Archive for May, 2008

I SEE YOU: Liv Tyler and Laura Margolis in a scene from The Strangers (Photo courtesy of Alliance Films)Nothing about this story is supernatural and it really could happen to you because it happened to them.

James Hoyt (Scott Speedman) and Kristen McKay (Liv Tyler) went to the Hoyt summerhouse after a wedding. It was supposed to be a special night but things had not gone as planned. Exhausted and drunk, the two wanted nothing more than for the night to end. Then a strange girl knocked at the door looking for someone. From that moment on, Kristen’s and James’ lives are in danger as they are threatened first subtly then with increasing intensity.

One of the most terrifying elements of this story is the randomness of the violence. There is nothing personal about the attack; the couple is just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Writer/director Bryan Bertino’s method of telling the story is very effective and affecting. Once introduced, the Strangers (Gemma Ward, Kip Weeks, Laura Margolis) are always lurking but not acting so the audience never knows if and when something is going to happen. There are also several long takes as opposed to a lot of short cuts. The masks add to the overall effect of fear because you cannot see the intruders’ facial expressions or emotions nor are their identities ever revealed. Furthermore, the time establishing and connecting with Speedman’s and Tyler’s characters is well spent as you feel for them and with them in their helpless situation.

At some point, the constant appearing and disappearing of the Strangers becomes annoying but it is shortly after that that everything comes to a head. The ending, however, feels abrupt and draws attention to the shortness of the total time. On the other hand, it punctuates the senselessness of the entire incident.

Bernito creates a successful throwback to horror films of the 1970s, resulting in a movie that stands apart from other recent horror attempts.

And in case you are wondering, it would appear the story was more likely inspired by the Manson murders in 1969, the Keddie murders in 1981, and a childhood experience of Bertino, than a single more recent case as the prologue suggests.

POW! THWAP! CRASH! BOOM! Flash Point has so many hits, you’ll hardly be able to keep up – and they are as close to real as you’ll get in the film world.

Detective Jun Ma (Donnie 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.

Yen utilizes MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) to its full extent, creating an action film like none seen before it. As an action choreographer, he insists all the scenes appear unique, even if the scenario has been done many times before. As a result, the action is exceptionally thrilling. Furthermore, the rapid-fire editing only enhances the intensity of the fight sequences.

The deleted scenes are mostly about establishing the brothers’ humanity and are not missed in the final cut. The main focus of the commentary, behind-the-scenes gallery and other features is the action choreography; but as impressive as the end product is, it is fascinating to see the process behind the scenes.

This is not a film with many peaks and falls; rather, it is a series of small hills over which the characters roll. In addition, it is not overtly political; rather, it makes a statement by simply taking a genuine look at the other casualties of war: the soldiers’ families.

Stanley’s (John Cusack) wife is serving in Iraq while he and their two daughters try to carry-on normally until she returns. But one morning Stanley’s routine is interrupted by the doorbell and on his porch he finds two men in uniform. ”We regret to inform you… ” Unable to tell the girls their mother is dead, Stanley avoids the subject by taking them on a spontaneous road trip to an amusement park.

Shélan O’Keefe is impressive as 12-year-old Heidi, forced to grow up and unable to sleep while her mom is away. Cusack is subdued and often puzzled by his inability to relate to his daughters but his sincerity never waivers. Determined to give an accurate portrayal, Cusack approached the father who inspired his character for direction.

The film consistently looks over lit, causing the colours to look surreal, which is fitting considering Stanley’s state of mind.

The behind-the-scenes feature sheds light on the inspiration of the film and the political motivations of its writer/director and star. In addition, a conversation with the real life family is included, although their story is quite different from the one told in the film.

The Fall of the Roman EmpireOur generation has seen epic films, but none like this. As the title suggests, the film documents a historically based, non-fiction account of the fall of the Roman Empire, beginning with a father-son betrayal and culminating in a battle in the arena. The story is inspired by the same one on which Gladiator was based, however little else between the two is comparable.

Anthony Mann’s extravagant retelling of this tale focuses less on the violence featured in Ridley Scott’s film and more on the dialogue. However, it also presents one of the most renowned casts – epic in its own right: two English stage actors (Alec Guinness and Christopher Plummer), a matinee star (Stephen Boyd), and an international beauty (Sophia Loren). To see these actors perform together was a draw in itself.

