Friday, July 31, 2009

Quoted by Nikki Finke about Inglorious Basterds

I read Nikki Finke's Deadline Hollywood Daily blog somewhat obsessively. After I saw Inglorious Basterds at Fantasia, I sent her a report and she quoted me in her blog. Here is what I sent her:

A World War Two Movie that is part Brothers Grimm fairy tale and part Dirty Dozen.When Inglorious Basterds was announced as the closing film at Montreal's Fantasia Film Festival, tickets sold out in under an hour. I only got a ticket because the organizers gave away 15 tickets to Festival regulars and they recognized me from going to the Festival since it started in 1996.

The theatre holds 700 and they were not letting in people with media or VIP passes. (A handful of VIPs mainly ones from the Festival jury were there.) They also were collecting cellphones and cameras from people going in (they had announced that prior to the screening) and passing metal wands to make sure we were hanest about not bringing in devices.

Eli Roth presented the film and did a quick Q&A afterwards. (About 7 or 8 questions.) He told us that Quentin couldn't be there because he was in Berlin on the press tour and then sucked up to the crowd telling them that we were the perfect crowd for the film (which is probably also true) and that Quentin had insisted that we see the film. He said that it was a difficult film, a ballsy film, but a great film and told us, "If you like it, tell your friends, blog about it, Twitter about it, write about it on Facebook and imdb. If you don't like it, Shut the fuck up!" (That got a big laugh.)

He addressed stories about Tarantino recutting the film, saying that he had cut the version shown at Cannes in six weeks, that the version that they showed there had never been seen by a live audience and there were certain scenes that Tarantino didn't have time to cut that were added for the version that we saw and that certain scenes were tweaked after Cannes based on the reactions of the Cannes crowd, something that Tarantino had always planned to do.

Roth talked about being cast for the film, saying that Tarantino was impressed by his performance in Death Proof and that Tarantino didn't audition him for the role and told him over dinner that he got it, saying that he had auditioned a few other actors to see if there were anyone better out there. "He said that it was either me or Adam Sandler and if he couldn't get one of us, he would rewrite the part. He said that he really wanted a Boston Jew in the part of the Boston Jew." Of the character, called by the Nazis, "The Bear Jew" because he beats Nazis to death with a baseball bat, Roth said, "When I lived in Boston I kept a baseball bat in my car and I didn't play baseball, so I figure I have been auditioning for this part my whole life."

Roth also explained how he came to shoot the German propaganda film within a film, The Pride of Germany. "When Quentin cast me, I committed to being there for the entire shoot, but there are sequences of the film my character isn't in, so I told Quentin if he wanted me to shoot any second unit stuff to give me a camera. He told me that he didn't normally use a second unit, but he hadn't figured out the German propaganda film yet, so I could shoot that if I wanted. I grabbed Daniel [Brühl] and a camera. The first day, we did 65 shots. Quentin called me and said, 'We did twenty shots!' Yeah? We did 65 mother-fucker! We ended up doing 200 shots in 3 days. When Quentin saw the footage, he loved it and asked me to cut it together for him. It ended up being 5 and a half minutes. If you watched it on its own it would seem a little disjointed because it is meant to be excerpts from a longer film, but you will be able to watch the whole thing on the DVD." Roth also said that he did an audio commentary for the film with the actor who played Goebbels doing commentary in character, but he wasn't certain that it would make the DVD because they pushed the envelope a little.

At the end of the Q&A, Roth talked about his next project saying that he was working on a PG-13 scince-fiction action thriller and he was hoping to shoot it in such a way that he could slip in a gory horror film at the end of the shoot like a movie based on the Thanksgiving fake trailer done for Tarantino's Grindhouse double-feature. He joked about Thanksgiving, "If Peter Jackson could shoot all three Lord of the Rings movies in one shoot, I figure I can do 20 Thanksgiving films in one go, and then I could really piss off the Saw guys by catching them and passing them with my Thanksgiving movies. They will be releasing Saw 8 and I will be putting out Thanksgiving 10!"


Eli Roth's first film Cabin Fever played at Fantasia in 2003 and got a really big reaction then, so that was probably why he was so happy to show us the film. It may have been playing to the audience to tell us that we were the perfect crowd for the film, but playing the film in Montreal, an international city where practically the entire audience speaks French and many also speak German, really helps in a film that features a lot of French and German since the French characters speak mostly French and the German characters speak mostly German. There were certainly jokes that the Montreal audience got that few other audiences would even notice. An early example saw the Nazi "Jew Hunter" Colonel Hans Landa (played by Christian Waltz) make a really dirty pun about the French dairy farmer's three daughters. Most Non-French audiences would probably understand that Landa was implying that he would have the daughters raped, the Montreal audience caught the overt threat and groaned/booed the pun and threat.

And that was true for the entire film as the sell-out audience laughed at every joke, cheered for the Basterds and booed the Nazis. At the end, the audience gave the film a thunderous ovation, about half the crowd standing to do so, During the opening credits, the crowd gave large ovations to Quentin Tarantino, Eli Roth and Mike Myers. (Of course at Fantasia ovations have to be taken with a grain of salt. We're a quirky bunch. To keep the Hollywood types humble, the guy who routinely gets the loudest ovation at each and every screening (and yes at this one) is Daniel the Fantasia volunteer who sets up the mikes and turns out the lights for the screening.) I don't know if it was true that Quentin Tarantino did insist that this film had to play at Fantasia, but whoever insisted it was certainly a smart choice and the perfect audience for this film.

It doesn't hurt that Fantasia is a genre Festival, although it has had amazingly ecletic programming since the Festival started in 1996. They sold over 90, 000 tickets this year and while films like Inglorious Basterds sell out, you are just as likely to see a massive crowd for a gay Korean romantic comedy like Antique. Before Inglorious Basterds, they announced the winners for a variety of prizes with the most honored (and applauded) films being Love Exposure (a four hour Japanese art film), Breathless (Korean action/drama) and The Children (UK horror).

