Thursday 30 September 2010

Eternal Sunshine Of The Horror - A Montage for October

While I like horror films at any point in the year, I do enjoy focusing on them during the month of October - it just seems like the right thing to do, ya know? So to ring in another fright-filled month-long look at horror films, I decided to put together a little video - a montage if you will...

I love film montages. Those little short bursts of visual candy (usually paired with fitting music) can recall entire movies in a mere second or compel you to track down a movie due solely to an image that's been left behind in your brain like a virus on a hard drive. I've always wanted to make a montage...And now I have.

It's my first effort and I see all sorts of problems with it (no consistent theme, doesn't flow as well as I'd like, transitions are pretty basic, etc.), but overall I'm pretty happy with it - more importantly I had a lot of fun putting it together.

The music is by the Scottish band Mogwai from their excellent album The Hawk Is Howling (a tune entitled "Batcat"). Just buy the damn thing OK? It sounds far better in its full uncompressed glory. The opening and closing bits of music are actually from that very same song, but tweaked using the audio software application Audacity (via its effects options). I kinda stumbled across the results playing with the different features and they seemed to fit in nicely.

A few of the older B&W clips have been cropped. Yeah, I feel a bit crappy about that, but the iMovie software did it by default and when I changed it back to the original aspect ratio, it didn't seem to fit as well. Considering none of the clips that were cropped lost much in relation to their purpose in the video, I'm OK with it.

As much as I am happy with my first attempt, it really does pale in comparison to what others have done. Greg at Cinema Styles created the wonderful Frames Of Reference awhile ago and I can only aspire to put together something that rhythmic and imaginative (he apparently sees the clips he wants in his mind and then sources them, whereas I flip through DVDs until I see something and think "I wonder if I can use that?"). Here's his trailer for this year's October set of horror posts. Then there's Arbogast who, as far as I know, hasn't made any videos of late, but look at this amazing screencap post showing different uses of shadows - it flows so easily from one image to the other that movement is almost implied. And a final plug for one of my favourite montages (and simply one of my favourite YouTube videos EVER) The Endless Night: A Valentine to Film Noir - a perfect usage of music to match the mood of the clips.

I also have to give my 10 year-old son a "shout out" (apparently that's a term the kids like to use these days). He found a screen grabbing tool for the iMac all by himself and was using it for his captures of video game walkthroughs. I ended up using it to capture my clips and it made the entire process so much easier. There's a drop in quality in the video resolution, but it serves its purpose and at web size it looks decent enough. So thanks Buddy-Boy...

Of course, the best possible result of putting this together would be for someone to seek out one of the movies included. That gets back to one of the reasons why I love montages in the first place - the visuals may be completely out of context, but they can still manage to grab your attention and develop curiosity for films you might not have considered.

Wednesday 29 September 2010

TIFF 2010 - A Wrap-up

Although I still hope to write a few more reviews for several of the films I caught at this year's Toronto International Film Festival, I figured I should at least do a quick round-up. The following was included in a larger post on RowThree that meshed mini-reviews from five different people and which ended up covering 103 different films - almost a third of the entire program of TIFF.

The Illusionist [Best] - It didn't take me long to fall in love with this movie. Its glorious hand drawn animation showing the beauty of Scotland is certainly part of the reason, but it's director Sylvain Chomet's ability to seemlessly merge his distrust of technology with Jacques Tati's longing for the simplicity of the old ways that really puts the film into the upper echelons. Tati's previously unfilmed script is touching, sentimental, bittersweet and sometimes just plain bitter. A wonderful mix.

Cold Fish [Loved] - Sion Sono's latest film is astonishing in how it single-mindedly approaches the "true" story of Japan's most notorious serial killer - building tension and unease with just about every frame, it's relentless and quite fearless in leaving its audience squirming and laughing at the same time. Remarkable.

Balada Triste [Loved] - A handy-dandy tip for all you youngsters studying to be clowns: in a pinch, household cleaning aids make good substitutes for makeup. There's more to this film than the simple story of Insane Happy Clown versus Insane Sad Clown, but that certainly is the most entertaining part about it - especially the way-over-the-top final showdown.

The Four Times [Loved] - This lovely, slow, meditative look at a small Italian mountain village and how all nature is interconnected is an exploration of the idea of soul transference from human to animal to vegetable to mineral. It also contains the best long single shot of the festival involving a dog, a runaway truck, a herd of goats and several crucifixes.

Lapland Odyssey [Loved] - A road movie in a single night has to step outside of reality somewhat in order to give you the requisite number of strange characters and situations required. All the better for this Finnish tale of one man's quest for a digibox to save his relationship with his girlfriend - it would be a shame if we didn't get all the coincidences and silly scenarios that are presented so gleefully to the viewers.

