Sunday, September 30, 2007

Favorite Movie Moment: Thunderbolt and Lightfoot

Most folks associate Michael Cimino with his biggest success, THE DEER HUNTER, or his greatest failure, HEAVEN'S GATE. It's unfortunate that the rest of Cimino's career goes so overlooked, especially his freshman film as a director, THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT. There's never been a stranger heist movie than this all-star endeavor.

Look for Gary Busey as Vic Tayback's brother working along side Jeff Bridges. Check out Jack Dodson as the manager of the bank that Geoffrey Lewis, George Kennedy, and Clint Eastwood plan to rob. Along with the killer performances, crisp dialog, and seeing Jeff Bridges in drag, THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT features one of my favorite scenes.

Thunderbolt (Eastwood) and Lightfoot (Bridges) are between stolen vehicles when they're picked up by a redneck in a souped-up muscle car (a 1973 Plymouth Fury). His unintelligible rantings include a warning to the two men to sit in the back since he's got a rabid raccoon riding shotgun. And, speaking of shotguns, this is what the crazed guy uses after he flips his car and reveals a trunk-full of rabbits that, apparently, are in need of shooting. It's completely whacked and I love it.

Oh, and the theme song by Paul Williams doesn't hurt matters, either.

I Want To Ride My Bicycle

It's October in Michigan. No better time to think about doing some hardcore outdoor activities, is there? Yes, there bloody well is. Better late than never, though, I suppose. Come this week and Spring, I'm going to be tooling around Hines Park on my new bicycle.

Big ups to James Vreeland, my coworker, for pointing me to this site and helping to clarify some bicycling vernacular. I described what kind of bike I wanted, and what I didn't want, and he told me that I was looking for a "cruiser" with "coaster brakes." That is -- something where I'm not hunched over those curly-que handlebars, changing gears like mad, and pulling back on the hand brakes in hopes of stopping. "I want something like my damn Huffy," I told him. "No Mountain Bike, not a lot of gears, I'm not planning on driving on anything other than flat ground." I still have bad memories of my Junior High ten speed.

I placed an order yesterday for the Firmstrong Urban Nexus 3-speed in "holy god that's orange." I'm hoping that the weather holds long enough, and the sun stays high enough in the evening sky, for me to get some good after-work and weekend rides out of this before Winter takes hold.

Take my "Tarantino Inspiration" Quiz

So far no one's been able to score 100%: Tarantino Inspiration Quiz

I have to admit, I'm really enjoying FaceBook. There's so much more to do and much more interaction than MySpace. The advertising is less "in your face" (and doesn't slow my processor down). It's ironic because the developers that I've dealt with at FaceBook are as easy-going and helpful as their site while the folks at MySpace are as obtuse as their site.

I am having a bit of a crisis of faith, though. There's an application on FaceBook that I'm using that allows one to keep track of what books they've read. I've been going through, starting at my Junior High days, and trying to recall everything I've read. So far, I've only been able to come up with approximately 500 books. That number feels really low. I thought I was much more well-read than that.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Semantic Swindle

I keep hearing reports of so-and-so many troops being deployed here and there in Iraq and Afghanistan. I've talked to several friends that are or were in the armed services because the news media keeps making me scratch my head. Apparently, the word troop has changed its meaning recently.

One of the popular definitions of troop is "an assemblage of persons or things; company; band." Think "Boy Scout Troop." In the new meaning, a troop has been downsized to being one person; a soldier. Thus, troop has become a synonym for soldier. This seems to be meant to depersonalize the people who are serving their country.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Movie Marketing: Good Luck Chuck

The other day Andrea and I caught a commercial for GOOD LUCK CHUCK, the new comedy starring Dane Cook and Jessica Alba. This is one of the best cases of film marketing in a while. After the commercial, Andrea asked if there are two films coming out called GOOD LUCK CHUCK because the movie advertised on television is not the same movie that we read about.

Print Description: In order to keep the woman of his dreams from falling for another guy, Charlie Logan has to break the curse that has made him wildly popular with single women: Sleep with Charlie once, and the next man you meet will be your true love.

Commercial: Jessica Alba it klutzy. She does a lot of things that always end up with Dane Cook being hurt. She's a real piece of ass so he's trying to go out with her despite the looming danger of getting stabbed, bruised, or hit in crotch.

I'm guessing that the print description is what we'll be seeing in theaters.

While I've got your attention. Perhaps someone can step up and tell me why Dane Cook is labeled "Comedian." I have yet to see anything that he's done that has made me smile, much less laugh. Is there an example of Cook being funny anywhere and not just being a low rent Ryan Reynolds?

(P)Resident Evil 3: Extinction

It's level three of this video game-based film series. This time Alice (the comely Milla Jovovich) is wandering the wastelands of the Western U.S. on a psychically-driven quest. Meanwhile, her arch-enemy, Dr. Isaacs (Iain Glen), attempts to clone an Alice with the right guts -- both in terms of bravery and DNA make-up.

It's evident that screenwriter Paul W.S. Anderson knows his post-apocalypse cinema. The third entry in the RESIDENT EVIL series is rife with allusions to other End Of The World films with the biggest nod to THE ROAD WARRIOR. This time around, however, the group that our hero encounters -- led by Claire (Ali Larter) -- aren't looking for a tanker truck to carry their gas to the Promised Land. They've got the tanker but don't have the fuel or the destination. Alice manages to provide one of these, Alaska. She also hopes to give the ever-shrinking group of pilgrims the means to find Seward's Folly.

The film has a bit of a weak ending with the obligatory video game "boss" that Alice must defeat before the credits can roll. And, some of the close-ups of Milla Jovovich seem to be computer-enhanced, as if she was digitally "airbrushed" to remove any imperfections. All in all, I would think that Alice's outfit and full make-up in the desert wouldn't be too advisable. Ably directed by hack-for-hire Russell Mulcahy, RESIDENT EVIL: EXTINCTION is surprisingly good fare for a Saturday afternoon.

Resident Evil 3:  Extinction

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Cookie Attacks -- Pt 1

These kind of things are why I love my dogs. My wife's pretty nice, too. :)

Last Comic Sucking

I've been a fan of NBC's "Last Comic Standing" since I caught a marathon on Bravo before the start of Season 2. While it has had some rocky moments (the judges finding out that their verdicts didn't mean jack shit over the opinions of the producers -- meaning that "good TV" ruled out over "who's funniest"), it's been a fairly solid show that has brought a lot of laughs.

This year, though -- Season Five -- has been a big disappointment. Starting with the rather lackluster Season Four (Anthony Clark just didn't do it for me), "Last Comic Standing" has focused much more on the shortened stagework and less on the house life of the comedians -- some of the best fodder from the first three seasons. The cliche is that comedy comes from pain, so seeing a group of pained people suddenly stuck in small quarters made for some great tension and really made the competition between the comedians mean something. The shorter season also meant the elimination of some of the better challenges such as the cross-comedian roast. While this was done on the final episode... it just didn't have the same Friar's club punch.

