Shorts Program: The Dancing Pig (1907)

There’s more TCM Fest stuff to come, including a rundown of the Return of the Dream Machine program, which featured films from 1900-1913 projected with an original 1908 hand-cranked projector – it was a very special evening, and introduced me to one of the most amazing, incredible, and bizarre pieces of early cinema I’ve yet seen. It affected me so much that I feel the need to share it with everyone I know, in every outlet I have. Ladies and gentlemen, behold….The Dancing Pig.

[The most amazing thing about this short is that apparently this vaudeville program was so popular at the time that there were numerous film versions made of it, by almost every studio. This one from Pathe seems to be the main one that’s survived to today.]

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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Shorts That Are Not Pants – October 2012

Last week, Toronto filmgoers were given a very special treat courtesy of James McNally and his labor of love since late 2009, Shorts That Are Not Pants. The latest edition of the screening series, which is exclusively devoted to short films and occurs at various points throughout the year, was held in a brand new venue for the first time: the newly renovated Carlton Cinema, located in the heart of Toronto near Yonge-Dundas Square. With the closing of the series’ previous home, the NFB Cinematheque, and the recent announcement of the Worldwide Short Film Festival’s indefinite hiatus, such events devoted to independent and short films are more important than ever in a city that seems to be becoming increasingly problematic for film programmers and festival curators outside of established players like TIFF and Hot Docs. But thankfully, all the signs point to Shorts That Are Not Pants only continuing to thrive, as not only did last week’s screening get a great turnout, but all seven films shown were very well-made and enjoyable and the whole program clocked in at just under seventy minutes, a perfect running time for a shorts program. There’s no doubt that James has cultivated a real knack for preparing these marvelous events, and I can’t wait to see what he’ll have planned for the program’s next edition, which will hit Toronto in January 2013. Until then, here are some of my thoughts on the assorted gems I recently got to see.

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DVD Review: Ghost Stories – Classic Adaptions from the BBC Vol. 3 & 4

In the 1970’s between ’71 and ’78, the BBC produced an annual ghost story each Christmas to further chill the bones in the winter period. These were short 30-minute or so films largely based on classic literature, chiefly the work of M.R. James, but original scripts were written once these dried up.

The BFI have been gradually releasing collections of these films on DVD, along with a couple of ‘unofficial’ additions to the series (according to Wikipedia that is). I foolishly missed out on the first two volumes, but caught up with volumes 3 and 4 which contain the films Lost Hearts, The Treasure of Abbot Thomas and The Ash Tree on vol. 3 and The Signalman, Stigma and The Ice House on vol. 4.

Volume 3

Directors: Lawrence Gordon Clark
Screenplays: Robin Chapman, John Bowen, David Rudkin
Based on stories by: M.R. James
Starring: Joseph O’Conor, Michael Bryant, Edward Petherbridge, Barbara Ewing
Country: UK
Running Time: Approximately 35 min per film
Years: 1973-1975
BBFC Certificate: 12

1973’s Ghost Story for Christmas was Lost Hearts, an M.R. James story adapted by Robin Chapman and directed by Ghost Story mainstay Lawrence Gordon Clark (the only film he didn’t direct was The Ice House). It’s a fairly straightforward horror affair following recently orphaned Stephen (Simon Gipps-Kent), who goes to live with his uncle, only to find the house is haunted by the ghosts of two children his own age. As his uncle begins to act more and more peculiar it seems that the spirits may be warning Stephen about something.

It’s an unremarkable, but entertaining little horror story. The imagery of the ghost children gets spookier as it goes on, but some shaky child-acting and basic TV makeup and lighting spoil things a little. The locations look great though and it’s a fun old fashioned yarn.

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TCM Film Fest: Retour de Flamme – 3D Rarities

For reasons I can’t entirely explain (but I’ll probably try anyway), the prospect of seeing vintage 3D films fascinates me, even as I do my best to avoid current 3D as much as possible. Part of it is simply a the ability to see something in a form that we usually can’t anymore (because 3D films from the 1950s and before are usually seen only in 2D now), part of it is an interest in the more experimental shorts included in the program, part of it is an illogical preference for old things, part of it is mere curiosity about whether it would be better or worse or different than modern 3D, and part of it is just perversity. In any case, I knew from the moment this program was announced that I would try to go see it, and I’m very glad I did, for all the reasons I just mentioned, and because Serge Bromberg, the French film historian who curated and presented the program, is an absolute delight, as well as being extremely knowledgable and able to accompany the silents himself on the piano. If scheduling had permitted, I would’ve gone to his Trip to the Moon program as well.

