Review: Død snø

Director: Tommy Wirkola
Writers: Stig Frode Henriksen, Tommy Wirkola
Producers: Terje Stroemstad, Tomas Evjen
Starring: Vegar Hoel, Stig Frode Henriksen, Charlotte Frogner, Lasse Valdal, Evy Kasseth Røsten, Jeppe Laursen, Jenny Skavlan
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 91 min.


The market is becoming overly saturated with zombie movies. As much as I love the sub-genre, I have to admit that even I am getting sick of it (just look at my review for the pandering, Zombieland). Once in a while though you get a movie that ups the ante just enough to make the experience quite enjoyable. I realize this isn’t the first time we’ve seen the Nazi undead, but this is the first one I know of that really makes it fun to sit through – assuming of course you’re not the squeamish type.

The movie starts as a fairly typical looking slasher style movie: a group of med students on vacation head into the wilderness (in this case a snowy mountain range in Norway) for a drunken weekend in a desolate cabin where no one can hear them scream. A creepy old man shows up out of nowhere to basically tell them (and the audience) to watch out for the “evil in these hills” (in this case, the souls of dead Nazis); then disappears without a trace. The kids of course then proceed to partake in various, stupid activities that one should never partake in whilst in the middle of a horror film (like have sex in a darkened outhouse in the middle of the night). Just when all hope is lost and the film seems like it is going to be typical, boring slasher thriller, the kills begin to emerge. And they keep coming and then just get better and better and better.
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Toronto After Dark ’09: Festival Winners Announced

TAD 09 Film Festival Banner

The 2009 edition of Toronto After Dark came to a close a week today, yet lingering thoughts of some of the best films still rattle around in my head. My personal favourites were Black (Row Three Review), Strigoi (Row Three Review), Grace (Row Three Review), Rough Cut (My Review at Twitch) and of course, Black Dynamite (Row Three Review), but there were very few clunkers at the festival this year which boasted the strongest line-up since the fests 2006 launch. There is a democratic voting system used by the festival staff to generate the Audience Choice award (The same ‘vote 1 to 5’ system used by the Toronto International Film Festival). This year, the Audience Award went to Dead Snow (Gamble got a real kick out of this one, and talks about it on the last cinecast), the fun Norwegian Nazi-Zombie romp. The Vision Award, for best independent genre film went to UK/Romanian vampire dramedy Strigoi (Row Three Review).

The rest of the award winners, including short films, are tucked under the seat.

Also, it bears mentioning that if you are a Toronto local and missed the France/Senegal heist-blaxploitation remix Black at this years festival, be sure to check it out at the AMC Yonge & Dundas, it opens commercially in Toronto today with a slow expansion across Canada.

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Toronto After Dark: GRACE


Let us put the cards down on the table, shall we? Most horror movies these days aim to titillate, not actually scare. When you are cheering for the victims (or the slasher) to be splattered or carved on screen, this is lynch-mob entertainment or vicarious wish-fulfilment. An honest to goodness horror movie, in the humble opinion of this writer, should burrow at a deeply personal, individual level. There is nothing wrong with the former group spectacle (akin to blood-lust for gladiators in the coliseum or even the role modern sports entertainment), it is just not my personal cup of tea. When a movie like Grace comes along and shows how a few very well articulated ideas, specific amplifications of the anxieties of new parents, can really massage its audience with discomfort and bile, you will have to indulge me for getting a little giddy with excitement. The Sundance buzz around this picture, in the wake of a few audience members fainting or rushing for the doors, proudly proclaims to “See it at your own risk.” Believe that film is the real deal. Moms-to-be or folks who have a young one at home in the crib are going to have a more difficult time with Grace than some of the more acknowledged classics of the ‘pregnant-horror’ sub-genre À l’intérieur or Rosemary’s Baby.

