Yet Another Month of Horror 2015 – Chapter 5

.
Wrapping up the month with: The Serpent And The Rainbow, The Majorettes, The Flesh Eaters and The Ghoul.

 

The Serpent And The Rainbow (1988 – Wes Craven)
Thanks in part to Matt Price and his podcast “Let’s Scare Matthew Price To Death”, I’ve finally closed a huge gap in my horror knowledge by seeing – on screen no less – Craven’s enormously entertaining film. This past week Matt helped present Craven’s The Serpent And The Rainbow at The Royal cinema here in Toronto and then did a live on stage podcast directly after the film (inviting several other local podcasters to join him). I had started watching the film years ago, got 10 minutes in, tuned out and promised I’d get back to it one day – and thank goodness I did. I must’ve been in some weird zombi-fied state lo-those-many-years-ago not to have jumped head first into this movie. Granted, Bill Pullman is Bill Pullman in it and occasionally distracts from the more serious moments, but fortunately the film allows itself to play in that surreal middle ground between reality and dream and have a ball with it (that coffin scene is one for the ages). There’s also a wider view of how Haiti itself woke from their own political slumber (which is done surprisingly subtly) and a couple of proper jump scares – build-up, payoff and well-deserved audience reaction. That voodoo is gonna get ya!

Would you like to know more…?

Yet Another Month of Horror 2015 – Chapter 4

.
The bookends were terrific surprises as I didn’t even know they existed a week ago: Next Of Kin, Just Before Dawn, Deathdream and Don’t Deliver Us From Evil.

 

Next Of Kin (1982 – Tony Williams)
Psychological horror? Ghost story? Giallo? Slow burn thriller? Why yes, yes it is. This little known Australian flick about a woman who returns to run the family rest home after her mother passes away not only covers a variety of stylistic and thematic horror approaches, it does so wonderfully well through an extremely well-orchestrated story. Containing some lovely & creative shots, a fantastic score by Klaus Schulze (did my day ever brighten up when I saw his name in the credits) and some deft changes of pace, this is easily one of my best horror finds in a very long time.

Would you like to know more…?

Preggoland Trailer

Preggoland

I always love a little surprise at a film festival but that surprise is usually a little foreign gem and rarely does it manifest as a comedy and a Canadian one at that.

Last year’s VIFF brought both the awesomeness of Welcome to Me (trailer, review) and Preggoland (review). The latter is written and stars Sonja Bennett, a talented Canadian actress who you’ve probably seen gracing either your small screen or the silver screen. She’s been around for a while but her turn here as Ruth, a 30 something woman who fakes her pregnancy, is really star making. Not only is the script funnier and smarter than the concept has any right to be, Bennett has excellent comedic timing and the movie, which also co-stars James Caan and Danny Trejo in an unlikely but hilarious role, is a big winner.

The entire thing is directed by Jacob Tierney and that right there is indication that we’re in good hands, but Preggoland really defies expectation to deliver a great Canadian comedy the likes of which I haven’t seen since Starbuck (review).

Preggoland opens across Canada on May 1st.

VIFF 2014 Review: Preggoland

VIFFBanner2014

PreggolandStill

You know that moment when you realize you’re so deep into a lie there’s no easy way to turn back? Preggoland is exactly that. Except it’s also much more than that.

Sonja Bennett stars as Ruth, a single 30 something who lives at home with her dad. All of her friends are married with kids and her younger sister is the bane of her existence, making Ruth feel like a teenager and in a way, she is. She works at a local grocery store where she’s worked since high school, she hangs out with co-workers who are half her age and generally doesn’t appear to be doing much with her life. And then she’s mistaken for being pregnant. And she goes along with it. But then she tells her friends she’s pregnant and then suddenly her life seems to be taking on some meaning and actually moving forward except the whole time she’s living one big sham and lying to everyone.

The idea of going along with a misconception isn’t exactly new but Bennett, who also wrote the script, brings a charm and likability to Preggoland which I haven’t seen in other movies which feature the female version of the “man child.” Part of it is Bennett herself who fully commits to the role an delivers a great performance complete with outstanding comedic timing, but there’s also the script which takes a ridiculous premise and goes in some interesting directions with it exploring everything from friendship to strange and complicated family relationships and though it ends with a sort of happily ever after, it earns that ending.

Preggoland reminded me a little of Starbuck, that other Canadian gem from a few years ago. It features similar characters with similar story arcs about growing up and becoming better versions of themselves and I expect that when this lands a Hollywood re-make, it will turn out just as badly as the Starbuck one did. Thankfully, we’ll always have the original.