Season Five felt abbreviated. More weeks were spent looking for talent than face-offs. And, with double eliminations happening twice, the weeks just flew by. And, since then, it's been steadily filler-fulled episodes as the comedians get voted off. And, while I found Matt Kirshen and Debra DiGiovanni to be pretty frickin' funny, the rest of the comedians didn't really make me laugh when voting was turned over to the American public. Sure, I chuckled a few times at Amy Schumer, but even the finalists didn't get more than a smile from me.

Here's hoping that this show can get a kick in the pants and some gravel in its guts for the next season.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Best of Cashiers du Cinemart Poll

I'm taking a survey to see if there should be a "best of" Cashiers du Cinemart issue or not. I'm thinking that I'd like to collect, re-edit, and put some of the older articles together. What do you think? Please cast your vote via the Cashiers du Cinemart Yahoo Group.

Your vote really counts!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Toronto International Film Festival Journal - Part Ten

I saw a lot of films this year. Some good, some bad, some terrible, a few remarkable. Unfortunately, I also missed a good number of films due to scheduling conflicts or screenings that started late (sorry, Todd!). Here are a few lists:

Film's I'd Highly Recommend:


Films I Still Want To See:


Toronto International Film Festival Journal - Part Nine

FLASH POINT / DAO HUO XIAN (Wilson Yip, 2007, Hong Kong)

This could have been bad. The last film I saw that Wilson Yip wrote and directed that starred Donnie Yen was the less-than-delightful SLP (see Cashiers du Cinemart #14 for review). Set in the same pre-1997 timeframe as SLP, FLASH POINT captures the fun and excitement of films from the golden era of pre-Triad-run HK films.

Starring Yen as hot-handed supercop Inspector Ma, his "by any means necessary" brand of justice isn't winning him many friends in the upper echelon of the CID (Criminal Investigation Department) but he's getting the job done and always looking out for his friend, Wilson (Louis Koo), an undercover agent trying to blow the whistle on brothers Archer (Rai Lui), Tony (Collin Chou), and Tiger (Yu Xing). These Vietnamese refugees have been taking a rather Tony Montana (of the DePalma SCAREFACE) tact of grabbing all the money and power they can in the Hong Kong underworld.

Themes of motherhood, family, and broken legs run throughout the film. There's also a great deal of reliance on cell phone technology that I don't think was as advanced as shown a decade ago (even in Hong Kong). While anachronistic, I managed to overlook this as the rest of the melodrama, fighting, and gunplay were just so darned fun. I got the same rush of exhilaration I used to feel watching Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Yuen Biao, et cetera, while watching FLASH POINT. Definitely worth a look if you're feeling as nostalgic about the halcyon days of HK cinema as I am.

DAI-NIPPONJIN (Hitoshi Matsumoto, 2007, Japan)

An attempt to be a THIS IS SPINAL TAP for the kaiju crowd, this mockumentary directed by and starring Hitoshi Matsumoto posits what life might be like for a hapless superhero in a world where giant monsters have lost their appeal. With televised battles relegated to the twilight hours (and only gathering a 1% share of the audience), life for Daisoto (Matsumoto) is far from glamorous.

The last line in a family of men who can turn to giant size with the generous application of electricity, Daisoto lives in relative squalor while his predecessors lived lives of luxury (as his agent seems to be living now). Oh, what indignity for one of the final champions of Japan! Daisoto's house is defaced with hateful graffiti, his wife won't let him see his daughter more than twice a year, and his grandfather often runs away from his rest home to load up on electricity and cause senior citizen havoc. As Dai-Nipponjin—the oversized troll-doll with tattooed torso and deadly baton—Daisoto battles a deadly array of foes such as Squeezie Baddie, Jumping Baddie, Mean Look Baddie, and more. Alas, the public criticizes his every move!

The segments with Daisoto as Dai-Nipponjin are beautifully rendered computer animation. Unlike VEXILLE, the CG characters of DAI-NIPPONJIN are shown "warts and all"—no plastic perfection here. There are a lot of good ideas and chuckles in DAI-NIPPONJIN. I suspect that a native Japanese speaker would find the dialogue funnier than the subtitles. The film lags on occasion—feeling like the jokes are too far between—and, sadly, it feels like Matsumoto simply ran out of ideas before the film comes to its bizarre conclusion.

THE DEVIL'S CHAIR (Adam Mason, 2006, United Kingdom)

Oh, my brothers, let me tell you the story of a film that thinks it's far too clever for its own good. By talking directly to the audience and acknowledging the obvious similarities between it and other films it wants to seem smarter. And, my brothers, by using a voiceover that recalls little Alex in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, then that brings the irony up to such a level that can not be overlooked, yes?

SPOILERS: Let's just boil down this blood-drenched little film into its basic elements: supernatural thriller turns out to not be supernatural but the drug-addled delusions of a maniac. There's no subsequent twist at the end to say, "But, wait, maybe it was supernatural!" Add a voiceover to make the audience sympathetic with the low-rent Jason Statham clone playing the lead (Andrew Howard) and give him complete control over the narrative (the film stops for his pithy comments with maddening irregularity) to make the big switch even more of a surprise. Surprise for whom? For anyone not paying attention to the film, I suppose. Otherwise, this terribly-acted HELLRAISER / PUMPKINHEAD meets SESSION 9 film will shock and delight you, my brothers.

THE DEVIL'S CHAIR is only good in one respect; it goes with the Devil's Sofa and the Devil's Rug (which really ties the Devil's Room together). Otherwise, I think that Adam Mason needs to be stopped.

Toronto International Film Festival Journal - Part Eight

Oh my gosh. I was about to run up on some folks and do a Rambo at several points during the Toronto International Film Festival. Before the start of each screening there were a few sponsorship messages (natch) and an anti-piracy warning. No where present was the most-needed piece of information for audiences: "TURN OFF YOUR DAMN PHONE/PDA!"

These bright little screens proved a constant source of aggrivation through 90% of the screenings I attended--and I tend to sit near the front of the house. I can't imagine what the audience looks like from the back row. Are these the "thousand points of light" that America was promised years ago? If so, take 'em back. I couldn't believe the gall of people, sitting in theaters and pecking away at their PDA during screenings. I had to resort to balling up pieces of my notebook and hitting some people in the head when they proved themselves too far out of earshot for me to chastize them. Was I really the only person offended by the glare that took me out of the Lacanian Womb of Cinema? And, more important, what makes people think that this kind of disruptive behavior is okay?

Toronto International Film Festival Journal - Part Seven

CLEANER (Renny Harlin, 2007)

A few years ago there was an incredible segment on NPR's "This American Life" about a cleaner of crime scenes. Shortly thereafter, Pruitt Taylor Vince played a character that felt indebted to this NPR piece on "C.S.I." ("Swap Meet"). The bringing together of science and death was perfect for the CBS show. I wasn't so sure if such a character could survive a Renny Harlin film.

Pity poor Renny Harlin. It still feels that he's trying to recover from CUTTHROAT ISLAND (1995). His last few films have been lucky to even snag a U.S. theatrical release (MINDHUNTERS wasn't one of these), much less a festival screening. So, that must mean that Harlin is back on top, right? Yes and no.