My review of the film is up on my blog, and I loved it, but it certainly didn't hurt that I saw it with a great crowd, that I got in free and that I undertood all the French jokes. I don't know how middle America will react to an action comedy with so little English. It helps the film's authenticity, and it is a brave artistic choice, but it might hurt ticket sales. Hopefully, it can have the same success as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Fantasia in Montreal was the perfect audience for this film, but can they build on that audience? I certainly hope so.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Fantasia Film Fest Review: Inglorious Basterds

A World War Two Movie that is part Brothers Grimm fairy tale and part Dirty Dozen.Inglorious Basterds (2009) imdb​ Fantasia
Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Written by Quentin Tarantino
(according to imdb Tom Tykwer helped with the German.)

When they announced that Inglorious Basterds would be the closing film for Montreal's 2009 Fantasia Film Festival, tickets sold out within an hour of going on sale. The only reason that I was able to see the film is that organizers of Fantasia were concerned that tickets sold so fast that people who had been supporting the Festival for years were being excluded. They gave out 15 free tickets semi-randomly and since I have been going to Fantasia since the first festival back in 1996, I was given one of the lucky tickets. So, yeah, Fantasia is AWESOME.

The grisly film that got Eli his start.Eli Roth came to the screening and got a hero's welcome. (Eli premiered his first film Cabin Fever at Fantasia in 2003 to a great reaction.) He watched the film with us and then answered questions afterwards.

Among the tidbits: Tarantino edited together Inglorious Basterds in six weeks to make its Cannes' debut. There were scenes that he wasn't able to cut in time to add to the film for its debut which we got to see. Tarantino also tweaked some other scenes based on reactions at Cannes, something that he had always intended to do once he showed the film to a live audience for the first time.

Roth also explained how he came to shoot the German propaganda film within a film, The Pride of Germany. "When Quentin cast me, I committed to being there for the entire shoot, but there are sequences of the film my character isn't in, so I told Quentin if he wanted me to shoot any second unit stuff to give me a camera. He told me that he didn't normally use a second unit, but he hadn't figured out the German propaganda film yet, so I could shoot that if I wanted. I grabbed Daniel [Brühl] and a camera. The first day, we did 65 shots. Quentin called me and said, 'We did twenty shots!' Yeah? We did 65 mother-fucker! We ended up doing 200 shots in 3 days. When Quentin saw the footage, he loved it and asked me to cut it together for him. It ended up being 5 and a half minutes. If you watched it on its own it would seem a little disjointed because it is meant to be excerpts from a longer film, but you will be able to watch the whole thing on the DVD."

Two caveats about any opinions that I give about Inglorious Basterds. First, I saw it for free when I had resigned myself to not seeing it for a while, so I was in a great mood. Second, the perfect way to see this movie is with 700 excited rowdy genre fans, laughing at every joke and cheering most of the violence. It doesn't hurt that virtually all 700 fans understood French and a fair number spoke German, benefitting from Quentin's desire to have characters speak their own language for the sake of authenticity.

To hunt monsters, hire monsters.Inglorious Basterds is a dark and violent comic fantasy, gloriously so. Built on the framework of The Dirty Dozen, Inglorious Basterds ditches the elongated training sequences of The Dirty Dozen to plunge into the action right away. In the process, Tarantino fixes one of The Dirty Dozen's major flaws by giving the bad guys screen time to remind us just how bad the Nazis were. The Nazis with the most screen time end up becoming the most completely human characters in the film, which ironically makes them even worse monsters.

Bu ditching the training sequences, Tarantino is also able to give us a picture of the entire war, showing us not only British, American and German soldiers, but also giving us glimpses into the world of French and German civilians, both collaborators and Resistance.

It goes without saying that any Tarantino film is going to have fantastic dialogue, but when Tarantino made the decision to have the French characters speak French and the Germans speak German, beyond adding a level of authenticity, Tarantino also somehow ensured that his dialogue in French was as sharp and funny and clever as his English dialogue.

Case in point, during the opening sequence the Nazi "Jew Hunter" SS Colonel Hans Landa (Christian Waltz) is interrogating French dairy farmer Perrier LaPadite (Denis Menochet). Landa suspects that LaPadite is hiding a family of Jews. While subtly pressuring LaPadite, Landa asks for a glass of milk. After greedily gulping it down, Landa compliments LaPadite on his daughters and his cows, "Mes compliments a vos filles et vos vaches." The thing of it is, in French "vache" means cow, but it is also a vulgar name for the vagina. If reprimanded for this vulgar pun, Landa could quite convincingly claim not to understand French well enough to have meant it that way, but Landa does mean it that way and he means it as a threat. And LaPadite understands his meaning all too well.

As's message board pointed out to me Landa's actual quote was: "à votre famille et à vos vaches, je dis bravo." which doesn't really change the pun.

That is a really subtle piece of acting and word-play that many audiences would never catch, or at least they might understand the subtext without knowing the exact nature of the threat. The film is rich with that kind of detail. All of the French and English dialogue is chosen with that same attention to detail and while I can't swear to the German, I would suspect that it shows a similar level of craft.

Sont fou ces Gaulois!Inglorious Basterds opens with the phrase, "Once Upon a Time... in Nazi-Occupied France." Personally, this reminds me of the opening of every Asterix book and movie, another comic fantasy in a war-torn occupied France. Like Asterix, Inglorious Basterds is howlingly funny in places, although the film also turns darkly serious.

In its more serious moments, Inglorious Basterds reminds us that the first casualties of war are compassion and the ability to relax, as in almost every elongated sequence of the film, Tarantino finds a new way to build cruel tension to almost unbearable levels.

Tarantino also reminds us that film is dangerous, even inflammable and that its power deserves respect.

If you can see this film as I did in a packed theatre filled with knowledgeable fans who get every joke, than you will see this masterful film the way that it was meant to be seen. If you are not that lucky, all that you will see is a great, great film that delivers a darkly funny punch.

Fantasia Film Fest Review: M.W.

