Occultober – Day 15 – Suspiria

Suspiria
When most people think of Dario Argento’s delirious candy-coloured 1977 masterpiece, the first thing that comes to mind isn’t normally the occult. It isn’t the witches hiding within the European dance school, the specific powers held by The Mother Of Sighs (aka Mater Suspiriorum) or even the possibility that those powers were assumed by the young American student who defeats the coven leader in the end.

No, what most people immediately bring to mind is the gorgeous style of the film: the Lite-Brite infused cinematography, the tension of the great prog-rock soundtrack by Goblin (essentially Argento’s “house band” for several films) and the onset of a slow burn of an LSD trip. It’s the kind of movie that is praised for each of its film frames possessing the ability to be framed separately as a piece of art. People rhapsodize about its numerous set pieces – like the early hanging that crashes through a glass ceiling or the discovery of the coven towards the end of the film – as well as its many finely crafted images that stick with you (a set of eyes at the window, an invisible shape framed by lightning, etc.). None of it seems to make much sense, but it doesn’t have to…

First of all, the nonsensical nature of the movie just adds to the creep factor. From that first blast of wind as the American student leaves the airport all the way to the last burning embers of the school, there’s an unsettling feeling to this movie. Each new Skittles coloured scene and every “why is there a room filled with barbed wire?” moment just adds to that sense that something is obviously askew here. Which gets us back to that coven of witches…

The supernatural is at play throughout the whole film – it controls the students, commands guide dogs and allows just about anything to happen. And that’s what a good supernatural/occult thriller should do – make you slightly uncomfortable and unsure about everything around you. The genius of Suspiria isn’t its narrative or tale of sorceresses. It’s the ability to make you look at those still frames and, even if just for a second, worry that The Mother Of Sighs might come right out and get you.

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VIFF 2014 Review: Highway

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I’ve always been one to enjoy a good dose of Bollywood fare but it’s been some time, read years, since I’ve liked a Bollywood movie quite as much as I love Highway.

It could be that Imtiaz Ali’s new movie feels like a hybrid of typical Bollywood fare and a more western approach to filmmaking, largely leaving behind musical dance numbers and replacing them with long winded musical montages which work just as well if not better, or it could just be that this is great fun (it’s a bit of both).

Up and comer Alia Bhatt stars as Veera, a soon to be married young woman from a well to do family who is inadvertently kidnapped for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. At first she does everything she can to escape but after a particularly bad attempt, she gives into the fact that she’s been taken and that her captors will let her go when they’re ready and so she befriends them: Mahabir (Randeep Hooda), the handsome leader who takes time to warm up to the young woman, and Aadoo (Durgesh Kumar) the sidekick who is easily befriends Veera.

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Toronto After Dark 2014 – A Preview

 

As I’ve mentioned before, the Toronto After Dark film festival is quite close to my heart…I was there at its birth in 2006 and have attended every single one of its birthday parties since – whether it was in the old or new Bloor Cinemas, the Toronto Underground or in its recent digs at the Scotiabank. Every year has had its share of great and good films (and yes, a few not so great ones too) as well as memorable moments like the Funky Forest screening, the storm that blew out a projector, the Black Dynamite screening, the after after-parties, closing down Pauper’s Pub every night, and some damn fine Q&As by directors who are genuinely excited to be there.

Even though just about every film festival that has ever existed says “this will be our biggest year ever!”, all signs certainly point to this being a big one in the history of Toronto After Dark. With just a few days to go before the festival kicks off (it runs from Oct. 16-24 and screens 19 feature length films and 28 shorts), there are already 3 sell-outs and, according to their web site, apparently another 3 about to sell out. Good news for the fest to be sure, but not too surprising when you look at their lineup (all trailers can be viewed from the festival’s schedule page):

 

Thursday October 16th

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Housebound – This opening night film from New Zealand promises a haunted house set of thrills. Apparently it can back up that claim with an award from another festival as well as numerous good reviews floating around. I haven’t seen a really good haunted house movie in a while, so I’m pretty psyched for this opener and expect the fest will kick off with a rollicking crowd pleaser.