That CLEANER is playing a film festival is a vote of confidence in the Finnish filmmaker. Yet, CLEANER is a strange choice for a festival program. It's very much a straight-forward thriller along the lines of KISS THE GIRLS or U.S. MARSHALLS. The presence of Samuel L. Jackson, Ed Harris, and Luis Guzman certainly does well to give the film some credibility and solid performances (though Eva Mendes feels completely out of her league). The script by Matthew Aldrich is a solid, albeit fairly predictable, effort and Harlin does a capable workman's job bringing it to life. I won't object to seeing this one again on cable.

FOREVER NEVER ANYWHERE / IMMER NIE AM MEER (Antonin Svoboda, 2007, Austria)
STUCK (Stuart Gordon, 2007)

Cue the R. Kelly and make up some spoken word lyrics to the new song, "Stuck in a car." Worlds apart in tonality and geography, these films both feature men trapped in a car. In the case of Manfred, Bernard, and Rafael, the three Austrian men have an auto accident that takes them well away from the road in an impenetrable vehicle once owned by Kurt Waldheim.

Feeling a bit like Alfred Hitchcock's LIFEBOAT or any number of sitcom "elevator episodes" (especially "The Bus" episode of M*A*S*H), things get intense for the diverse group in their claustrophobic setting when their potential savoir—a pre-pubescent lad with a bent for science—turns out to be a sadist who treats the men like lab rats.

It's difficult to decide who's worse—a boy who happens upon three injured men in a vehicular prison who refuses to lead anyone to their rescue or a selfish twentysomething who hits a man crossing the street and won't get him any help, despite him being wedged in her windshield.

Ripped from the headlines (and already fodder for "C.S.I." in the episode "Anatomy of a Lye"), the tale of Stuart Gordon's STUCK is based on the curious case of Chante Jawan Mallard, a woman who kept an injured man as a hood ornament for days after he smashed through her front car window. Starring Stephen Rea as Tom Bardo, a down on his luck corporate cog, his day just keeps getting increasingly worse until it concludes in a collision with Brandi Boski (Mena Suvari), an ambitious nursing home worker who just can't miss a Saturday of work (even if there's a man exsanguinating in her garage).

There are some racial themes that require further study in STUCK. Mallard is an African American woman and the outcry over her abuse of a white male (Gregory Biggs) was deafening in some circles as if it were more morally reprehensible. In Gordon's version, Suvari, a Caucasian, wears a Black hairstyle and her closest friend and boyfriend are African American. Likewise, another fascinating aspect of Gordon's film is that the "we're all in this together" selflessness of a post-9/11 world seems to be truly a thing of the past. STUCK exemplifies the "do anything you can do to get ahead or stay out of trouble" mentality that seems to stem from the stealing of the White House and the Patriot Act respectively.

The remarkable thing about both FOREVER NEVER ANYWHERE and STUCK is that they manage to spin a relatively simple concept into compelling tales that keep an audience entertained for close to 90 minutes.

REDACTED (Brian DePalma, 2007)

Who knew that Brian DePalma and George A. Romero would both reach into the same bag of cinematic tricks in 2007? Like DIARY OF THE DEAD, DePalma's latest is presented as video journals, security footage (with crisp audio!), web clips, et cetera. It's all stitched together to portray life for a group of U.S. soldiers in Samara, Iraq. At the core of the film is a fictionalized recounting of the murder of an Iraqi family and the rape of their fifteen year old daughter.

An exercise in style over substance – where substance deserved more respect than to be so over stylized – REDACTED felt like an episode of "America's Most Wanted" style cornball re-enactments. The film was like making an after school special on the Mai Lai massacre with a handful of C-List actors, a camcorder, and a script banged out the night before.

The toughest bit of the film to swallow is the dénouement. At the outset we're informed that everything in the film is fictional. The tacked-on finale is comprised of oppressively swelling musical accompaniment over a montage of horrific images of Iraqi civilian casualties. This finale feels like a last ditch effort to give REDACTED the weight and social importance that the rest of the film had been lacking. Even when the subtitle says "actual photographs," is that to be believed or does the initial admonition of the film being fiction still hold true? I know that I'm to believe that these are real (and they probably are) but their inclusion is so out of place and so blatant in DePalma's attempt to tear at the audience's heart strings the he suddenly loses all credibility with such an exploitative tactic.

Of All The Seats...

I took this picture after I moved seats... of all the places in the auditorium for this yahoo to sit, he puts his ass down right in front of me. What the fuck motivates people to do that? There were 225 seats in the Al Green Theater* and maybe 25 of those were taken...

*By the way... I finally found seats that were more uncomfortable than those at Fantasia and even the Detroit Film Theater.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Toronto International Film Festival Journal - Part Six

DR. PLONK (Rolf De Heer, 2007, Australia)

This comedy from Australia is set in 1907 where Dr. Plonk (Nigel Lunghi), resident genius, becomes convinced that the world is doomed to end in 101 years. When the small minds of Parliament refuse to heed Dr. Plonk’s claims, the good doctor takes it upon himself to build a time machine in order to visit the world during the End of Days.

Plonk and his deaf assistant, Paulus (Paul Blackwell) travel to and fro the temporal flow in hopes of acquiring the evidence needed. What adds to the hilarity of Rolf De Heer’s work is that the entire piece is shot as if it were from Dr. Plonk’s era. The black and white film is silent (save for a quaint score by Graham Tardif). The acting is broad and the comedy would feel at home in a Mack Sennett work.

While some may complain that the silent film conceit is a cheap stunt to make up for a thin storyline or that the work didn’t look primitive enough, I felt that it all came together nicely. The physicality of the actors (especially Lunghi) and roughness of effects / stage settings (the time travel machine is a wooden box) lent themselves to the cinematography of Dr. Plonk’s era. Quite nice.

MAD DETECTIVE (Johnny To & Wai Ka-Fai, 2007, Hong Kong)

While I like the name “MAD DETECTIVE,” due to the double meaning of “made,” I think that this HK film should bare a more classic HK title such as “MY PARTNER SEES GHOSTS” (since HAUNTED COP SHOP was taken). MAD DETECTIVE is a parboiled supernatural police thriller starring Lau Ching-wan as Inspector Bun, a brilliant detective who went a little over the edge when presenting his retiring boss a present that only Vincent Van Gogh could have appreciated.

Years later, Ho (Andy On) visits his spiritual sifu in an attempt to break the case of Wong (Lee Kwok Lun), a cop who went missing when he and his partner, Chi-Wai (Lam Ka Tung) were in pursuit of a suspect. It doesn’t take long for Bun to come out of retirement and see that something is very wrong with Chi-Wai. Rather than being one man, Chi-Wai is a seven spirit collective (with each perhaps representing an aspect of the Seven Deadly Sins). Ho doesn’t know whether to buy into Bun’s sixth sense or simply watch in awe and hope that there’s more than madness to Bun’s method.