M.W. (2009) imdb​ Fantasia
Directed by Hitoshi Iwamoto
Written by Tetsuya Ôishi based on the manga by Osamu Tezuka

Apparently, in the manga, Yutaro and Yuki are lovers.This is a pitch perfect, breathless little mystery thriller. Part Hitchcock's I Confess, part Farnkenheimer's Black Sunday and the mind-blowing bit is that it is based on a manga by the guy who created Astro Boy and Kimba The White Lion. It's as if, after Mary Poppins won 5 Oscars in 1965, Walt Disney announced that his next project would be about two veterans gassed by Agent Orange in Vietnam, one of whom becomes a priest while his best friend becomes a serial killer. (Usually, it is Hayao Miyazaki who is compared to Walt Disney and the comparison is apt, but it works almost as well with Osamu Tezuka.)

The manga M.W. (started in 1976 by Tezuka) must have shredded the minds of his Japanese fans. It is about two boys on whose island the U.S. Army is developing a deadly nerve gas. On one horrific night, there is an accident and the gas covers the island. Those not killed by the gas are slaughtered by the U.S. Army in a desperate cover-up that the Japanese government aids and abets. The two boys are the only survivors. Taken in by a kindly Roman Catholic priest. they grow up to be complete opposites.

Yutaro Garai (played by Takayuki Yamada) becomes a priest and takes over the parish belonging to the priest who took him in, while Michio Yuki (played by Hiroshi Tamaki) is a successful banker and an even more successful serial killer.

The film wisely burns through the confession sequence. It is clear that this is a dance that the two men have done repeatedly. Yuki commits crimes, then confesses to Yutaro, not because of any guilt, but because he knows that it torments Yutaro. Guilt is the stock in trade of Catholics of course, but Yutaro is not just guilty because of the way that the seal of his confessional is being abused by his oldest friend. Yutaro is convinced that he is responsible for Yuki's lack of conscience. On the fateful night, Yutaro stumbled and Yuki came back to save him - only to get dosed by the gas. Yotaro is convinced that the gas melted the part of Yuki's brain that allows men to tell between right and wrong; the gas melted Yuki's soul. (Yuki, it should be said, has a much more prosaic reason for his actions.)

In addition to the conflict between the two almost brothers, Yutaro is pursued by two dogged but very different detectives: Tokyo cop Kazuyuki Sawaki (played by Ryo Ishibashi) and investigative reporter Kyoko Makino (played by Yuriko Ishida). Both pursue their own independent investigations with their own very different techniques and resources, both leading eventually to Yuki. The tension of the film is built on whether any of the three Yutaro, Sawaki or Makino will figure out what Yuki is up to before it's too late to stop him.

Gojira will FUCK you up!The most interesting thing about M.W. is that it built on the framework of a Godzilla film, only with a human-scale monster with ambitions to create Godzilla-scale destruction. The monster is created as a result of a U.S. Army experiment on an isolated island. (Albeit a bio-chemical experiment rather than a nuclear one.) The monster begins his rampage away from Japan (the film starts in Thailand) and gradually rampages towards Tokyo. In the best Godzilla films, there is usually an investigation to try and figure out what is causing the destruction, what created the monster, what its' motives are and how to stop it. And in a certain way if Yuki is Godzilla, than Yutaro is Mothra, created from the same destructive energies, but devoted to peace instead of destruction. And ultimately the film ends the way that all Godzilla films must end.

I got your Butterfly Effect right here!While not exactly subtle in its symbolism at times (Yutaro spends the last third of the film dressed in white to Yuki's black) M.W. is a very smart thriller paced like a runaway locomotive. Well worth the effort to track down.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Fantasia Film Fest Review: The House of the Devil

The House of the Devil (2008) imdb​ Fantasia
Directed by Ti West
Written by Ti West

Whatever you do, don't change the channel.If the producers of this film were smart, they would deny that Ti West wrote and directed this film and claim that it was a lost film of the early eighties that they found in a drawer at Paramount. Say a lost Tobe Hooper film that Tobe did right before doing Poltergeist. Something that Steven Spielberg bought to keep from competing with Poltergeist and shoved in a drawer somewhere.

He's in the house!Because it's that good. The House of the Devil feels like it should have been released back in 1982, from the feathered hair of the leads, to the Walkman, to the music and sound, to the slow build of the suspense, to the vintage titles. It is even a mash-up of the late seventies obsessions with baby-sitters in peril (When a Stranger Calls) and satanism in the suburbs (The Omen). Most importantly, it has all the slow-burn intensity of the great horror films of that period.

You have been warned!The baby-sitter in peril is Samantha (Jocelin Donahue). A college student, she is doing baby-sitting gigs because she needs money for a new apartment and desperately wants to get out of her dorm. Her roommate is a sex-addict and a slob and Samantha as a neat-freak germaphobe finds both behaviours repulsive. The job that Samantha ends up taking, on the night of a full lunar eclipse, is obviously (cue Admiral Ackbar) a trap, more obvious to the audience than to Samantha because we know that the name of the film is The House of the Devil, because her employer is Tom Noonan, the original Red Dragon from Michael Mann's Manhunter and because Samantha is too self-absorbed to notice that she is in danger.

There is a danger to read too much into it, but there is a very real sense that this film is pitched perfectly at the divide between the sex and drugs disco party lifestyle of the Seventies and the money-obsessed, self-absorbed Eighties.

William Pedersen's Grissom owes a lot to this film.There is even a sense in which the film (with the benefit of filmmaker hindsight) acts as a horror metaphor explaining how the drugs and sex excesses of the Seventies led to the health catastrophes of the Eighties, especially AIDS. Samantha may not know exactly why she is a germaphobe, nor why she is so feaked out by the house she is sitting at, but her anxieties are well-placed.