One of the real joys in watching this film is none of it is CGI. Modern filmmakers have so many technological alternatives; it is breathtaking to see it all done practically. The set was built in its entirety (no facades) and each of the 1000+ extras is flesh and costumed. One cannot be unimpressed.

Roman history enthusiasts will love the Encyclopedia Britannica shorts included on disc three; shot on location, it also shows more of the intricately built sets not utilized in the film. Film buffs will enjoy the featurette describing the “making of” an epic picture; it is awe-inspiring to see the scope of the production outside the narrative. And the two interests collide in the discussion of “Hollywood vs. History.” The collector’s edition also includes a 28-page booklet, which is a reproduction of the original 1964 souvenir program, and six postcard-sized stills.

All HatWesterns have been filmed in Canada numerous times but rarely has one actually been set in the country – All Hat takes place in rural Ontario.

Ray (Luke Kirby) just got out of prison. His plan is to get a job, maybe get back the girl (Lisa Ray), and stay away from the reason he was in jail to start. Two out of three ain’t bad. When the town’s spoiled rich kid (Noam Jenkins) devises a devious plot involving a racehorse, land buying and a few black eyes, Ray puts a plan of his own into action.

Surrogate father Keith Carradine has a presence and charming humor that dominates scenes, while Rachael Leigh Cook is cute as the hard-drinking, roguish tomboy. But while the acting is adequate, the narrative is not. The story does not flow as the plot staggers through a slow reveal of Ray’s conviction and no event leads smoothly into the next.

Ray’s plan works in theory but could not take place in reality, adding to the film’s script problems. Also, it has the feel of a modernized western like Brokeback Mountain, but is not as engaging. Nonetheless, these problems could probably have been overlooked if the transition of events had been smoother.

A short “behind the scenes” featurette is included, as well as a few deleted scenes (showing the filmmakers made at least one good decision in the way they decided to introduce Cook’s character).

Nightmare DetectiveThe general concept of the film is familiar (see Nightmare on Elm Street) but this variation of the ‘death by dream’ scenario is somewhat more confusing. Having first screened this film at last year’s Toronto After Dark festival, I hoped a second viewing would be clearer.

The title character (Ryuhei Matsuda) has the ability to enter and exit other people’s dreams at will and but does so because he is compelled to not because he wants to do it. When people begin dying horrible bloody deaths in their sleep, it would seem someone else has this special ability. A young female police detective (Hitomi) asks the nightmare detective for help and he reluctantly takes the case.

The film is very darkly lit and the dream sequences are weird but not aesthetically different from the conscious world, as it’s said the two interact regularly. The victims’ blood flows freely and the effect of wounds spontaneously appearing is done well.

The DVD includes an almost hour-long “making of” feature, which outlines each step in director/star’s Shinya Tsukamoto’s production process.

Nightmare Detective is a decent film that plays with an old idea but the lack of clarity (and thus time spent trying to decipher what happened) at the end subtracts a little from its enjoyment.

Diary of the DeadGeorge Romero began what was supposed to be a trilogy in 1968 with Night of the Living Dead; it became a tetralogy with the big budget Land of the Dead in 2005. And now, Romero has brought the zombie series full circle by returning to the beginning in Diary of the Dead.

A group of film students are shooting a horror movie in the woods when “the shit hits the fan.” News stations begin reporting incidents of the dead rising and attacking the living. Everyone’s first instinct is to deny the reports, calling it a hoax, but they soon witness the horror that has become their reality. As in all Romero flicks, the government and military prove unreliable very quickly and the characters must engage in a lone struggle to survive and get home. Jason (Joshua Close) swiftly turns the focus of his camera towards documenting the apocalyptic events and it is through his lens the audience witnesses the story.

All Romero’s zombie films have been rife with political and social commentary. As the 21st century is the information age, most of the characters’ knowledge is gained and shared via the Internet.

The DVD features commentary by Romero, director of photography Adam Swica and editor Michael Doherty; while Romero does provide some insight into the film’s creation, the trio is somewhat obsessed with pointing out invisible edits that don’t necessarily fit the documentary-style narrative. The unedited recordings of three of the famous voices in the film (Guillermo del Toro, Sam Pegg and Stephen King) are amusing but not as much as the five Myspace zombie film contest winners’ short films.

In addition, the confessionals bring a little more life to each character but is less effective after the film’s conclusion – a version with some of them included in the feature would have been interesting.