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418 reviews in total 
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Idea Just Doesn't Click On All Cylinders, 18 October 2014

In 2012, I came across the hidden gem Excision. Directed by Richard Bates Jr., Excision was the type of film that horror fans love to find – a title that they knew nothing about starring a bunch of people that we never heard of that, upon screening, was much much better than the throwaway DVD we expected.

Excision didn't have us pacing the halls awaiting the next Richard Bates Jr. effort, but it did have us stand notice when his new project, Suburban Gothic was announced as part of the Toronto After Dark Film Festival schedule.

With a successful and fairly well received film in his rearview mirror, Bates Jr. was able to gather together a cast of more familiar faces for his sophomore effort. Enter Matthew Gray Gubler (Criminal Minds), Kate Dennings (Thor), Ray Wise, John Waters and Jeffrey Combs – the later three very entrenched in horror history.

Suburban Gothic follows the life of Raymond (Gubler). A bit of a loser and an awkward one at that – a "freak" as his counsellor calls him - Raymond lives at home with his parents (Barbara Niven and Ray Wise) as his college degree does little to assist in securing employment.

One thing that Raymond is good at is summoning spirits and interacting with the paranormal. This talent catches the eye of paranormal obsessed goth Becca (Kat Dennings), a bartender that believes Raymond's sightings are a gift and the two will team up to fight an evil that has encroached the town.

Suburban Gothic is a whole bunch of things. It's a comedy, a horror, a supernatural thriller and a wannabe cult classic. The cast is well suited with no actor going outside a true comfort zone. Gubler has played the geek many times before as has Dennings playing the sarcastic muse as has Ray Wise playing an overbearing father with great lines and John Waters playing a gay freak. Been there, done that.

Suburban Gothic wants to be a The Frighteners, a Ghostbusters, an Odd Thomas and a Supernatural all rolled into one. But the effort doesn't reach the potential. It's like a car that runs but doesn't click into the right gear when accelerating. Everyone tries their best and there are some great lines in the film (John Waters' scene with Dennings and Gubler is absolutely fabulous) but everything doesn't click together like Lego blocks and instead of a David Lynchian Gothic Mullholland Drive the result is more of a Brundlefly.

Housebound (2014)
5 out of 8 people found the following review useful:
Worthy Mix of Comedy and Thrills, 17 October 2014

The 9th Annual Toronto After Dark Film Festival opened last evening with a sell-out crowd on hand for the screening of Housebound, a New Zealand horror film that takes on the tried-and-tested genre device of the haunted house.

Morgana O'Reilly plays Kylie Bucknell, a troubled young woman who is sentenced by the local courts to home detention after a failed ATM robbery and is ordered to house arrest under the care of her mother Miriam (Rima Te Wiata). Miriam is a bit of a nutbag who is convinced that their home is haunted. The rebellious Kylie is less than convinced. That is until she begins to see and hear strange things around the house that prompt Kylie's inner-Nancy Drew as a murder mystery slowly unfolds.

Housebound is a thriller comedy that focuses more on the comedy than it does the intensity. Rima Te Waita's Miriam gets most of the laughs as a mild-mannered everyday mom that channels thoughts of Edith Bunker as she stumbles through the events of the film. Security officer and self-anointed ghost hunter Amos (Glen-Paul Waru) also assists in the deliberate tickling of the audience's funny bone as he teams with Kylie for an unlikely duo that were a Scooby snack eating dog away from being the New Zealand Mystery Inc.

Writer/director Gerard Johnstone makes his feature film debut with Housebound and proves he can deliver the goods on a multiple genre platform to please most audiences.

Housebound may be a bit uneven as it switched from ghost story to violent cat-and-mouse murder solving, but it has just enough of everything to ensure that audiences are provided with valued entertainment. We may not have truly appreciated the plot veering into People Under the Stairs direction, but Johnstone keeps everything from falling under the weight of the ridiculousness of the events and the Toronto After Dark Film Festival crowd laughed and cheered in all the right places.

