their Great Aunt and the mid-section of the film is chock full of wonderful family dynamics scenes – ranging from cute to passive aggressive. Behind all of this is the spectre of the mother (Dad’s first wife) of the three adult sisters, how she fits into their lives and what might transpire when a larger family gathering will take place.

I will readily admit that I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Kore-eda fanboy, so my biases are clear. I adore pretty much everything I’ve seen by him because he builds characters with whom you not only want to spend time, but also desire to discover more fully and who stay with you long afterwards. In the case of Our Little Sister, the screenplay was actually adapted from a manga by the original author Akimi Yoshida so I can’t give full credit to Kore-eda. But his ability to extract wonderfully natural performances from his actors continues here and makes the film feel “lived in”. Especially when it clearly revels in the small details of family life and traditions as the story winds its way through all the seasons of a full year. You can almost taste the plum wine they make from the fruits of their property’s trees and its oh-so-sweet. Not saccharine, but sweet.

Blindspotting: A Night At The Opera and The Navigator



I remember a Saturday evening many years ago sitting down with my Dad to watch the Marx Brothers. I think we had tuned into PBS around 7PM and a double bill of Monkey Business and Horse Feathers was showing. Together they didn’t even total 2 and a half hours, but holy crap did we cram in the laughs. It was silly, goofy and appealed to every juvenile instinct I had in my body (and still have). It seemed to have the same effect on my Dad since he sat in his chair giggling in that “Dad” fashion and shaking half the house along with him. Of course, that just made everything that much funnier. I was probably about 10-11, so I was also old enough to catch some of the puns, banter and sharpness of these obviously practised comedians and realized that this was a craft. A well-honed one.


And speaking of artists and their crafts…Buster Keaton remains to this day one of my all-time favourite artists in any medium. Far more than just simple slapstick, his silent comedies of the mid-to-late 20s were things of beauty and marvels to behold that would make you smile, laugh and question basic laws of physics. A somewhat “life changing” experience was watching a 3 hour American Masters program on PBS dedicated to Keaton (which I fortunately taped to VHS and wore down to microscopic width). His life had tragedy, regret and failure, but also contained some of the greatest work to ever be caught on celluloid. As the “great stone face”, Keaton rarely broke a smile or showed a sense of fear while throwing himself (or mostly being thrown) info a myriad of dangerous stunts and physical gags. Though he was also an obviously well-rehearsed funny man with razor sharp timing, the falls, leaps and tumbles seemed almost improvised. It was part of his brilliance and was fascinating to hear him reflect on the broken bones and sets of cat-lives that he had. Those interview clips of Keaton in his late 50s also greatly reminded me of my Dad – there was just a certain way he told a story.

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Review: A Most Violent Year


There’s really not a great deal of violence in A Most Violent Year. Though set in 1981 New York City (a low period for the city marked by high crime rates), there are few visceral moments of bloodshed and brutality. What does exist is an almost constant threat of violence – around every corner and edit in the film, it feels as if some form of foul play sits in wait. The landscape of this version of New York City is bleak, crumbling and empty. The barren streets and rundown manufacturing plants aren’t exactly conducive to strolling about, but the lack of people in the background of the film gives you the feeling that they too are worried about those threats lurking in the shadows.

The real violence of the film, however, refers to the damage done to its main character’s (Abel Morales played exceedingly well by Oscar Isaac) view of the American capitalist framework and his moral approach to honest work resolving in honest returns. Morales wants to behave ethically – though he’ll take every advantage in marketing ploys, he doesn’t want to game the system or cheat his competitors. He feels he should reward those who succeed in his business (an oil company for home heating) and coach those who don’t in order to give them an opportunity to grow. Morales is a sharply dressed man with focus and drive that leads you to believe he WILL get what he wants. When he stares at you, you listen. He’s at a turning point in his business as he puts a huge down payment on a new parcel of land for expansion, but needs to come up with the rest of the capital to close the deal. He is warned up front by the old owners that they are happy to do business with him, but on their terms for their benefit. As Morales tackles problems of his trucks getting hijacked and being investigated for possible shady financial reporting, he struggles to gather up the remaining money needed to close the deal.

