Occultober – Day 11 – The Devil Rides Out

The Devil Rides Out
Christopher Lee and Hammer Horror are practically synonymous with one another, but usually he’s got fangs and red eyes and is the villain. Here, Lee is the hero investigating occult goings on in London and the surrounding countryside.

Known in the US as The Devil’s Bride, this one also stands out for being adapted for the screen by the great Richard Matheson (his novels “I Am Legend,” “Hell House,” short stories “Button Button,” Steel,” and numerous Twilight Zone episodes merely scratch the surface) from the book of prolific occult and horror novelist Dennis Wheatley. Wheatley’s non-supernatural, WWII espionage series of books featuring lead character Gregory Sallust is said to be the inspiration for Ian Fleming to write the James Bond novels.

The pedigree is there. Sophisticated colour cinematography, black magic, possession, occult sieges, and spiffy special effects are all on the menu. “On your feet quickly! Back to back! Join hands” The Devil Rides Out!

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Review: The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared

[Opening Today in Toronto on a single screen, if you get the chance to make it out to this one, run-don't-walk]

For all of us who feel Robert Zemeckis’s Forrest Gump is a sentimental, condescending insult to cinema audiences everywhere, and Fincher’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is not any better, we finally have an entry into ‘the man who fumbles successfully through history’ nano-genre to call our own. Do not let the maladroit title fool you, Felix Herngren’s big screen adaptation of the bestselling novel by Jonas Jonasson, is a Swiss-fucking-watch in the plotting department, and savagely amusing in its come-what-may temperament. It sneaks up on you in similar ways as Jo Nesbo’s Headhunters even as it dazzles you with the sweep of history.

After a tone-setting and highly unfortunate incident involving a sweet kitty, a hungry fox and a bundle of dynamite, one of cinemas strangest heroes, Allan Karlsson, finds himself confined to a retirement home on the eve his centenary year on this little planet called Earth. The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared (hereafter The 100 Year Old Man) is the delightfully absurd story of our eponymous very senior citizen who does indeed bail out the open glass portal of his tiny room right on the day while the nurses are attempting to count and light all those candles on his marzipan cake, but it is also the story of us as a conflicted and nutty species.

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Foreign Language Oscar Submissions – 83 of Them!

Wait, it’s Oscar nom time? But I haven’t seen anything good this year! Well, perhaps you’re in the wrong country or not hitting the festival circuit; because apparently the world seem to think that there are at least 83 films worthy of Oscar consideration. It’s a record year for the Foreign Language submissions this year. Last year there were 76 submissions (also a record), but 2014 has bested that number by seven.

Of course not all 83 will be up for an actual nomination. Eventually this list of 83 will be whittled down to five (which you will likely have heard of by then) and then on the big night only one will survive. I’ve always contended that the foreign language category is the one category that The Academy actually gets (mostly) right – both in nominations and often the winner.

At any rate, come February 22nd, one of the following titles will be crowned king of the films not funded by American monies:

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Friday One Sheet: The City At Night

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Undeniably the product of photoshopping separate elements together, this actually plays into the theme of the film, where Jake Gyllenhaal’s bottom-feeding videographer starts re-arranging crime-scenes to increase their ‘salable’ value to the local news channels.

Nice touches: The light-source on the end of the camera illuminate the title (and car accident debris), echoing the street lamps in the background. Also, all the power lines and transformers, bridges and street signposts indicate the infrastructure of what makes a town work, whether it is an eyesore or not. Nightcrawler is mainly shot in some of the more banal and ugly places of Los Angeles. In a subtle way, this poster indicates that while also contrasting it against the shiny new red muscle-car which features prominently in the film as the product (and enabler) of ill gotten gains from filming and selling the footage of grisly car accidents.