Suburban Gothic – Described as a “ghost-hunting horror comedy”, this could go either way – specifically because of the two words “horror” and “comedy” being put together. Oh sure there have been plenty of good ones, but if the director and cast can’t hit the proper tones, it can all fall apart. The cast looks pretty solid, and since TAD has been pretty good at kicking their festival off strongly, I’ll stay on the optimistic side for this evening.

 

Friday October 17th

Hellmouth – A portal to hell horror starring Stephen McHattie? Sign me up! Written by Tony Burgess of Pontypool fame? I’m doubly excited! Wait…Didn’t Burgess also write last year’s abysmal (at least in my opinion) Septic Man? OK, let’s call it even and just say I’m singly excited…

 

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ABCs Of Death 2 – I’m a big fan of horror anthology films, so the first ABCs Of Death sounded like manna from heaven. Turned out to be a mixed bag of Halloween treats – mostly of that crappy candy corn variety. To be fair, there were several really strong stories and rumour has it that this second installment has much more quality control on it and an even more interesting list of directors.

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Occultober – Day 14 – Paradise Lost 3

Paradise Lost: Purgatory
The third West Memphis 3 documentary by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky was made in 2011. This was now 18 years after the three young children were killed and hog-tied in a ditch on the side of the road in small-town Arkansas. While the filmmakers were diligently following the legal proceedings, and coming to grips that John Mark Byers, as tantalizingly over-the-top as a suspect, was really not guilty, some DNA testing was performed and in some degree disputed the guilt of Jessie Misskelley, Damien Echols and Jason Baldwin of the crime.

Before another appeals trial could be put together, the state of Arkansas offered a plea deal allowing them to go free, but they had to agree to be ‘guilty’ and not further press legal charges of their own for wrongful prosecution. All of this happened just as Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory was about to debut at the Toronto International Film Festival, and thus, the whole trilogy had an ending of sorts which contradicted the ‘Purgatory’ subtitle.

The third part in the chapter is more of a summation of everything to date, with apologies to John Mark Byers, and a focus on another suspect, Terry Hobbs, a different step-father one of the three murdered boys. The film is not as aggressive as the second one, and lacks focus, often is too repetitive. I do not necessarily recommend watching the trilogy in a single binge, or you will be a bit frustrated with these repetitions.

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A Month of Horror 2014 – Chapter 3

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Let’s dig into a few more tasty horror treats…In this post: Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things, Monster Club, The Town That Dreaded Sundown and Gurozuka.

 

Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things (Bob Clark – 1973)
I’m not sure how this “let’s get our friends together and make a movie” movie didn’t completely collapse into itself, but it somehow stayed afloat even if about 70% of the frame at any given time seems to be complete blackness. Fortunately director Bob Clark (Black Christmas and a c.v. of films almost as diverse as Robert Wise) wisely decided to clad his group of friends in brightly coloured clothing for their night time adventure through an island cemetery for fun & games and inspiration for their play. None of them seem to like each other, so calling them “friends” might be a stretch, but they all seem to follow the egotistical and nasty director who performs a number of rituals over the graveyard. Without really meaning to, he ends up accidentally waking a whole assortment of dead folks. The last 20 minutes of the movie actually work quite decently with the troupe trying to battle and escape the zombies, but it’s a bit of a challenge to get there.

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Occultober – Day 13 – Paradise Lost 2

Paradise Lost: Revelations
The second documentary by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky on the West Memphis Three was made seven years after the three young children were killed and hog-tied in a ditch on the side of the road. This follow-up, taking place in the middle of the lengthy legal appellate process, is one of the most emotionally powerful movies ever made. It’s power comes at the expense of any kind of objective reality, however, as the filmmakers set out to make a very strong case against one of the victims’ step-father, John Mark Byers. Cherry picking evidence, simultaneously inflating importance of things while deflating others, the filmmakers fall exactly into the trap that they accuse the community and law-enforcement in their first film, Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills.

