Sunday 30 September 2007

October is going to be a Horror-ible Month

Update (as of October 1st) : As per Piper's comments over at Lazy Eye Theatre, there's additional reasons to believe that October will be Horror-ific (numbers 5 and 6 are links via there).

1) Toronto After Dark Film Festival - Just talked about it here. October 19-25th.

2) Kairo (Pulse) - The Canada Japan Society has Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s excellent and very creepy 2001 film scheduled for October 19th. I've never seen this on a large screen, so I'm looking forward to it. If you are in town, join the rest of us cowering behind our seats...

October 19th @ 7:00 p.m.
National Film Board Theatre
150 John Street, Toronto
Admission: $8.00

3) Home Theater Forum Scary Movie Challenge - This will be my fourth year in a row trying to cram as many "scary" movies into the month of October as possible. The idea of the thread is to watch 'em and discuss 'em. It's given me the impetus to try and catch the "classics" (up until last year I had never seen "The Exorcist") and find some really good (and bad) lesser known films.

4) Shoot The Projectionist has announced a new list - The 31 Flicks That Give You The Willies. Everyone is invited to participate in the nominating portion (initial list of 31 unranked nominees is due Oct. 13th). This will help whittle down the candidates before the final vote (date yet to be decided, but likely around the 27th). It's not to be taken overly seriously - have fun with it. I'm still trying to figure out my own submissions...

5) 31 Days Of Zombie - The Projection Booth will be pondering the true nature of zombies for the entire month of October. It's really a month long blog-a-thon.

6) 31 Days Of Hitchcock - The Distracted Globe is hosting an entire month of articles and reviews regarding The Master's films.

The horror...The horror...

Friday 28 September 2007

TIFF 2007 - Chrysalis

Though the French thriller "Chrysalis" is my last TIFF review, it was one of the earlier films I saw this year. Why the long wait? As many people have said, it's pretty easy writing about something you love or hate, but much harder when it's something about which you are totally ambivalent...So, I've been putting it off.

I'll start with a checklist:
  • Dark dystopic future with almost no trace of colour? Yep.
  • Halfway decent story which thinks it's more clever than the viewer (but isn't)? Certainly.
  • Brooding hero with new female partner who gets in the way a lot? Sigh...Oh yeah.
But apart from not being overly original, there aren't really any badly done elements in the movie. The acting is fine for the genre. The set designs and almost B/W feeling of the film are quite well executed. And the fights are OK. But it's just not very exciting or intriguing or interesting...

Maybe a glimpse of part of a fight scene will get across more than I can properly express:

Is it me? Or after watching that did you think "Gee, I wonder what I should have for dinner...?"

Hey, I'm all for a colourless bleak future as much as the next guy, but the story here - which involves loss of identity and a person's own view of themselves - just failed to really capture my attention. I'd have to say that part of that is a fault in the telling of the story. One example is a scene in which one of the film's big mysteries is revealed in an almost casual way.

I wouldn't tell anyone not to go see this film. But I wouldn't recommend it either.

Thursday 27 September 2007

Toronto After Dark Film Festival - Full Lineup

The full schedule of 14 feature films (and 2 themed short film screenings) to be presented at this year's Toronto After Dark Film Festival was released today.

I'm gonna try to make as many as possible, but after a quick scan the ones I'm most excited about are:

Alone - I'm a sucker for the "Asian" horror films of the last decade and good creepy atmosphere...Though the concept doesn't totally grab me - the conjoined twin who dies during surgery to separate her from her sister makes ghostly reappearances - it still looks like it may be fun with a crowd. From the directors of "Shutter".

Audience Of One - A documentary about one man's vision to make a Christian version of Star Wars. Strangely enough, everything goes wrong...

Aachi & Ssipak - Animated Korean action adventure with likely no sense of subtlety or good taste. Sounds like fun.

Nightmare Detective - The director of "Tetsuo" subverts the J-horror genre? Sign me up.

The Rebel - Vietnamese martial arts historical drama. It could be a bit cheesy and outside of the fight scenes there doesn't look to be anything not seen a hundred times before...But did I mention the fight scenes?

Other titles such as "Blood Car", "Simon Says" (with Crispin Glover) and "Murder Party" look like they will be bringing some humour to all the death and mayhem. As for "Poultrygeist - Night Of The Chicken Dead" (dancing zombie chickens!), I think it speaks for itself.