Writer-director Paul Solet is content early on in the picture to take precisely aimed satirical strikes at some of the things expecting parents (in the western middle class, but to a degree in any culture) will likely have to deal with at some point. Many ‘older couples,’ as in those getting pregnant into their thirties and beyond, have a rough go at getting pregnant. ‘Mission sex’ centered more around conception than personal intimacy becomes the order of the day. The goal of spawning takes on the guise of a masters thesis. The research around reproducing, the medical and social decisions can be daunting and veer off into obsessive and narcissistic realms. Natural birth or epidural pain killers? Midwife and Doula or Hospital? Breast feeding or baby formula? How far do you want to let the in-laws into the child raising decisions? How do you keep them at arms length if they disagree philosophically. Judgement calls become personal flags of stubborn pride that can alienate friends and family. All the while, images of handsome little infants gleam out from product advertisements in glossy parenting magazines and the overall sales machine of all manner of baby-do-dads. This level of anxiety-joy is much more heightened than say the lucre-circus of marriage due to the biology involved. Biology is one of the great avenues to really going after a horror metaphor; something that David Cronenberg or Shinya Tsukamoto knows a thing or two about, and Grace is certainly gunning to be in that league.

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Toronto After Dark: THE CHILDREN

“You brought them into this world. Now … They will take you out” is the, frankly, pretty awesome marketing hook on the British juvenile-slasher film The Children. I choose my words carefully because the film is on the whole rather immature; being more giddy for set-piece kills over storytelling and characterization. I am quite amazed how it is earned a reputation for being “scary.” Tom Shankland and company have a eye for technical detail yet one too many establishing shots expose the episodic, plotted around kill ‘money shots’ nature of the piece. The film is so eager to please in a 1980s Freddy/Jason kinda way that it squanders a really good idea on the cheapest form of horror-thrills. Nevertheless the picture is shot with a talented eye and for the most part the acting and setting is well established.
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Toronto After Dark: STRIGOI


With all the contortions and mutations that the vampire movie has taken in the past 75 (heck, the past 2) years, it is quite refreshing to see that there remains interesting potential in the genre. Take for instance, Fay Jackson‘s debut feature, Strigoi, which trumps Bram Stoker in going rigorously back to the roots of the mythology in Romanian folklore, pulls things forward through both World Wars and culminates in a failed medical doctor sending a picture (via blackberry) of the townsfolk dealing with the undead at the local catholic church. Bring Backup.

The very indie British filmmakers, obviously in love with the local terrain and history, bring a maturity to the genre (along for the ride: handsome cinematography) that is most definitely lacking in the modern trend of nosferatu sightings (with the obvious exception one one Swedish entry). Where Trueblood and Twilight pander mightily to their audiences, offering lurid cheap thrills and plots that wash down like fizz-less soda pop, Strigoi challenges and stretches audience expectation of the bloodsucker with an ambitiously adult story of land ownership, tradition, history and a people dealing with a generational gap that has its youth go off to the rest of Europe to find their place in the world. Oh, and it is darkly funny too, with a delightfully morbid use of Norman Greenbaum Spirit in the Sky and a mothers plea to her son to “Be a good boy, go cut out his heart and burn it.”
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Toronto After Dark: BLACK DYNAMITE

bdposterThe challenge in spoofing Blaxploitation flicks is that really, most of the classic entries in the genre are well into self parody already (Dolemite anyone?). The solution brought to the table by writer-director Scott Sanders and writer-producer-star Michael Jai White is to make the film look as authentic as possible (re-purposing lots of 1970s b-roll footage in establishing shots) while picking at the overstuffed nature of the more serious entries (Shaft, Coffy). Police Procedural? Check. Neighborhood Vigilantism? Check. Kung Fu Island Assault? Check. Racial Conspiracy? Check. Revenge Plot? Check. It may be busy, but Black Dynamite is certainly Baadasssss.

As strange as it is to say in a film this broad in its aim, much of the best humour derives from exposing the structural short cuts of lower budgeted ‘give-em-what-they-want’ action flicks. There are a lot of things adding up to the conspiracy Black Dynamite aims to uncover, and the movie has no problem jumping from one set-piece to the next to keep things moving along. In the case of stretching things to the expositional breaking point, a scene that pulls all of this together is sublime in its unexpected lunacy. BD and the gang get together for a ‘chalk-board’ session to pull together all the clues and connects Asclepius to Malt Liquor, M&Ms to Little Richard and incidentally causes the invention of Chicken and Waffles. This is worthy of whiter-than thou comic genius of Monty Python or at least the Ealing inspired Without A Clue. More obvious sight gags like boom mikes dropping into the frame, choppily edited car chases, and a shoot out involving a man in a donut suit (with an uzi) are equally plentiful and interspersed with wordier gags like that mentioned above, or, for example a co-op of wildly nick-named pimps going through their blow and ho business plan. But to merely list the successful chuckle-worthy gags and ‘great’ scenes would be both exhausting and pointless. Suffice it to say that they are both a plentiful cocktail of both subtle and obvious. The only tricky part is to decide whether some of the clunkier moments, characters or side-plots in the film (and there are a few) are errors in judgment or a play for further authenticity. Perhaps one could make the argument on whether or not this sort of endeavor is worthwhile considering that there are boatloads of classic black-cinema out there waiting for discovery and enjoyment. The emphasis on comedy and style here is highly likely to be a catalyst in getting people to go back and look up many of the originals and that in and of it self is pretty cool. You dig.