3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Walk Down Memory Lane (with plenty of explosions!), 22 September 2014

For those of us that grew up in the VHS age of the 1980's, Cannon Films was a studio that provided us with much of our movie watching excitement. New Year's Evil (1980), Enter the Ninja (1981), Invasion U.S.A. (1985) and Cobra (1986) are just a few of the titles that helped propel Cannon Films in its heyday and is the focus of the new documentary Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films.

Israeli cousins Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus bought Cannon films for $500,000 in 1979 and created a film sausage factory where films were fast tracked to the screen based on high risk concepts or eye-catching movie posters ("At Cannon, 52 pictures a year wasn't enough").

Immediately, the two relatives saw a market for B-movie action films and started to build their empire on the backs of such franchises as Death Wish and various Chuck Norris vehicles such as Delta Force and the Missing in Action series.

Director Mark Hartley is no stranger to documenting film on film. Harley directed Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation in 2008 and Machete Maidens Unleashed! in 2010. Hartley has a formula that works when exploring niche genres in film and stays the course with Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films.

Clips of films (everything from American Ninja, Texas Chainsaw Massacre II and Bloodsport are intertwined with interviews from familiar faces such as Molly Ringwald, Alex Winter, Dolph Lundgren and Richard Chamberlain. The doc takes us back to the early 80's and Hartley covers as many bases as possible when docu-reminiscing through such mindless yet wildly entertaining films that shaped many of our youths.

For a walk down memory lane, Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films is one hell of a fun ride. But it's a safe ride and one that doesn't give us any real deep deep deep insight into anything and just skims the surface of historical reference. When Electric Boogaloo does try and dive beyond an E: True Hollywood Story expose (such as a bit on diva Sharon Stone) it is met with a shrug of the shoulders and a 'Yea, not surprised' reaction from a target audience that was much more appreciative when the film simply highlighted films that we thought were even greater than the invention of sliced bread.

Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films is a tad overlong at 105 minutes but breathes new life into their decaying body with every newly introduced film that sparks memories of an age long gone. We do get educated on how now more popular directors got their start (Jean-Luc Godard with King Lear, Barbet Schroder with Barfly and John Cassavetes with Love Streams) with Cannon much like Roger Corman started the careers of Ron Howard, Martin Scorcese and James Cameron. And it was interesting to see the downfall of the company with big budget backed busts such as Superman IV: The Quest for Peace and Masters of the Universe.

Menahem Golan (who recently passed away in August 2014) and Yoram Globus did not participate in the documentary so any opinion of their business practices are told by the many interviewed stars and staff that were involved in their pictures including Cassandra Peterson (Elvira), Bo Derek, Michael Dudikoff and Elliot Gould.

Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films felt formulaic. It went through the motions and tired harder to tap into our memories than it did trying to tap into the backlots and secrets surrounding the studio (after all, it is titled 'The Wild, Untold Story'). Still, for someone who has seen every one of the films that was displayed on screen – and some, multiple times - Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films was like putting on your favorite pair of shoes that have long outlived their usage date. It had me reaching into my VHS collection to re-screen films I have not paid attention to in decades. And for that, Mark Hartley deserves credit.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Stellar Horror Series Comes To An End, 19 September 2014

It is our belief that about ten years removed from the end of the franchise that the REC films will be considered horror classics that delivered from first entry until last. The first REC was released in 2007 and followed a television reporter and a cameraman as they accompanied emergency workers who were called to an apartment complex where a terrifying outbreak had been reported. Produced and shot in Spain, the film was interesting enough for Hollywood studios to remake the film with Jennifer Carpenter in 2008.

REC2 followed in 2009 and put a whole different slant on things. What we thought was an outbreak of a disease was brought into question. A possibility of demonic possession was introduced as a potential cause for the horror and this twist added multiple layers to an already engrossing story.