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
-William Butler Yeats, The Second Coming

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Fantasia Film Fest Review: Embodiment of Evil

Also translated as Embodiment of the DevilEmbodiment of Evil (2008) aka Encarnação do Demônio
imdb​ Fantasia
Directed by José Mojica Marins
Written by José Mojica Marins and Dennison Ramalho

I was at the Canadian Premiere of Embodiment of Evil during Montreal's Fantasia Film Festival. The introduction alone was worth the price of admission as the co-screenwriter Dennison Ramalho, dressed in a leather straight-jacket, introduced the director and star, Coffin Joe himself, José Mojica Marins, who was wheeled onstage by three gorgeous, fetish-wearing goths in a shroud covered container that was unveiled to be an open coffin.

Would you date this man?Embodiment of Evil is the third in the Coffin Joe trilogy, the first two films being À Meia-Noite Levarei Sua Alma (1964)... aka At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul and Esta Noite Encarnarei no Teu Cadáver (1967)... aka This Night I'll Possess Your Corpse.

Zé do Caixão, the Coffin Joe character is a combination of showy horror host, comic-book magician (specifically Mandrake the Magician) and depraved, sadistic serial torturer and murderer. A gravedigger, he wears a top hat, black cloak and has supernaturally long fingernails. A fierce atheist who denies the existence of both Heaven and Hell, Coffin Joe is obsessed by his search of the perfect woman with whom he can mate and continue his bloodline, preserving his eternal blood in a son. Joe's definition of a perfect woman is one that, like him, has no fear. To identify her, Joe uses the most diabolical tortures possible and those who fail his tests die in the most hideous and painful manner possible.

Mandrake the Magician? More like EC's Crypt-Keeper as a date rapist.Fantasia programmed the two previous Coffin Joe films back in 1999 and brought José Mojica Marins from Brazil to present them. While by no means the only people who can take credit, the Fantasia team must share the blame for reintroducing the world to Zé do Caixão.

I am not a fan of torture in horror films. What makes the Coffin Joe films palatable to me is the barely veiled metaphor of Coffin Joe trying to free Brazil from its imprisonment - chained by fear of violence from the military dictatorship and superstitious fear of the Roman Catholic Church. Nothing that Coffin Joe did or could do could ever be as evil or perverse as the way that the Junta and the church conspired to enslave Brazil and Brazilians. Coffin Joe is like a Pied Piper for freedom, offering a path filled with pain and for many, death, but promising at the end of the road a freedom that neither government nor church can take away.

Embodiment of Evil begins with Coffin Joe being released from an insane asylum where he has been confined for the last 40 years after his crimes in the first two films. (Amusingly, his hunchback assistant Bruno has been waiting for him for all these years.)

Mandrake would like to deny any responsibility for inspiring this Coffin Joe person.Coffin Joe exits to a world both completely different from the one that he left and eternally the same. There is very much a sense that Coffin Joe is a man from a time that has past while simultaneously a prophet whose time has come.

Coffin Joe's quest is both easier and more difficult than it was in the past. Easier because he now has disciples, the children and grand-children of those who heard his message in the sixties. And a new generation of women unshackled by fear gives Coffin Joe an embarrassment of choice to be his perfect woman.

His quest is more difficult because the barriers of fear and superstition still exist. The metaphor still works: fear of a violent military has been replaced by the fear of a corrupt and violent police. The superstitious fear of the church remains although its grip has weakened. The biggest change is that everyone is haunted by the sins of the past. The new Brazil is built on the bones and blood of the old Brazil and everyone (including Coffin Joe) is haunted by the ghosts of that past.

For Joe, this is a revolting development. As a man whose entire life is built on a denial of the existence of a life after death, ghosts are an abomination. Coffin Joe works even better as a metaphor for the new Brazil, futilely denying its' bloody past, like Lady Macbeth trying desperately to wash away the bloody spot.

Embodiment of Evil, like all the films in the Coffin Joe trilogy, is not a film for the squeamish. The images of pain and torture are all the more horrific since many of them are real. (Apparently for many in the Brazilian fetish community, being tortured by Coffin Joe is a badge of honour.) What can't be denied is that his vision is a unique vision of horror that speaks to those who will listen as clearly today as it did in the sixties.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Fantasia Film Fest Review: Deadgirl


Deadgirl (2008) imdb Fantasia
Directed by Marcel Sarmiento and Gadi Harel
Written by Trent Haaga

This is one of the most intensely vile, disgusting transgressive pieces of filth that I have ever been exposed to.

I think that is a compliment.

This films asks questions that I had no idea needed answering like: Is it still necrophilia if the corpse is a zombie? And is necrophilia worse if the corpse is a zombie? And what kind of sick bastards would find a naked female zombie chained up in an abandoned sanitorium basement and immediately consider it an opportunity for sex?

I blame non-existent parenting. It is surely not an accident that of the two young men, Rickie (Shiloh Fernandez) and JT (Noah Segan) who find the (un)deadgirl (Jenny Spain), we only see Rickie's home and we never see Rickie's mother, meeting instead her dead-beat boyfriend Clint (Michael Bowen) whose attempts at being a father figure to Rickie are pathetically inadequate.

It's not like my Dad ever sat me down to tell me, 'Son, should you ever find a naked female zombie chained up in the basement of an abandoned insane asylum whatever you do, no matter how attractive she is, no matter how horny you are, do not rape her!" He didn't need to say it. It's not even completely a moral issue although yes, raping a corpse is worse when the corpse is a zombie. If you have to use restraints it is objectively worse. But do I need to explain that this is an issue of self-preservation?

It is not a spoiler to point out that when you see a zombie chained up in the first act, that that zombie will be loose in the third act to wreak bloody vengeance, much like if you introduce a loaded gun in the first act it will be fired in the third act. And while zombies normally wreak vengeance on the living just for being alive, it's really not a good idea to give them a more personal focus for their un-dead rage.

Aside from my own personal disgust with virtually everything and everyone associated with this film, I had real issues with the cast not so much because of their acting chops, as much as their age. We are expected to believe that virtually all of the cast are 17, when they are almost all in their mid twenties. In a film like this where you are already being forced to suspend your disbelief in zombies anything that makes suspending that disbelief more difficult is a bad idea.

