George A. Romero: 1940 – 2017

It is with a heavy heart that we heard today that George A. Romero, god-father of the modern zombie, has passed due to Cancer in Toronto today. Romero of course gave us the Dead series of films starting in 1968 where he envisioned zombies not in the traditional Haitian, plantation sense, but as the end of the world, and as a (possibly accidental) metaphor for racism and the 1960s. It was also a rip-roaring good horror flick that has stood the test of time for nearly 50 years for being ahead of its time (in part due to the lead character Ben (played by Duane Jones) being black, but also in terms of narrative and filmmaking style).

The director started making industrial/commercial films for various companies after graduating from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, but after Night of the Living Dead he was a pretty major indie filmmaker and followed Night with a sequel, the more ambitious, both in gore and metaphor, Dawn of the Dead, which is considered by many to be one of the greatest films the genre has ever made. And while 1985’s Day of the Dead is kind of ignored by the mainstream lovers of the genre or considered ‘lesser’ than the first two entries, I personally love it dearly.

While Romero was often type-cast as ‘that zombie director’ he also re-invented the witchcraft film with Season of the Witch, government conspiracy and chemical weapons, The Crazies, the venerable vampire film as an addiction metaphor, Martin, as well as the creature feature anthology with Creepshow. There are so many nutty little corners of his career, from directing an episode to Mr. Rogers Neighbourhood, to (effective!) primate freak-out horror Monkey Shines, and gonzo medieval motorcycle cult favourite, Knight Riders.

Romero struggled in the 1990s and 2000s as he churned out a few more Dead films (including a modest sized studio entry, Land of the Dead) to diminishing returns. He moved to Toronto and acted as part-time mentor to several members of the local filmmaking community, and was popular at conventions and in repertory screening Q&As. I recall seeing him enthusiastically offer his unvarnished opinions on the large resurgence of the Zombie Genre he helped popularize in the early 2000s, a renaissance that has continued to this day. It is notable, that like John Carpenter, many of his classic films have been officially and unofficially remade, and homaged in every conceivable way.

Mr. Romero will be missed, but his contributions to the wilder side of cinema will likely never be forgotten.

The L.A. Times has more.

Review: The Fault in Our Stars

TheFaultInOurStarsStill1

Director: Josh Boone (Stuck In Love)
Screenplay: Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Webe, John Green (book)
Producer: Brendan Prost
Starring: Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Nat Wolff, Laura Dern, Sam Trammell, Willem Dafoe
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running time: 125 min.


Cancer sucks and generally speaking, movies about cancer suck. They’re saccharin and overtly manipulative of emotions and show you beautiful people dying and those around them suffering and in the end there’s a moment of happiness when you remember the dead soul who so deeply touched the life/lives of the central characters in the short time they knew the sickly person. The Fault in Our Stars is exactly that movie. The only difference here is that this features such charismatic performances that it doesn’t feel like emotional manipulation but more like some sort of catharsis.

Emerging writing superstars Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber are starting to corner the market on touching teen dramas starring Shailene Woodley. Last year they were behind the script for the much loved The Spectacular Now and here they are again adapting from John Green’s best selling novel about cancer kinds falling in love. Hazel (Woodley) is really sick and Gus (Ansel Elgort) is in remission. The pair meet at support group and immediately strike up a friendship that later develops into romance before tragedy strikes. After all, you can’t have a movie about cancer without some sort of tragedy (because having cancer isn’t tragedy enough).

The thing is that in the case of The Fault in Our Stars, the tragedy and emotion that goes with it works. Part of it is the fact that Green’s novel has a streak of bluntness running through it. It’s not all good moments and bad moments but a mix of the two, comedy hand-in-hand with tragedy, and Hazel and Gus tackle life with a sarcasm and sense of mortality that is refreshing. They talk about death, about what comes after (if anything) about the limitless living one can do in our limited time on earth and rather than feel sorry for the sick kids, I couldn’t help but think about what I’m doing with my life. Nothing like seeing young people suffer and possibly die to make you consider if you’ve done enough with your 30 years on earth.

