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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stories into their meeting over a cup of tea and Wallace can't hide his excitement of finding such a treasure trove of historical references as seen through the eyes of the elderly Howard.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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Music speaks to us all. But when music speaks to Duane Lewis (Jérémie
Earp-Lavergne) he transforms into a serial killer whose murderous trail
of blood can be found on both sides of the 49th parallel.
On the surface, Duane looks like your average young man growing up in the discocentric mid-1970's. But a childhood event (seen later in flashbacks) underline why Duane has psychotic snaps in the presence of disco music leading to his murderous ways. His serial killer instincts are so violent in nature that bodies are dismembered and mutilated beyond recognition.
On Duane's trail are both detectives from New York City and Montreal where Duane has taken up residence after fleeing the United States after a brutal slaying at a local Discotheque. Always one step behind, Duane seems unstoppable during his musically engaged rages. That is, until Duane reveals himself to the detectives leading to a climax that is an unpredictable as it is enjoyable.
Discopath is directed by Renaud Gauthier who marked his directorial debut with this slick and fun horror film. A toe-tapping soundtrack which includes music from Kiss and KC & the Sunshine Band help lead to the authentic feel of the 70's and the violence goes from the grotesque such as the use of vinyl as a weapon to the graphically conclusion to a car chase during a funeral procession.
Discopath switches languages when the action switches to Montreal which may dismay anyone who groans when having to read subtitles. But the effect only personifies the authenticity of the environment and setting that Gauthier has constructed from his own screenplay.
A few dialogue lapses and questionable casting choices for a few of the side characters are the only drawbacks in an otherwise highly recommended hidden gem that we bet disco balls many of our readers have not heard of prior to this introduction.
Upon a second viewing, we believe strongly that had Discopath been released theatrically in the late 1970's or early 80's it would easily have become kin to other revered Canadian horror films such as Black Christmas, Prom Night and Happy Birthday to Me.
As an elder statesman in 2014 I can still confirm that Disco Sucks. But Discopath does everything but.
Let's get one thing clear I am, and have always been, an Arnold
Schwarzenegger fan. I consider The Terminator an excellent film series
(yes, all four of them), I consider his run of films in the 1980's as
an unprecedented run that will likely never be matched and I consider
Predator to not only be his best film but also the best action
I was moderately OK with Arnie taking a break from acting when he became Governor of California. His string of movies leading up his hiatus were The Sixth Day, End of Days, Batman & Robin and Collateral Damage. So breaking up was probably best for the two of us.
When Schwarzenegger vacated the Governor's mansion and announced his return to feature films in 2010, I was again filled with the all the joy and hope that this second act could seamlessly weave into his earlier works of glory. The Last Stand (2013) was a good launching pad. Critics were mixed and audiences were indifferent giving the film a weak box office return, but the action film where Schwarzie played an aging Sheriff is much better than most give it credit. Arnie then teamed with Sylvester Stallone for a trio of forgettable films. Two Expendable films (where Schwarz had very little to do) and then Escape Plan which would hardly be the movie anyone buys the Arnold Schwarzenegger DVD Box Set for.
Soon after Escape Plan, we began to screen trailers for Sabotage. Written and directed by David Ayer, who directed End of Watch (2012) and wrote screenplays for Training Day (2001) and Harsh Times (2005), Sabotage looked to be the film that would catapult Schwarzenegger back to the heights that would make our children understand why we hold the foreign action star to such heights.
In Sabotage, Schwarzenegger plays the leader of a DEA task force that are the target of an unknown assailant after then rob a drug cartel safe house of $10 million. Schwarzenegger plays their leader a man who is haunted by the killing of his wife and child by drug lords in a violent videotaped session of pain and torture. The group seems tight. But when the $10 million goes missing, the task force buckles and even turn on each other while they get knocked off in gruesome fashion one-by-one. Of course, it is then up to Schwarzenegger's character to put all the pieces together and make the world safer again by the time the end credits shows up. And Schwarzie has plenty of talent to help him get there. Sam Worthington (Avatar), Josh Holloway (Lost) and Terrence Howard (Iron Man) all lend their acting talents to the script that fails to engage and falls flatter that Sully after learning that Matrix doesn't always keep his promises in Commando. Mireille Enos (The Killing) is terribly miscast as part of the group.
Ayer has proved that he can whip together a good cop/actioner (End of Watch, Training Day), but here he directs like an amateur with cuts scattered along a timeline and a script that has characters trying to utter lines such as "Some of us are getting paid, the rest of us are just getting dead." with a straight face.
By the time we get around to the identification of the masterminds behind the killings, you won't care. Ayer has made public that the studio cut the film (his vision was over 3 hours) and that the ending in particular was not the original concept. Maybe that film would have been interesting. But this mess is a terrible result of lame action, lamer dialogue and a story as familiar as those 20-year-old slippers you won't let your wife throw out.