Deadgirl is intense and disgusting. River's Edge is creepy and sad.It also doesn't help that this film is constructed like a zombie variation on River's Edge and if you are going to court comparisons with Crispin Glover, Keanu Reeves and Dennis Hopper, it would help if you can rise to that challenge. Inevitable jokes about Keanu aside, where Crispin is intensely creepy, Noah Segan is just vile, although that may be my intense disgust with zombie rape speaking.

Which sums up my reaction to this movie - Intense. Disgusting. With zombie rape.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Fantasia Film Fest Review: Cryptic


She's Got Bette Davis Eyes!Cryptic (2009) imdb Fantasia
Directed by Danny Kuchuck and John Weiner
Written by Danny Kuchuck and John Weiner

On July 4, 2000, 9 year old Jessie Graver (Jadin Gould) is given a cell phone by her Mother for her birthday so that she can call home. Nine years later, Jessie (Julie Carlson) finds the cell phone, which she has never used, because her Mother died the same day that she gave Jessie the cell phone. On a whim, Jessie calls her old home phone number with the cell phone...

And is answered by the nine year old Jessie.

So begins Cryptic, a cracker-jack science-fiction thriller which proves that you don't need millions of dollars in special effects to film a great science-fiction movie, at least if you have millions of dollars worth of great ideas.

Cryptic succeeds because it pulls a trick out of the Walter Simonson (comic-book writer of Thor) handbook, which is to say it pulls the trigger on the plot. Many films of this type would place artificial barriers in Jessie's way. Cryptic gets out of Jessie's way, allows her to chase her dreams, and then pursues what happens after you succeed in changing the past.

Ultimately this film is about all the things that you always wanted to tell your Dad, but never could.

Comparisons will be drawn to Gregory Hoblit's Frequency. (Both films are mysteries, both are about lost parents, both postulate that sending people back through time may be impossible, but sending information back through time might be possible) The difference is that Cryptic is simultaneously simpler and more complex than Frequency, avoiding most of Frequency's baroque plot twists in favour of a more organic plot that nests inside of itself like a set of Russian dolls.

Nuclear catstrophe and plagues can be wiped from history, but Love is Eternal!The more apt comparison is to James P. Hogan's novel Thrice Upon A Time about a group of scientists who discover a way to send information back through time from a computer to the same computer in the past, but only in messages 120 characters long. (Can you change the past with a Twitter message?) The clearest connection between novel and film is that both believe that it is possible to change someone's destiny, but it is impossible to change someone's character.

And with a character like Jessie Graver, you wouldn't want to make a change. The entire cast is incredibly strong, but Julie Carlson as the teen Jessie - haunted by her past and Jadin Gould as the young Jessie - bravely facing her present, make the film come alive.

Cryptic is a film that will greatly reward those who track it down to solve its puzzles.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Fantasia Film Fest Review: Black


Shaft Goes to Paris Too!A French Shaft Goes to Africa

Black (2009) imdb Fantasia
Directed by Pierre Laffargue
Written by Pierre Laffargue, Lucio Mad and Gábor Rassov

An African tribal shaman is ranting on a street corner in Paris about a prophecy concerning the rise of the evil Snake and the need for the champions Lion and Panther to come together to beat Snake. While crossing the street, the shaman's eyes lock on the eyes of a garbageman with a lion birth-mark on his right cheek. The shaman declares that this man is Lion while the garbageman humours him to get him out of the way of the garbage truck.

The man with the lion birthmark is Black (played by French rapper MC Jean Gab'1 - probably best known to North American audiences for playing Nico in District B13.) Black is disguised as a garbageman, on his way with a crew to rob an armored car. After this heist goes disastrously wrong, Black is hiding out at home when his cousin from Dakar calls to tell him of a briefcase stored in the safety deposit of the local bank filled with diamonds. Black puts together another crew and heads for Dakar to steal the diamonds...

"Did you think you could just come to Dakar and steal the diamonds from the stupid Africans?" Black is asked at one point. Black's journey is nowhere near that simple.

The Greatest Heist Film Ever!Director Pierre Laffargue effortlessly quotes other films and genres while keeping Black its own movie. The film literally goes from Dassin's Rififi to Mamet's Heist to Kramer's The Defiant Ones to Peckinpah's The Getaway in dizzying succession, but all these are just masks for what is at its' heart an African story.

Black's journey from Paris to urban Dakar and from there deeper into the heart of Africa is punctuated by an amazing soundtrack. From the opening credits, where we follow Black's garbage truck through the highways of Paris while a slow smoky jazz cover of Also Sprach Zarathustra plays, the soundtrack ably serves the film - slowly transforming from cool Parisian jazz to more African beats, mirroring Black's transformation from cool Parisian bad guy to tribal African hero.

If MC Jean Gab'1 keeps getting scripts and direction like this, he could become a great film action hero. He has both the charisma and the the acting chops. At least in this film, he also has a flexible definition of action hero, using guns (small and large), grenades, knives and fists to win his fights, taking the weapons that are available to him and using them all with skill. Most importantly, he has the swagger. He truly believes that if he isn't the strongest man in the room or the fastest, he is definitely the smartest.

Steve McQueen, as always, is the Man!If the film has a weakness, it is that MC Jean Gab'1 is so good that he completely outclasses his adversaries. The only actor to keep up with him and match him is Carole Karemera as Pamela. François Levantal does his best in a part that could have gone dangerously awry and wrestles Lagrande just this side of too over the top, but Anton Yakovlev's Ouliakov is a cartoonish bad guy who wandered in from a Jean-Claude Van Damme film when a more nuanced Peckinpah bad guy was needed.

Ultimately, the film is not about the obstacles that Black meets on his journey, it is about the journey itself and I strongly encourage you to hunt out Black to take that journey as well.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Fantasia Film Fest Review: Coweb


Coweb (2009) aka Zhang wu shuang imdb Fantasia
Directed by Xin Xin Xiong
Written by Wing-Sun Chan

Coweb is probably short for Combat Web. The idea of the film is that a female bodyguard has her boss kidnapped by a gang who run an underground fighting web-site. In order to rescue her boss, the bodyguard must fight her way through the gang's martial artists - all while her fights are being secretly taped, streamed over the web and bet on.

