Trailer: XX

The Horror Anthology film is nothing new, but with XX, offering the platform to fresh and established female voices, it makes this one worth a look. And, the line, “You’re son tore my daughter’s finger nails off.” Yie! HER ONLY LIVING SON, directed by Girlfight and The Invitation‘s Karyn Kusama is just one of four shorts featured here, with an animation wrap-around by Sofia Carrillo. The other three are Annie Clark’s THE BIRTHDAY PARTY, Roxanne Benjamin’s DON’T FALL, and Jovanka Vuckovic’s THE BOX.

Check out the trailer below.

Blu-Ray Review: Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams – Criterion Collection

Director: Akira Kurosawa, Ishirô Honda (uncredited)
Screenplay: Akira Kurosawa
Starring: Akira Terao, Mitsuko Baishô, Toshie Negishi, Martin Scorsese
Country: USA, Japan
Running Time: 119 min
Year: 1990
BBFC Certificate: PG


I‘m not a huge fan of anthology films. This is partly down to the fact that they can be a mixed bag, with some great short films mixed with some not-so-great ones. It’s also because I’ve never been all that interested in short films in general. Animated films are the exception to this – I love a good animated short, which might explain why Memories (1995) is probably my favourite anthology. For whatever reason though, I rarely get excited about short live action films so I’m equally unenthused when presented with a few of them in the package of a feature film.

However, when I came across Dreams, an anthology film directed by Akira Kurosawa (although IMDB claims Godzilla’s director Ishirô Honda lended a hand) I was instantly interested. I’ve mentioned in previous reviews how Kurosawa is the director I’ve found most consistent in terms of quality. I’d seen 8 of his films prior to Dreams and loved them all, so if I see Kurosawa has directed any genre of film or subject matter, no matter how unappealing it may be to me, I’m always going to be more than willing to give it a shot.

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Yet Another Month of Horror 2015 – Chapter 3

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The Canadian Thanksgiving weekend provided one turkey and several tasty morsels: Leprechaun, The Canal, Tales That Witness Madness and Witchcraft.

 

Leprechaun (Mark Jones – 1993)
It didn’t really take me long to decide that the first film in the rather lengthy Leprechaun series (there’s six or seven of them in all I think) would be the end of the line for me. It’s not like I expected to be drawn into a series of horror-comedy films about an evil leprechaun, but nothing about this film gave me any reason to press forward. Everything is just mediocre. It’s not horrific or creepy or even suspenseful. And it was neither funny nor fun. That may be a subjective statement I suppose, but most of the humour is pretty basic and uninspired. Jennifer Aniston is actually pretty decent here in one of her earliest roles, but in the end I was simply bored. Warwick Davis is the titular little green guy, but his grotesque form just isn’t overly interesting after he cracks his first corny joke and gnashes his teeth. I guess there was an audience for this since they made more of them (apparently with different approaches and levels of comedy), but this particular one sure wasn’t made for me.

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Yet Another Month of Horror 2015 – Chapter 2

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The Paramount Vault releases make up the majority of this month’s first time watches: Grim Prairie Tales, The Sender, Shanks and Beneath.

 

Grim Prairie Tales (Wayne Coe – 1990)
An odd anthology film that spends more time with its wrap-around story than the 4 tales spun from it. Granted, when your wrap-around has James Earl Jones and Brad Dourif, I could see why you might want to give them the lion’s share – unless of course what they are given is 1) a fractured and weirdly paced arc and 2) really crappy direction for their line readings. Dourif plays a man riding back to Jacksonville Florida to see his wife (by horse across the prairies – the time period is likely late 1800s) when he encounters Jones after bunking down for the night in the great wide open. After much wide-eyed yelling at each other, they begin to swap stories. The stories – each one being more of a morality/immorality tale rather than anything horrific – are both interesting and kinda dull. Even though the individual tales are no longer than 10-15 minutes each, the pace is glacial…There’s a dryness to them that simply didn’t engage me. And yet, upon reflection, each one tackles its subject (intolerance, lust, hatred/fear, pride) in a fairly unique and non-obvious way. I have to give the film credit for a different approach. If only it were more entertaining…

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Toronto After Dark 2014 Review: ABCs Of Death 2

 

A Better Compilation? Definitely!

Appreciate Being Chilled, Distressed & Entertained?

A Barrel Containing Demonic Enticing Fun.

 

However you want to say it, ABCs Of Death 2 easily outpaces its predecessor in pulling together 26 stories (from 26 different directors/director teams) marked with mishaps and killings. When I saw the first in this series (let’s assume right now that number 3 will be in the works soon if not already), it was easy enough to count the solid segments on one hand. With their follow-up, the producers have gathered a completely new group of directors (many of whom have had films at previous After Dark festivals) and reversed the trend. I can only think of 4-5 stories that didn’t work for me or had major issues. If your 125 minute anthology film is firing on all cylinders for 80% of its runtime, that’s a damn good ratio.

The lesser stories certainly stand out…P is for P-P-P-P Scary may have been trying for something different, but seemed out of place, unfocused and intentionally somewhat annoying. L is for Legacy suffered hugely from easily the worst acting and special effects of the entire omnibus. A shame since you don’t see a great deal of genre fare from Africa (at least not in any potentially wide released film). There was an attempt to try things from a different angle as the story uses an African myth of the supernatural avenging the wrongly accused, but its execution is simply poor. And I is for Invincible failed to do anything interesting with its tale of a family trying to get rid of their rich matriarch.

These lesser segments impact the flow of the film somewhat, but even so, they are spread out and never drag things down. At 4-5 minutes a segment, this enables the 2 hour film to move at a pretty brisk pace. It all starts well with an amateur assassinator’s idealized view of himself and a pompous British personality getting bested by mutated badgers. It’s at this point that the audience started to settle into their seats and realize that talk of the sequel being an improvement was bearing itself out. The mix of styles starts to show here too – while ‘B’ is a stripped down “single shot” from a TV cameraman, both ‘A’ and ‘C’ have top notch production values and special effects. D is for Deloused is a grotesque, but fascinating stop-motion animation (very similar to a Tool video) and Bill Plympton uses the letter ‘H’ to contribute a manic wordless hand-drawn view of the deleterious effects that can arise from the head games couples play. A high point of the film is its actual centre: a slo-mo mountain of a man terrorizing a sidewalk in M is for Mastigate and Larry Fessenden’s marvelous convergence of events in N is for Nexus.

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A Month of Horror 2014 – Chapter 3

OctoberMonsterClub14

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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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Trailer: ABCs of Death 2

ABCs of Death

OK, so the first one wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be, in spite of a TIFF Midnight Madness bow and considering nearly every major up-and-coming indie horror director did a segment. And yet, word is that the second one branches out a lot more from horror and gore and easy gags, and there is actually some quality stuff contained there-in

More importantly, for this writer, my son is one of the two leads in Astron-6 FX guru Steve Kostanski’s segment which kicks off the trailer. Yup, the boy has an IMDb page consisting of horror movies, and makes a father proud.

The rest of the trailer features a lot of mayhem, pain, a little comedy, and a fair bit of gristly imagery. Give it a look.

Toronto After Dark 2012: Doomsday Book Review

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What better subject to use for an anthology film in 2012 than the concept of “doomsday” for the Earth? Korea’s Doomsday Book (which won the jury prize for best feature film at Fantasia) tackles 3 different end of the world stories – each with a different root cause – and does so with style, humour and a sharp eye for satire. What it may have been missing was a script supervisor. With only the three stories, the film still runs close to 2 hours and seems to have trouble letting go of its ideas as it wants to fully explore every single nook and cranny. Fortunately, there are still numerous great moments that are discovered through these thorough explorations.

Pil-Sung Yim (Hansel And Gretel) directs the bookends of the film while Jee-woon Kim (I Saw The Devil, The Good The Bad The Weird) helms the centerpiece section entitled “Heaven’s Creation”. Devoted to the concept of androids achieving a higher consciousness, it’s the most intriguing of the bunch and has a great central premise. An android bot which was initially supposed to be a servant at a buddhist temple appears to have attained enlightenment and the other monks see him as buddha. It prays with the rest of the monks and they seek advice from it, but they can’t help wonder why it is different and call in a technician to the temple. While his diagnostic tests show it is functioning properly, his protocol forces him to report it up to the senior executives of the company. They feel the machine should be “put down” since it doesn’t just execute orders given to it from humans, but instead ponders their requests. In other words, it does something it wasn’t designed to do – think for itself. Though beautifully shot with some interesting back and forth debates between the business people and the monks, it hammers certain points home too hard and drags far longer than it really needs by restating what it had already done quite nicely. Having said that, the ending raises new questions and, even though it is open ended, is highly satisfying.

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Blu-Ray Review: Let’s Wash Our Brains: RoGoPaG

Directors: Roberto Rossellini, Jean-Luc Godard, Pier Paolo Pasolini & Ugo Gregoretti
Screenplay: Roberto Rossellini, Jean-Luc Godard, Pier Paolo Pasolini & Ugo Gregoretti
Starring: Rosanna Schiaffino, Jean-Marc Bory, Orson Welles, Mario Cipriani, Ugo Tognazzi
Producers: Alberto Barsanti, Alfredo Bini & Angelo Rizzoli
Country: Italy
Running Time: 123 min
Year: 1963
BBFC Certificate: PG

In 1963, legendary Italian producer Alfredo Bini brought together three of Italy’s hottest writer/directors; relative newcomers (at the time) Pier Paolo Pasolini and Ugo Gregoretti as well as the great Roberto Rossellini, and combined their talents with the equally (if not more) popular Jean-Luc Godard to create the multi-director portmanteau (or anthology) film Let’s Wash Our Brains: RoGoPaG (a.k.a. RoGoPaG). The largely radical filmmakers were given free reign to create what they liked to each fill around 30 minutes of screen time, limiting themselves “to recounting the joyous beginning of the end of the world”. Each of them tackle the theme in their own unique way, resulting in four standalone pieces of work that don’t attempt to rub shoulders in any way. Unfortunately, like most of these anthologies, the results are rather hit and miss. So let’s have a separate look at the four films within RoGoPaG:

‘Illibatezza’ (Virginity) is Rossellini’s entry to the collection and for me was the weakest, getting things off to a poor start. Telling the story of attractive air hostess Anna Maria (Rosanna Schiaffino), who is stalked by the irritating American tourist Joe (Bruce Balaban), most of the film consists of dated, unfunny comedy as Anna Maria tries her best to shun her admirer. It’s all rather dull until the film’s point/twist finally comes around to make things vaguely more interesting when Anna Maria’s husband is advised to tell her to dress like a skank to ward off Joe who is “drawn to her purity”. Unfortunately this backfires as it turns Anna Maria into a woman no longer attractive to her husband. I’m not sure what sort of a message this is, but at least it adds a talking point to the dreary antics that preceded it.

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Genre Heaven! TIFF’s Midnight Madness and Vanguard programmes Announced!

As more and more TIFF press releases roll out, I always get excited for the Vanguard and Midnight Madness sidebars as they are pretty genre heavy and often transgressive or experimental without being too arty (i.e. Wavelengths). New films from directors Barry “Wag The Dog” Levinson, Rob “Devil’s Rejects” Zombie, Michel “Eternal Sunshine” Gondry, Ben “Kill List” Wheatley, Don “Beastmaster” Coscarelli, Martin “In Bruges” McDonagh and a host of new genre directors to discover which is part of the thrill of film festivals, both large and small.

Both programmes just went live on the TIFF website, for our thirsty eyes to devour and my initial reaction is that the Midnight Madness program has a significant American focus this year. No Asian Martial Arts flicks or Miike films; no rock documentaries; gone are the Euro-horror entries as well, signaling that the French New Wave (of horror) is taking a break. And this year’s films are loaded with celebrities: Colin Farell, Chris Walken, Paul Giamatti, Lena Heady, Sam Rockwell, Karl Urban, Eli Roth, Harry Dean Stanton, Woodey Harrelson, Tom Waits, Clancy Brown and Udo Kier. That is not to say in the slightest that the content of these films will be any more wild, gruesome and world class than they always are, but it might make for a very busy red carpet this year! Also, points to anyone who can make a coherent sentence using all the evocative titles on display for Midnight.

The Vanguard Programme is even weirder and more exotic and looks to be full of discoveries. If you are doing TIFF this year, you’ll pretty much find me at every one of these films.

All titles for both programmes can be found below:

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