Monday, 29 September 2008

Goin' In Blind #4 - Corrupted Hands

"Goin' In Blind is a series of reviews of movies that I had never heard of in any context before I picked them up off the (physical or virtual) DVD rental shelf.

The case said an "Iranian Comedy in the vein of Raising Arizona and Take The Money And Run!" Well, that's gotta be worth a look...

And though it was worth a look, that blurb was obviously written by someone who only saw a trailer. It does mix some comedic elements along with those from suspense/thrillers, heist films and melodramas, but it doesn't really succeed at any of them in the end. Even the comedy bits themselves are very far removed from the absurdities of those two films name-checked. Maybe, maybe, the wedding scene might have some silliness to it, but still...

The gist of the film is an interesting setup and much of it in the early stages is handled pretty well. A wedding photographer and his helpers plan to rob an upcoming lavish wedding ceremony - plans are made, details arranged and the theft is executed (though they go to no lengths at all to hide their identities). Unfortunately for the group, the photographer's soon-to-be father-in-law has had them tailed since he doesn't trust his daughter's fiancee. And his choice to tail them is an ex-con who, now that he has witnessed the robbery, wants a cut of the loot.

The story never seems to settle into a comfortable rhythm or tone. If it were going for full out absurdity, that would be fine. But it isn't. As a matter of fact, given the number of framing devices (doorframes, hallways, arches, cages, windows, mirrors, etc.) used by director Syrus Alvand within just about every scene, it felt that the film was trying very hard to use certain visual cues to make specific points - ie. attempting to show the separation between each of the characters and how they could essentially be alone when in the same room. As well, the extensive use of mirrors for individual reflections seemed to emphasize the uncertainties of the characters regarding many of the decisions made along the way.

And as mentioned above, the suspense was never overly heightened, the heist not particularly well pulled off and the melodrama came in bits and only amped up near the end. Overall, it kept me engaged with an interesting enough storyline and nice touches, but just wasn't sharp or decisive enough in any of its paths. Perhaps Alvand was also unsure of his own decisions...

Goin' In Blind #3 - Sleepless Town

"Goin' In Blind is a series of reviews of movies that I had never heard of in any context before I picked them up off the (physical or virtual) DVD rental shelf.

"I'm not Chinese or Japanese. Some call me a bat. Flying around in the dark using my radar to survive."

That's how Kenichi Ryuu lives day to day in Kabukicho - an area populated by shady underworld characters of mixed origins. Chinese, Japanese and Koreans all mingle in this maze of back alleys, twisting-turning passages and hidden rooms that make up this section of Tokyo. Since Ryuu's considered a mongrel (half-Chinese, half-Japanese), he gets no respect or consideration from the other dwellers and gang members. So he plays them all against each other.

Over the few days time span of the film, he's caught in between several different groups with conflicting requests, family obligations and a new woman in his life. As we follow his progress (with helpful reminders on the screen as to what time and day it is), he wrestles with being true to an old partner while also trying to stay alive. He's been tasked by gang boss Mr. Yuan to find and hand over his old friend Fu-chun. Sighted back in town, Fu-chun had previously killed Mr. Yuan's brother and Ryuu will be held responsible unless he can cough up the guilty party. Meanwhile, Ryuu receives an offer from Natsumi Sato - an unknown woman who has heard that Ryuu will buy anything (except for children's organs). Her offer? She wants to sell him Fu-chun's location.

The story follows these twists and turns and double crosses with aplomb and though there are plenty of additional characters (including a wordless cameo by the great director Seijun Suzuki), it never becomes overly confusing or dull. Ryuu is played skillfully by Takeshi Kaneshiro - star of films by Wong Kar-wai and Zhang Yimou, teen idol for many young Chinese girls and considered Asia's answer to Johnny Depp. Though his character is a pretty conflicted guy throughout the film, you never doubt that he would indeed buy and sell just about anything.