Unfortunately, the “secret” of the case isn’t very difficult to discern and the audience can most likely beat Ho and Bun to the punch (especially as Ho gets more dense as the film goes on). The addition of a “B Storyline” or even simply more of the better elements of the main storyline would have reduced the muddled feel of the film’s second act. Too often MAD DETECTIVE feels like a rejected pilot from the makers of “Medium” or “Ghost Whisperer.”

A fairly enjoyable bit of HK fluff, don’t be surprised when the U.S. remake is announced.

JUST LIKE HOME / HJEMVE (Lone Scherfig, 2007, Denmark)

This quaint little film managed to hold my interest and put a faint smile on my face. It’s one of those small city films filled with eccentric characters (a la YOU, THE LIVING). I won’t bother to list out the archetypes or their city’s problem. The only thing of note about this film is that it’s Danish when the Brits are usually responsible for this kind of quirky small town fare.

EX DRUMMER (Koen Mortier, 2007, Belgium)

Remember how depressing Danny Boyle’s TRAINSPOTTING gets near the end? The dead baby, AIDS, addition. Imagine a movie that starts with that dark tone and goes on from there and you’re thinking of a film similar to EX DRUMMER.

What starts out like a fun-filled lark about three societal rejects starting up a band with writer Dries (Dries Van Hegen) on drums turns ash black before the credits are even over. As soon the band’s singer brains a woman with a brick (for fun), we know that the good times are over. Sodomy, rape, and homophobia are used as punchlines in Koen Mortier’s distasteful work. I was often curious if Mortier’s script was collecting highlights of Herman Brusselmans’s novel as the storyline often felt disjointed, giving the film the feel of driving down an unpaved road. Despite the subject matter and the “shocking for shock’s sake” story, EX DRUMMER was visually interesting and managed to keep me in my seat (and my lunch in my stomach) for the entire duration.

FRONTIERE(S) (Xavier Gens, 2007, France)

To say that this French thriller is derivative would be a compliment. FRONTIERES follows a road map of other previous films. It travels from RESERVOIR DOGS Place down PSYCHO Lane as five (soon to be four) friends escape Paris with a duffel bag full of cash. There’s a signpost up ahead. It reads “FRONTIERES” with an arrow pointing right to HOSTEL and one pointing to the left to TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (in little letters below that it says “the remake”). A little on up the road there’s a detour marked THE DESCENT. All of these places are in the idyllic French countryside in the county of HAUTE TENSION.

Throw in a Nazi war criminal as a patriarch, some terrifically hot girls, and a few thuggish brutes and you’ve got all the makings of the next Rob Zombie film. I was casting the American remake in my head as the events of FRONTIERES predictably unfolded. The joke, of course, is that the film is named FRONTIERES but it doesn’t boldly go into any territory that horror fans (especially those enthralled with torture porn horror) haven’t been to before.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Toronto International Film Festival Journal - Part Five


It’s a good thing that George Romero does that John Carpenter thing of putting his name before the title of his films. In the case of DIARY OF THE DEAD, it may be necessary as the title doesn’t show up until the end of the film. Otherwise, innocent viewers may be mistaken that the dreck they’re seeing was produced by some twentysomething punks rather than a deluded, seasoned master.

The conceit of the film is that it’s actually a cinema verite documentary, DEATH OF DEATH, by student filmmaker Jason Creed (Joshua Close), his band of friends, and his soused professor. The “handheld camerawork” device fails miserably as we’re never privy to the team of gaffers that run ahead of our intrepid heroes to light everything (flatly) before they arrive. Also, the “handheld shots” are obviously steadicam. I’m sorry to geek out about this but Romero never lets up on the “you’re watching people tape this” aspect, causing me to see all of the ways in which it wasn’t. In other words, it’s not BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, BLOOD OF THE BEAST, or Zack Snyder’s remake of DAWN OF THE DEAD.

With the camcorder, Winnebago travel, and insistence that “dead things don’t run,” it appears that DIARY OF THE DEAD is Romero’s commentary on Snyder’s reworking of his film. Unfortunately, Romero only succeeded at making me long for the verve and gallows humour of Snyder’s film instead. The jokes of DIARY OF THE DEAD induce more groans than a legion of zombies. Meanwhile, the thrills never managed to get me anywhere near the edge of my seat. Worse yet, the obligatory Romero social commentary is handled ham-handedly via voiceovers from the vociferous Bree (Michelle Morgan looking very Eliza Dushku-esque) and occasional montages of re-appropriated news footage. These sequences put the brakes on the already plodding story. To be fair, the story moves just like a Romero zombie; it shambles along.

The only bit that provided some good laughs and thrills came from the all too brief appearance of a deaf Amish man. Sadly, this segment felt like it came from another, less self-important film.

SUKIYAKI WESTERN DJANGO (Takashi Miike, 2007, Japan)

The line between Japanese samurai films and Italian Westerns (called “spaghetti” in the West and “macaroni” in the East) has been blurry from the days of Akira Kurosawa and Sergio Leone. The widescreen expanses of 19th Century lawlessness was a cinematic language easily translated between chambara and Euro oaters.

Prolific filmmaker Takashi Miike forgoes the pasta and dubs his dabbling in the horse opera a “sukiyaki” western. This Japanese stew-like metaphor is appropriate as Miike throws in a great number of influences and references into his dish. What cooks up may bear the name “Django” (and he introduces a coffin hiding a machine gun midway through the film) but it owes more to Kurosawa than Corbucci in its acknowledged inspiration from YOJIMBO. The unnamed black clad antihero rides into a previously thriving town to find it a wretched hive of scum and villainy; occupied by a handful of citizens and two warring clans, the Genji and Heike.

Clad in red and white, Miike injects some heavy duty rose overtones into the film, calling out the War of the Roses, Henry VI, and a hybrid rose bush named “love” quite frequently. At least two of the film’s characters are products of Genji (red) and Heike (white) love affairs.

Even with a wealth of past ideas to pilfer, SUKIYAKI WESTERN DJANGO can’t sustain itself for its full two hour running time. Things slow down about an hour into the proceedings. In order to inject some life into the faltering action, Miike breaks into the cartoon sound effects library and attempts to make SWD a life action anime film. These instances feel completely out of place, even after the highly stylized pre-credit sequence starring living cartoon character Quentin Tarantino.

It’s strange with actors speaking English as a second language (for the most part) and who muddle through some tricky pronunciations (thank goodness for the English subtitles) that the worst performance of the film comes courtesy of a native English speaker. Quentin Tarantino seems to be doing some kind of Western drawl crossed with a fluctuating German accept as if channeling a drunk Klaus Kinski through a faulty connection. Tarantino’s embarrassing “acting” may be brief but every second he spends on screen is excruciating.

Sure to be a hit with every hipster who has never seen an Asian in a cowboy hat (allow me to recommend TEARS OF THE BLACK TIGER and THE NEW MORNING OF BILLY THE KID), SUKIYAKI WESTERN DJANGO could do with some tightening up and a complete Tarantino-echtomy.