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Blindspotting: East Of Eden and Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf



There are some who believe that Good and Evil are two very distinct objectively defined entities and that things and ideas are black or white, true or false, moral or immoral. Some would say that thought could be extended to define people in these terms and to categorize them in one of two camps: “Pure as the driven snow” and “Face of an angel” OR “Pure evil” and “Rotten to the core” (phrases we all use to describe people with no middle ground). Of course, these are a fool’s definition and try to provide easy answers to explaining behaviours that please or enrage us. The “truth” is that it all depends on your perspective and viewpoint. The landscape is made up of thousands of shades of grey and they are all relative. And speaking of relatives…


The sibling rivalry within East Of Eden and the spousal feuding of Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf traverse many degrees of that light to dark spectrum between good and evil. Hurting the one you love is always a complicated and confusing thing to do and that’s certainly the case in both films. You could be forgiven, however, if you didn’t see a lot of shading in that good/evil spectrum during the onslaught that is Virginia Woolf. From the first words spoken, it feels like a two hour blitz of spiteful bile and vituperative arguments. Most of the insult flinging occurs between the middle aged George and Martha, but they aren’t shy in sharing it and spreading it around. George (Richard Burton) is a History professor who lives within the campus grounds with his wife Martha (Elizabeth Taylor) and after an evening at a school social (with a few drinks) they set about their favourite sport – a little verbal sparring with each other. It seems to begin harmlessly – a barb here, a curt word there – but as it escalates, one can tell this is much more than just tiredness and booze stirred together into a cranky cocktail. It seems to be their lifeforce. The only way they can get through the day at this stage of their lives together is by tearing each other down. Even the moments of true passion which still exist between them can’t stem their craving for a verbal attack fix. “I disgust me” says Martha, sounding every bit like a drug addict. And when the young couple Nick and Honey arrive for some nightcaps (Nick is a new professor that Martha flirted with at the social event), the mixture of booze and disgust becomes downright toxic for all.

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My Movie Moments of 2014



A cobbled together list of some of my favourite moments from 2014’s films as well as older ones I saw for the first time this past year…


2014 films:

  • – The story of creation in Noah – beautifully composed as it also worked in evolution and epic timescales into the mythology of the story.
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel – every perfectly centred frame.
  • – Those final credits of 22 Jump Street – they’re funny cuz their true…
  • – Being in the same theatre with Caroll Spinney (the puppeteer of Big Bird and Oscar The Grouch) and James Randi within the same week during Hot Docs.
  • – The breathless car chase in Nightcrawler.
  • – The bracing last 10 minutes of Whiplash.
  • – The wonderful sing-a-long in A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting On Existence (more fully described here).
  • – And then followed later in the film by the gut punch…
  • – The docking scene and entry into the black hole sequence from Interstellar.

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Review: Nightcrawler


Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler is essentially a perfectly crafted film. As it tells the story of naive scammer/thief Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal), the film never once seems to hit a sour note or lag its pace. Through our initial intro to Lou, some fleshing out of his character, his discovery of a new possible career path and the film’s gradual shift to action and cynicism, there aren’t any dead spots or moments where you might question the film’s direction. It’s not due to any attempt to dull the audience’s senses through too many fast paced cuts or loud obnoxious songs, but simply because the damn thing is so incredibly engaging from start to finish.

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Toronto After Dark 2014 Review: The Town That Dreaded Sundown



Easily the biggest surprise and possibly my overall favourite film of this year’s Toronto After Dark film festival was Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s (director of several American Horror Story episodes) take on the 1976 early slasher The Town That Dreaded Sundown. Though that little film from 1976 has its supporters and certainly has some choice moments, it seemed like an odd pick for a revisit. The original as directed by Charles B. Pierce (director and star of the head-shakingly bad Boggy Creek II – And The Legend Continues – best known for being one of MST3K’s victims) is an awkward melange of horror/docudrama/slapstick comedy that tries to tell the actual events of a masked serial killer who terrorized Texarkana in 1946. And yet…There were some well-realized moments of genuine horror and interesting filmmaking. For his first feature, Gomez-Rejon seems to have focused on those positive aspects and has built a compelling, moody, surprising and absolutely gorgeous film.

Of particular note is the way he composes his frames. More than once during the film, I found my eyes roaming about the square footage on screen, trying to pick up all the little details and contrasting different colour combinations. I’m sure I missed some clues lurking in the background, but the simple pleasure of being pulled into this lovingly created canvas and wanting to savour each little corner, shadow and object was more than enough. If that sounds like a bit of an overstatement, it’s partly due to having very few expectations regarding not only the story but the level of filmmaking. It’s not that I thought the movie was going to be bad (the trailer is quite handsome actually), but from its opening tracking shot that pans down from a Drive-In screen playing the original film (and which continued through the parking lot filled with many of the films primary characters) it was obvious that Gomez-Rejon had very strong stylistic ideas for the film – all of which actually help move the story forward and engage the audience.

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