Here we get to see Byers perform (apparently whacked out on mediation) for the camera. He spits fire and brimstone, give church sermons and raise holy hell against the convicted teenagers Jessie Misskelley, Damien Echols and Jason Baldwin. Meanwhile, Damien Echols, who got by far the most media attention of the three, has matured considerably on death-row for 6 years, and is far more articulate to the camera. Equal parts regretful of his naiveté during the original trial and grateful of the support of activists, celebrities, and others on the outside who are helping his legal team make sense of all the evidence – or lackthereof in terms of ‘reasonable doubt.’

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Soundtrack Of Your Life #6: Donnie Darko

0 days… 1 hour… 12 minutes… 49 seconds. That… is when the episode… will end.

Each episode, Corey Pierce welcomes a guest onto the show who has chosen a compilation or soundtrack that speaks to a memorable era of their life. The soundtrack will play underneath and serves as a springboard to discussion about the music itself, how it works within the film, and what was going on with their life at the time of its release.

For episode 6 Corey welcomes Toronto Film Scene writer Sean Kelly to pick apart the lyrical themes and time travel theory details that makes up 2001’s Donnie Darko, the cult sensation that after countless viewings inspired Sean to seek a B.A. in Cinema and Media Studies. We use the rare 2004 Director’s Cut version of the soundtrack as a base and discuss the difference in song usages, as well as diversions on bullying, 9/11, life with aspergers, and more.

Follow Corey Pierce on Twitter at – @coreypierceart
Follow Sean Kelly on Twitter at @SKonMovies
Follow Soundtrack of Your Life on Twitter at @thisisyourOST

DVD Review: Two Days, One Night

Director: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne
Writers: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne
Starring: Marion Cotillard, Fabrizio Rongione, Pili Groyne
Producers: Denis Freyd, Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne
Country: Belgium
Running Time: 99 min
Year: 2014
BBFC Certificate: 15


(maybe add half a star if you’re not familiar with the Dardenne brothers’ previous work)


I had the pleasure to review The Dardennes Collection back in 2012, which consisted of 6 of the brothers’ most famous films, including their latest from that year, The Kid With the Bike. I hadn’t seen any of their work previously so I received a crash course in their brand of no frills yet perfectly balanced filmmaking and fell in love with it. I may not have given every title top marks, but they were of such a high standard I found myself being quite harsh on the slightly less mind-blowing films in the set even though I adored the collection as a whole. So understandably my expectations were very high for Two Days, One Night, the Dardennes brothers’ latest film, especially since it’s been picking up universal praise amongst critics, many of whom are calling it their best work.

Like most of their other films, the story here is quite simple, in fact this could probably be their most sparse narrative. Basically, Sandra (Marion Cotillard), a young mother with a history of depression, is told that her work colleagues have opted to take a €1,000 bonus rather than keep her on as an employee. Feeling the staff had been pressured into making this decision, Sandra manages to talk her boss into running another vote and she has just the weekend to convince her colleagues one by one that they should give up the money to let her keep her job.

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The Empire Strikes Back: Uncut (Director’s Cut)

It’s finally here. The full, uncut version of the fan made version of The Empire Strikes Back. Star Wars Uncut was released a few years ago and after the success, the powers that be deemed a sequel was necessary. It’s been a long wait, but The Empire Strikes Back is ready to be watched in all of its fan-made glory.

It’s the entire length of the movie cut into short clips (from about 5 seconds to 15 seconds) and created by fans from around the world. Drawings, action figures, home CGI, live action office hijinx, marionettes, animals, stop motion, claymation and even just ethereal wierdness; you name it, all were brought in to recreate this masterpiece. And if you watch carefully, other areas of inspiration were brought in by many fans as well; from Wes Anderson to beer commercials to Devo to spaghetti and meatball Star Destroyers… and that’s just in the first fifteen minutes!

You can check out the entire uncut film below. Once you start, it’s difficult to stop watching. Enjoy1