Blame [Loved] - A first film as efficiently directed and effectively told as this story of five friends seeking revenge on a man they believe is responsible for a young woman's death is something to appreciate. Aussie director Michael Henry told the audience during his Q&A that he wants to specialize in making thrillers. Rejoice I say!

Behind Blue Skies [Loved] - What begins as a wonderfully told teenage coming of age story set amongst the workers of a summer resort morphs into an interesting mix of a father figure search, a morality tale and drug smuggling. Whichever branch it took, though, the film was expertly told (and with amazing attention to detail for its 70s period) and wonderfully performed.

Confessions [Loved] - Exploitative of its young characters and cynical as all get out, I could not help being thoroughly engaged in this story of a teacher's revenge against the two children who killed her young daughter. The opening 30 minute monologue by the teacher is, by itself, a perfect short film.

Crying Out [Loved] - Quebec filmmaker Robin Aubert lays himself and his characters bare in this story of a man who cannot accept his second wife's death and takes her body on a road trip through the rural motels of Quebec. In pursuit, his son and father work through their own issues as the beautiful countryside rolls on by.

The Housemaid [Loved] - I suppose there's not much new in this telling of class differences between a rich family, their old housemaid and a new addition to the cleaning/cooking staff. But when it's so beautifully rendered with a slow building climb to the inevitable showdown, I don't care.

Submarine [Loved] - Though I understand the Wes Anderson comparions (via elements of style), I don't think it's fair to consider this film the Welsh version of "Rushmore". I love Anderson's films, but "Submarine's" central character is much more empathetic, likeable and maybe even smarter than Max Fischer. I couldn't help but be charmed by the film's gentle humour, dark corners and self-aware stylistic touches.

Machete Maidens Unleashed! [Loved] - Fun and fast-paced documentary that scans over the numerous 70s exploitation films made in the Philippines for the mass consumption of a North American audience. Cheap labour, lax safety rules and extras willing to do anything meshed very well with plots about women in prison and student nurses. If a documentary about a specific set of films makes you want to run out and watch them, then it has to be considered a success. Especially if it entertained the heck out of you while doing it.

A Useful Life [Loved] - The opening section of this story of a career employee at a Cinematheque in Montevideo, Uruguay is enjoyable enough (watching the various duties carried out - live overdubbing of foreign films, radio shows, cataloguing reels of film, etc.), but once the Cinematheque closes and he is forced to interact with the real world, it becomes an absolute joy. In particular, during one of my favourite scenes of the entire festival, when he gives a speech about lying honourably for the good of others to a class of law students.

Marimbas From Hell [Liked] - Whether you like Heavy Metal music or not, this film proves one thing: a marimba makes it better.

Make Believe [Liked] - The structure of this documentary about teenage magicians competing against each other at the yearly Las Vegas championships is nothing new, but it still succeeds in introducing us to some interesting characters and showing us behind the scenes of the basics of magic. It's not quite as fun as, say, "Spellbound", but very enjoyable.

Viva Riva! [Liked] - Apparently the Democratic Republic of Congo can have just the same kind of seedy nightlife as the typical North American underground city found in many genre movies. Throw in heavy military, church and government corruption along with dollops of racism and misogyny (by the characters, not the movie itself) and you've got a dark world that charming criminal Riva lives in. A pretty damn entertaining one too.

I Saw The Devil [Liked] - If you do monstrous things while chasing a monster, do you not become a monster as well? Kim Ji-woon's followup to the spirited "The Good The Bad The Weird" is a flat out vengeance tale that doesn't so much thrill as drag you down into its muck with it. It certainly answers that question though...

Break Up Club [Liked] - Director Barbara Wong plays up the relationship documentary by creating a fictional story of an on-again-off-again couple, but treating it like it's a documentary. Wong plays herself as a director searching for people who are about to undergo a break-up and who are willing to record the ups and downs of what is more than likely the end stage of a relationship. The majority of the film is footage taken by one couple as break-up, get back together and break-up again (with help from a web site). It's not perfect since the male character in the relationship isn't overly sympathetic (you really wonder why she bothers with him in the first place), but there was enough humour and inventiveness (and the gorgeous Fiona Sit) to keep me engaged.

Dirty Girl [Liked] - Juno Temple is pretty fantastic as the title character who hits the road in search of her father with her sexually-confused-but-60-to-70-percent-sure-he's-gay friend along for the journey. It has all the ups and downs of a road movie, with, unfortunately, far too many caricatures along the way. Some genuine charm and a couple of nice supporting turns from Milla Jovovich and Tim McGraw (yes, I was just as surprised as you) save it.

Julia's Eyes [Liked] - A well put together atmospheric tale of a woman who is slowly going blind, but desperately wants to uncover the mystery of her sister's death. It takes good advantage of shadows, darkness and those areas just out of the corner of our eyes.

