Toronto After Dark: Alien vs Ninja Review

 

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Toronto After Dark

 

Among the major awards that the Toronto After Dark Film Festival recently announced are numerous smaller awards dedicated to special fan voted categories. Alien vs Ninja won (deservedly so) the “Best Fight” award for its rather epic 10-minute fight sequence near the end of the film. Using old school monster costumes and slime effects, a good sense of humour and some spiffy ninja moves, the whole fight is a bucket full of fun and goo and drew a great crowd response. The film’s opening sword fight in the woods is also well choreographed and wastes no time jumping right into the thick of things. So why do these terrific bookends have to keep afloat a rather dull, cheesy and rather pointless centre?

Granted, I was pretty tired the night of the screening, but shouldn’t a movie called Alien vs Ninja be able to entertain me enough to keep my eyes open? Especially when the title was exactly what I expected and exactly what I wanted from the film? Instead, there are long stretches of, well, nothing. Characters say and do things with little rhyme or reason, provide exposition that is relatively irrelevant and try to be funny. To be fair, there are little bits of humour sprinkled throughout that showed the filmmakers weren’t taking themselves too seriously, but we also had to deal with the “comic relief” ninja going about his business by being a complete failure as a ninja. I suppose this might come down to personal taste in finding what’s funny and what isn’t, but I can almost objectively say that this guy was NOT funny. He pretty much diluted the whole idea of how powerful ninjas are supposed to be.

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Toronto After Dark: High School Review

 

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Toronto After Dark

 

The stoner comedy High School wanders in a haze between well-executed smart comedy and stupid humour. Sometimes awkward, sometimes hilarious and sometimes just a little bit slow on the uptake, the movie itself acts as stoned as the entirety of the student body (and most of the teachers) during the one particular day on which most of the movie is set.

Henry is a star pupil all set to wrap up his high school phase and move on to what lies ahead at M.I.T. Aside from a last minute battle for the top G.P.A. score of the school, his life seems pretty much on track. So he decides to throw caution to the wind and try, for the first time, getting high with his old elementary school buddy. After several years of divergent paths, they reconnect one day and Henry accepts his stoner buddy Travis’ offer to take a few tokes. Unfortunately, he does this the day before militant school principal Gordon decides to test the entire school for drug use – with anyone showing positive signs getting expelled. Worried that he’s ruined his life, he begs Travis to help him. They come up with a bold plan: get the entire school high before the drug test and the results will have to be thrown out.

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Toronto After Dark: Heartless Review

Toronto After Dark

“Beauty is the beginning of terror.” From that line of poetry/exposition, there is a bit of a promise (and a warning) of things to come in Philip Ridley‘s dark fairy tale, Heartless. Starting out as a grim London East Side drama about the inward shyness of a young man (Across The Universe’s Jim Sturgess) with heart-shaped purple splotch (a birth defect of sorts) on the side of his face. His life seems to be on hold in comparison to his family-man older brother and his screwed up gangster little brother. His mother and father are both played by Mike Leigh regulars (Ruth Sheen and Timothy Spall), so you get the grim realism and graffiti strewn environments of down the class-ladder neighborhoods often featured in that particular brand of British cinema. Then there is a roving gang of hoodie hoodlums who (Mimic style) seem to be some sort of bipedal demonic insects killing folks in the neighborhood. By the time Eddie Marsan saunters into the apartment as a larger-than-life bureaucrat/weaponsman toting a laptop, a set of ‘legal conditions’ precipitated from a pact with possibly the devil and a few weapons recommendations, the film has enough tonal-plates tossed into the air that the whole enterprise should come down in a large clatter. But, miraculously it does not. Outside of South Korean cinema (or perhaps the Coen Brothers), this sort of thing is so rarely successful and here it is a bit of a revelation.

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Toronto After Dark: Rubber Review

 

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Toronto After Dark

 

There was a certain bounce in everyone’s step walking into the first film of the one-two closing night punch of Toronto After Dark and it could be directly attributed to Quentin Dupieux’s widely hailed Rubber. More than Eli Roth’s appearance with The Last Exorcism, more than genre-fest hot picture of the year The Human Centipede and more than the controversy of I Spit On Your Grave, this little 75 minute movie about a tire that gains consciousness and begins a killing spree caused probably the most buzz of the entire festival. Even those who had recently seen it at Montreal’s Fantasia film festival were queueing up to view it yet again.