REC3 was an all-out blood fest. The setting was moved from the interior of a dark building to what was supposed to be a joyous wedding. As the wedding party fights for their survival, the red messy stuff covers the screen in an absolute gem of a whimsical horror film.

And as all good things come to an end, we have REC4 to close the books on the franchise. The setting is again changed for the third sequel. Our survivors are now fighting within the confines of an ocean liner where the zombie/rage-induced hordes. Manuela Velasco again plays Angela – the lone survivor of the REC2. It is her awakening on a high-security facility floating on the ocean that catapults the story.

Angela is able to team up with a small group of survivors and together they use just about every tool or weapon not nailed down on the ship to fight off the apocalypse and ensure their survival. Jaume Balagueró, who co-directed REC and REC 2 with Paco Plaza (Plaza directed REC 3 solo), returns to helm the fourth instalment of the saga and finish the series off with a spectacular and bloody bang.

There is a tremendous amount of fun to be had in REC4. The floating vessel is the perfect setting to induce a claustrophobic and seemingly hopeless feel. The kills in the REC series have gotten more and more flamboyantly violent in cartoonish escalation and REC4 has some kills that had our packed house audience clap and cheer in unison with its execution.

There are some interesting turns in the overall story arch some which are fun and others are almost groan inducing. The characters in REC4 are not as interesting as the other installments and once every character was trotted out, I was dead on in my assumption as to who would make it to the closing credits. Still, this is horror. Fans of the genre and the series are sure to find enough in REC 4 to make the experience enjoyable. The series never really lost steam from its opening in 2007 as it reinvented itself a few times along the journey. This journey is just bloody fun.

Tusk (2014)
10 out of 29 people found the following review useful:
Creation from the creative mind of sick Kevin Smith, 13 September 2014

Kevin Smith is one of the most fascinating men working over multiple platforms today. Whether its movies, podcasts or television, Smith continues to bring his geeky playfulness to mainstream audiences that lap it up like Pavlovian experiments.

If you have every listened to any of Smith's SModcasts you will learn quickly that Smith is open to talking about anything from politics to masturbating into a beer can. Whatever comes to Smith's creative mind is fair game and his ingenious warped brain cells have pulled together to give us his latest theatrical event titled Tusk.

Tusk stars Justin Long (Jeepers Creepers) as podcaster Wallace Bryton who travels from Los Angeles to Manitoba, Canada in search of a story. When his original intentions are met with unexpected results, Wallace answers a barroom washroom ad and finds himself in the company of Howard Howe (Michael Parks) who might just be the 'most interesting man in the world'. A few war stories into their meeting over a cup of tea and Wallace can't hide his excitement of finding such a treasure trove of historical references as seen through the eyes of the elderly Howard.

But things then take a turn to the macabre. Wallace succumbs to the drugs hidden in his tea and when he awakes he is faced with the horror of being a medical experiment to which Howard wishes to transform the young podcaster into the likeness of a creature that provided him friendship and warmth after a shipwreck of his past.

What happens next is a Jackson Pollock of WTF-ness that is weird, funny, repugnant, awkward and downright fascinating – sometimes all within the same scene.

Michael Parks is perfectly cast as the sinister Howard Howe. His exact pronunciation gives the perfect delivery to Smith's script that gets as close to the edge as it can without losing his audience down the cliff. Justin Long is terminally committed to his role and his Wallace Bryton and subsequent transformation are likely to become part of cult culture lore.

In an effort to keep audiences engaged with a possible fairy-tale ending, Smith enlists the help of actors Haley Joel Osment (yes, of "I see Walrus People") and the drop dead gorgeous Genesis Rodriguez as two friends who engage the services of one Guy Lapointe (an over-the-top Johnny Depp) to assist in tracking down Wallace's whereabouts in Winnipeg. Say that last bit five times fast. We dare ya.

