Occultober – Day 18 – Eyes Wide Shut

Eyes Wide Shut
The password is “Fidelio.”

This might be a stretch, but there is no denying the visual and sonic power of the super-elite secret society meeting that is at the heart of Stanley Kubrick’s final film masterpiece, Eyes Wide Shut. Naked women are bathed in incense smoke before pairing off for frenzied sexual encounters for the viewing pleasure of grey-haired and Venetian masked ‘Illuminati’ in a massive New York Estate mansion.

This is only one incident in a night filled with so many potential sexual encounters and prostitution oddities, that the phrase ‘dream-logic’ is often applied when describing the experience. But then again, everything looks stranger and sexier at night. Most especially so for the state of Dr. Bill (Tom Cruise) just after told by his wife (Nicole Kidman) in an evenings indulgence with marijuana, that she almost ended their relationship years ago solely from sexual heat generated by merely a glance of a passing naval officer – and this while on holiday with their baby girl. While there is nothing overtly (or concretely) occult about Eyes Wide Shut, the whole film emanates a paranoid ‘other-ness’ of a man un-moored from what he thought was his perfect life. It has that ‘everyone is watching me’ conspiracy feel that is generated so effectively in classic Satan-pictures like Race With The Devil and Rosemary’s Baby. You’re not paranoid, Tom Cruise, if they’re really following you.

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Blu-Ray Review: Blacula – The Complete Collection

I‘ve got too many review screeners piled up for October and November as well as several work and home life barriers to put together any special seasonal Halloween features, but I got sent one Blu-Ray release to review which fits into the spooky milieu at least, Blacula – The Complete Collection.

The blaxploitation genre came about at the turn of the 1970’s when Hollywood producers discovered there was a lot of money to be made out of films featuring, created by and/or aimed at African Americans. At the the tail end of the 60’s, the Civil Rights Movement had given African Americans equality in America (legally speaking – unfortunately racism continues to rear its ugly head so it’s difficult to claim full equality, even now) and they were riding high on this fact. People liked to see African American heroes kicking ass and giving it to “the man” and the Hollywood bigwigs saw this and jumped on it.

The first and in fact most blaxploitation films tended towards the action and thriller genres, set on “the streets” with bad ass heroes taking down drug dealers, pimps and corrupt cops. Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, Shaft and Superfly were the early groundbreakers of this style, but soon the producers branched out to fuse the hip blaxploitation template with other popular film genres. Thus came Blacula. The title makes it clear what intention the filmmakers had: with Hammer making Dracula making popular again back in 1966, why not use this to create a blaxploitation/horror hybrid?

The film was a reasonable success on its release in 1972, so much so that it spawned a sequel, Scream Blacula Scream and Eureka are releasing both films on one Blu-Ray in the UK, just before Halloween. I ventured into a dark room to see how well they hold up today.

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Friday One-Sheet: Summer of Blood will SUCK

I’m sure something like this has been done before; that is, using descriptive text to mimic critical review quotes. But I’m not sure I can recall any in which all of the text has a negative connotation. On top of that, it’s in a “haunted”, bloody font. Coupled with the disheveled (presumably) protagonist front and center, it’s a pretty inspired twist on the uninspired that have come before it.

I don’t know anything about this movie. The poster just showed up in my inbox this morning and thought it would be a lovely share. But the poster tells me exactly what this movie is: The 40 Year-old Virgin meets Dracula. It’s sure to be a romp.

Toronto After Dark 2014 Review: Housebound

 

As horror comedies go, I cannot think of a better one in the past 5 years than Kiwi directed Housebound. Not only is the film impressively shot and written, but the overall attention to production design and geography is a marvel. The film’s primary location, an old suburban mansion (evocative of the manor-home in Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive) we get to explore from the inside out as characters are often crawling through the walls and ceilings, as well as snooping around the property outside. It is a safe bet that somewhere director Gerard Johnstone has a sheaf of graph papers with all the measurements. For a first time filmmaker, to direct with this kind of confidence in both the film language, twisty plotting, well timed character reveals, and a love of call-backs, is a sure sign of a major up and coming talent. He even nails some tricky emotional beats late in the film which give the otherwise manic film, a bit of heart.

