Archive for August, 2008

LOOKIE, LOOKIE A WOOKIE: Fans in Star Wars attire at the Toronto Expo ‘08 (Photo by Sarah Gopaul)Freaks, geeks and everyone in between congregated last weekend to indulge in their favourite hobby or obsession whether it is video games, anime, comics, sci-fi and/or horror. The annual Fan Expo had taken over the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. But anyone that knows me knows I was there for one reason – the Festival of Fear.

This year, Rue Morgue’s special guest list boasted two of horror’s creative icons: Wes Craven and Toby Hooper. They also presented two of the genre’s legendary performers: Tura Satana and Sid Haig. And newcomer to the horror genre, Canadian maverick Bruce McDonald, talked about his new project Pontypool that is premiering at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival.

Craven, Haig and McDonald took part in hour-long Q&As at the site throughout the three-day event. Haig reminisced over the dozens of movies and television shows he was in over his decades long career. He then proved how nice a guy he is in juxtaposition to some of his more recent characters, becoming misty-eyed describing the hardships his grandparents faced and why he firmly supports Habitat for Humanity (he also donates to a no-kill animal shelter).

McDonald, in his signature cowboy hat, filled his hour discussing his new flick, which as of that session was still a work-in-progress. He also cleared up any confusion, explaining his horde of flesh-eaters is not zombies, but “conversationalists.”

Craven spoke of his early works, how his inspiration for Nightmare on Elm Street was a mix of childhood incidents and a need for money, as well as his wide-ranging career goals prior to becoming a director (Disney animator, pilot, novelist). He also treated everyone to a sneak peak of his next picture, 25/8, which looks like it has a few good scares to share.

Satana presented a special showing of her cult classic, Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! at Bloor Cinema Friday night. Then, post-screening, Richard Crouse probed her about her early days before acting, when she was an exotic dancer, member of a gang of female protectors and a martial arts student. They also talked about the movie, her co-stars and shooting in the desert.

The last event of the festival was also at Bloor Cinema – “American Monsters: An Evening with Toby Hooper.” After screening Texas Chain Saw Massacre, the director talked about making the film, the hate everyone felt for him by the end, and his relationship to the phenomena it became. Oh, and he waved a chainsaw around.

Other than being in the presence of legends and heroes, the show also affords people the opportunity to disguise themselves as their favourite character or unleash their hidden personas outside of Halloween and be appreciated for it (mostly by being asked to pose for dozens of photos). Of course, they’re not just doing it for us but to be recognized in the Masquerade costume contest.

There is also tons of free promo stuff, cheap comics and lots of collectibles that aren’t so cheap. If any of these things interest you, you know where to be around this time next year.

One of the many lessons taught to us by films is you should not be too cruel to your classmates because they may unexpectedly return seeking revenge years later. Too bad the typical R-rating prevents us from seeing these films until it’s too late.

It’s New Year’s Eve and the party atop an abandoned skyscraper is just winding down but a select few have been invited to a mysterious after party a few floors down. Following the clues to a morbid treasure hunt, they discover they are trapped in a deadly game with a masked killer carrying a meat hook. As they try to figure out the identity of their common enemy, their numbers steadily decrease and it becomes questionable if anyone will make it out alive.

There is some amazing horror coming out of Europe, specifically France, but this film does not live up to the new standards. Its attempt to capitalize on the torture porn market results in a recycling of plotlines and less effective violence. The killer even fails to utilize the most creative contraption in the picture. Very quickly, the story becomes predictable; so much so, even the identity of the murderous mastermind can be decoded.

The acting is sufficient, except for the killer’s confession which plays too over-the-top even for a homicidal maniac. Director/co-writer Luis Cámara’s use of multiple television sets to antagonize the characters was clever but the constant jumping between locations can be bothersome.

The DVD extras include a “making of” feature that is half the length of the feature as well as feature commentary by Cámara. Both are very in-depth but the commentary is more informative and the doc is unnecessarily long. Furthermore, the still gallery consists entirely of production photos and no promotional images.