Tusk is more strange than good. But it's a good strange so that will just muddle things even further. As if Kevin Smith watched The Human Centipede and Boxing Helena in a double feature then dropped some mushrooms and started pounding out a script. If you take the film for what it is – it is great fun. Only Depp's overexposure as Lapointe takes any wind from the film's sails. If you are expecting a serious toned horror film, then you must look elsewhere. Do not forget that this is the same mind that didn't think twice of putting a naked dancer and a donkey together in his earlier works so there is no line in the sand that he's afraid of crossing.

The audience at our Toronto International Film Festival screening seemed almost confused as they left the theatre. A mark to which I am sure Smith would take great pride. But we had a ball. An unabashed rollicking time revelling in Smith's creative juices.

It Follows (2014)
4 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
Unique, 10 September 2014

Unique. That is the word that first comes to mind after a screening of David Robert Mitchell's It Follows which has now shown twice to accepting audiences at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival.

It Follows is the story about a sexually transmitted haunting. Let me repeat that sentence so that in sinks in a little bit. It Follows is the story about a sexually transmitted haunting. The haunting is all too real for teenager Jay (Maika Monroe). After a brief sexual encounter with a new boyfriend, Jay is haunted by ghosts that only she can see. Their intentions are not clear, but an opening scene of a disfigured young girl on the beach reveals to the audience that the ghosts are violently inclined.

The carrier that inflicted Jay with the haunting reveals to her and her inner circle that the ghosts will be relentless until they kill Jay. He goes on to disclose that the ghosts can only walk to their prey. So if you can run, drive or speed away from them it might buy you minutes, hours or even days until they catch up. The only way to pass on the haunting is to have sex with another and this knowledge torments Jay while intriguing the two male suitors that are part of her friendship ring.

Whether Jay can pass on the hauntings enough so that she herself is safe and whether her friends will play a part in her survival is the crux of the film that hearkens back to the glory years of horror where blood and guts were not paraded out in gore porn glory.

Director David Robert Mitchell confidently maintains the integrity of the story without the lure of upping the body count for the purpose of appeasing a microwave horror generation that wants its blood and wants it thick.

In fact, the body count is so low in It Follows that a leper can count them on one hand. This lack of blood and guts however only adds to the atmosphere that is thick and complimented by one of the best musical scores for a horror film that we have relished since the early John Carpenter years.

The idea is truly original and its execution is brilliant in its simplicity. An experiment which attempts to destroy the ghost reminded us slightly of 1981's The Entity (in which Barbara Hershey was raped by a sexually abusive spirit) but It Follows maintains its originality to the end.

In a Hollywood world where horror films are stereotypically deformed serial killers who randomly kill high school students on the brink of sexual revelation, It Follows is a breath of fresh air that is worthy of a high recommendation. Unique indeed.

1 out of 8 people found the following review useful:
Failed Attempt To Showcase Strong Women, 9 September 2014

The setting is the South Carolina in the final days of the American Civil War. Three southern women (Brit Marling, Hailee Steinfeld and Muna Otaru) learn to survive by farming, hunting and other daily chores they are thrust to complete due to the absence of men who are off fighting. Their farm is isolated, so help is not readily available. They must struggle and work to survive.

Their tedious and repetitive days are brought into turmoil when two Yankee scouts (Sam Worthington and Kyle Soller) cross paths with the mother patriarch of the trio with expressed devious intentions. With only their home as shelter, the three women must find a way to survive against the two armed soldiers who have already left a murderous path in their wake.

Julia Hart's screenplay for The Keeping Room made the Hollywood Black List back in 2012. But director Daniel Barber (Harry Brown) was resilient in his attempts to bring the strong female story to the screen. Barber wastes no time in garnishing his viewer's attention. The opening scene has a local colored girl being brutally murdered by the two scouts. The shots fired from their rifles and pistols echoed throughout the theatre and caught everyone's attention as the evil of the two antagonists was on quick display. Things take a dramatic turn immediately after as we get introduced to our three female leads and their life alone from rural civilization is dull and uninteresting unable to leverage from its strong lead-in.