The film moves ahead with a good steady rhythm while the different plot lines provide added syncopation to keep the viewer just a smidge off guard yet constantly engaged. And if the story doesn't work for you, the cinematography by itself is sure to keep you glued to the screen - colours come pouring out of the nooks and crannies of the night time scenes and match the diversity of the characters found there. Near the opening of the film there's a great 3-4 minute single take shot following Ryuu up and down staircases and through the streets and clubs of Kabukicho. By the end of it you've got the lay of the land - it's indeed a town that doesn't sleep and Ryuu shows us how to navigate through it.

Also posted at Toronto J-Film Pow-Wow.

Friday, 26 September 2008

Toronto After Dark 2008

While walking into the theatre for [rec] the other night, I ran into Adam Lopez - director of the Toronto After Dark Film Festival (about to begin its third annual fest). We only met briefly last year, but he's always seemed (via his film introductions at the fest screenings) to be very upbeat and enthusiastic. And it's obvious he loves the "genre" films that are being programmed at festivals like this, Fantasia (Montreal), the Fantastic Film Festival (Amsterdam) and Fantastic Fest (Austin - check out Fox's coverage at Tractor Facts). He was handing out flyers for the festival to those in line and he appeared to genuinely be very excited for this year's lineup.

And now that the full festival lineup has been released, I see why...

Festival Trailer #2

Festival Trailer #1

My initial Pavlovian response is that I'm going to go see every single film...The Toronto After Dark site has trailers for all of them (under their separate titles), so please visit the site to dig deeper. Here's a couple of them that I quite liked and a few comments on each of the selections.

Toronto After Dark Film List

Let The Right One In - This Swedish vampire production won Best Film at the Tribeca, Fantasia and Edinburgh festivals and has had a great deal of buzz. Trailer looks great:

Idiots And Angels - The winner of the Best Animated Film at Fantasia. It looks like it could be pretty cool with lots of strange characters and occurrences. I just hope the animation style doesn't get tiring for a full feature length film.

- Low-ish budget Chilean super-hero movie with what looks to be great fights and a good sense of humour.

Repo! The Genetic Opera
- Come on, the title alone lays out the necessity to see this. I'm a bit concerned due to the presence of Paris Hilton, but it won Most Groundbreaking Film at Fantasia and looks like a new Rocky Horror - but about repossessing donated organs. I want to see this now.

Donkey Punch
- So far the least interesting looking of the bunch - young people party, take drugs, kill each other. I'm hoping they build some solid tension.

Shorts After Dark
- The vast majority of horror/sci-fi shorts I've seen at After Dark and the International Short Film Festival have been highly enjoyable. This slot has a whole slew of them.

Kevin Tenney's Brain Dead
- This could be goofy gory good fun ("That zombie's packin'!"). Or it could totally gross me out. I'm crossing my fingers for the former.

Trailer Park Of Terror
- The reanimated corpses of trailer park denizens begin to attack the passengers of a broken down bus. See how simple it is to put together an elevator pitch?

- Seriously, should anyone really go around pissing off Bryan Cox? Lucky McKee's latest film (he's a co-director here) is a tale of revenge and though the trailer didn't grab me, there's certainly some possibilities here.

4BIA (Phobia)
- A Thai anthology of 4 horror stories containing segments by the directors of "Shutter" and "Alone" (one of the best films at last year's festival and sadly still hasn't shown up in any kind of release around here). I'm betting on incomprehensible story lines, but some great solid creepiness.

Netherbeast Incorporated - A horror comedy with office vampires. The cast has some known names (Dave Foley, Darrell Hammond, Judd Nelson) and what could be a good premise. The trailer didn't inspire many laughs, but I'm gonna stay positive and hope that it builds as the picture goes on.

Who Is KK Downey? - A couple of losers turn their fictional novel's hero into a real person and begin a cult of personality. I'm hoping this is a biting satire, but that's a hard task to accomplish for even the most seasoned of filmmakers.

Mutant Chronicles - Though it looks like one of those dark humourless sci-fi future tales, the special effects look well done and the cast is solid (Malkovich!). Devon Aoki's also in it, so at least my eyes will be happy.