blackdynamte-r2Michael Jai White, who is perhaps best known as the man in the Spawn costume or Direct-To-Video fare (although he has a blink and you’ll miss him role in The Dark Knight), gets a chance to really strut his stuff as a Robin Hood of the ‘hood with a CIA secret ops, Kung Fu and ‘Nam background. He is Richard Roundtree, Jim Kelly and Chuck Norris all rolled into a virile and buff lead who can deliver the Kung-Fu and Nunchaku along with tongue twisting monologues and wild wakka-chikka-wakka-chikka moments with the ladies. His comic timing is as impeccable as his martial arts. His reaction to meeting ‘the man’ and his wife at the very top of the food chain results into a worthy climax of the film, consecrating his superhero status with the destruction of the good china, that will be hard to top any future Black Dynamite sequels (BD in Africa?).

To put it quite simply, Black Dynamite is a the best parody/spoof film to be made in some time. It stomps on the line between gag-a-minute classics such as Airplane! and Top Secret! (I’m surprised Black Dynamite does not also have an exclamation point at the end of its title, it is certainly deserving of it) and more indirect homage films like Hot Fuzz and Austin Powers. While there have been a couple of quite passable parodies that have mined this territory (I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, Undercover Brother), Black Dynamite is best of breed. It understands and takes precise aim at the idiosyncrasies of Blaxploitation flicks and delivers an entry of pure popcorn entertainment. It keeps much of the spirit of good old fashioned (em)power(ment) to the people, even as it often pokes ‘the classics’ in the solar plexus.

blackdynamite-r1After picking it up at Sundance, Sony Pictures is giving Black Dynamite a limited 5-6 city release on October 19th, and hopefully this will expand outward after that. With a serious lack of black action heroes out there, “We need you Black Dynamite, now more than ever!” The “R” rating that this is destined to receive (due to mondo mammaries) may help or hinder its wide-release chances. But if this picture does make it into wide release, here is hoping that it shows the folks that flock to the soulless and offensive ‘____-Movie‘ parodies just how things ought to be done.

TAD09: The First Announcements

TAD 09 Film Festival Banner

I‘m sure at some point the boys will post an official TAD entry somewhere to track all of the stuff playing in Toronto from August 14th to 21st but the organizers have posted the first announcements and even if they didn’t add any more screenings, this would be a trip worth making. Seriously. The screening of Michael Dougherty’ long hidden Trick ‘r’ Treat is almost enough to sell me on the trip. But August in Toronto? So close to VIFF? Not so much.

Line-up of films at the moment:

Trick ‘r’ Treat
Michael Dougherty, USA, Toronto Premiere
Four creepy crowd-pleasing stories intersect in this hugely anticipated feature, set on the night of Halloween. From Producer Bryan Singer (X-MEN, THE USUAL SUSPECTS, VALKYRIE) and starring TRUE BLOOD’s Anna Paquin and Brian Cox (MANHUNTER, BOURNE SUPREMACY). Trailer

Grace Movie Still

From Producer Adam Green (HATCHET) comes this creepy and shocking tale of one very desperate woman as she tries to satisfy the needs of her very special newborn baby, that will only eat…. human blood! Trailer

Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl
Hysterical and bloody, this one of a kind romantic horror comedy about two dueling dead girls at a high school is from the same deliriously warped Japanese minds that gave us last year’s Toronto After Dark Festival hit TOKYO GORE POLICE and the upcoming ROBOGEISHA whose recently released trailer has become a viral video sensation! Trailer

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