Bad girl, Kylie (Morgana O’Reilly) is first seen knocking off an ATM vestibule with her less than competent partner and some home made explosives. The botched job (and lengthy petty crime rap-sheet) lands her in a prolonged house arrest with her busy-body prattling mother and her spacey step-father. After the security company straps the electronic bracelet to her ankle, she cannot leave the house for any reason without risking landing in prison. Kylie is used to running away from her problems, but here she is stuck, with only a couple TV channels, and god-forbid, dial-up internet, so this is flat out torture, which she is more than happy to take out her pain on everyone around her.

A great set up, both for a haunted house movie and a riff on Rear Window. Admittedly the latter was done before with the mildly shitty Shia LaBeouf vehicle Disturbia, but Housebound is playing far more on the plate of character-based territory of Joe Dante’s The ‘Burbs, with a dollop of Wes Craven’s The People Under The Stairs and a soupçon of The Innkeepers. That Johnstone is well versed in the cues and beats of these types of films, and is willing to exploit them for laughs and legit horror makes things also run in the same ultra-fun circles as Sam Raimi’s Drag Me To Hell. The difference is that Raimi was a master-craftsman when he made that 2009 film as kind of a lark executed with precise editing skill, where this is Johnstone busting right out of the gate fully formed. To wit: the tension and comedy mileage he gets out of a character simply taking a piss (or holding a tape recorder) and you will know what I mean.

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Occultober – Day 17 – Prince of Darkness

Prince Of Darkness
Perhaps John Carpenter’s most underrated film, Prince of Darkness deals with both the catholic church and quantum theory in equal measure. While it doesn’t really sweat the details in either department, there is a sustained mood in the film, most embodied by a piece of video footage, possibly sent from the future as a warning. In this interlaced, very fuzzy video, which also doubles as a kind of collective, recurring dream for many of the characters, you see a dark shape, thought to be the anti-christ, coming out of a rather nondescript Los Angeles church, which happens to the principle location of the film.

A team of scientists (comprised of pretty much all of Carpenter’s stock players of the 1980s, sans Kurt Russell) is investigating the origin of a mysterious green fluid in the basement of this church. The beginning of the film is all bustle as the work-group carts in instruments, and has discussions in the hallways. But sinister, very supernatural craziness starts happening, and perhaps the border between earth and hell is breached.

It’s a doozy.

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VIFF 2014 Review: Force Majeure

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Relationships can survive through a lot but there are some things that are just too difficult, if not impossible, to get over. In Force Majeure, writer/director Ruben Östlund tackles one of those issues with laser fire accuracy and a cense of humour that comes as a welcome, if unexpected, surprise.

Tomas, Ebba and their two kids are on a family vacation in France. The trip is going well and everyone is having a good time skiing, eating and relaxing. While having breakfast one morning, the family watches as a controlled avalanche quickly approaches the patio where their food has just arrived and rather than slowing down, it looks as though the avalanche is gaining speed and power and that it will take out the patio.

Chaos.

Everyone runs.

Tomas pushes someone out of the way to get to safety while Ebba’s first concern is to protect her children. And then the snow fog settles and everything is all right. People laugh off their near death experiences and Ebba and the kids go back to their breakfast and are soon joined by Tomas.

The event starts to recede from memory until, over dinner later than night, Tomas and Ebba retell the adventure to a friend. Ebba calls Tomas a coward for running off. He claims to remember the events differently. What follows in Force Majeure is nearly 90 minutes of Tomas and Ebba trying to talk their way out of this impasse that has clouded their relationship. They’re constantly arguing, they can’t see eye to eye on anything and their kids are convinced that mom and dad are going to get a divorce. There’s nothing like a near death experience to highlight who we are at our core but also to force us to reconsider and re-examine our relationships.