Occultober – Day 10 – Häxan

Häxan
Häxan, aka Witchcraft Through The Ages, is a Swedish-Danish documentary made in 1922 that is super-stylized, often hysterically theatrical, and a fascinating curio of its era. Director Benjamin Christensen gives an overview on demons and witches in Medieval times, not often (to me, anyway) clear in his distinction between fact and fiction, such that Häxan feels less like a documentary (admittedly the form was young, Nanook of the North having come out in the same year) and more like a horror-fantasia. Satan and witches and other assorted demons prance around in front of the static camera with varying colour tints applied to the Black & White footage and lots of special effects which evoke the pioneer of the form, Georges Méliès. The director himself plays Satan in the film, an image and performance that is difficult to forget. (He also plays Jesus Christ and simply himself in the film.) And the film has a field day with Inquisitor torture devices and other acts of human barbarism in medieval times.

The final product is surprisingly entertaining, gruesome, grotesque, and frankly, well ahead of its time; albeit it is difficult to put yourself into the mindset of an audience, either domestic or foreign, taking it upon its initial release. Enough that The Criterion Collection obtained the film and did a full restoration in 2001.

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Trailer: Focus

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If it seems like Will Smith has fallen off the face of the earth, well… you wouldn’t be too far off.

Other than an abysmal third Men in Black flick in 2012 and 2013’s After Earth, a vehicle for Smith’s son Jaden, we haven’t seen Will Smith lead a film since his duo of 2008 movies, Seven Pounds and Hancock. Considering it’s almost 2015, that’s a long time to go without Smith’s undeniable charisma gracing the big screen.

Directed by Glenn Ficcarra and John Requa (I Love You Phillip Morris, Bad Santa), Smith’s next film is titled Focus. While the plot itself doesn’t seem particularly original – the smooth-talking conman, the big heist, the femme fatale of questionable motives – I can’t help but be pleased to see Smith doing what he does best: making us wish we were as cool as him.

The movie looks slick and fun and maybe a bit mindless… which is all right by me if Smith can carry it.

Focus has a stateside release date of February 27, 2015.

VIFF 2014 Review: Queen and Country

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Two things that don’t always go together are war and comedy but leave it to writer/director John Boorman to bring the two together in a package that even I, someone who has peculiar comedic tastes and generally doesn’t care for war movies, enjoyed.

Queen and Country stars Callum Turner and Caleb Landry Jones as Bill and Percy respectively, army conscripts who have completed basic training and spend their days toiling under the watchful eye of Bradley (David Thewlis in a wonderfully comedic turn) teaching new recruits how to type. They don’t take their work or the military particularly seriously so when the opportunity arises to cause some trouble, Percy does just that by stealing a much beloved clock from the mess hall. That simple action sets into motion a series of events that allow Boorman to deal with some difficult aspects of war in a near perfect balance of comedy and drama.

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VIFF 2014 Review: Clouds of Sils Maria

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Olivier Assayas isn’t one of my go-to directors but over the years he hass made a few particularly notable films though for me, 2010’s Carlos marked a high point in Assayas’ career. For Clouds of Sils Maria, Assayas brings on Juliette Binoche as Maria Enders, an actress at the peak of her career who has been asked to appear in a revival of the play which launched her career decades before. At first she’s unsure she wants to revisit the material; she doesn’t feel comfortable playing the older character and she makes a compelling argument that she’s still connected to the young character that she played early in her career but after discussions with the director and pressure from her agent and her assistant, she agrees to take on the role and the challenge.

Clouds of Sils Maria is a perfect example of what Assayas does so well: create stories that are far more involved than they initially appear. Sills Maria is, essentially, an observation of the struggles of an actress trying to navigate her career in the best possible direction. Binoche is brilliant as Maria and the role comes naturally to her which makes you consider that perhaps there’s some deep rooted truth to the struggles and challenges her character faces. The film follows Maria from the initial offering all the way through the finish line but along the way, and particularly in the second act, the movie becomes a far more complicated beast as Maria works through the script with the help of her assistant Valentine (Kristen Stewart).

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