The film aspires to be the kung fu version of The Truman Show, even name-checking that film and it is a neat idea, but horribly executed. The only reason to see this film is its star, Jiang Lu Xia. Coweb's reality web story probably owes something to Jiang who was discovered doing stunts and karate on online videos before becoming a part of Jackie Chan's reality TV series The Disciple.

Jiang has her limits. If she has a sense of humour, it is impossible to detect - at least in this film. She only has three gears to her acting and fighting, neutral, pissed off and REALLY pissed off.

Despite these limits, wind her up and she is a whirling ball of action fury, impossible to ignore. She manages to combine Jackie Chan's athleticism and ability to squeeze over and through obstacles with Bruce Lee's unstoppable fury. Of course, both Jackie and Btuce had other gears. Jiang just has the one and this may limit her career, but in full fury she is something to see.

Jiang is about five foot nothing, but it seems like she has six feet worth of legs. She has an astonishing ability to turn her legs into a multi-jointed weapon like a living three-sectioned staff allowing her to hit opponents with full force from the most impossible angles. She also has some interesting submission moves to add to her acrobatics and kicking.

But her most impressive quality is her sheer confidence, best demonstrated in a sequence where she has to cross a bridge and a horde of enemy bad guys pour onto the bridge to stop her. For the audience, there is a moment of doubt and then in a flash you realize that Jiang isn't outnumbered thirty to one, the bad guys are outnumbered one to thirty.

It's not like any movie martial artist loses that fight, but few would do what Jiang does ("You just put your head down and charge like a bull," one of her other opponents marvels later.) and fewer still would be as believeable while doing it. Jiang Lu Xia is something to see, her film Coweb, not so much.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Fantasia Film Fest Review: The Horseman


The Horseman (2008) imdb Fantasia
Directed by Steven Kastrissios
Written bySteven Kastrissios

He Has Some Questions

When I read the summary description of The Horseman, I thought to myself, "Cool, an Australian Death Wish!" but The Horseman is so much more than that. The film grabs you by the throat from very first minute "And damn'd be him that first cries 'Hold, enough!'"

Our 'hero' Christian Forteski (played by Peter Marshall) has lost his daughter, his only child, to a drug overdose (a lethal combination of heroine, cocaine and alcohol) she suffered while working on a porn shoot. Christian has made it his mission to find, brutally interrogate and kill every person involved in that porn film. His weapons of choice are not guns, but common household tools found in every handy-man's tool box.

What astonished me about The Horseman wasn't the violence, it was the visceral examination of revenge as an addiction, one that takes a physical toll not just on those being punished, but on the punishers as well.

(I suppose the Bronson Death Wish films had a meta-commentary on the addictive nature of vengeance since they made five films in the franchise, but that is more of a commentary on the producers' addiction to money.)

The Horseman does not make Christian's vengeance easy, nor does it make him an easy man to like. There are hints that Christian's inability to forgive drove away his daughter in the first place. His character (and this film is a character piece - one drenched in blood perhaps, but a character piece nonetheless) Christian's character is neatly summed up in the moment when, after receiving his dead daughter's porn tape anonymously in the mail, Christian dumps his daughter's ashes in the kitchen garbage and minutes later is on his knees sorting through the egg-shells and coffee grounds separating back out his daughter's ashes.

And that is as neat of a summation of this film as you will find, I expect: this is a film about an obsessed and heart-broken father, sifting through garbage with his bare hands looking for the ashes of his daughter.

Fantasia Film Fest Review: The Chaser


The Chaser (2008) aka Chugyeogja imdb Fantasia
Directed by Na Hong-jin
Written by Na Hong-jin, Hong Won-Chan and Lee Shinho

"No screaming!" said the guy to my left, a Fantasia Film Festival acquaintance. We save seats for each other, mock each other's taste in movies, and argue about films.

"It's not a horror film," I protested, not bothering to argue that I am not a screamer, since I am a bigger fraidy-cat than Sylvester in the Porky Pig and Sylvester haunted hotel shorts.

"It's a serial killer film. Same difference."

But he was wrong. The Chaser is quite different. It's not a mystery puzzle to be solved. It's not a spooky horror film with the serial killer as the monster. It is just barely a police procedural, only one that shines a spotlight on the bureaucratic failings of South Korea's justice system (and our own).

Our "hero" is Joong-ho Eom (played by Yun-seok Kim) an ex-cop booted off the force for corruption, who now makes a living as a pimp. (Need I say that it's hard out there for a pimp?) Joong is in money trouble because two of his girls have disappeared after borrowing money from him as an advance. Joong believes that they simply ripped him off, but when he realizes that both girls disappeared after doing out-calls to the same phone number, he becomes suspicious. When the customer calls back, Joong decides to set a trap and sends Mi-jin Kim (played by Yeong-hie Seo) with orders to call Joong with the customer's home address. Mi-jin, a single mother, is home sick, but Joong cajoles her into going.

Joong's trap works after a fashion. He catches the man who has been interfering with his business, Young-min Jee (played by Jung-woo Ha) but does so away from Young-min's home. Worse still, Joong thought that he was trapping a rival pimp, at worst a white slaver, but it quickly becomes clear once the police become involved that Young-min is a serial killer.

The problem is that the accidental way that the killer has been caught, away from his lair and without evidence, makes it very difficult for the police to prove that Young-min is a serial killer. The fact that Joong, an ex-cop, brutalized Young-min before the police got invoved only makes prosecution that much more difficult since the only evidence is Yoong-min's confession which any defence attorney could succesfully argue was violently beaten out of their client.

Joong's frustration is that he is convinced that Mi-jin is still alive, but can get no official help to find her. And so begins a race against time, as the police try to find enough evidence to keep a serial killer in jail and Joong simultaneously tries to find the serial killer's lair to rescue Mi-jin, before the police are forced to release him.