The program had everything from Disney cartoons from the 1950s 3D boom to Pierre Lumiere remaking his own turn-of-the-century films in 3D in the 1930s to experiments as old as 1900 to Russian nature films, and even a couple of modern CG cartoons. Pretty much everything was delightful in one way or another, and I’m just going to go through the program short by short, mostly in the same order Bromberg did. One note: we were given two pairs of glasses at the beginning, both red/green anaglyph paper glasses and modern RealD polarized glasses. We only used the anaglyph glasses on one film, which surprised me. Somehow I thought all the 1950s films were done with that technique, but actually, it seems very similar to current 3D, and the RealD glasses worked perfectly for them all. I know very little about the technical side of these things, so I apologize in advance for any errors I make on that front, and please correct me.

Three Dimensional Murder, aka Murder in 3-D (1941)

This was the one film that used the anaglyph glasses, and it was basically a tech demo for 3D, albeit directed by George Sidney. Part of the Pete Smith series of shorts, this one has Smith (first-person camera pspective) heading into a creepy house and being attacked by all sorts of things – a mummy with a spear, a witch’s hand, and Frankenstein’s monster throwing or dropping everything in sight directly toward the camera. All the stereotypes of 3D being about hurling or thrusting things at the camera, yeah…they’re all here. With the glasses on, the red and green tints combined to make a black and white image – to do color, they had to go to a different technique, much closer to what is done today. This short was ridiculous, but fun, until it wore out its welcome about halfway through. The anaglyph process is not that great, either, and was easily the most eye-straining part of the program, with the colors flashing annoyingly on the screen and a lot of ghosting effects.

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Shorts Program: Celluloid Screams

The short films shown before each feature at Celluloid Screams were particularly strong this year so rather than cram reviews for them at the end of my article like I did last time I thought I’d dedicate a separate post to the 16 mini-movies we were treated to. I’ve tracked a few of them down on YouTube and Vimeo too for your enjoyment.


Director: Nash Edgerton, Australia, 2007, 9 min
A simple one-gag comedy-short that works surprisingly well due to some accomplished naturalistic direction and performances. A nice touch at the end, although unnecessary, went down well with the audience too.

Brutal Relax

Directors: Adrián Cardona & Rafa Dengrá, Spain, 2011, 15 min
A ‘recovered’ mentally ill patient is told to rest and enjoy his summer holidays, but some unusual creatures that come from the ocean have other plans. This is silly, extremely gory fun that is a blast to begin with, but started to outstay it’s welcome. Gorehounds will love it though.

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Guy Maddin’s KEYHOLE


Way back in 2008, Guy Maddin offered a prelude peak in collaboration with collage artists at his new feature film, Keyhole. Apropos, considering the directors peculiar (and magnificent) style of filmmaking. Well, more details (thanks Marina and Monika!) have surfaced as the production heats up in Winnipeg, the key revelation is his wonderful cast: Jason Patric, Udo Kier, Kevin McDonald and Isabella Rossellini.

It is about bloody time that Udo Kier and Guy Maddin worked together. Yummy!

A gangster (Jason Patric) returns home after a long absence toting a drowned girl, who has mysteriously returned to life, and a bound-and-gagged hostage, who is actually his own teenage son. His odyssey is through his own house one room at a time until he arrives in the boudoir of his wife (Isabella Rossellini.)

All the details can be found here, at the Winnipeg Free Press.

Contest: Win Passes to the Canada International Film Festival! [Vancouver]

Canada International Film FestivalWith the Olympics over, it seems as thought Vancouver, the city as a whole, is sobering up. Once we get there, in another week or so, we’ll be looking for something fun to do and what better than curling up with some great films at a great venue?

The Canada International Film Festival kicks off on March 19th and for three days, they’ll have on display a huge array of short films with a spattering of documentaries and feature films from around the world.

The festival, which is calling the Edgewater Casino home for the weekend, is offering up some great films and to one lucky reader, an opportunity to take in a few films in style. The organizers have graciously given us a double pass to any of the screenings taking place over the weekend. Aside from taking in some great films, you won’t be waiting in line and fighting people off for that primo seat. The lucky winner will be given access to the VIP seating area which features the best view along with the most comfortable seating as the VIP area features some plush seating. Not too shabby!

Considering we’re all still in detox, we’ll make the entry process easy. Simply email your name to That’s it.

One entry per person. Contest closes on Wednesday, March 17th at noon and the winner will be drawn that afternoon and contacted via email with details on picking up their prize!

Good luck everyone and don’t forget to check out the line-up of events!