All three women put on admirable acting displays, but their motions are of general non-interest to the average movie-goer. Watching them plow, eat, cook, chop wood…. The Fireplace Channel is more interesting and involving than their daily life. Unfortunately, this Little House on the South Carolina Prairie goes on far too long and with little dialogue of single sentence deliveries, the film drags until the tension mounts again with the return of the two soldiers at the home.

We welcomed the piercing gun blasts that echoed the theatre to wake us up from our self-induced coma in the film's final third, but by then it was too late to get us back interested in the characters or their plights.

I would assume that Hart's screenplay and Barber's intentions were to bring a story of strong resilient women to the screen. But we are so bored by their daily routine that we were less inclined to think that these were stout and hardy women but rather three women that finally had something interesting to do. Even is that 'something' was to fight for their lives.

Whiplash (2014)
8 out of 13 people found the following review useful:
Fantastic, 9 September 2014

There are multiple reasons why Whiplash comes to the Toronto International Film Festival with palpable anticipation. The film was showcased at this year's Sundance Film Festival where it went on to both the Audience Award and Grand Jury Prize award for best dramatic film. Actor Miles Teller was recently named as one of Variety's 10 Actors to Watch and J.K. Simmons, well, he's J.K. freakin' Simmons. So the gathering audience at the afternoon screening was primed, ready and eager for the expected greatness about to be screened.

Whiplash stars Miles Teller as Andrew Neyman, a determined 19-year-old drummer who is pushed to his emotional limits by his new instructor Terence (J.K. Simmons). Terence has a reputation for being the best, but mentoring under his tutelage comes at a price. Terrence is no Mr. Miyagi. He is ruthless in his barrage of verbal sewage that attempts to push his students towards the greatness he believes they can achieve. Newcomer Andrew is no spared his ire as evidenced in this heated reaction when Andrew can't find Terence's tempo, , "Were you rushing or were you dragging? If you deliberately sabotage my band, I will gut you like a pig. Oh my dear God - are you one of those single tear people? You are a worthless pancy-ass who is now weeping and slobbering all over my drumset like a nine year old girl!" There is no "Wash-on, Wash-off" PG-ness here.

Being mean is in Terence's nature. And his assault on his young protégés is sometimes hard to watch. Think of Gunnery Sargent Hartman in Full Metal Jacket and imagine the persistent yelling and abuse for an entire film. Throughout, Andrew remains resilient. His goal to become a drummer of future legend has him shun friends and family. He's all alone and the uncomfortable Terence bond that he creates is all that he has.

Audiences will be unsure of where Whiplash is headed. Are we headed for a triumphant climax where the drill sergeant-esque nature of the instructor pays off in a musical crescendo closing that brings audiences to their feet? Or will the pressure and barrage of verbal bullying take effect with a shocking tragedy that spotlights the harassment of our children. Be sure, this is no Mr. Holland's Opus and the hate and evil that Terence employs travels from opening to closing credits without reprieve.

Writer-director Damien Chazelle does a stunning job of keeping us on the edge of our seats wondering when or if a climatic breakdown will occur. We watch in awe as Andrew gets pushed and pushes himself until his hands bleed after hours of relentless play. We feel as uncomfortable for his situation as we feel trapped in finding a solution to Andrew's goal.

The concluding act only further exemplifies the events and personalities that took us to the stage and the audience cheered in Andrew's defiance while gasping at his situation.

The result is a fantastic film that is sure to be considered for Best Picture at next year's Academy Award's. It is a rousing crowd pleaser will have audiences clapping with hands they will want washed of Terence's abuse. J.K. Simmons has the role he was meant to play and his character was not only brilliant but could rank as one of the best cinematic villains of all-time.