The thing about Woody Allen is you either love him or hate him. That’s been the sentiment on his work and his personal life for decades. And normally one would have nothing to do with the other, but in Allen’s case he effectively uses his films as vehicles to explore his phobias and neuroses. This collection groups together most of Allen’s films from the ‘90s as well as 2006’s Scoop.

Bullets over Broadway stars John Cusack as David Shayne, an idealistic young writer who will do anything to direct his first Broadway play – even if it means giving a mobster’s incompetent girlfriend (Jennifer Tilly) a part in exchange for funding and selling out his ideas for better ones from an inexperienced hired gun (Chazz Palminteri). The addition of Palminteri’s character saves this flick from being a run-of-the-mill backstage comedy.

Celebrity is a string of cameos by some the biggest names in Hollywood, including Charlize Theron, Leonardo DiCaprio, Melanie Griffith, Winona Ryder and Hank Azaria. Freshly divorced, Lee (Kenneth Branagh) explores his newfound freedom by shopping around his script and chasing women who are only interested in his car. Meanwhile, his ex-wife (Judy Davis) makes the improbable transformation from neurotic schoolteacher to high-profile TV talk show host. Allen’s decision to film this in black and white allows the actors and subtleties of the dialogue to take centre stage.

In Deconstructing Harry, Harry Block (Allen) has had three wives, six psychiatrists, dozens of girlfriends and numerous prostitutes. When he transfers his life’s experiences into a best-selling novel, his best friends and family become his harshest critics and worst enemies. As his sister-in-law and former-mistress exclaims, this book “is about us!” This film was one of his most ill received because it was his most self-reflexive.

Everybody Says I Love You is Allen’s first and only musical to-date. In this celebration of love, Joe (Allen) attempts to falsely win the heart of Von (Julia Roberts) while his youngest daughter (Natasha Lyonne) is constantly experiencing love at first sight. Meanwhile, his other daughter (Drew Barrymore) is torn between two men (Edward Norton and Tim Roth) and his ex-wife (Goldie Hawn) and her current husband (Alan Alda) try to manage everyone’s problems. All the actors, with the exception of Barrymore, sing for themselves.

In Mighty Aphrodite, Lenny (Allen) and Amanda (Helena Bonham Carter) attempt to save their marriage by adopting a son, who turns out to be brilliant. Convinced his parents must also be smart, Lenny becomes obsessed with tracking them down. When he discovers the boy’s mother is a dim-witted prostitute (Mira Sorvino), he does his best to marry her off to a similarly equipped boxer (Michael Rapaport). Interspersed is a Greek chorus relating the story to that of Oedipus. The chorus reveals the movie’s deep undertones while the main story remains a cheerful comedy.

Scoop stars Allen’s new muse, Scarlett Johansson as an inquisitive journalist who is given a career-making scoop by the ghost of recently deceased reporter (Ian McShane) at a 1950’s style magic show by the third-rate illusionist Splendini (Allen). Her investigation of a string of murders leads her directly to a handsome businessman (Hugh Jackman) who draws her in with his charm. In comparison to his earlier works, this is widely considered “minor Woody Allen.”

In Wild Man Blues, Allen embarks on a whirlwind tour of Europe with his New Orleans jazz band. He is an accomplished clarinettist and has played regular gigs in New York for over 25 years. The documentary is about the tour but most viewers are more interested in seeing a scandalous depiction of Allen and his adopted daughter and now wife, Soon-Yi Previn, who is less than half his age. While the movie isn’t gossip-worthy, it does reveal a stable and workable relationship.

Some commonalities in Allen’s films are his own participation on-screen as well as at least one character that represents and resembles Allen; it is easy to identify the character, as he or she adapts his mannerisms and speech patterns. Furthermore, his films are consistently star-studded as he continues to be one of the directors most actors want to work with.