The word was that it was a must see. People who made these recommendations would just shake their heads, smile and say “just go see it”. When it’s people whose opinions I respect, I don’t need too much more convincing than that. Let’s face it, though, I was already sold on the high concept: “sentient killer tire”. In addition, there was always a bit of a gleeful cackle from those who had experienced it and a slight twinkle in their eyes that seemed to say “Yeah, you may think you know why this will be fun, but it’s all the things you don’t even know that you don’t know that will get you.” It was very Rumsfeld-ian. Now that I know what I didn’t know, I’m not talking. As for the killer tire sections themselves, they are indeed fun and quite well realized as per the short teaser below:

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Toronto After Dark: Evil In The Time Of Heroes Review

 

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Toronto After Dark

 

Expectations are a funny thing when it comes to movies…Unreasonably high ones (based on hype, a director’s history or a much-loved book as the source) can totally ruin your experience. It could still be a quality film, but if it doesn’t meet the lofty heights you had in mind it becomes a failure. The flip side to this is that really low expectations can turn a movie-going experience – even for a complete mess of a film – into an enjoyable and surprisingly entertaining one.

And so it was for the Greek zombie film Evil In The Time Of Heroes. A few negative reports from its screening at Fantasia combined with a not-so-great trailer, disappointment with After Dark’s previous zombie film Doghouse and the prospect of random Billy Zane sightings throughout the film left me rather underwhelmed as screening film began. The story is mostly set in present day Athens where a typical zombie outbreak has occurred (the “fast zombie” variety) and the remaining unaffected citizens try to survive. Through intercutting with a similar outbreak from 2000 years previous, the movie implies that this evil will continue to reappear in cyclical fashion – each time requiring a “chosen one” to help defeat it. The film bounces between not only these timelines, but also the many, many characters in the present day situation and shifts tones, style and pace constantly. Tack on the seemingly invincible Billy Zane sage who appears in both timelines, the sudden super powers that one of the characters exerts and inconsistencies across the board and the entire thing is a rather large mess. So how come I rather enjoyed it all?

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Toronto After Dark: The Last Exorcism Review

 

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Toronto After Dark

 

The Last Exorcism, the Eli Roth produced independent horror film which made its Toronto debut at the After Dark film festival last night, is a gem in the rocky ground of recent American studio genre pictures. It’s a slow-building, character-based story filled with atmosphere, spookiness and actual dread. Building on the concept of a documentary team following a preacher on “one last exorcism”, it adds music and sound effects to increase tension to move towards an ending that is both unexpected and foreshadowed. If it didn’t quite go where I wanted it to after the halfway mark and even if it occasionally pulls you out of the movie by breaking its single camera rules, this is certainly one of the best of the American horrors released in the last few years.

Preacher Cotton Marcus is a charismatic man who has been preaching to the converted since he was a young boy. He has easy charm and an even easier smile that helps win his audience over while he sermonizes, prays, heals and exorcises. He’s quite charming and the viewing audience is also easily won over to him – particularly since he has invited the documentary crew on this final exorcism (chosen randomly from the stacks of requests he gets) to show everyone the falseness of the tactic and the tricks he has employed to convince people he has rid them of the devil. He still sees that he has done some good since these people still believe that he has helped them and manage to get on with their lives, but his own faith has been shaken due to events in his life and he simply can’t go through with the charades anymore. The film really allows us to spend a good chunk of time with Cotton and his family before they hit the road to a small Louisiana town to find poor possessed young Nell.

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Toronto After Dark: Doghouse Review

 

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Toronto After Dark

 

A fine premise. Moments of promise. Disappointment. More disappointment. Occasional good scene followed by missed opportunity after missed opportunity. Insulting ending.

That’s Jake West’s recent entry into the zombie genre in a nutshell. As it kicked off the traditional “zombie” day at Toronto After Dark, I was hoping it might live up to its interesting premise: a group of boorish “lads” are stranded in the town of Moodley which has, unbeknownst to them, been turned into a government experiment that has reduced all the women in the village to be zombies. Given that it was a comedy and had numerous angles with which to work its battle of the sexes theme, it was just such a shame to see it squander it all to come to the conclusion that 1) all women want is to emasculate men and 2) “guys” ought to be proud to be “guys” and should never apologize for being complete assholes. The big revelation for the main character of Vince (actually played quite well by Stephen Graham) is that his ex-wife had indeed sucked the life out of him and that he should go back to being a crude buffoon since she had stolen his manhood by objecting to philandering. Wonderful.

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