The trailer for the film really shows you all you need to see.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Toronto International Film Festival Journal - Part Four

THE WILD HORSE REDEMPTION (John Zaritsky, 2007, Canada)

I’m a sucker for stories like this. Without thinking too hard I can recall a program on The Discovery Channel and an episode of “The Dog Whisperer” that are similar and I loved them both. THE WILD HORSE REDEMPTION shows the healing power of animals on the wounded human soul. Starring a handful of convicts from Canon City, Colorado, THE WILD HORSE REDEMPTION documents the Wild Horse Inmate Program (WHIP) wherein wild mustangs are tamed and trained for adoption. The parallels between the men and horses aren’t difficult to see. Their stories are beautifully intertwined under the big Colorado sky. The audience can’t help but have hope for men and beast. The WHIP program teaches the convicts (all volunteers from the prison) patience and empathy. They see the consequences of their actions, becoming better human beings. In a way, the men are taming themselves as much as they’re doing so for the horses.

THE WILD HORSE REDEMPTION is best described as “touching.” Each horse tamed and every con rehabilitated makes the heart swell. We’re witness to post-ranch life for man and horse alike. While some of them may still be in jeopardy of recidivism, for the most part they’ve all gone on to better, more productive lives. Well-paced and satisfying, THE WILD HORSE REDEMTION impressed me immensely.

CHRYSALIS (Julien Leclerq, France 2007)

A by-the-numbers cop movie with sci-fi elements, this French policier felt very tired than being the fresh, slick thriller it so wanted to be. Loud gunshots, car crashes and fist fights are utilized as an attempt to break up the monotony of the script by Leclerq, Nicolas Peufaillit, Franck Philippon , and Aude Py (yes, it took four people to write this film when it felt like one person could have written it in their sleep).

Plugging into the generic lead role this time out are Albert Dupontel as David Hoffman, the take-no-prisoners cop who’d rather get the job done right than follow procedure. Hoffman looses not only his partner in the opening gun battle but his wife as well. Now it’s personal…times deux. He’s partnered with the well-meaning newbie Marie Becker (Marie Guillard) and the two work to find the truth behind a series of deaths. Of course, these murders are ultimately tied back to the fateful opening gunfight and to the plot of Doctor Brugen (Marthe Keller) helping her daughter regain her memories after a tragic auto accident.

The large, gleaming neon sign points out the insidious mucky-muck plot device of a terrible weapon that’s fallen into the wrong hands. Think “Project Janus” of JUDGE DREDD or any other number of government-funded weapons that have gone awry. This time it’s a set of head gear that can download, erase, or implant memories into a subject. As government stooge Patrick Bachau (producer of CHRYSALIS) explains to his niece, Marie, the Chrysalis machine could be used to implant the memory of a fervent jihadist into innocent minds to create an army of terror killers. Likewise, a powerful business man could go on living forever by putting his mind into a younger body. If you just thought of FREEJACK, you’re not alone.

The only scene missing from CHRYSALIS is the rewriting of Hoffman’s memories and his struggle to maintain his identity. (That might not be in the film but the scene of him handing over his gun and his badge is!) Rather, Hoffman’s mind is wiped. This may actually be a good thing as it removes the demons of his haunted past and allows Maria the chance to be the weak protagonist for a while. Things shake out just as you know they will. There’s even a “the media will love this” scene with Guillard and Bachau at the end.

CHRYSALIS isn’t a bad film so much as it’s misleading. It’s a light snack that pretends to be a three course meal.

YOU, THE LIVING / DU LEVANDE (Roy Andersson, 2007, Sweden)

Told in a series of intertwining vignettes that often involve dreams and music, Andersson’s film is drier than Aki Kaurismaki. I found myself laughing quite a bit and enjoyed this slow-paced SLACKER-like film.

VEXILLE (Fumihiko Sori, 2007, Japan)

I can’t give a fair review to this film as it managed to put me to sleep after fifteen minutes. What I saw looked and felt like the filler storyline animation between levels in a videogame. It looked nice but was emotionally bankrupt. At least when videogaming a viewer gets invested in the characters and care if the live or die. VEXILLE didn’t have this. “I couldn’t dig it and I left,” to get a coffee in the hopes of shaking off the stupor this film left me in.

PERSEPOLIS (Vincent Paronnaud & Marjane Satrapi, France, 2007)

Based on the graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi, this biographical tale of growing up in Iran is a simple animated film in the way that Art Spiegelman’s Maus is a simple comic book. That is to say, it’s not simple at all. Rendered beautifully in black and white (for the most part), this French-language film explores the life of Marjean during the days of the Shah of Iran’s deposing and the years of political unrest and religious fundamentalism that followed.

PERSEPOLIS provides several historical lessons (presented like puppet shows) during its 95-minute running time though it never comes across as preachy or dogmatic. As an American growing up at approximately the same age, the story of Iran from my perspective couldn’t be more different showing just how much the U.S. media tainted my perceptions. For me, the Shah was an innocent victim and the Ayatollah Khomeini (absent from PERSEPOLIS) was the Great Satan. While the U.S. doesn’t escape just vilification (background images include a skull-faced Statue of Liberty), the majority of the film is the growth and adventures of Marjean as an Iranian fish in Austrian waters and as a free-willed woman in a fundamentalist homeland.

Insightful and delightful, PERSEPOLIS is a must-see.

MY ENEMY’S ENEMY (Kevin Macdonald, 2007, France)

I never consider myself worldly or well-learned until I see a “No Duh Documentary.” I’m not an expert on the U.S. policy of hiring and protecting Nazi war criminals but MY ENEMY’S ENEMY didn’t manage to tell me anything that I didn’t already know about the recruitment of “The Butcher of Lyon,” Klaus Barbie, and his post-WWII life in Bolivia. Barbie’s greatest hits include the deportation of 44 children to a death camp, the murder of French Resistance leader Jean Moulin, backing several South American putsches, and teaching the U.S. a thing or two about effective torture methods (some still being used today).

This French/UK documentary showcases quite a few skeletons from the U.S. closet but spends more time demonstrating how the French government refused to bring Barbie to justice for several decades thanks to the post-WWII French government’s comprisal of unsavory Vichy loyalists on whom Barbie held dirt.

Another damning indictment of wrong-headed decisions made out of greed and alleged anti-communist fervor, MY ENEMY’S ENEMY holds more answers to Americans who just can’t fathom why our country is so despised in the international arena. A truly enlightening film.

Toronto International Film Festival Journal - Part Three - The Battle of Ian Curtis

CONTROL (Anton Corbijn, 2007, UK) & JOY DIVISION (Grant Gee, 2006, UK)

1991 – Two competing Robin Hood movies (20th Century Fox shows theirs on television rather than releasing theatrically)
1997 – Two volcano films explode on screen
1998 – Two astral body adventure films (comet / asteroid) collide with U.S. theaters
2007 – Two films about short-lived Manchester band, Joy Division, cause a stir on the festival circuit.