As I've said before...I can't wait.

Wednesday 26 September 2007

Shogun's Samurai - The Yagyu Clan Conspiracy

Maverick director Kinji Fukasaku's take on the samurai epic is much like his late 60s / early 70s gangster films - chock full of characters, story elements and stylistic flourishes. In other words - good fun.

The story begins in the early 17th Century with the death of the Tokugawa Shogun. The question of who will take his place is not as straightforward as it should be - particularly since it is thought that poison was the cause of death. His eldest son - the stuttering and slightly disfigured Iemitsu - was not favoured by his father or surviving mother. However, he has loyal followers who have been working against allowing the younger handsome Tadanaga to assume the power. The two brothers fall into a struggle against each other due to pride, misdirection from their supporters and outbursts of emotion. Along the way, helpers of each side fall by the wayside while ambushes, betrayals and maneuvering for political position become the methods of battle. The emperor's people are happy to see the battle continue between the sons since it will weaken the Shogun authority in the end.

At the centre of much of the maneuvering is Iemitsu's swordfighting teacher - Yagyu. Not only is he crafty in using Iemitsu, his supporters, elders and the system itself to further his agenda, he also makes use of samurai without masters to do his bidding. Of course, his end goals don't necessarily line up with what others want...His deviousness comes out slowly during the film which makes it all the more interesting waiting to find out where it's headed.

Fukasaku keeps things moving briskly. Occasionally too briskly, but it's never at the expense of the story. There are several moments when a character shows up or an event occurs and you feel like perhaps you've missed something. But if you just trust Fukasaku, he usually fills in the gaps in one of the following scenes - he expects the audience to stay with him.

The fights are solid and exciting. You never quite know who is going to perish or end up bloodied, so the suspense stays high. As mentioned, little directorial flourishes pop up from time to time to keep things visually interesting and to change the pace of the movie - sudden freeze frames with narration, fast zooms, a set of still photos that depicts a meeting, etc. And Sonny Chiba is along for the ride...

It may not have quite the emotional resonance of a Kurosawa, Kobayashi or even recent Yoji Yamada films (like "The Hidden Blade"), but a fine ensemble cast, good action and a fun to follow plot make this one of the better 70s samurai films I've seen.

Tuesday 25 September 2007

TIFF 2007 - Ploy

Pen-ek Ratanaruang's "Ploy" has a dreamlike feel for much of its running time. It gives off a feeling of constant sleepwalking as its three main characters go through what may or may not be dream states. By the end, the viewer may feel somewhat like the characters did in the movie...

After flying straight from The United States for a funeral in Thailand, exhausted married couple Wit and Dang go to their hotel to attempt to shake off the jet lag. Dang goes to bed, but Wit goes down to the hotel bar and ends up meeting a young girl named Ploy (who the bartender claims is stoned). Since she plans to wait there all night for her mother to pick her up in the morning, Wit invites her back to the hotel room where she can rest. As one might expect, his wife Dang is not overly fond of the idea, but allows it anyway.

As all three characters cope with their altered mind states (drugs, alcohol, sleep deprivation) and seem to drift in and out of sleep, we get glimpses of what are apparently parts of their dreams. The bartender from earlier and a hotel maid show up in a parallel storyline which may or may not be part of the dream fantasies of the young girl. Wit and Dang's arguments and the long extent tension between them seems to also spill over to their dreams. Dang eventually retreats to the hotel lobby (smuggling booze into her drink) and this leads to an unexpected turn of events as she meets an admirer there. She was once an actress in Thailand before moving to the States and her desire for recognition of any kind (given her distant husband), as well as an apparent drinking problem, makes her vulnerable.

At the end of the film one is left wondering what may or may not have actually occurred. Two of the audience members next to me were convinced about one specific plot point having happened because of what they were sure they saw on one of the characters in one of the final scenes. I didn't think it was that clear cut though. I felt Ratanaruang was deliberately allowing the viewer to decide what actually happened during the time since they landed in Thailand.

