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: Centurion Review

Director: Neil Marshall (Dog Soldiers, The Descent, Doomsday)
Writer: Neil Marshall
Producers: Christian Colson, Robert Jones
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Dominic West, Olga Kurylenko, David Morrissey, Dimitri Leonidas, Noel Clarke
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 97 min.


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Every Neil Marshall film seems to follow roughly the same formula: a small band of unlikelys, often led by a strong female character, must battle against the evil odds to stay alive. While many might take such a repetitive structure as a criticism, I actually find it to be a strength as long as it’s done in new or interesting ways each time. That isn’t to say that Centurion does anything all that new or inventive but Marshall seems to excel at making things fresh and fun with each of his outings with a great flair for style, gorgeous scenery and exciting action sequences (i.e. cool kills).

Essentially nothing more than an on-foot chase movie, a small band of Roman Soldiers struggle desperately to get in front of enemy lines while being mercilessly hunted by a barbaric group of warriors from Northern England known as the Picts. Angry for crimes against their people, The Picts have sworn revenge and death to the Roman Soldiers and have sent out their bravest and most ruthless hunter/tracker (Olga Kurylenko) to bring back their heads. A race across the gorgeous country side ensues with harsh environments, wild animals, unknown strangers and each others’ pride or lust for power almost making the savage hunters the least of their worries.

What you’re in for in terms of visual style is exemplified immediately with some fantastic, sweeping opening credits that really open up the frame and give a sense of the environment we’ll be spending most of the story with. As a huge fan of Christophe Gans’ Brotherhood of the Wolf, almost exclusively for the visual environment and aesthetics, Centurion comes really close to bringing that style back as Marshall makes sure to take full advantage of his location with just amazing set up shots of the English countryside and its various and changing weather patterns. Quite honestly, these shots alone were enough to make me love the film… but there was so much more.
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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: I Spit on Your Grave Review

I Spit on Your Grave

Director: Steven R. Monroe
Writers: Meir Zarchi (1978 screenplay), Stuart Morse, , Jeffrey Reddick
Producers: Lisa Hansen, Paul Hertzberg,
Starring: Chad Lindberg, Daniel Franzese, Rodney Eastman, Jeff Branson, Andrew Howard
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running time: 107 min.

On a personal level based off of subject matter:
For those who enjoy rape/revenge films:

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I am having trouble coming up with a film that is harder to provide a concise review of that doesn’t just delve into how I feel about the subject matter or what is right or wrong to show in a film. I will be putting up another post in the near future where we can actually try to delve into that a bit but for this post, I want to mostly deal with whether I Spit on Your Grave is a strong revenge film.

The basic plot is that Jennifer (Sarah Butler) is a lone female author who heads off to a secluded cabin in order to write her next novel. On the way to the cabin she stops off for gas and has a quick run in with Johnny (Jeff Branson) and his friends. Nothing really comes out of the run in right away but later on Johnny and friends invade Jennifer’s cabin. What proceeds next is about 10-20 minutes of extremely disturbing and uncomfortable as they proceed to humiliate and eventually rape Jennifer. Eventually it is time to get rid of Jennifer but she manages to slip through their fingers. A month or so later Jennifer returns and extracts vengeance against her attackers.

In order to be successful, a movie like I Spit on Your Grave needs to have good acting. If the acting is poor you will not be drawn into the film and you will not care whether or not the revenge is given. The acting in the film is indeed good. Sarah Butler is completely believeable. Jeff Branson is quite menacing but I particularly enjoyed the performance given by Chad Lindberg who plays Matthew. Matthew is a mentally challenged who is forced to be involved with the attack and rape. We all know Matthew’s fate is sealed but one can’t help but pity him.

Without a doubt, I Spit on Your Grave is a very strong entry in the revenge film genre. It is gripping and terrifying for the run of the film. It also provides a large amount of catharsis for the viewer which is strongly needed after having to sit through the initial rape and brutality. The violence returned upon the attackers does not feel silly even though it is some of the most brutal nasty violence that I have seen in the past few years. The audience at Toronto After Dark groaned, laughed and cheered its way through the scenes of Jennifer’s vengeance.

I have not seen the original 1978 film and other than having a morbid curiousity and wanting to be somewhat of a completionist with my film going experience I won’t be rapidly seeking it out. Having seen the remake I am quite content to believe from everything that I have heard. The main problem most people have with the original is that Jennifer seduces her victims after the attack. This is a diservice to the brutality and how someone might react. The remake is much smarter in that it turns Jennifer into more of a force of nature that just can not be stopped.

You may have noticed that I gave this film two ratings. This movie is not for me but I can’t help but enjoy the skill with which I Spit on Your Grave was made. This is why I gave it the lower yet still good rating of 3 1/2 stars out of 5. If you are a fan of the original or enjoy similar movies then there is no way you will not walk away thoroughly entertained with the film. It provides the audience with some of the most brutal violent kill scenes, it is filmed beautifully and is both terrifying and yet still provides the catharsis needed to make it a success.