South Of Heaven - Highly stylized crime film which looks to have lots of dark humour. I like the cartoonish visual sense of it.

Tokyo Gore Police
- Over the top gore...I'm going into this one with a bit of trepidation - gore can be fine in small doses and when it fits in the film, but I find it's not as good when it's wall to wall. My understanding is that this film takes it way beyond standard over-the-top levels and therefore makes it almost common place. Gulp...

Home Movie - Home videos of two 10 year-old twins becoming progressively more evil. Looks promising, but the gimmick can be tough to pull off.

I Sell The Dead - After a life of digging up vampire and zombie bodies, a young graverobber learns to "never, ever, trust a corpse". The closing gala event, and second Ron Perlman film of the fest, looks to be a strong finisher.

Sunday, 21 September 2008


You know how sometimes you just get giddy? That silly feeling you have when you just can't stop giggling and are unable to wipe the smile off your face? Combine that with being scared out of your mind and almost jumping out of your skin and that's how the Spanish horror film [rec] left me. You know what's coming, you know where the story is going and you even know when it's going there sometimes, but all the while your teeth are clenched, your face is wincing and your hands are gripping tightly onto whatever is closest. And it's way too much fun.

Not that you need too much set up for the film, but it starts out with Angela on screen. She's a TV personality who does fluffy pieces for her show "While You Were Sleeping" and she and her cameraman are going to follow a fire fighting crew for an evening to get a glimpse of what a typical shift is like. After some scenes at the fire station, they receive a call about a woman who has apparently fallen and is screaming. Angela and the cameraman hop aboard the fire truck, proceed to the scene and enter the building with the paramedics to find out what has happened. The entire film is shot from the vantage point of the cameraman with the edits happening only when he turns off the camera. It's a difficult trick, but highly effective if done right - you need to convince the audience that there's a reason to keep filming when all logic states that you just drop the damn camera.

The residents, firemen, two policemen, cameraman and Angela all become trapped in the building when it suddenly becomes quarantined from the outside. No one tells them what is happening and they are struggling to find out as they need to get medical attention for one of the police officers. You see the old lady they went to help suddenly attacked him and began to bite him ferociously.

And so it goes from there...With no music and just the sounds of the building (thumps, crashes, creaks, etc.), the remaining people try to survive while those who get bitten end up like the old lady. Since you only have the single perspective of the cameraman, you're forced to experience these things in the same way he does. And it's immediate, sudden and damn scary.

I had initially thought coming out of the movie that there was no way that the American remake (called Quarantine) could possibly match the intensity of this film - in particular the last half hour or so. I'm not trying to purposely generalize that all Hollywood remakes of foreign horror films must by definition be bad, but, well, let's just say there's some precedent. However, looking at the trailer for Quarantine (on bottom) again, they may be trying to match [rec] (on top) shot for shot:

Of course, that makes the existence of Quarantine even more pointless, but I've given up worrying about that battle. I just hope they don't screw it up...The other interesting thing is comparing the two trailers - the American one gives so much more away while the Spanish one leaves a great deal of mystery about what is going on. The best trailer, though, is one I posted about before (where all you see is the audience reaction).

That trailer shows that it's the kind of movie you really should see with an audience if possible in order to share that communal experience of laughter as release of tension, so hopefully Quarantine can match [rec]. Even better would be [rec] hitting the screens here, but as long as it makes it to DVD I'll be satisfied. Because everyone needs to feel giddy like a little schoolgirl sometimes...

Jazz On A Summer's Day

If there was any question that Bert Stern brought a background of photography to his first feature film, the 1960 documentary "Jazz On A Summer's Day", you just need to watch the first minute or so of the film. The camera lingers on several reflections off the water in Newport Rhode Island as the ripples change the image constantly.

There's some great performances and music in the film accompanied by random images and people from around the area and at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival. But it's these opening moments (backed with some spiffy playing by the Jimmy Giuffre 3 doing "The Train And The River") that are staying with me.