2 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
Canadian Award Winner, 4 September 2014

Janey (Chelsea Jenish) is a trouble child. And for her efforts, or lack thereof, is sent off to a remote retreat for nonconformist girls under the guidance of a doctor (Robert Nolan) whose methods are ….a bit radical. The Doctor, and his staff of male accomplices, uses hypnosis and other extreme techniques to get their subjects to comply with their rules that command their patients to be completely obedient through deafening silence. Failure to obey the directions beyond their imposed 'two-strike rule' will result in the subject being fed to a lurking creature that inhabits the surrounding woods.

Janey is hardly the conformist. And her rebellious attitude towards the retreat's rules and regulators eventually lead to unavoidable confrontation. But with other girls simply disappearing, Janey must weigh her defiance against the risks of being overpowered by either the male administrators or the evil yet to be revealed from the outside.

Director Tricia Lee makes her feature film debut with Silent Retreat and shows a high degree of talent in transitioning genres. The film's opening scene is unquestionably horror, but the film switches gears and takes more of a dramatic path for the middle act focusing on Janey's relationship with fellow prisoner Alexis (Sofia Banzhaf) and the regimented retreat rules. We got lost ourselves for a while forgetting for a few moments that there was something mysteriously lurking within the forest. A mysterious something that reveals itself in the film's final chapters reminding us that Silent Retreat is horror plain and simple.

Characters as portrayed by Chelsea Jenish, Sofia Banzhaf and Robert Nolan are perfectly cast as they lend their combined talents to a tale that all three seem committed to pulling together. Lee does not seem to be in rush to allow blood splatter consistently through the film's full 95-minute running time and instead uses her DVD chapters wisely to form a setting and atmosphere that the film will heavily rely upon.

Silent Retreat won Best Canadian Film at the 2013 Toronto After Dark Film Festival, but you can remove the "Canadian" from the award plaque and you would still be left with a viable and enjoyable film worthy of our attention.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Claustrophobic and Effective, 2 September 2014

Heather (Lindsay Smith) and Steve (Ryan Kotack) are in love. As they take in the day with a tour of the Niagara Falls region (while Loverboy plays over the assortment of images) they seem like they are on top of the world. And then…..

Drugged, abducted and secured in a solid concrete bunker in the middle of nowhere, Heather and Steve awaken to unfamiliarity of their new setting. Confused and disoriented and with only the smallest of windows to provide them with light, Heather and Steve soon learn that they have been captured as part of a sick diabolical imprisoner who communicates to the couple through a landline phone placed within their cell. As voiced by Henry Rollins, the voice on the other end of the phone will run the pair through challenges and rewards the duo with combinations to cases located within the cell that include items that will keep them alive. But for how long? In the House of Files was directed by Gabriel Carrer whose most notable credit prior to this entry was 2011's If a Tree Falls – a film we were hardly kind to in our review.

But In the House of Flies keeps things simple and the result in a highly recommendable psychological thriller that borrows from more familiar horror films such as Saw and 13 Sins.

We never do find out the motive behind their captors intentions. And that's a good thing. There is no backstory of how they were abused as a child or had a traumatic experience in a basement themselves leading them to a motive that is undeniably malevolent. Sometimes, people are just evil. Plain and simple. And we appreciated how In the House of Flies didn't try too hard to give us a reason why everything was occurring around our protagonists.

The confinement to the concrete bunker allowed for a considerable chilling claustrophobic feel that worked to the film's benefit and audiences will strive for air and sunlight as much as the two central characters as a result of the film's authentic setting.

If we had one thing of the not-so-kind sort to say about In the House of Flies is that it felt like it had been done before. Might not have been done better but the film didn't feel as original as we would have hoped in its attempt to rise so prominently among its peers.

Still, In the House of Files is a good film and you would not be doing yourself a disservice to your watching time allotment if you are able to seek it out and give it a shot.

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