The whole look of the movie is soft focus and fairly drab, so there is no specific visual clues to indicate when you are watching a dream or not. It's a somewhat frustrating exercise in movie viewing and yet I thought it was also an interesting experiment. We're given a number of building blocks with which to make a story - we choose those we like or feel make sense and the others are relegated to the dream factory.

At least that's how I choose to look at it.

Sunday 23 September 2007

TIFF 2007 - The Exodus

The opening shot of the Hong Kong set "The Exodus" is one long backwards tracking shot - from a zoom in of just the eyes in a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II to the end of a long hallway where the beating of a man in police custody is occurring. That photo of the Queen serves a dual purpose - to set the time period of that opening shot (at least a decade previous to present day 2007) as well as to get across the concept of the ruling female with a watchful eye.

The beating (by police wearing nothing more than bathing suits, flippers and masks/snorkels) is witnessed by Jim Yip - a young cop still not quite in tune with the workings of the police establishment. When we next meet him as a middle age Sergeant, he is somewhat detached from the rest of his unit, his wife and his life. One evening he takes the statement of a Peeping Tom found in a ladies' washroom. The perp claims innocence as he was just trying to get more information on a female conspiracy to slowly kill all the men in the world. Yip, of course, doesn't believe him until he is called back in to retake the statement - the paperwork has gone missing and suddenly the accused is confessing to being a pervert.

It's a somewhat silly premise, but it's handled as a straight up mystery throughout most of the film. And it mostly works as Yip begins to dig deeper and comes to believe in the conspiracy and even wonders if his wife is in league with the plan. The only real false step is a confrontation inside the police station between Yip and a female superior. It's one of those scenes where an authority figure overplays their power with threats when there wasn't any good reason to do so - except that is to further convince the recipient that something is indeed going on...But otherwise the plot moves slowly but surely along without becoming obvious or cringeworthy.

This is helped by some great cinematography. Blues and yellows seem to dominate much of the palette of Yip's life - especially as he becomes involved with the wife of the Peeping Tom. When red enters the film in key spots it signals power and character transitions. The filmmakers have also found some truly beautiful architecture around which to place the story - several members of the audience in the Q&A couldn't believe that it was actually filmed in Hong Kong.

"The Exodus" has some fine subtle performances by the cast, a good set of characters and a story that shifts between mystery and dark humour. It may very well have been more entertaining if the premise was played for more laughs, but it's still a worthy and well constructed film.

Citizen Dog

Wisit Sasanatieng's 2000 Tears Of The Black Tiger was a giddily coloured melodramatic (if occasionally silly) take on a Thai Western. His follow up, 2004's Citizen Dog, is equally colourful and is more of a romantic comedy, though with many surrealistic touches. The comedy doesn't always work for me (some is a bit too broad), but it's entertaining and eye candy of the purest form:

Saturday 22 September 2007

Nordic Roots Music

In a recent post about the amazing film "You, The Living" I mentioned that I was a big fan of Scandinavian folk music. The modern version of this music is better described as "Nordic Roots" - the recent bands take classic old folk songs as the basis and inspiration for their own music and also put different spins on those older tunes. While you'll find some traditional instruments (the nyckelharpa, hurdy-gurdy, jews harp, lute, accordion), many of the groups also use modern electric and electronic instruments.

I find that the traditional sound of these folk tunes falls somewhere between Indian and Celtic folk - kind of a missing link of sorts. A common thread with many of the groups are the gorgeous melodies - some frightening, some terribly sad and some sunny and cheerful. All of the bands below can be found on the terrific Northside label and I encourage some browsing of their web site. They have lovely album covers as well:

Hoven Droven

Likely my favourite band anywhere. I've been fortunate to see them live 3 times in Toronto and each time has been a wonderful joyous experience.


Just terrific interplay between the band members on this beautiful song.


Though not on this particular song, these guys will bring sampling and electronic beats into traditional style compositions - and they make it work tremendously well.


Simply glorious voices...


This song actually became part of a pretty popular viral video of an anime style girl twirling an onion. I kinda like this version better.

Sounds pretty cool on electric guitar too...

TIFF 2007 - The Passage

Can a great 15 minute sequence make an entire film?

That's what I was asking myself after leaving the Friday night screening of Mark Heller's "The Passage" - the story of two young men whose trip to Morocco takes an unexpected turn once a beautiful local woman enters the picture.