A reviewer far cleverer than I would put together a summary of Anton Corbijn’s biopic of Joy Division front man, Ian Curtis (Sam Riley), through a lyrical pastiche. They might talk about Curtis’s isolation and that, like too many other young rock stars flitting around the lime light, that it was actually love that tore him apart. Between his young bride, Deborah (Samantha Morton), and Belgian fan Annik Honore (Alexandria Maria Lara), he was torn between two lovers and feeling like a fool. No, wait… that’d be using Mary Macgregor. Better, between his torrid lovelife and epilepsy drug regimen, it felt as though he’d lost control. But a review like that would definitely lack substance and a leader of men, such as I, am above that.

Shot in breathtaking black and white (and looking like true b&w stock, not desaturated color), CONTROL tells the story of Ian Curtis, the lanky lead singer. With their driving bass, bombastic drums, jangling guitar, and deep-throated vocals, Joy Division created a unique sound that put them on the music map of the late ‘70s / early ‘80s. Called “art rock” by some, the band was truly a working class act (mostly) from Macclesfield, England. Though they only released two full-length LPs, the impact of Joy Division can’t be underestimated. And, their legend was sadly enhanced by the tragic end of Curtis on the eve of what could have been the band’s biggest moment; their U.S. debut.

Based on Deborah Curtis’s memoir of her marriage, Touching from a Distance, Corbijn’s film focuses primarily on Curtis, his lovelife and his band, in that order. Riley and Morton give terrific performances (Morton isn’t afraid to sport an ever-expanding bottom throughout the film) with Riley and his Joy Division co-stars really rip it up as they actually sing and play their instruments. The lack of lip-synching (and great production values) helps telegraph the vitality of Joy Division’s music. Though the timeline sometimes gets a little confusing (wait, how many months later is this?), the subject matter is handled expertly. This leads to a rather strange predicament.

Too often you’ll find me kvetching about biopics. AUTOFOCUS, THE NOTORIOUS BETTIE PAGE, THE MAN IN THE MOON—all of these films left me shaking my fist and crying out, “Why couldn’t I just see a decent documentary instead?” (The only exception to this was most likely ED WOOD). This time, my cries were heeded and I was able to see Grant Gee’s documentary, JOY DIVISION. Wouldn’t you know, I find myself a bigger fan of the biopic than the documentary.

Despite the participation of ex-members of Joy Division, their management, and so on, Gee’s film felt very much as if it were on the outside looking in while CONTROL felt like it had the inside track. Several factors contribute to this prima facie feel; the lack of participation by Deborah Curtis and the over reliance on various “tricks” meant to bring more “life” to the film that really deadened it instead. For example, there is a series of photographs of “places that no longer exist.” These pictures show what currently occupies the real estate of past significant landmarks (clubs, record companies, etc). These play into Gee’s mishandled thesis that Joy Division somehow managed to revitalize Manchester (nothing spurs commercial development like a music scene). Likewise, the photographs are much like Gee’s work; they show the façade but never get inside of the world of Joy Division.

On the plus side, JOY DIVISION sports a good deal of historical footage of the band (some of it fascinating as a history of cheesy video effects). Comparing these to the reenactments of the same performances in CONTROL shows how much respect Corbijn had for his original source material. Luckily, too, the interviews with surviving friends and bandmates were free of the self-congratulatory ego that too many aging pop stars suffer from. These flights of addle-brained music history come courtesy of pop historians who pine about how ground-breaking the band was and how their music encapsulated Manchester and blah, blah, blah. JOY DIVISION is plagued by this cockamamie pop reviewer blather (prose that even Rolling Stone would be too embarrassed to publish). This kind of shite “rock journalism” sucks the soul out of JOY DIVISION and leaves a bitter, pretentious aftertaste. Unbelievably (to me), the Corbijn biopic wins this film battle hands down.

The most striking sequence from THE CROW was always the scene set to Nine Inch Nails's cover of Joy Division's "Dead Souls." This is a fanmade video for the same song using clips from the film (I forgot that Lord Nykon was in this). Here's to you, T-Bird!

Friday, September 07, 2007

Toronto International Film Festival Journal - Part Two


The best thing I can say about CAPTAIN MIKE is that it looked incredibly sharp on the digital projection system here at the Toronto International Film Festival. Sadly, it was crisper and clearer than anything I have yet to see projected on film here at the festival. The lettering on the Alliance logo animation almost felt like it was being projected in 3-D.

CAPTAIN MIKE ACROSS AMERICA is the other Michael Moore film of the summer; the first being SICKO. This film—also known by the better title UPRISING—is something of a half-hearted sequel to Moore’s FAHRENHEIT 9/11, documenting Moore’s “Slacker Uprising” tour of 2004 in which the filmmaker attempted to lessen the number of “red states” on the political map of the U.S. by encouraging voter registration and turnout. That the film is coming out three years after the fact seems merely to serve as a pre-election year prod for folks to get off their lazy butts yet again.

Unfortunately, seeing all of the folks in CAPTAIN MIKE serves as a reminder to just how close we came to dethroning our unelected president and how much this failure has hurt us in the years hence. It’s a bit like seeing interviews with the geeks in line for STAR WARS: THE PHANTOM MENACE who have no idea about the world of hurt they’re about to enter or if there had been an “Our Levies Are Indestructible” party in New Orleans in 2005.

Very much a concert film, CAPTAIN MIKE has musical performances scattered amongst its myriad shots of Moore shambling onto various stages across the country and begging the question, “Just how many baseball caps does this guy have, anyway?” After a while, the film feels too sad to stand. Additionally, there are times when the “Slacker Uprising” tour seems as though it should be called “Michael Moore’s Ego Trip Across America.” It seems that the less of Moore on screen the better. When he stays off screen (as he did in a lot of SICKO), his films seem more poignant. With that equation in mind, CAPTAIN MIKE has Moore on screen one way or another through approximately 95% of the film. You do the math.


Based on the novel Un Reglement de Comptes by Jose Giovanni on which legendary auteur Jean-Pierre Melville based his classic 1966 film, one has to admire the balls on Alain Corneau for tackling the same source material. A more colorful adaptation of the Giovanni novel, SECOND BREATH rejects all things black and white. Headlamps are amber and there’s even a jaundiced light over black and white crime scene photos. In fact, Corneau’s SECOND BREATH isn’t just colorful; it’s garish. Hues are saturated to stratospheric levels.

Apart from the color and some intensified violence, Corneau’s version of SECOND BREATH is an exercise in redundancy for fans of the original Melville film. It’s not to say that Corneau’s film is bad by any stretch of the imagination. It’s simply just not necessary.

MY WINNIPEG (Guy Maddin, 2007, Canada)

A love poem to Canadian auteur Guy Maddin’s soon-to-be-former home, MY WINNIPEG feels like a fever dream that brings together past, present, and future. Repeated words and phrases form a hypnotic cadence as Maddin’s cinematic stand-in (Darcy Fehr) chugs through the snowy darkness. “Winnipeg, Winnipeg, Winnipeg,” is the chant, rising and falling like the locomotive drone of the night train carrying its somnambulistic fares through Manitoba’s premiere city.