Would you like to know more…?

Review: Broken Circle Breakdown

“You’ll rue the day that you were born. For givin’ me the devil cause I wouldn’t hoe corn.”

This is the stuff of old country music, the purest of joy taken, perhaps from mistakes made, perhaps just fate teasing and cruelly taking away. I have not been this emotionally affected by a film since Lars Von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark, but where that film is angry, manipulative and often recklessly dishonest in its melodrama (which I also love) for the purpose of provocation, Felix Van Groeningen’s Broken Circle Breakdown is earnest, warm, and utterly human – but no less calculated. In terms of an emotional endurance test, this is as powerful as anything I have seen, and yet it is an earnest, completely accessible slice of pop cinema as well. This is something of a miracle.

Opening in the warm yellows of a small town Flemish bar (a familiar location if you have seen the director’s previous The Misfortunates) Didier and his band are having a great time on stage singing Bluegrass tunes in accented american English to the locals. Cut to a harsh white light of a hospital room, icy cinematography that I have come to associate with Northern European film. It is presumably at some point in the future, and Didier’s young daughter, Maybelle, is getting injections for her advancing bone cancer. Didier’s wife, and singing partner, Elise makes a quietly tense plea to keep a positive face in front of Maybelle. Tears are to be bottled up until they are not in the hospital. This is impossible for such an empathetic husband and father who has never really had a reason to hide his emotions. Cut back to an even earlier point, where Didier charmingly meets and picks up Elise at the tattoo parlor where she works. He offers an impassioned, playful monologue about Hank Williams Sr. and Bill Monroe. Cut to their daughter playing with chickens in the yard of the converted church that Didier and Elise have converted to a home. Back to Maybelle’s cancer going into remission while she loses her hair and still requires more injections. This is the way that Broken Circle Breakdown juxtaposes carefree joy with wrenching emotional pain.

Would you like to know more…?

Trailer: The Broken Circle Breakdown

BROKENCIRCLEBREAKDOWN

Quite simply put, this one of the best films you will probably see all year. Felix Van Groeningen’s vivid emotional drama of life, love and Bluegrass tunes with its mouthful of a title, The Broken Circle Breakdown (Kurt’s review here) brought me to the brink of dehydration from all the tears of pleasure and pain that I shed over it’s runtime. Flemish director set the bar pretty high with his last film, 2009’s The Misfortunates (Bob’s review here), a family drama about four men who cannot seem to get this shit together, until you realize that they are living life to its fullest. Here the amount of growth and intimacy and yes melodrama (but the good kind) is heightened that audiences kind of stagger out of the cinema emotionally drained. Edited in an elliptical fashion that only heightens the intensity of the feelings, and sprinkled liberally with great music (as seen in this trailer) I cannot wait until November 1st when it hits select cities (Including a full run at Toronto’s TIFF LIGHTBOX) in a limited theatrical release. And hey, lookie there, Tribeca Films marketing folks even quote me in the trailer (My review was also cross-posted over at Twitchfilm)

Elise (Veerle Baetens) and Didier (Johan Heldenbergh) fall in love at first sight. She has her own tattoo shop and he plays the banjo in a bluegrass band. They bond over their shared enthusiasm for American music and culture, and dive headfirst into a sweeping romance that plays out on and off stage — but when an unexpected tragedy hits their new family, everything they know and love is tested. An intensely moving portrait of a relationship from beginning to end, propelled by a soundtrack of foot-stomping bluegrass, The Broken Circle Breakdown is a romantic melodrama of the highest order.

Fantasia 2013 Review: Broken Circle Breakdown

“You’ll rue the day that you were born. For givin’ me the devil cause I wouldn’t hoe corn.”

This is the stuff of old country music, the purest of joy taken, perhaps from mistakes made, perhaps just fate teasing and cruelly taking away. I have not been this emotionally affected by a film since Lars Von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark, but where that film is angry, manipulative and often recklessly dishonest in its melodrama (which I also love) for the purpose of provocation, Felix Van Groeningen’s Broken Circle Breakdown is earnest, warm, and utterly human – but no less calculated. In terms of an emotional endurance test, this is as powerful as anything I have seen, and yet it is an earnest, completely accessible slice of pop cinema as well. This is something of a miracle.

Opening in the warm yellows of a small town Flemish bar (a familiar location if you have seen the director’s previous The Misfortunates) Didier and his band are having a great time on stage singing Bluegrass tunes in accented american English to the locals. Cut to a harsh white light of a hospital room, icy cinematography that I have come to associate with Northern European film. It is presumably at some point in the future, and Didier’s young daughter, Maybelle, is getting injections for her advancing bone cancer. Didier’s wife, and singing partner, Elise makes a quietly tense plea to keep a positive face in front of Maybelle. Tears are to be bottled up until they are not in the hospital. This is impossible for such an empathic husband and father who has never really had a reason to hide his emotions. Cut back to an even earlier point, where Didier charmingly meets and picks up Elise at the tattoo parlor where she works. He offers an impassioned, playful monologue about Hank Williams Sr. and Bill Monroe. Cut to their daughter playing with chickens in the yard of the converted church that Didier and Elise have converted to a home. Back to Maybelle’s cancer going into remission while she loses her hair and still requires more injections. This is the way that Broken Circle Breakdown juxtaposes carefree joy with wrenching emotional pain.

Would you like to know more…?

Satoshi Kon. 1963-2010.

Satoshi Kon

Tragic that master animator Satoshi Kon, director of Paranoia Agent, Perfect Blue, Millennium Actress, Tokyo Godfathers and Paprika has passed on. I could not find actual details on why he died so young, but I am sure these will be forthcoming as more information goes out across the internet (at the moment, it is reportedly pancreatic cancer according to Screen International) Either way, he was in the middle of his next film, The Dreaming Machine, which may or may not be anywhere near completion. A very sad day for those who cherished his work. Condolences go out to his family, friends, colleagues and fans, as his brand of intelligent and emotional animation, easily some of the mediums best from anywhere in the world, will be sorely missed.

Blanchett to Fight Cancer; In Style

Cancer Vixen Book CoverSome interesting news coming out of Hollywood today; mostly interesting because they don’t quite fit the profile of the star involved.

Cate Blanchett, the four time nominated and one time Oscar winner is working on bringing a film adaptation of the book “Cancer Vixen: A True Story” to the big screen. From the title, you may be able to discern what the story is about but unless you’ve read it, you’re likely to miss the boat on the details. Marisa Acocella Marchetto’s graphic novel is a humorous look at how she fought breast cancer – without insurance. Here’s the blurb from Amazon which perfectly captures the story and Marchetto’s biting style:

In 2004, cartoonist Marchetto, a hyperstylish “terminal bachelorette,” was busy capturing “fabulista” humor, in the New Yorker and Glamour. She was engaged to a fabulous guy, perennially cool restaurateur Silvano Marchetto, whose personal style perfectly matched her Manhattan-centric life. If this were fiction, this is exactly when she’d stumble; unfortunately for her, life imitated art, and sure enough, she found a lump in her breast shortly before her wedding. Just as bad, she didn’t have health insurance: her policy had lapsed shortly before the fateful mammogram. Cancer Vixen tells the story of what happens next, and how her inner circle— stylists, gossip columnists, shoe designers and assorted others you’d only find in New York City, rallies round to help her beat the disease and get married on time and in high style. Marchetto wears her best high heels to chemotherapy and remarks on the similarities between her hospital gown and Diane von Furstenberg designs. The fashion details are great fun, drawn in a spare loose style, but it’s the heart of her story, the support and love she gets from her family and friends, that make Cancer Vixen a universal story that’s hard to put down.

Blanchett hopes to star in the film adaptation of the book and I can’t wait to see how this plays out. Blanchett as a New Yorker, fighting off cancer while being funny, irreverent and completely fashion savvy? Count me in!