Toronto After Dark: Black Death Review

Black Death

Director: Christopher Smith (Creep, Severance, Triangle)
Writers: Dario Poloni
Producers: Douglas Rae, Robert Bernstein, Jens Meurer, Phil Robertson,
Starring: Sean Bean, Eddie Redmayne
Carice van Houten
Running time: 97 min.


Toronto After Dark

As a big fan of Severance I was quite happy to be able to check out his newest movie Black Death at Toronto After Dark this year. As luck would have it I was not able to attend the actual screening but I was fortunately presented with the chance to watch a screener of the film. As this was a fullscreen screener I am not going to talk about the cinematography which I believe will look quite good on the big screen as the film has a dark gritty look to it. What I will focus on more the story and the characters.

Black Death tells the story of a young monk, Osmund (Eddie Redmayne) who has fallen in love with a woman and when the plague is ravaging the town tells her to leave. As he wants to leave but is unwilling to do so due to his believes he asks God for a sign as to if he should leave. The sign comes in the form of Ulric (Sean Bean), an envoy for the Bishop who is requesting help in finding a village that needs to be questioned as to how they are avoiding the plague. Osmund sees Ulric’s arrival as the sign and leaves after a warning from the other monks. Osmond quickly discovers that Ulric and his men have been sent to capture what they believe is a necromancer and that they are to bring him back to the Bishop. A particularly evil looking contraption is will torture the suspected necromancer. Osmond has little choice but to go along with the men as he hopes to find his love and leave with her. When the men eventually find the village they are greeted with friendly faces and open arms but there is definitely and underlying tension between the two groups and Ulric is still determined to find the necromancer.

Black Death is a very dark and grim movie. Very little happiness is to be found during the time of the plague when everyone was suspected by the church of being in league with the devil. The violence when it comes is brutal and th lives of everyone involved is quite nasty. The grim realism of the movie is one of the films strongest points. It draws you in and you begin to feel as if you are within the world as it existed at that time. Black Death also has a very strong ensemble cast. Each of the soldiers has their own quirks and character but they all fit together as a whole yet their is a certain level of tension also between them. These men of God are killers and they know it. Some of them are doing it for money and others for their belief.

The film does take a few twists and turn that I found annoying while watching the film but as the movie progresses it all ends up coming together nicely. My biggest complaint about Black Death is the need to dumb things down a bit by providing a voice over to explain what you are seeing on screen. Yes some time has past and you might not recognize everyone involved upon an initial glance but it quickly obvious even without the voice over just who is who and what is happening.

Overall, Black Death is a very strong dark gritty tale of mans need to be in control and not accepting the beliefs of others. It does not feel as if it is preaching about the subject but instead is just providing us a glimpse of what the times were like and how the suffering of the plague could bring the worst out in people. If Black Death ends up in a theatre near me I am going to revisit it as I wish to see the full movie in widescreen aspect as I also believe that it may very well be very beautiful with its washed out colours and gritty look.

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: All About Evil Review

All About Evil

Director: Joshua Grannell
Writer: Joshua Grannell
Producers: Brian Benson, Debbie Brubaker, Joshua Grannell
Starring: Natasha Lyonne, Thomas Dekker, Cassandra Peterson, Mink Stole, Jack Donner, Peaches Christ
MPAA Rating: NR
Running time: 98 min.


Toronto After Dark

While introducing a kids matinee performance of The Wizard of Oz (with Dad both the theatre-owner-producer and Mom the Wicked Witch of the West), young Deborah catches a bit of performance anxiety resulting in an embarassing wetness on her Dorothy costume and unfortunate electrocution via the pee-soaked microphone cord for all the families in the audience to witness. Certainly the sort of thing that could scar one for life. The moment is simultaneously sad, funny, tragic and high-kitsch and so goes All About Evil, a decidedly local tribute to the Midnight Cinema of yesteryear in those (alarmingly rare these days) single screen repertory houses presented with the tongue-in-cheek verve of late-late-late-night camp. A lot of these things display quite prominently in the film: Cassandra Peterson shows up as both subdued actress and horror-icon (in perhaps the films best joke, the young lead has Elvira as a wall pin-up (the classic cleavage-laden pose) and Peterson plays a significant role as his concerned Mom. Paging Dr. Freud!) Classic drive-in horror graphic art figures prominently into the film, both diagetic and also the superb opening and closing titles. The innocent/saucy tone of the whole affair feels very much like John Waters, and sure enough Water’s regular Mink Stole shows up as a shhhhh’ed librarian, and the moment of her lips being sealed is about the closest thing I have seen in the past 10 years to Herschell Gordon Lewis. So yea, the film wears its influences on its red-soaked sleeve.

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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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