Winnipeg; heart of the heart of Canada, the place that raised Maddin. With a hockey arena for a father and a hair salon for a mother (for more hockey and hairdressing see Maddin’s earlier COWARD BENDS THE KNEE), Madding explores the structural arteries of his home town and revisits the history of himself and his city. Narrated by the filmmaker, the prose of the film (courtesy of long-time Maddin crony George Toles) is an overwrought poem of maniacal hyperbole and enthusiastic linguistic gymnastics; a perfect pitch for the fractured visuals of Maddin’s multimedia pastiche. Looking like a daguerreotype picture postcard of this snowbound wonderland, MY WINNIPEG typifies Maddin’s mad genius and captures his sordid relationship with his home.

Toronto International Film Festival Journal - Part One

Some observations about this year’s fest:

  • It feels like there are fewer films this year but I doubt that’s really true.
  • I’m hanging all of my movie choices around the Midnite Madness screenings and filling in the blanks with a few Triad, sci-fi, thrillers, documentaries, and assorted other film flotsam.
  • A number of movies I want to see are in the smaller VIP rooms, making me wonder if I’ll have to elbow my way in to these or if the demand simply isn’t there (and are my mainstream tastes out of whack)? Despite the addition of “Press Preference” screenings and the word “Press” on my pass, I’m marked with an “I” for “Industry,” leaving me on the second tier for seating and feeling a bit like Hester Prynne, two vowels removed.

Pre-Festival Screening:

SUNSHINE (Danny Boyle, 2007)

Oddly, the last time I was in a theater this small (Carleton) that wasn’t a screening room, it was a cinema at the Eaton Centre seeing another Danny Boyle film, SHALLOW GRAVE.

The thing I liked the most about SUNSHINE was the lack of a new crew member aboard the Icarus II spacecraft. There was no newbie acting as a stand-in for the audience and for other characters to painstakingly explain the mission of the crew: to reignite the sun. Life on board the ship bound for the dying sun didn’t require explanation. Between this acceptance of the audience’s intelligence and the grimier aspects of life aboard ship, SUNSHINE felt reminiscent of Ridley Scott’s ALIEN. Add to that a change in course (to rendezvous with the ill-fated Icarus I) that greatly increases crew mortality, and the similarities to the 1979 film become even more apparent—especially when the Icarus I provides some extra cargo.

Written by Boyle’s partner in crime, Alex Garland, SUNSHINE manages to feel a little fresh while being derivative of ALIEN, EVENT HORIZON, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, THE CORE, and a few other sci-fi flicks. This is courtesy of the overall look of the film (claustrophobic close-ups, shaking frames, images that threaten to disappear before they can be comprehended) and the hip electronica soundtrack of John Murphy & Underworld.

While the film deteriorates towards the end to a slasher film mixed with spiritual claptrap, the rest of the ride is just about enough to redeem this sour note for some. Too smart for the multiplex, this art house sci-fi film is worth a gander on a Saturday night of channel surfing.

The Festival Proper:

THE ORPHANAGE / EL ORFONATO (Juan Antonio Bayona, 2007, Mexico)

Produced b Guillermo Del Toro, THE ORPHANAGE is a moody supernatural thriller that finds its roots in Carlos Enrique Taboada’s THE BOOK OF STONE / EL LIBRO DE PIEDRA, Tobe Hooper’s POLTERGEIST, and Del Toro’s own THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE / EL ESPINAZO DEL DIABLO. A tale of malevolent imaginary friends and past misdeeds, Bayona’s film finds Laura (the lovely Belen Rueda) returning to the orphanage where she grew up to now raise her adopted son, Simon (Roger Princep) along with her husband, Carlos (Fernado Cayo). Strange things are afoot at the gothic seaside locale and it doesn’t take long before Simon runs afoul of his newfound invisible pals.

It does take long, however, for Laura to realize what it will take to get her son back. The bulk of the film becomes the frantic couple’s search for answers as they desperately seek their missing son. They attempt means legal and astral to find Simon, all the while growing apart from one another due to Laura’s insistence that forces greater than those in the physical realm are at work.

Bayona builds tension via a prudent use of sound and keeps the audience in suspense more through what isn’t shown than what is. A taught, enjoyable ghost story, I look forward to what else Bayona has to offer in the future.

HOLLYWOOD CHINESE (Arthur Dong, 2007)

I have long been fascinated by the portrayal of Asians in the U.S. media. As a college student, I had a professor who presented a fascinating dissection of Asians as the mysterious “other” onto which Caucasian filmgoers could cast their projections and fears of femininity and strangeness. My professor, Susan M. White (The Cinema of Max Ophuls) took her class through a history of overt and obscure portrayals of Asians on screen from D.W. Griffith’s BROKEN BLOSSOMS to Howard Hawks’s THE BIG SLEEP to Roman Polanski’s CHINATOWN with stops along the way.

Since then, I’ve kept careful watch when it comes to Asians in the media. Rather than the punchline/observation, “Why’s it gotta be a Black guy?” I often ask, “Why is this character Asian? Is it coincidental or is it saying something?” Like the cigar that’s often just a cigar, sometimes and Asian character is just an Asian character but, more often than not, there’s something else going on. Asians are too often marginalized and demonized in the U.S. media. They’re still the butt of too many jokes. It would be unacceptable, if not criminal, to treat other ethnicities with the same derision and callousness that Asians are shown. Stepin Fetchit may be gone but Long Duk Dong lives on.

However, Arthur Dong’s HOLLYWOOD CHINESE isn’t the story of Asian stereotypes in cinema and television… exactly. And it isn’t quite the history of Asians in the U.S. media either. It’s something of a scattershot documentary that tries to be too many things while not being enough of any one thing. At the heart of the film is THE CURSE OF QUON GWON by Marion Wong, a “lost” film directed by a Chinese American woman in 1917. This groundbreaking work was unearthed by director Wong. It feels as though HOLLYWOOD CHINESE came about as an afterthought around which to hang items around THE CURST OF QUON GWON like so much tinsel in a Christmas tree – it’s pretty to look at but there’s not a lot of substance.

What could have been a solid half hour short about Asian “race films” in Hollywood or an exhaustive ninety minute examination at “Asiansploitation” is, instead, a muddled amalgam of these subjects and more. There are interesting aspects of HOLLYWOOD CHINESE to be sure, such as the portrayal of Asians by whites in “yellowface” and the casting of Chinese Americans as Japanese combatants during WWII internment. Yet, the film never goes far enough. It seems that Dong has shackled himself with his subject matter as he always stops short when he strays too far from just Chinese to Chinese and Japanese.

There are observations about the insult of a Chinese American person playing a Japanese character in war time dramas but there’s no mention of the controversial casting of MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA or anti-Japanese sentiments in FISTS OF FURY, GUNG HO, et cetera. And, while there’s an insightful bit about the question of masculinity of Asian characters—comparing Bruce Lee to M. Butterfly—this section is far too brief.