American Luke (Stephen Dorff) and Aussie Adam (Neil Jackson, also the screenwriter) are good friends who have come to Morocco as part of a getaway from a tragedy back home. They have different approaches to the trip - Luke wants to see the country, take pictures and soak up the culture while Adam is the party type. One day, while off persuing their own individual plans, Luke meets the rather stunning Zahara.

She translates for him the performance of a storyteller on the street and they get to talking. Over tea, she offers to be a guide for him and suggests a particular remote spot that would require an overnight stay. With encouragement from Adam as well as Zahara's sparkling eyes, Luke heads off with her. And though there is some question as to Zahara's intentions and a few indications that maybe not is all what it seems, by the time they get to their overnight accommodations (where Luke discovers "the passage"), you aren't so much bored, but just wondering what the point is...The movie up until then isn't bad, but the combination of Dorff's rather dull performance, the oafish Adam and a very slow moving story just seem to lie there.

The centre of the movie though is the 12-15 minute sequence in the labyrinth of dark hallways that Luke has found. Luke decides to investigate and brings with him a number of candles and his digital camera. This entire portion of the movie is only lit with those items (as the passage is in total darkness) and becomes increasingly tense. In particular when it's just the camera lighting the surroundings - the flash goes off and we see what the camera was pointed at, then we see Luke lit up by the viewscreen, then another flash and the point of view of the camera and back to Luke. The tension builds quite well throughout this whole section of the film and Heller has done a remarkable job in putting it together. If it doesn't quite finish with the climactic bang you are looking for, it provides some solid moments of anticipation and suspense.

Adam re-enters the picture at this point and though there is still a residue of suspense and questions about what exactly has been happening (is Zahara truly the helpful guide she appears to be? what was it that Luke found in those boxes in the passage?), you know you're passed the showpiece of the film. It ends kind of where you think it will, with a small additional scene at the end to possibly appease the tourism board of Morocco, and you leave the theatre with that one sequence in mind.

So I'm happy I saw that 15 minutes, but the rest of the film is quickly slipping away...

Wednesday 19 September 2007

TIFF 2007 - Glory To The Filmmaker!

Let me be honest right up front...I was really tired during the Saturday night 9:00PM screening of Takeshi Kitano's latest. So about half an hour in, right around the point where the movie goes full throttle into absurdist comedy, I began to occasionally nod off...And yet, I still enjoyed it a great deal and don't think I would've had a different reaction had I been fully awake. It wasn't exactly what you would call a straight narrative, so even if I missed something during one of my minor head bobs, I can't imagine I could've been any more confused than anyone else in the audience.

Of course, total comprehension of the surreal events in the last hour of the film is hardly the point. "Glory To The Filmmaker!" is the second installment in what is apparently a trilogy of Kitano's deconstruction of cinema. His previous film "Takeshis'" had Kitano's alter ego Beat Takeshi (the actor/comedian side of him) meeting his doppelganger and then intertwining their lives in dreamlike scenes referencing his previous films. His latest work takes it a step further - at the beginning of the film, Kitano's new doppelganger (now a lifeless dummy) is sent to the doctor in place of himself. The replacement goes through a battery of medical tests and we see catscan and other medical reports (each having patient names of classic Japanese directors - Kurosawa, Ozu, Fukasaku, Imamura) before the doctor finally says "I wish he would just come in himself".

This is followed by a series of false starts at a new Kitano film. A narrator describes a possible genre for his next film and then we see a few minutes of what it might look like. The narrator explains what went wrong and we move to another clip. This section is quite amusing and the audience I was with ate it up. From Ozu to rom-com to samurai, Kitano's team just can't seem to find something that works. And then it becomes sketch comedy - as if put together by that guy with short term memory loss in "Memento".

I guess I'm predisposed to like Kitano's style and sense of humour, so I'm not sure I can be fully objective (nor do I really want to be). It's not pretentious, but it certainly is self-indulgent. It's Kitano working out what film means to him and how it can be used visually and comedically in different ways than he has used it before. It's kind of a glimpse into the thought process of an artist searching for inspiration - while allowing insanity to prevail all around him.

That may not sound exciting or even interesting for many people. So be it. But what if I mentioned the big red balloon male appendages? Would that help?

Here's the Japanese trailer: