Archive for September, 2007

Flash Point is a fast-paced, action-packed cop drama. It sounds cliché but it could not be truer.

Director Wilson Yip first came to the Toronto International Film Festival with his hard-hitting SPL (a.k.a. Kill Zone). Teaming once again with Donnie Yen, Yip returns to the big screen with an in your face, non-stop round of fisticuffs. Yen coordinates the battle sequences and does his own stunts, producing seamless violence and break-neck sequences.

Yen chose to employ Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) in all the scenes. As the name suggests, the performers use a variety of fighting techniques from different martial arts to defend against and takedown their opponents. This style of fighting is highly engaging and exhilarating to watch.

Detective Jun Ma (Yen) has been involved in 14 operations this year and averages injuring 2.8 people per operation. Currently, his attention is focused on three drug-dealing brothers: Archer (Lui Leung-Wai), Tony (Collin Chou) and Tiger (Yu Xing). Jun’s partner, Wilson (Louis Koo), has infiltrated the gang and gained their trust; but when they discover his secret, he is left crippled by a failed murder attempt. Regardless, the gang is too dangerous to be left on the street and it is up to Jun and Wilson to make the city safe again.

Yip admits it was not always easy communicating with Yen because he has his own plans for scenes and does not usually want to compromise his vision to match that of the director’s. Watching, though, everything flows so smoothly you could not imagine a better way of staging or filming the action.

The rapid-fire editing enhances the intensity but does not disorient viewers to the point of the action being indecipherable. On the contrary, it is impossible to take your eyes off the screen for fear of missing any of the impressive feats of the actors.

The awe of Flash Point is not the result of special effects or pyrotechnics; it is the agility and ability of its very talented stars. This is a welcome change.

When it comes right down to it, you have to ask yourself: how much can you endure; how far are you willing to go… to survive?

Horror films ask these questions of their characters all the time; but it is how they are shown to answer these questions that makes a movie good or bad. Luckily, Frontière(s)’ portrayal of its characters’ struggle is drenched in bloody excellence.

An extreme right-wing government has been voted into power and Paris is burning in protest. At the same time, a group of youths are using the riots as cover for smash-and-grab robberies across the city. The burglaries are a means to an end that will get them out of the slums of their childhoods. But when plans go awry and the cops get too close, the gang splits up, agreeing to meet at an inn near the Luxemburg border.

Unfortunately, their destination’s hosts turnout to be neo-Nazi fanatics set on furthering the Aryan race and feeding on the unworthy masses. Led by a jackbooted patriarch, the Von Geisler clan of licentious daughters and brutish sons entertain their guests before deciding to which plan each is best suited to contribute.

The psycho family in the woods is akin to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre but Frontière(s) can also be compared to Hostel because of the severity of the violence. However, unlike recent slasher films, director Xavier Gens keeps the graphic part out of most of the brutality, choosing to pan away or focus on the expressions of the victims rather than the act itself. This is not to say there is no blood; on the contrary, there are buckets of it. In addition, there is a horrific scene in which someone is divided by a table saw – but that is the worst (or best) of it.

Frontière(s) introduces audiences to another “final girl” in Karina Testa – a plot element that was very popular during horror’s heydays in the 1970s. Although Testa’s whimpering and hyperventilating causes her to appear vulnerable and somewhat annoying, by the end she proves she could fight and scream with the best of them.

Gens’ feature debut keeps audiences glued to the screen while triggering some cringes and mouth gaping. His next film, Hitman, is already creating a buzz among fans.

The marriage of science and technology is capable of spawning great things but how many suffer in the process of perfecting results and helping others?

It is Paris, 2025 and a surgeon no longer has to be in the same operating room as the patient to perform complex procedures. But Professor Brügen (Marthe Keller), the doctor responsible for this technology, is keeping a secret. Her daughter nearly died in a car accident – how far has she gone to preserve her daughter’s life?

In the meantime, Lt. David Hoffman (Albert Dupontel) is chasing brutal murderer Dimitri Nicolav (Alain Figlarz) and will not let anything stand in his way of capturing him. Hoffman’s colleagues do not trust him and his new partner does not understand him.

Another girl has been found dead and her sister is still missing; meanwhile, victims of experimentation are surfacing with no memory prior to their discovery – the two are connected and Nicolav is somehow involved; it is up to Hoffman to connect the dots.

