Friday One Sheet: Valley of Shadows

The Toronto International Film Festival has gotten underway as of yesterday, and I would be remiss if I didn’t offer one of my favourite posters, for one of my favourite films playing the festival. Valley of Shadows is a gorgeous modern version of a classic fairy tale. The story is basically simple: A boy goes into the deep dark woods to look for his lost dog, but discovers unexpected things in his journey. But the construction is impressively formal in how it conveys its images and tone.

The poster emphasizes what much of the film-making language tries tries to impart. Namely, is the lead character dreaming or is this wandering quest a reality? The large moon, and the long winding river both converge on the sleeping form of the lead character, Aslak. The boy, the dog and a boat offer the beginning of the journey at the bottom of the poster. The colours and texture is all gloomy fog, and imposing wilderness. But what is the most eye-catching is how of a piece, the sleeping body of the boy integrates with the horizon. It’s evocative, and original, like the film.

The trailer for the film is tucked under the fold.

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Yet Another Month of Horror 2015 – Chapter 2

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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Review: Nightmare Detective 2

Nightmare Detective 2 DVD Cover
Director: Shinya Tsukamoto
Writer: Hisakatsu Kuroki & Shinya Tsukamoto
Producer: Shinya Tsukamoto, Shin’ichi Kawahara, Yumiko Takebe & Takeshi Koide
Starring: Ryûhei Matsuda, Yui Miura, Hanae Kan, Miwako Ichikawa
Year: 2008

Ryûhei Matsuda returns as the titular character, Kyoichi Kagenuma of Shinya Tsukamoto’s Nightmare Detective 2 (Akumu Tantei 2). It has been a few years since I saw the original while attending Toronto After Dark in 2007. Tsukamoto’s most accesible film to date at that time ended up on my top 10 of the year. The original involved an interesting hero battling an enigmatic creepy villan, played by Tsukamoto himself in people nightmares. The movie succeeded because of its creepiness, its strong story an interesting characters. Unlike a lot of directors Tsukamoto, who has never been known for doing things by the book takes the story inward and while the horror and mystery of an attack within dreams is told the film delves deeply into the psyche and origin of Kyoichi.

Nightmare Detective 2

Kyoichi is awoken from a nightmare involving his mother being terrified of him as a child to find Yukie Mashiro (Yui Miura). She begs him for help as she is being haunted in her dreams by another school girl, Yuko (Hanae Kan). Yukie and her two friends bullied Yuko and locked her in a shed. Since that night Yuko has left school but invaded her dreams. Kyoichi wants nothing to do with Yukie as his powers take a great toll on his body and his mind. Slowly over the course of the film Kyoichi discovers through his own dreams and by Yuko’s attempts to gain his help that both Yuko and his mother seem to have suffered dreadful fears when it comes to their friends and families. The Nightmare Detective is drawn into an attempt to save Yukie, Yuko all the while trying to come to terms with his mother’s fear of her own son.

Tsukamoto does not give any easy answers in Nightmare Detective 2. The story of Kyoichi is very emotional and Tsukamoto does not hold back on having Kyochi’s memories warped and mutated by his own fears and regrets. This is a story about how the power the Nightmare Detective has alienates the weilder from everyone else. Kyoichi, Yukie and Yuko are all lonely tragic figures. I will admit that Yuko as the villain is not as disturbing as the killer “O” in the original she is a more compelling tragic figure.

Nightmare Detective 2

As with the original Nightmare Detective 2 is more accesible than some of Tsukamoto’s other films but that does not mean it is a mainstream film. It will challenge you to put the pieces of Kyoichi’s past together as he discovers it himself. It is a creepy and disturbing film yet it has a real touch of heart and caring to it. I for one truly hope that Tsukamoto and Matsuda will return one final time and wrap the story up in a trilogy. I am sure we will be left with as many questions as answers when everything is done but with a character so compelling and Tsukamoto’s unique vision into dreams I for one welcome the challenge of revisiting the Nightmare Detective again.

Cinecast Episode 175 – There is no Spoon

The gang is all here, with the addition of RowThree contributor Bob Turnbull to talk the glossy mega-budget blockbuster that has been getting a lot of folks yammering. Yes, we spend an hour plus dissecting the themes and complex plotting of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice to help you understand the significance…er…If you wake up at a different time, in a different place, could you wake up as a different person? Inception has big dreams and those dreams look like action movies and video games. But what is hiding amidst the fancy wardrobe, the bombast and the talky exposition? Gamble, Kurt, Andrew and Bob investigate the meaning and magnificence of Christopher Nolan’s brain teasing Blockbuster SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! and throw out a few criticisms to temper the love in. While they are at it we rank our favourite Nolan pictures which leads to Kurt and Gamble in flat out war over The Prestige. There is another heady-dreamy-glossy science fiction picture sneaking in under the radar (if you are in Canada), Jaco Van Dormael’s busy mix of destiny, love and string theory (this one is Spoiler Free). Opinions on the film vary, but we all agree that Mr. Nobody should be seen on as big of a screen as possible. Matt and Bob talk docs on iconic personages (Joan Rivers and Rush). Andrew makes a case for The Rock and The Race to Witch Mountain. Gamble makes a case for micro-budgeted comedian driven cult mayhem in Operation: Endgame. To cap it all off, it is a Powell & Pressberger and Bong Joon Ho love-in on the DVD front.

As always, please join the conversation by leaving your own thoughts in the comment section below and again, thanks for listening!

To download the show directly, paste the following URL into your favorite downloader:

ALTERNATIVE (no music track):

Full show notes are under the seats…
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Dreaming in the Flickers

With Inception being the conversation du jour, one key splitting point on whether or not you are going to cry “Masterpiece” or merely “Top Notch Entertainment” for the film is how ‘mundane and rational’ the dream-state is portrayed. Leonardo DiCaprio’s Dom Cobb and his heist posse infiltrate, steal secrets and implant ideas into the mark by having him (or her) consciousness ‘shared in real time’ under the constraints of a maze-maker, The Architect, sort of a con-man (or woman) of the subconscious. The dreams as envisioned onscreen are represented in excruciatingly obvious metaphor at some times, with an elevator down to Cobb’s ‘basement of his subconscious’ and at others, like a full blown James Bond set-piece, as in the wintry fortress of solitude or elaborate car chases through town. It all looks like a (hundred) million bucks, but does it really dig into your brain? Nobody in Nolan’s world is standing naked in public or anxious (or self-indulgent) about much of anything, let alone violent sexuality or other taboo areas that the subconscious id may process when the super-ego is out of the picture.

It seems that dreaming and the movies have always been in sync with one another, from Buster Keaton’s Sherlock Jr. up to and including Guy Maddin‘s entire filmography (being a one artists personal cinema-laced fever-dream) and to action fare like the collective dream of The Matrix flicks.

So let us take a look at some other films that handle ‘dreaming’ portion of their narrative with a little more icky and a little more sticky, that is a lot less steel and polished glass and a lot more wounded flesh and psyche. Chime in with more entries I may have missed, there are many, some more obvious than others!

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R3view: Inception

Director: Christopher Nolan (Memento, The Prestige, The Dark Knight)
Writer: Christopher Nolan
Producers: Christopher Nolan, Emma Thomas
Starring: Leonaro DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Ken Watanabe, Cillian Murphy, Pete Postlewaite, Tom Berenger, Marion Cotillard, Michael Caine, Lukas Haas
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running time: 148 min

Inception is Ocean’s Eleven taking place in The Matrix with a dash of 007 and a tease of 2001: A Space Odyssey. A convoluted heist film that takes place in dreams within dreams within dreams. The job is to plant an idea into a rich industrialists subconscious (so-called ‘inception’) and get out undetected. The team leader brings his own baggage into the complicated job, and there is danger of the whole operation getting stuck down the rabbit hole as the dig deeper and deeper into the layers of the mind. Made with sharp suits, big guns and practical landscapes and sets, this is the first big budget blockbuster to come along since The New World with a sense of both scale and tactility.

Read all of our reviews below…

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More Inception. More Awesomeness.

I know there are a lot of you out there resisting all the details and spoiler-y visual opulence of Christopher Nolan’s science fiction blockbuster, Inception. I simply cannot resist looking at how they are slowly easing a multiplex audience into the world they have created. This new trailer focuses on the wonderful cast, and their unusual jobs within the world of the film. It is a great way to show off the star wattage, but still give people some sort of grasp of what the story is going to be . Nonetheless, I have no fear that this movie will be still blowing peoples minds on July 16th, no matter how much they give away in the marketing materials. I wonder if Nolan is a fan of Satoshi Kon’s Paprika as this film does seem to borrow a few of his images.

Cue deep-voiced man (or check out the character posters):

Leonardo DiCaprio is The Extractor
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is The Point Man
Ellen Page is The Architect
Tom Hardy is The Forger
Marion Cotillard is The Shade
Cillian Murphy is The Mark
Ken Watanabe is The Tourist

Trailer is tucked under the seat.

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Finite Focus: Monsters Vs. Aliens (ALIENS)

aliens_onesheetWhen one thinks of James Cameron‘s re-invention of the premise from 1979’s Alien, it generally is the macho bravado of the space marines that get the lion-share of quotable dialogue, and have been copied in other films to this day, ad nauseum. Yet the movie (most especially the lengthened directors cut of the film) slips in a strong maternal theme amongst the testosterone. While the film finally does turn Ellen Ripley into a ‘mech suited warrior’ (via the most well realized body-fork-lifter ever committed to celluloid), that comes later.

One of the strongest scenes in the film, perhaps showcasing some of Sigourney Weaver‘s best acting (this side of Death and The Maiden or Galaxy Quest) is a tender moment spent with the frightened little girl. Being the only survivor of the fledgling colony of a planet infested with monsters, Rebbecca, or Newt, likely witnessed many of the horrors when her parents bring home an embryo implanted in her father. Hardly a girl that needs to be lied to for protection, yet she is surely confused by the pretense of adults. Newt’s line of questions on ‘monsters’ and a tacit acceptance that they do indeed exist, ending with the connection to pregnancy is worthy of a Grimm fairy tale. Despite being a hearty mainstream blockbuster with crowd appeal, this moment stands out as one of (if not the) best moment in the film, worthy of Jan Svankmajer‘s Alice, a surreal take on Lewis Carroll that would come along two years later from eastern Europe, and feature a child actress bearing more than a little similarity to Newt’s Carrie Henn. Henn quit while she was ahead, not appearing in another film after this one.

Worthy of mention too is that the scene starts out cold, metallic and sterile (like most of Aliens) and ends on a warm orange light haloing both actresses in intimate close-up. This is one of the last breathing moments before a 45 minute long perfectly sustained action sequence. A sequence where much is on the line because of the tenderness of that moment.