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Cinecast Episode 369 – Sometimes You Gotta Lie to Tell the Truth

We should retitle the show from Cinecast to “room full of loudmouths.” Matt Gamble is back on the show this week to add that extra dimension of bitching, praising, complaining, droning and bloviation that this episode needed to give the series a good crane kick in the ass. First up it’s the festival favorite TIME LAPSE, which despite its high concept and heady nature, the boys find surprisingly little to say about except that it’s pretty great. Andrew and Matt report on the Jeremy Renner vehicle, KILL THE MESSENGER – which peaked far too early in the run time. Pat Morita is the sensei for THE KARATE KID in this week’s volume of The 1984 Project. With The Watch List this week, it’s more Fincher, more Duplass, more sci-fi and high concept, cannibalism, Amazon Prime, Mike Meyers’ directorial debut and Harry Potter with horns. Lastly we argue about nothing regarding HBO’s newly announced method of content delivery.

As always, please join the conversation by leaving your own thoughts in the comment section below and again, thanks for listening!


 
 

 
 

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Occultober – Day 16 – House Of The Devil

House Of The Devil
As with yesterday’s look at Suspiria, Ti West’s break out film could be viewed as an exercise in style. Pure 70s horror film style. From its opening freeze-frame credits through the loooooong build-up of tension, the movie quite deliberately calls to mind the aesthetic of many occult thrillers and slow burn horror films of the Me Decade. But it’s more than that…

Many fans of the film put an asterisk on their love for it – ie. “It’s great…*except for the last 20 minutes”. The complaint is that the movie throws away its devotion to the 70s films (the grain seems less and the colours seem richer in this last section) and goes for the gusto with a sudden switch to more gory scenes and a straight up reading of the title. I would argue that West quenches the thirst derived from stretching the tension and does so in a novel and eye-popping fashion. If the sacrificial ceremony isn’t wholly unexpected, it certainly is handled with aplomb (and how great was the casting of Tom Noonan?) and the film ends with a perfect dark, devil-worshipping, oh-you-thought-you-were-safe moment that also recalls occult and horror films of the past. But again, the movie is more than that…

The real strength of House Of The Devil is its characters – in particular its main character Samantha. You could apply most of the standard qualities of horror movie final girls to her – plucky, cute, virginal (if you’re going to target someone for a sacrifice…) – but the best quality of her character is that you can feel empathy for her. So as the dread starts in (especially around the time she is bopping around the house to The Fixx’s “One Thing Leads To Another”), you begin to feel anxious for her. And so you become invested in the outcome of the film.

And that’s why this movie works like gangbusters.

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VIFF 2014 Review: Welcome to Me

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It doesn’t happen often but once in a while, I come across a movie that makes me uncomfortable to watch. Usually they’re horror movies about people physically falling apart (I have an issue with decomposing bodies) but rarely does that feeling of discomfort weed its way into dramas and never mind comedies, but in the case of Welcome to Me, that’s exactly what happened and I loved every single uncomfortable second of it.

Directed by Shira Piven from a script from first time feature film writer Eliot Laurence, Welcome to Me stars Kristen Wiig as Alice Klieg, a borderline personality disorder suffering woman who spends all of her time at home accompanied by the droning sound of her television and endless VHS recordings of Oprah. Alice loves Oprah and when she wins $87 million dollars in the state lottery, she convinces herself that the thing to do is to buy herself a TV show aptly titled “Welcome to Me.” What’s it about? Well, it’s about Alice and all the people she hates and the things that make her tick which turn out to be a wide ranging and often wildly inappropriate. She hires women to play herself in skits from her youth, she records and airs session with her shrink and perhaps most stomach turning, she neuters dogs on television. Yeah, she’s crazy and the network owners who put her on the air only care about the fact that they’re getting paid. A lot.

Welcome to Me is really funny but it’s feel bad funny. Alice is a sad individual and I felt kind of creepy laughing at her antics but they’re just so ridiculous the laughter escapes. More often than not its nervous laughter – how else does one respond to watching a woman with little training perform surgery on her pet on national TV? – but it’s laughter none the less and truth is that Wiig earns that laughter. She’s been working in the fringes of dark comedy for some time but none of her roles have come close to her performance here which is nothing short of spectacular.

Welcome to Me is really funny but don’t be fooled because it also goes to some very, very dark places and provides a fascinating insight into a woman suffering from mental illness and how that affects the people around her.

Yes, it is an occasionally uncomfortable watch and I felt a little dirty laughing at some of Alice’s antics but truth is that I left Welcome to Me with a new appreciation of mental illness and that right there is as good enough a reason to see the movie as any. Lucky for you it’s also super entertaining.