Director Julien Leclercq incorporates a twist on one of the key characteristics of film noir in the color of Chrysalis: instead of black and grey, it is blue and white. Still, the skies are dark, conspiracies run deep and women are dangerous; however, little else of Chrysalis is Chandler-esque.

On the contrary, the film began as a remake and evolved into an homage to Georges Franju’s 1960 masterpiece, Les yeux sans visage (Eyes without a Face). Although the plots are similar, the filmmakers changed the nature of the experiment being conducted.

Along with these elements, there is also a hint of some cyberpunk elements in the film. The technology is invasive and, simultaneously, more freeing as holograms and desks equipped with touch screens have replaced physical apparatuses. On the other hand, fans of the physical can breathe a sigh of relief, as research assured Leclercq actual newspapers would still be sold in twenty years. In addition, skilful fighting abilities and the importance of memory are common traits in cyberpunk.

The fight sequences are littered with tight shots, putting audiences in the middle of the action. Dupontel only agreed to work on the project if he could perform his own stunts; therefore, he trained for six weeks with Figlarz, who also served as stunt coordinator on Bourne Identity, and afforded Leclercq the luxury of not having to hide the identity of a stunt double while shooting.

Although parts of Chrysalis may feel a little slow, the premise and obstacles to be overcome are interesting. Nonetheless, it would have benefited from a couple of additional hand-to-hand combat scenes and more of a cyberpunk atmosphere.

October now means two things in Toronto: the excitement of month-long Halloween festivities and the annual showcase of international horror, sci-fi and fantasy films – The Toronto After Dark Film Festival.

This is the festival’s second year, prompted by a successful and widely attended premiere last fall. This time around organizers are bringing fans more films and promising an “electrifying” experience. Over seven nights, the screen at Bloor Cinema will play 50 films, including 14 feature film premieres and 36 cutting-edge shorts. Having announced half of this year’s line-up, it sounds like an array of thrills, chills and laughter.

Among the films announced are five Toronto premieres and two Canadian premieres.

David Arquette is providing his star-studded directorial debut, The Tripper. The cast of possible victims includes Thomas Jane, Jaime King, Jason Mewes and Paul Reubens and the stalker is a Ronald Reagan mask-wearing killer.

Aachi & Ssipak is a Korean sci-fi animation that incorporates references to memorable genre films such as Indiana Jones and The Terminator. TAF will also play host to epic fantasy and most expensive Russian film ever made – The Wolfhound.

The Toronto Zombie Walk, which was also encompassed by last year’s event, will take place on the third day of the festival (October 21). In the spirit of the day’s theme, that night’s screenings are virus outbreak film Automaton Transfusion and Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead, a zombie musical comedy from Troma Studios’ Lloyd Kaufman. All living dead will also receive a special discount to the night’s films.

In cooperation with HOT DOCS International Documentary Film Festival, TAF will be presenting Audience of One: a record of a priest’s failing attempts to produce a Christian version of Star Wars.

Finally, the opening night gala will be Mulberry Street: a low-budget, post-apocalyptic horror film set in New York, which played to wide-acclaim at the Tribeca Film Festival.

Adam Lopez, the festival director and founder, enthuses, “We had terrific attendance and feedback in our launch year, but I think the fans are going to go even more nuts after they see our second year’s selection of cinematic mayhem.” Toronto International Film Festival’s Midnight Madness programmer Colin Geddes is also an advisor for the event.

The Toronto After Dark Film Festival runs from October 19 to 25.

Good Luck Chuck

Posted: September 21, 2007 in Film Reviews
Tags: ,

The plot implies comedy: every woman Charlie Logan (Dane Cook) has sex with finds her true love in the next guy she dates. When word gets around, Charlie has a line of ready and willing women hoping for their opportunity to rub the rabbit’s foot.

It is, therefore, hard to believe the movie is not funnier than it is. It is not that there are no laugh-out-loud moments – there are just not enough of them.

Jessica Alba plays Cam, an accident-prone, penguin-obsessed hottie Charlie randomly meets at a wedding reception. Convinced Cam could be the one, Charlie doggedly pursues her despite her many rejections. But even nice guys just want to get laid; so in between clever episodes of flirting with Cam, an entertaining sex montage shows Charlie supplying his services to women in need of a lucky charm.

The film consists largely of sight gags and scenes similar to ones found in American Pie and 40 Days and 40 Nights. Furthermore, Alba seems insincere and awkward in a comedic role; her attempts to be funny read as someone fake-laughing at the boss’ joke. Cook’s performance is passable, relying mostly on his ability to be attractive and deliver lines humorously; conversely, Dan Fogler (Charlie’s best friend Stu) travels the fine line between funny and annoying. The extras selection also leaves one wondering if filmmakers meant to imply beauty is generally found in big-breasted blondes.