Three [Liked] - Tom Tykwer's latest is a slick stylish look at a couple from Germany who each separately engage in an affair with the same man. If not consistently entertaining throughout its entirety, it still has numerous instances of fun and experimentation as well as ending up being somewhat of a plea for tolerance and acceptance of what people might think of as a relationship.

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale [Liked] - Santa Claus with REALLY big horns. A kid's fairy tale that includes the gutting of a boar. The greatest number of naked old geezers per square foot that I've seen on film. Great concepts. Only reasonably good execution. Perhaps I just wanted more from this story of the discovery of a long-buried demonic Santa, but it never quite went where I wanted it to. Having said that, there's a lot of imaginative stuff here.

22nd Of May [Disappointed] - After a bomb explodes in a mall, a security gaurd meets up with the people who died and they accuse him of not doing enough to save them. An intriguing premise, but I never quite found an entry point to this odd walk through the purgatory of one man's set of ghosts.

Vanishing On 7th Street [Disappointed] - High expectations (I mostly love director Brad Anderson's other films) may have dashed any hope of me really enjoying this end of the world tale. However, I expect the lackluster characters, poor performances and rather bland, undistinguished look of the shadows that now envelope the world had more to do with it. Still, some interesting ideas to play with.

Mamma Gogo [Disappointed] - An Icelandic filmmaker's mother struggles with Alzheimer's while his latest film (about old people coping with death) meets public indifference and may financially ruin him. Though it has some sharp barbs towards the Icelandic film community and several great performances, it never quite built into anything more than just that.

Womb [Disappointed] - Stunningly shot with a terrific slow-paced first 30 minutes, but it squanders much of its good will by never doing anything interesting with the variety of ideas it builds up.

Easy Money [Disappointed] - The first half of the film is filled with some interesting setup mostly around the wanna-be-rich character of JW, but it starts to lose its Noirish sense and tension as it progresses to a letdown of an ending. JW is shown to be incredibly naive, so much so that a line like "people put themselves and the money first" appears to be revelatory to him.

Home For Christmas [Disappointed] - I was actually quite enjoying the different storylines within Bent Hamer's latest - each one about different concepts of finding home at Christmas time - but they never connected or amounted to more than a variety of short films about similar themes that were spliced together. There's some lovely character work going on here, which makes it all the more frustrating that it could have been much greater.

Insidious [Disappointed] - I'm not sure what I expected from James Wan's (director of "Saw") attempt at a ghost story...I wasn't a big fan of his sequel-spawning hit, but I thought he might bring some energy and new ideas to my favourite type of horror film. There were indeed some nicely-realized moments and a concept that was, if not novel, at least a bit different than the norm. However, for each solid creepy scene, the filmmakers took two steps backward by amping up the over-the-top score or throwing in jarring effects.

Pinoy Sunday [Disappointed] - Two immigrant workers from the Philippines wander through Taipei carrying back a couch they "found" that they believe will transform their living quarters. Not terrible by any stretch, but considering we spend the entire movie with these two characters, it would've helped if they were likeable.

Fire Of Conscience [Disappointed] - Pretty colours. A big shrug to everything else.

Soul Of Sand [Disliked] - I should say up front that there were elements of this film that were of interest. The story of a woman promised as a wife to a rich man but actually in love with another man outside her caste is not new, but "Soul Of Sand" attempts to bring a different style to it with thriller and Noir conventions wrapped around it. Unfortunately, it moves with fits and starts, is executed in amateurish fashion and was occasionally aggravating (e.g. if you can't capture the sounds of someone eating live on set, do NOT try to overdub those sounds with over-the-top lip-smacking and chewing at twice the volume).

Detective Dee And The Mystery Of The Phantom Flame [Disliked] - OK, I admit I drifted off to sleep once or twice during Tsui Hark's latest action spectacle, but shouldn't an "action spectacle" manage to keep you conscious? Gobs and gobs of CGI (and not very good CGI at that) tacked on to a mediocre story that I didn't care about with a mystery that just never materialized. Blah.

Passion Play [Worst] - There are plenty of reasons to dislike this film, but I expect that most people will hate it for the wrong reasons. For instance, Megan Fox is actually decent in her role as a woman burdened with wings on her back and the magical moments of the film actually fit within the context of the plot (which is pretty obviously foreshadowed). The reason to dislike it are the rather bland, pedestrian performances of everyone else and the terribly dull story that plods its way to the end.

A Belated Apology to the P.T. Anderson Blog-a-thon

If you aren't already following the terrific blog Moon In The Gutter (written by Jeremy Richey), well, I just don't know who you are anymore...He not only has great and insightful writing on the site, but a very keen eye for how the visual aspects of film contribute to the whole (e.g. framing, colour composition, etc.). Spend a minute there and you'll spend an hour - I have many times.