In case you can't tell, Sabotage was not the film to which we had hoped. In fact, I consider Sabotage one of the worst films in Schwarzenegger's filmography and that says a lot when films such as The Last Action Hero, Jingle All the Way and Batman & Robin jam up the list's bottom. In it is an inexcusable bomb that fails to reach its potential yet didn't fail to take my money to pay for a screening.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I don't get many WTF moments when watching film. Not anymore. I guess
spending decades searching for the most bizarre, scandalous and banned
films from around the world has resulted in my flatline response to
scenes and screen situations that others might find shocking. It's a
true pleasure when I do come across a film that solicits a bottomless
jaw reaction. A Serbian Film, Cannibal Holocaust and even to a lesser
degree, The Human Centipede were all films that caught me off my usual
guard. And in a good way. Now, as of yesterday's screening, my small
list of WTF's has increased by one.
Moebius stars Lee Eun-Woo and Cho Jae-Hyun as a married couple with emotional problems beyond repair. The wife (the characters are not given names) is enraged over the husband's infidelity and her descent into madness results in a knife attack where she attempts to remove her husband's err .ummm .manhood. With her efforts thwarted, the woman moves to her teenage son's room and with less resistance she cuts off her son's penis while he is sleeping. The husband hears his son's cries and bursts into the room where he and his wife again wrestle with wild abandon. The husband attempts to retrieve the severed appendage from his enraged spouse, but she is able to dispose of the detached organ in a way that gave me the first of my many WTF moments.
And this all happens in the first 10 minutes.
The son is rushed to the hospital but without the item to be reattached, there is little the physicians can do. The son returns home and is confronted with a life of ridicule from classmates and street thugs aware of his err .ummm .situation. Meanwhile, the father scours the internet looking for information to give him hope that his son could receive a successful penis transplant or in some way have the feeling of a male orgasm.
Not yet at the film's half-way point, the son takes a keen liking in a beautiful shop girl that is more than willing to bare all for her admirer. The father and son learn through internet searches that inflicted pain during sexual encounters could lead to a heightened faux-orgasmic reaction. Knives and sharp rocks provide scenes that will again incite orated "WTF's" as the son and father explore a sick mix of simulated sex and pain.
By the time you get to the film's final act you realize there will be no let-up from writer/director Ki-duk Kim. The final reel contains even more stunning events within the family that are beyond full description let alone comprehension. The relationship between son-father-mother continues off the rails leading to a crescendo every bit as perverse as the previous 80 minutes leading us to the end credit's conclusion.
Ki-duk Kim is no stranger to controversy in his films. In 2000's The Isle, Kim included scenes of animal cruelty that included a frog skinned alive and live fish that were mutilated. These scenes resulted in the film being delayed from its intended release. But The Isle can't hold a candle to Moebius wherein each new scene a demented and perverse story of mutilation, cannibalism and awkward sexual decadence is displayed with peacock feathered pride. And it is all accomplished without a single word uttered by any of the on-screen characters.
To simply shock an audience is easy. Eli Roth and Takashi Miike have been doing that for years. But to shock, engage, repulse and captivate while still producing a watchable (even if it is between your fingers) and recommendable film, well, that is a talent that is ambiguous at best. Moebius is that film.
With all the super-hyped films of the summer (Captain America: Winter
Soldier, Godzilla), all the films that were not ready for last year's
Oscar run (The Monuments Men) and all the highly anticipated sequels
(Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, X-Men: Days of Future Past), it
surprises even me that the film that rose to be the cream of the crop
so far in 2014 comes from a director of the horror films Stake Land and
Cold in July is directed by Jim Mickle who directed the highly underrated We Are What We Are just last year. Starring Michael C. Hall (Dexter), Don Johnson (Django Unchained) and Sam Shepard (The Right Stuff), Cold in July is an engrossing thriller than with plot layers peeled like a Chernobyl onion on its way to as satisfying a conclusion in a genre film we've seen in years.
Hall plays Richard Dane, an average shop worker in 1989 Texas who accidentally kills an unarmed intruder to his home. This event leads to an emotional downswing of internal questioning for Richard while also providing high tension moments when Richard and wife Ann (Vinessa Shaw) are informed that the father of the deceased intruder was a convict recently released from a long prison sentence.
Sam Shepard plays the father and his introduction to the film would suggest Cold in July would take the path of Cape Fear and result in one man terrorizing a family for a wrong that was done to his own. However, the multi-layered script by Nick Damici (based on a novel by Joe R. Landsdale) takes audiences on a journey that is hardly conventional and clearly unpredictable.
Not wanting to spoil the further plot details, we will stop short of spoilers and hint that when Don Johnson's character of Jim Bob is introduced, the film spirals with unabandoned zest through the entirely pleasing second act.
Brilliantly shot and with an 80's electronic music score, Cold in July sizzles in presentation and oozes atmosphere with a story that stays on target and doesn't get fluffed with unnecessary sub-plot padding.
Michael C. Hall is absolutely brilliant as the along-for-the-ride Richard but it is the always reliable Shepard and his partner in crime Johnson that really breathe life into the proceedings.
Jim Mickle has again proved that he is one of, if not 'the', best director working today. His films are incomparable to other directors. Some scenes may echo shades of Scorcese or Tarantino, but Mickle has his own voice. And that voice is incredibly talented.
Cold in July is not just the best film of 2014, but it might be the best film of the past two years. Yes, it is that good.
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