Preggoland has been picked up by Mongrel Media who will open the film Spring 2015.

VIFF 2014 Review: Elephant Song

VIFFBanner2014

ElephantSong

If there is one person winning at VIFF this year, it’s got to be Canadian bad boy Xavier Dolan. Not only has he impressed the crowd with his stunning directorial effort Mommy but he’s appeared in no less than two other films screening at the festival. The first, a middling drama from Daniel Grou (the only memorable part of that film are the performances, particularly that of Dolan) and now Elephant Song, a period drama based on a play of the same name.

Directed by Charles Binamé, Elephant Song stars Dolan as Michael Aleen, a troubled young man committed to an asylum and his afternoon chat with Dr. Toby Green (Bruce Greenwood). Dr. Green isn’t Michael’s regular shrink but he’s been asked to speak to the boy to try and find out where his regular doctor has disappeared to. In the two hours that follow, Dolan and Greenwood banter back and forth, mostly in circles, and Michael slowly shares personal details about his past. Apparently Greenwood can’t just read the file because he left his glasses at home…yeah.
Would you like to know more…?

Secret Society & Price of Success Explored in “Echelon: The Series”

EchelonTheSeries

Mark A. Krupa is best known for his work in front of the camera, notably as Bjorn in the excellent The Wild Hunt (review) and most recently as the sadistic Indian Agent in Jeff Barnaby’s outstanding Rhymes for Young Ghouls (review) but the actor is also an accomplished producer, writer and director and he’s ready to take the plunge into the world of webseries.

The concept of Echelon: The Series is fantastic. It centers on an elite agency called Echelon which operates from funding and support of angel sponsors to mentor emerging talent. The contract stipulates that when they leave the program, beneficiaries are required to fulfil a single request and that contract is strictly enforced by Strahd, also known as the “Collector” (played by Krupa).

Would you like to know more…?

Trailer: The Husband

We love Canadian genre-hopping director Bruce McDonald in the Third Row. From his road pictures to his rock documentaries for the CBC (and rock-mock-docs for the rest of us), to his slacker comedy to his semiotic take on the zombie subgenre, the prolific director keeps providing quality on all fronts. With The Husband, which premiered to some acclaim last year at the Toronto International Film festival, McDonald tackles the darkly comedic horror of the male ego and rage. The film stars Maxwell McCabe-Lokos with Stephen McHattie (yay!) and the wonderful August Diehl.

Henry, is having a really bad year. His wife, Alyssa, a former teacher, is in jail for sleeping with a fourteen-year-old student, leaving Henry to raise their infant son alone. He loathes his ad agency job — and his co-workers even more. Moreover, the burden of single-parenting has essentially cut Henry off from his friends, leaving him to stew. Henry has kept a lid on things so far, but as Alyssa’s release looms, he finds it increasingly difficult to contain himself.

Review: Derby Crazy Love

New Skids On The Block in Derby Crazy Love

The niche world of roller derby is one that exists below the radar. Having peaked in the late 1970’s with Disco culture, the female dominated sport all but died out. That is, until the early 2000’s. What was once akin to the WWE is now back with a vengeance, and taking the world by storm. Derby Crazy Love, the latest documentary from Torontonian filmmakers Maya Gallus and Justine Pimlott, lifts the veil of mystery, and introduces the world to the sport, its key players, and the beauty of its doctrine.

The film moves as feverishly fast as the women who whirl around the track. From the first frame, it’s as intoxicating as the star players describe the sport. With over 1400 leagues around the world, the derby movement shows no signs of slowing down. “The world is going Derby!” exclaims Montreal’s Plastik Patrik, announcer for the Montreal New Skids on the Block. When it comes to derby, he says, “the weirder the better.” The Emcee is famous for his Frank N Furter-esque, Iggy Pop and Ziggy Stardust style, and is very much the New Skids’ mother hen.

The beauty of this documentary is that it doesn’t simply dissect the sport; it seems to accurately represent the culture that surrounds it. While it does give a very brief explanation of the often-confusing object of the game, this is hardly the focus. What Maya Gallus and Justine Pimlott have given us is a portrait of a culture, and a way of life. Would you like to know more…?

Review: I Declare War

One weekend day a number of the nerdier kids from the local middle school gather their sticks and twine and balloons filled with red dye, and head into the local woods to play capture-the-flag. Oh, those tweens today with their Bieber hair-cuts and their war games. While we are never given any visual context of this one-day war, it is implied that these games have been going on for some time and someone is keeping statistics. Jason Lapeyre’s odyssey of two groups of kids battling in the forest (no this ain’t The Hunger Games, more like a leafy, agora-version The Stanford Prison Experiment) is a peculiar, but totally engrossing combination of make-believe and reality. At that age friendships seem like everything, everything takes on air of importance and intensity. The film often shows real guns and grenades (and explosions) even if the kids are just using whatever sticks and whatever hobby kit items they happen to have crafted into weapons. Make no mistake however, they take their game very serious; there are rules (handily communicated in the animated opening credits, so as to not belabor the exposition) and things are played with strategy and a chain of command. I Declare War delights in juxtaposing war-film cliches with a real ear for 12 year old banter. Its war sequences are a combination of thrilling battles and humorous knowing nods; certainly for those who grew up in the 1970s, but probably anyone who grew up with a creek behind their house.

Nobody takes the war more seriously than P.K. Sullivan (Gage Munroe with his afore-mentioned Beiber do) fancies himself General George S. Patton; albeit he is young enough that loyalty is not valued as much as a collection of soldiers to throw under the bus for whatever plan he has to win-at-all-costs. Nevertheless, as the alpha-male of his team, he remains in charge. The other team, headed up by equally blonde, Quinn, has some leadership issues, and the only girl in the game which adds some pre-teen sexual tension to the equation. Mackenzie Munroe, who looks like a very young Emma Stone is really quite magnificent and has real screen presence (some of the other supporting kid actors are a bit more dodgy in their acting) sporting a brain and a crossbow and A-cups (and is not afraid to use either or all of them.) Let us be clear, while this film wears the clothing of war and adventure in the woods, it is equally interested in being a crucible for all of the kids to work out their issues and anxieties while waiting for the next battle. War is 10% violence and 90% waiting, so there are plenty of opportunities to talk about religion, philosophy (albeit at a youth level) or perhaps what species of dog would you allow to give you a blow-job if you were rewarded with riches and fame. Yes, these 12 year-olds drop F-bombs often, and when provoked can be total assholes to each other.

A subject such as bullying is far better handled, as I see it, in a fictional narrative form than as a doc (as in, say 2012’s Bully) and I Declare War certainly covers several (if not all) angles of bullying, making the entertaining movie perhaps one of the definitive voices on the subject. It postulates that bad leadership is the worst kind of bullying, and that is something which is as applicable to the adult world as it is to the playground set.

[After a successful festival tour, including ActionFest, FantasticFest and TIFF, I Declare War opens in Toronto today, with an opening in Vancouver on May 17th.]

Review: Beautiful Boy

[For those of you in Canada, Shawn Ku’s film is getting a limited theatrical release, and here is my previously written review (slightly copy-edited) from TIFF]

 
There are enough school shooting films out there at the moment that they are threatening to become a sub-genre unto themselves. Elephant, Bowling For Columbine and Polytechnique have all won major awards and even Uwe Boll has even made a film on the subject, so there is your filmmaker spectrum rather covered. Enter freshman filmmaker Shawn Ku who gives us a different perspective on the genre with Beautiful Boy. It is a solid first film, but rather torn on two fronts: On one hand it struggles to transcend clichés as a hand-held realistic and grounded drama, and on the other it wants to throw plates, obsessively scrub gravestones and have its principle characters do enough body-shaking crying so as to rival a belly-dancers funeral. There is a good film struggling to get out past a few bad writing choices, screenplay feels just a tad overwritten. Bolstered significantly by top shelf performances from its leads, Maria Bello and Michael Sheen (with a solid American accent), the two play the grieving parents, Bill and Kate, of freshmen college student Sam. Sam is killed in a columbine style school shooting and Kate immediately knows her son is the victim when the cops come knocking at the door. But both parents are flabbergasted when they discover that it was their son who shot all of his classmates before turning the gun on himself.

Would you like to know more…?

TIFF Review: Fubar II

 

 

The second trip with Dean and Terry, the west-Canadian uber-Hosers who like their music loud, their beer cheap and their women stripping, proves to be a classic sequel. While the characters are now familiar (well to the growing cult of fans of the first film), the film is bigger, louder and scope a little larger though director Michael Dowse remains married to the ‘faux doc’ style, here playing a lot more fast and loose with it (there is even a significant special effects shot) than the original. Fubar the sequel may not ‘breathe’ as much as the first one, but that is only because the boys are on a bender to end all benders. With a carefree filmmaking attitude that matches the characters overbearing yet lovable cluelessness, the film is a big sloppy kiss with no pretensions other than making its audience groan and giggle at the buddy antics of its metal-head heroes.
Would you like to know more…?