The opening sequence is one of the funniest scenes in the film and does not even involve any of the principal cast. Unfortunately, most of the other comic scenes are shown or foreshadowed in the trailer. On the plus side, the film teaches audiences several little-known facts about penguins.

Mark Helfrich has successfully served as editor on numerous blockbuster films; unfortunately, his directorial debut falls short.

Good Luck Chuck is going to need all the luck it can get.

“Were we in hell?” “No, we were at the drive-in.”

What began as the script for a horror film evolved into a humanistic comedy about three friends trying to get out of a jam while staying a step ahead of a group of misguided Satan worshippers.

In Northern Ontario, the transition from Weedsville to Weirdsville appears to come easily. Dexter (Scott Speedman) is the quiet introspective one and Royce (Wes Bentley) is the ideas man, but drug-influenced brainstorming does not usually produce good plans. So when Matilda (Taryn Manning) will not wake up, the advantages of burying her body at a closed drive-in theatre outweigh the more sensible call to 911. From there, things spiral out of control. Soon they are running from servants of the dark lord, employing the help of midgets, and feeling guilty about screwing good people to save themselves. But as the song says, “It all works out in the end somehow.”

Bentley and Speedman each bring sincerity to the characters they play. Their on-screen chemistry is undeniable as the script relies heavily on their ability to play off one another and they are often left to carry scenes on their own, at which they succeed seemingly effortlessly.

Manning spends a lot of her screen time unconscious but when she is alert, she convincingly portrays a stylish drug addict with ambition. In addition to her thespian abilities, the film also features the song “It’s not my fault” from Manning’s upcoming album.

Greg Bryk plays Abel, the former high school delinquent that now leads the well-dressed Satanists on their mission of evil. His misplaced determinism is comical; the more seriousness he displays, the funnier it is.

Weirdsville’s director Allan Moyle was instantly attracted to the script. “It’s really made for me. It’s about drugs, freaky people and things,” says the Canadian who is also responsible for Pump up the Volume, Empire Records, and New Waterford Girl. As the story itself is unusual, Moyle chose an unconventional, unpolished look for the film which suits it perfectly. The lighting is dark, the shots are hazy and the editing does not always immediately make sense.

Weirdsville is humourous, original, fast-paced and has several memorable key moments and pieces of dialogue. This film is more evidence Canada produces good films.

The spaghetti western has gone East like never before. The gunslingers pack a six-shooter next to their samurai swords and dress like glam-rockers gone back to reclaim the duster.

The movie is Sukiyaki Western Django and it is a Japanese western from cult-cinema bad-boy Takashi Miike. The cast is Japanese but the dialogue is English and the actors deliver the lines phonetically. Nonetheless, their articulation of lines like “Are you gonna come at me or whistle Dixie?” are reminiscent of the popular genre of post-dubbed Asian fight films. And in case you still do not get it, English subtitles run across the bottom of the screen. Miike’s ever-expanding Western fan base will appreciate the language change, as it allows audiences to focus on Miike’s style rather than suffer the distraction of reading.

The Genji Whites and the Heike Reds have been enemies for centuries, so the fact they have chosen to occupy the same town in hopes of finding a hidden treasure does not bode well for the townspeople. But through the efforts of a mysterious stranger, a hard-drinking matriarch, an injury-resistant sheriff and a widow turned whore, the town may once again breathe without fear.

Miike skilfully creates moments of hilarity with the noticeable use of painted backgrounds, exaggerated injuries and the recital of Shakespeare in between strategy planning. “Call me ‘Hen-Ray,’” demands the Red leader of his gang. Furthermore, the ineptitude of both gangs is underscored by the accuracy and ability of the stranger and the Bloody Benten, “nicknamed double B for short.”

It is widely known that director Quentin Tarantino is a fan of spaghetti westerns and samurai films, so it is no surprise when his rugged face, shaded by a cowboy hat, fills the screen in a small role as a gunslinger. And true to the film’s style, he too pronounces his words slowly and deliberately as he recalls the tale of the battle of Dannoura and professes to be an “anime otaku.”

Miike creates a mishmash of Sergio Leone westerns and Sergio Corbucci surreal, bloody gunfights encompassed by an Americana-kabuki-baroque style. The result is non-stop entertainment.