The Chaser is by turns suspenseful, incredibly violent, darkly morbid, and bitterly funny. Joong, by far the best detective in the film, works on the principle that mysteries are solved through a combination of perspiration and inspiration. His assistant pimp Meatball supplies most of the perspiration and some of the best gags in the film.

Some people that I saw the film with found the third act of the film too contrived and manipulative. They may be right, all I can say is that I was quite willing to be manipulated, and this film took me on an emotional journey that no serial killer film has ever taken me on.

As I predicted from the start, there was no screaming from me when I saw this film, just the sound of my heart breaking.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Dead Sleep Easy

Since I am going to see Lee Demarbre's latest film, Smash Cut, on Saturday night, I thought that I would post my review for The Dead Sleep Easy, one of Lee's previous films. Originally written March 13, 2008, so well before the release of The Wrestler, hence the line about "best English language wrestling film ever." It didn't hold the title for long, but number two ain't bad, because there is a hell of a drop off to All the Marbles.

The Dead Sleep Easy (2007) imdb

Quotes taken from an interview by Steve "Rockamaniac" Wilson of MainEventRadio
Interview Audio can be downloaded at​file/​ualr20

Directed, Shot and Edited by Lee Demarbre
Written by Ian Driscoll
Produced by Robert Menzies

Ian Hodgkinson - The Champ (Vampiro)
Ana Sidel - Maya
Martin Kove - Bob Depugh
Phil Caracas - Carlito
Dave Courtney - Tlaloc
Oren Hawxhurt - Fighter#1 (Luke Hawx aka Altar Boy Luke.)
Aaron Katz - Minuteman #1
Joey Munoz - Bar Bouncer (KAOS)
Talia Russo - Bunny
Aaron Aguilera
Joseph Meehan (Joey Ryan)


Lee Demarbre and Ian Driscoll are a team of Ottawa film makers and Fantasia Film Festival veterans who have previously created Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter and Harry Knuckles and the Pearl Necklace. In 2006, they started following around Ian Hodgkinson aka Vampiro to make a documentary film about his life going from a Thunder Bay kid - homeless on the streets of Montreal, eating out of garbage bins - to being the "Hulk Hogan of Mexico". While they were shooting the documentary (due out later this year) Vampiro told Lee and Ian an idea that he had for a film.

Within a month, they had a script, a budget (pennies) and were shooting The Dead Sleep Easy, a "Mexican Wrestling Gangster Movie" in Guadalaraja with many actual Guadalaraja gangsters in key roles because, "Our Line Producer had never made a movie before and when he read the script and saw Gangsters described in the script and instead of hiring actors to play gangsters, he hired real gangsters!" - Lee Demarbre.

When Lee and Ian came to Montreal to deliver a sneak preview, I HAD to be there. Vampiro? Acting? In a Mexican Wrestling Gangster Movie? Filmed by Canadians? The mind boggled.

Here is what I was expecting: A train wreck. A glorious train wreck. A bad movie that revelled in its badness. (Which is as good a description for their first two films as any.)

I didn't get my train wreck.

And I couldn't be happier.

This film is so dirty, so gritty, it is like a lost 70's film (including the obligatory 70's psychedelic scene.) Every one in the film is a son-of-a-bitch. The nicest character in the film, the one who has been saved, the one who wears white? He got there by shooting his best friend in the face with a shot-gun. This is a film about the damned.

Remember the scene at the beginning of The Wild Bunch where the kids are forcing two scorpions to fight a group of fire ants before setting them all on fire? This film might as well take place in that fire.

Vampiro plays "The Champ", a broken-down, drugged-out former wrestling champion barred for life from wrestling because he killed a man in the ring, now earning his drugs as a mob enforcer. Martin Kove (the evil Karate master from the Karate Kid series) is his psychopathic, Peckinpah-obsessed part-time Videographer, full-time assassin, quasi partner.

While stumbling through life like a drunk lurching from lamp post to lamp post, a cross between Harvey Keitel in Bad Lieutenant and Stacy Keach in Fat City, Vampiro bumps heads with most of the Wrestling Society X roster including notably Joey Ryan, KAOS, Alter Boy Luke and Aaron Aguilera.

A few quick caveats for wrestling fans:

While the film is set in Mexico, don't expect to see high flying Lucha Libre action. The style used is more like a dirty bar room bastardization of Mixed Martial Arts, which fits the tone of the film perfectly.

Oddly, the Champ's fall from grace hinges around a rigged fight that he was supposed to lose and didn't, echoing the story of Daredevil's Dad Battlin' Jack Murdock and countless film noir boxing films. Only where Jack gets killed for costing his mob boss money, the Champ becomes the indentured servant of Dave Courtney's Tlaloc. For me this matched the 70's vibe of the rest of the film in that it hearkened back to the days when kay-fabe was still alive and people could believe that someone would actually bet money on a pro wrestling match. .

Wrestling fans will also note the odd echoes of the lives and tragic deaths of Rikidōzan and Bruiser Brody.

The one place where the film falls down a little bit is in the editing. The pacing and the beats just seem a little off like an out-of-shape fighter with a bit too much flab. And I really don't need to be told that you are flashing back to Then when you are also giving me the flash backs in black and white. It is also somewhat redundant to tell me that I am looking at the Day of the Dead celebrations. Not only is the information unnecessary and redundant, but it works against the more subtle vibe of the rest of the film.

But that's quibbling. Ultimately, this is a quantum leap forward for both Director Lee Demarbre and Writer Ian Driscoll and easily the best English language wrestling film ever - ranking only behind The Foul King and The Calamari Wrestler for the World Title.

Most shockingly? Vampiro can act!

"One reviewer told me it was the best performance by a wrestler in a film since Roddy Piper in They Live." - Lee Demarbre.

Granted, it's not a terribly crowded field, but I would argue that it's the best acting performance by a wrestler in a film ever.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Fantasia Film Fest Review: The Warlords (2007)


Jet Li is the bad guy? WHUH?The Warlords aka Tau ming chong (2007) imdb Fantasia
Directed by Peter Chan and Wai Man Yip
Written by Tin Nam Chun, Junli Guo, Jiping He, Jianxin Huang, Jo Jo Yuet-chun Hui, Oi Wah Lam, Lan Xu and James Yuen

Looking at the list of writers involved in this project, it is a fraking miracle that this film is as good as it is. While it is no The Banquet, it is a solid historical epic which features the most layered and complex performance of Jet Li's career.