Subjects for further study that weren’t covered in this milquetoast documentary include the use of Asians as villains in the RUSH HOUR films, the blanched Asian of DIE ANOTHER DAY, the anti-Asian tone of LETHAL WEAPON 4 (“Flied lice, you plick”), the differences between Peter Lorre’s “Japanese” in the Mr. Moto films and Sydney Tolar’s “Chinese” in Charlie Chan and the “Chinaman” Kane in “Kung Fu.” Oh, and the “comedy” of Dat Phan would be good to examine too; I think everyone’s looking for an answer on that one (including Dat Phan).

Alas, HOLLYWOOD CHINESE aims high but falls far too short to be the film that it should have been.

Monday, September 03, 2007

The Cramps - You've Got Good Taste

Apparently "120 Minutes" skimped quite a bit on playing Cramps videos (apart from "Bikini Girls with Machine Guns"). Shame on you Dave Kendall. Shame!

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Halloween 2007: What's Behind the Mask?

The film begins with the now-clichéd point-of-view shot from the killer as he looks in on his victims. He stalks them. We are forced into his perspective, forcing us off balance and putting us into an uncomfortable position of identifying with the killer’s thrill of power through looking.

The twist comes when it’s revealed that the killer is the six year old Michael Myers. That’s just the beginning of John Carpenter’s seminal thriller, HALLOWEEN (1978). A pre-pubescent psychopath is just one of the many things in his film that went against the fast-forming conventions of the nascent slasher genre.

We don’t learn how Myers became the monster with his “blank, pale, emotionless face and the blackest eyes; the devil’s eyes.” There was no rhyme or reason and that’s what made him truly frightening. He never spoke a word and simply had a murderous bent. Once institutionalize he became “inhumanly patient, waiting for some secret, silent alarm to trigger him off.”

In John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN, the initial murder and subsequent escape of Michael Myers from his institution takes only a matter of minutes. In Rob Zombie’s 2007 remake, we’re given a painfully-paced introduction to Myers and his dysfunctional family. It takes almost an hour before Myers returns to his home town of Haddonfield. We see the early days of young Myers killing animals and family members before an extended sequence of his time in a psych ward. All of this attention to Myers shifts the film from being about Lorie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) in the Carpenter version to Myers (Daeg Faerch / Tyler Mane) being the protagonist of the Zombie film.

Zombie’s HALLOWEEN fetishizes Myers. Not only do we see his terrible childhood but the audience is also made privy to the origin of his love of masks, his William Shatner mask in particular. Once Myers dons his infamous facewear, HALLOWEEN goes from a tired examination of criminal origins to a pale imitation of the beloved Carpenter classic. It’s a by-the-numbers game of “kill the teenager” that feels particularly vapid partially due to self-reflexive fair such as Wes Craven’s SCREAM (“There are certain rules that one must abide by in order to successfully survive a horror movie.”) and Zombie’s over-reliance on celebrity cameos.

Once death has come to the little town of Haddonfield, the movie feels like “Halloween’s Greatest Hits” with all the murder scenes we remember and even a few paraphrased lines of dialogue. There are certainly more bear breasts in Zombie’s HALLOWEEN and the violence has been cranked up a few notches but it’s missing the fine pacing and style of the original. A testament to the lasting power of Carpenter's work is the presence of his original score through most of the film (at least in the 5/18/07 print leaked online -- which seems to be nearly finished as it bears opening credits).

One of the scariest things about Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN was seeing Michael Myers in the daylight. He was more than just a boogieman of the shadows. This made him more real and more scary. Another wonderful twist was that Jamie Lee Curtis was not only attractive but she wasn’t just another nerdy virgin. While Scout Taylor-Compton is pretty, she’s placed in glasses, recalling the voyeuristic/nosy female characters of old who ultimately suffered for their observations.

I imagine that Rob Zombie’s HALLOWEEN will be enjoyed by teenagers hungry for carnage but anyone either familiar with the original film or looking for solid entertainment will be sorely disappointed.

"What's behind the mask? Sorry I even asked." - The Cramps

Saturday, September 01, 2007

My Toronto Film Schedule

September 6, 2007
Orphanage 9:00 amVARSITY 1
Hollywood Chinese 12:45 pmVARSITY 6
Lust, Caution 2:00 pmVARSITY 3
Captain Mike Across America 2:15 pmVARSITY 8
Substitute 2:30 pmVARSITY 5
Control 5:30 pmVARSITY 2
My Winnipeg 10:15 pmVARSITY 4
September 7, 2007
My Enemy's Enemy 9:15 amVARSITY 3
No Country for Old Men 11:15 amVARSITY 2
Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford 12:15 pmVARSITY 8
Jar City 1:15 pmCUMBERLAND 4
Mother of Tears 1:30 pmCUMBERLAND 3
My Kid Could Paint That 1:45 pmCUMBERLAND 1
Chrysalis 2:15 pmVARSITY 2
Deuxième Souffle 4:30 pmVARSITY 2
My Enemy's Enemy 5:00 pmVARSITY VIP 2
Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford 9:30 pmVARSITY 6
Mother of Tears 10:15 pmROYAL ONTARIO MUSEUM
September 8, 2007
Joy Division 9:15 amCUMBERLAND 3
Vexille 12:00 pmVARSITY 1
Nightwatching 2:30 pmVARSITY 3
Frontière(s) 4:45 pmVARSITY 4
Ex Drummer 5:00 pmVARSITY VIP 2
You, the Living 8:15 pmVARSITY 6
September 9, 2007
Terra 9:30 amVARSITY 1
Battle in Seattle 10:00 amVARSITY 4
Run, Fat Boy, Run 12:30 pmCUMBERLAND 2
Just Like Home 2:00 pmVARSITY 1
Persepolis 4:15 pmVARSITY 1
George A. Romero's Diary of the Dead 6:15 pmCUMBERLAND 1
Chrysalis 10:45 pmVARSITY VIP 2
September 10, 2007
Obscene 9:00 amVARSITY 7
Sleuth 9:00 amVARSITY 8
Mad Detective 3:00 pmVARSITY 2
Dr. Plonk 7:00 pmCUMBERLAND 1
Terra 9:30 pmCUMBERLAND 4
Sleuth 10:30 pmVARSITY 3
September 11, 2007
Philippine Science 9:00 amVARSITY 7
Blood Brothers 9:30 amVARSITY 2
Weirdsville 10:00 amVARSITY 1
Take 11:30 amVARSITY 7
Death Defying Acts 2:15 pmVARSITY 3
Frontière(s) 2:30 pmAL GREEN THEATRE
Trumbo 4:00 pmVARSITY 7
Exodus 9:00 pmVARSITY VIP 2
Battle in Seattle 9:45 pmVARSITY 6
September 12, 2007
Obscene 9:00 amVARSITY VIP 3
Son of Rambow 9:30 amCUMBERLAND 1
Flash Point 12:15 pmVARSITY 4
Devil's Chair 2:00 pmVARSITY 7

Items in/on grey are back up choices in case the other films don't work out with timing.