Anyway, Jeremy ran a blog-a-thon on one of my favourite directors - P.T. Anderson - a few weeks ago and invited me to contribute. I thought about numerous possibilities, was very keen to do it and was also completely wrapped up in the Toronto International Film Festival at the time. So, in short, I submitted nothing...Take a look at the above link, though, for some great writing on the films of Anderson - only 5 full length features under his belt, but widely considered one of the best American filmmakers around. Jeremy has news that his latest, entitled "The Master", is delayed in production due to funding. A damn shame.

So by way of contrition:

Opening of Magnolia

Even better than this incredible, Ricky Jay narrated opening is the following 4-5 minutes that introduce, in almost breathless fashion, the raft of characters. Backed by Aimee Mann's cover of "One", the sequence perfectly sets up the backgrounds, personalities and faults of each one of them. It's deliriously giddy filmmaking.

Deleted scene

My initial thought while watching this was, "Hey, he's a Rush fan! Excellent!". Then I paused and thought, "Wait, P.T. Anderson made Frank T.J. Mackey a Rush fan? That may not be a good sign..."

Tuesday 28 September 2010

Basking In The Cesspool Of Filth #17

What?! October's almost here?!

Time to clear out some old Cesspool items and get ready!

Lust For A Vampire (1971 - Jimmy Sangster) - Lurid. Heaving bosoms. Lurid heaving bosoms. Heaving lurid bosoms. Bosoms that heave luridly. I think I've made my case.

Flavia The Heretic (1974 - Gianfranco Mingozzi) - Incredibly dull tale of a woman in the 1400s sent to a convent by her father. She eventually seeks revenge on the whole lot of them, but it's too little and too late to save the movie. I'll give the filmmakers credit - it takes a lot of effort to make something with this much nudity and blood (usually appearing together) to be this incredibly disengaging and boring. Bravo. Personally, I could also have done without the graphic horse castration (though it does somewhat fit into the film given Flavia's growing hatred of male domination) and the naked nun who giggles while she crawls out of a gutted horse carcass. Maybe that's just me though.

They Came From Beyond Space (1967 - Freddie Francis) - When numerous meteorites crash to earth in an organized formation, a team of scientists set up shop to investigate. However, once they try to crack into one of the samples, it releases the consciousness of the aliens and allows them to take over individual human bodies. In order to save their own species they commandeer humans (through a plague that appears to kill them), bring them to the moon and enslave them. It's up to one remaining scientist to figure out how to stop these higher order beings by figuring out why they were not able to take over his mind and body. As hokey as it sounds, but reasonably entertaining when they get to some of the nifty sets. They should have done more with the idea though...

Never Take Candy From A Stranger (1960 - Cyril Frankel) - Otherwise known in Britain as "Never Take Sweets From A Stranger". Though dealing with the touchy subject of pedophilia, the film is more about the extent to which people will turn a blind eye when their own livelihood is at stake. The most powerful man in a Canadian town (the film cleverly moves the entire story out of England as a British woman and her Canadian husband relocate when he is offered a new job) manages to keep the entire population quiet about his father's predilection. Until, that is, the recent arrivals find out that their 9 year-old daughter and her friend were cajoled into dancing about without clothes by the old man. They are suitably horrified, but also concerned about where that initial act might lead. The rest of the town - including the other girl's parents - are staying mum on the subject. It's told without sensationalizing the issue and with well-controlled suspense. And it's not afraid to get dark.

Monday 27 September 2010

A Single Image #8

Mr. Death: The Rise And Fall Of Fred A. Leuchter Jr. (1999 - Errol Morris)

Sequences Of A Titular Nature #6

Border Incident (1949 - Anthony Mann) - Look how painterly these images are - especially that last one behind Mann's name. How very fitting.

The Silencers (1966 - Phil Karlson) - The film doesn't live up to these wonderfully vibrant and sexy opening titles, but it had its moments. Cyd Charisse sure had a set of gams didn't she?

The Killer That Stalked New York (1950 - Earl McEvoy) - Not a great film (it seems to skip over many obvious issues with the search for a Typhoid Mary style woman), but the titles contain that terrificly arresting image of the shadow of a woman threatening the whole city...

MicMacs (2009 - Jean-Pierre Jeunet) - For a film filled to the brim with all manner of inventive gadgets and Rube Goldberg type devices, the titles are relatively simple: a pan up from the prone body of Bazil (Dany Boon) who has just been accidentally shot in the head; a slow zoom into the final images of "The Big Sleep" being broadcast on TV; a transition into heavenly dreamlike clouds for the beginning of the story. Quite apropos.