Bookmarks for January 21-23

  • Jean Simmon @ 80.
    “The English actress who made the covers of Time and Life magazines by the time she was 20 and became a major midcentury star alongside strong leading men like Laurence Olivier, Richard Burton and Marlon Brando, often playing their demure helpmates, died on Friday at her home in Santa Monica, California”
  • The Haneke MacGuffin: What is the Mystery?
    “There are open-ended films and there are closed ones, and Haneke prefers the former. He wants the audience to actively participate in watching and interpreting the film — and to be conscious that they are doing so. Both “Caché” and “The White Ribbon” are explicitly about (as I like to say) what goes through your head while you watch them.”
  • Vincenzo Natali’s Sundance Diaries
    “Sarah is radiant and brilliant. This is Sundance number seven for her and she wears it well. She carries the interviews with a relaxed intelligence and good humor that reminds me of how pleasurable it was to work with her on the set. Her best quip yet, “Splice is a film that is morally indefensible.” She says it with pride. Who would have thought that this sterling icon of Canadian cinema is so damn twisted? It fills me with a rare jolt of patriotism.”
  • World’s strangest movie theater snacks.
    While popcorn may be popular in movie theaters worldwide, there are still traditionalist holdouts in every country, where unusual local treats are still offered at the concession counter.
  • Ranting in Pictures
    An appreciation of a hybrid of the video essay and the mash-up — an emerging format that’s often more entertaining than the work it cannibalizes.
  • The Digital Distribution of Short Films (An Art in Itself)
    In our ever-evolving digital world, filmmakers push distribution farther by using the outlet that reaches the widest audience possible: the Internet.
  • Cinema’s Naughtiest Germans!
    Oh those Germans. And how well they die… on netflix! It seems half the films available for instant viewing are for, by or about that most egomaniacally insane of western nations, Deutschland! For some reason these Teutonic descendants of pillaging marauders and towheaded savages are just meant for the casual distance provided by netflix streaming. Let’s take a look:
  • Terry Gilliam talks Sherlock Holmes, Avatar and Dr. Parnassus
    he Onion A.V. Club and Terry Gilliam sit down for a little chat. Gilliam: “I keep saying reputations are kind of like dog shit that you step into as you’re walking down the street, and you can’t get it off your shoe the rest of your life.” Another Tidbit: Robert Duvall is replacing Jean Rochefort as Don Quixote in resurrected Gilliam project. (nice!)


You can now take a look at RowThree’s bookmarks at any time of your choosing simply by clicking the “delicious” button to your left. It looks remarkably similar to this:

Toronto After Dark ’09: Festival Winners Announced

TAD 09 Film Festival Banner

The 2009 edition of Toronto After Dark came to a close a week today, yet lingering thoughts of some of the best films still rattle around in my head. My personal favourites were Black (Row Three Review), Strigoi (Row Three Review), Grace (Row Three Review), Rough Cut (My Review at Twitch) and of course, Black Dynamite (Row Three Review), but there were very few clunkers at the festival this year which boasted the strongest line-up since the fests 2006 launch. There is a democratic voting system used by the festival staff to generate the Audience Choice award (The same ‘vote 1 to 5’ system used by the Toronto International Film Festival). This year, the Audience Award went to Dead Snow (Gamble got a real kick out of this one, and talks about it on the last cinecast), the fun Norwegian Nazi-Zombie romp. The Vision Award, for best independent genre film went to UK/Romanian vampire dramedy Strigoi (Row Three Review).

The rest of the award winners, including short films, are tucked under the seat.

Also, it bears mentioning that if you are a Toronto local and missed the France/Senegal heist-blaxploitation remix Black at this years festival, be sure to check it out at the AMC Yonge & Dundas, it opens commercially in Toronto today with a slow expansion across Canada.

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Under the Radar: Director Esmir Filho

Esmir FilhoOne short film and a few trailers later, I’m a fan of director Esmir Filho.

It all started with a click through to an interesting sounding film titled The Famous and the Dead. Adapted from a novel by Ismael Caneppele the film, which is premiering at the Locarno Film Festival in a few week’s time, tells the story of a 17 year old boy who spends his time looking for friendship on-line or wondering the streets with his only friend but when the mysterious Julian arrives, the young man’s life is turned upside down. The teaser doesn’t give too much to go on but it was enough to peak my interest.

A little digging uncovered that earlier this year Variety named the Brazilian director an up-and-coming talent to watch. A little more clicking also uncovered a few of Filho’s early projects. The first is Tapa Na Pantera which translates into “Slap the Panther” which I assume is slang for smoking pot. The short video was released on YouTube and quickly became a sensation (though this is the first I’ve ever heard of it).

It stars Mariana Bastos as a pot-smoking older woman. It’s not clear how much of this is improvised but I’d say that maybe most, if not all of it is off the cuff.

The video itself doesn’t suggest much of anything about Filho’s style or capabilities as a director but it did open up a few doors. His follow up short titled Saliva, seems to suggest that Filho has talent. The film which looks at a young girl on the brink of her first kiss, looks gorgeous and the trailer suggests the same.

UPDATE: Quiet Earth has a few more stills and a load of new footage from the film!
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