Shaw Brothers represent!Loosely based on the Shaw Brothers' 1973 film The Blood Brothers as well as the life and death of General Ma Xinyi, this is a tragedy in the Greek or Shakespearean sense. Jet Li plays General Pang Qingyun, a general of the Ching army whose command is slaughtered by the Taiping rebels while Pang's allies the Ho Army watch and do nothing.

Injured, delirious and with no one left to command, Pang is nursed back to health by a beautiful woman who turns out to be the wife of Andy Lau's bandit leader Zhao Er-Hu. When the Ho Army raids Lau's village, steals their supplies and kills one of his men, Jet Li convinces Er-Hu and his lieutenant Zhang Wen-Xiang (played by Takeshi Kaneshiro) that if they join the Ching Army they will get the respect, money and guns necessary to protect themselves and their village. Pang, Er-Hu and Zhang swear a blood oath to stand together with death as the penalty for oath-breakers.

This starts Pang on his quest to save his country from itself, building an army from the unwanted, the poor, the brigands. In the process, Pang must fight Imperial politics as much as the enemy Taiping rebels. Each step along the way, Pang has to barter away a little piece of his soul to achieve victory, with Zhang reacting with hero-worshipping approval, while Er-Hu becomes increasingly disgusted.

The down side to working with a star of Jet Li's caliber is that in every role he is Jet Li, bringing with it his quiet heroism and idealism. This film turns that drawback into an advantage by casting Jet Li as a man who does increasingly villainous things for the purest of motives. Like a Chinese Robespierre, Pang is trying to build a free, united China on a pyramid of corpses.

He Had to Find Her!The film that The Warlords reminds me of the most is John Ford's The Searchers.

Like The Searchers, The Warlords starts with a massacre. Both films feature characters who leave their homes on an obsessive quest that seems impossible and takes them years to complete.

John Ford uses John Wayne's iconic, heroic status and subverts it, as the obsessive quest slowly destroys Wayne from within. Jet Li's character in The Warlords follows the same arc, beginning his quest with idealistic purity and finishing just inches from total madness. Both men succeed in their quests, Jet Li's Pang in saving his country, Wayne's Ethan Edwards in rescuing his niece, but in both cases their quest is ultimately futile, because what they saved was the reality and what they wanted to save was an ideal. Both men end their films framed in a doorway that they can no longer cross, because their journeys have turned them into men of war who have no place in the world of peace on the other side of the doorway.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Fantasia Film Fest Review: Mutants (2009)

Despite my intentions to see two other films earlier in the week, this is the first Fantasia film that I have seen at this year's Festival.

Mutants (2009) imdb Fantasia
Directed by David Morlet
Written by David Morlet and Louis-Paul Desanges
David Morlet has also spelled his name as David Morley in the past. Pronounciation of his name stays the same.

In its very first minute, Mutants reminds us that in order to survive the inevitable zombie apocalypse, it is best not to get too attached to anyone or anything.

And of course, the problem is that it is very easy to say that, but much harder to put theory into practice. The difficulty with zombies, besides the fact that they are the tireless, ravenous living dead is that they are monsters with the faces of our loved ones. Random zombies are a problem, but one that can be solved with ruthless application of violence. From Romero's Night of the Living Dead to Robert Kirkland's The Walking DeadIn The Walking Dead the cold puts Zombies into hibernation but no one heads North to Canada! the most difficult zombies haven't been the faceless hordes, but the zombies that we knew when they were human, our sons, daughters, parents and lovers.

Life is Icky

The zombies being offered in Mutants are viral mutants similar to the ones in Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later, but where Boyle's film gave us a transformation that was almost simultaneous with infection, Mutants offers a much crueler plight. It imagines a delay between infection to full viral mutation of about four days. The cruelty of a long and painful transformation (in this case strongly reminiscent of Cronenberg's The Fly) is that it offers the illusion that a cure is possible. In this case, the main character, Sonia, is a medical professional. (It is unclear if she is a doctor or a nurse.) Sonia's identity is vested in her belief that any disease can be cured, that her infected lover Marco can be saved and she has secrets that help convince her that a cure is possible, even likely.

This is heresy for zombie affliction afficionados, where the only true cure for infection is immediate amputation, but by flirting with heresy, Mutants asks some compelling questions. In the process, it offers an eloquent elegy to the moral quandry of euthanasia.

At what point is medical treatment crueler than death? At what point has your loved one become so consumed by disease that all that they were and all that they could be have been replaced by the disease? Where does humanity end and death begin?

Bad enough to be faced with those impossible questions, but Morlet ups the ante on Sonia by reminding us that the inevitable zombie apocalypse is not just about the zombies, it is also about the apocalypse - the end of everything. The end of easy transportation, the end of gas, the end of warmth, the end of light, the end of communication, the end of parts, the end of bullets, the end of civility, the end of love and the end of trust.

The film is not perfect. It uses a but too much of the shock-cam technique currently in vogue. There are also a couple of steps in the mutation that make little sense. Mutant zombies losing their hair makes sense, but losing their teeth? Really?

The reason that the zombie apocalypse is inevitable has everything to do with our voracious and insatiable appetite that will eventually overcome and overwhelm our ability to feed it. The zombie apocalypse is the contrast between the death of our ability to feed the hunger and the dark monstrous face of that hunger lying just behind the mask of civility.

David Morel reminds us in Mutants not just of that inevitability, but also that when the end comes it will be both painful and beautiful, and that the barrier between life and death, love and hate, civilization and chaos is not a barrier that is crossed in an instant. It is one that is crossed so slowly and the hair, the blood, the fluids and all the mess of life and living shed in the crossing are so distracting that by the time you know that you have passed the tipping point, it is too late to turn back.