Also typical of Allen’s DVD releases: there are no special features.

In times of war, people often ponder the dangers of living and the threat to bringing another life into the world. Of course, if you’re Morgan Spurlock, creator of the doc hit Super Size Me, you can explore these issues a little more closely.

If 30-years of movie watching have taught Spurlock anything, it’s that the world is usually saved by a single man willing to step-up, action hero style. Upon finding out his wife is pregnant, Spurlock decides to make the world a little safer by capturing America’s most wanted, Osama bin Laden. He prepares for his journey to the Middle East through vaccines, lots of reading, a language tutor and survival training. Then he embarks on a months-long tour of some of the most dangerous countries in the world according to the U.S. government.

The fact that he attempts to understand the environment and culture not only underscores the danger of his mission but also that he is setting about it with the right sort of attitude. His approach to what becomes an up-close look at life in the regions is often humorous – and based on his target audience (Americans) that was probably a good choice. He is unlikely to enlighten or change the minds of those who wholeheartedly believe Arabs are evil but by creating an entertaining and informative piece, he will reach a larger audience.

Spurlock appears to try to obtain all sides of the story, visiting several countries and speaking to its rational and radical inhabitants. He discovers most Middle Easterners worry about money, work and providing their children with quality lives and education, much like Westerners. While there is an anti-American sentiment, most direct it against the government, not the citizens. To round out the documentary, Morgan speaks to the head of a worship facility in Saudi Arabia who promotes the Jihad and anti-Semitism and -Christianity. He also asks numerous people why others view terrorism as their only answer.

The extras are somewhat modest for such a heavy subject. The first is an alternate ending that is just as effective as the one chosen for the final cut. There’s also an animation excluded from the Afghanistan chapter and, although entertaining, it’s unnecessary. The remaining items in the special features section are excerpts from interviews with various people who were not included in the doc but still provide worthwhile insights; it is just unfortunate they did not fit in the film.

Uwe Boll is infamous. Best known as one of the worst directors to have polluted theatre screens; he uses video games as source material but it’s not just the gamers trashing him – it’s everyone. Nonetheless, he assures us he recoups his expenses and more through DVD sales. I’m not so sure even that will work this time though.

A recently laid-off ne’er-do-well (Zack Ward) in the ironically named city of Paradise teams up with his hedonistic, cult-leading uncle Dave (Dave Foley) to steal a valuable and coveted shipment of “Krotchy dolls” from a local amusement park. As it turns out, Osama bin Laden is hiding in the United States with a gang of Taliban members under the guard of President Bush and they also want to pirate the popular consignment. In between all their planning are several acts of rage-induced violence in various parts of the city, including a shootout at a welfare office.

Boll refers to this movie as an attack on political correctness and to an extent it is; more than that it is even successful sometimes. Bill Maher said it best when he said, “I have always defined political correctness as the elevation of sensitivity over truth.” But what could that have to do with Foley’s exposed penis and excrement? Boll seems to have confused the line between pc and crude. It’s not a matter of offense but rather of poor taste that fails to make a point.

The best scene is the opening one in which two 9/11 hijackers quibble over the number of virgins they will be rewarded and question if it is sufficient exchange for their lives. Sections of Little Germany also make a point about residual guilt and marked histories; while the scene inside welfare office is simply amusing. Conversely, Boll’s use of the movie as a vehicle to address his critics is unfitting.

The special features include ”Raging Boll,” footage of Boll’s much-publicized boxing matches with some of his harshest critics; “A Day in Little Germany,” which is a succession of shots taken on-set; and “Verne Troyer Cup,” which is a pointless short by the Surreal Life embarrassment. In the end, the feature commentary by Boll is probably the most interesting item on the DVD, as he shares his views on politics, the studio system, distribution, political correctness, and every so often be even talks about the picture (he also leaves on and answers his cell phone throughout).

Scream was taken on by Wes Craven in 1996. It spawned two sequels and began a new era of post-modernist horror.

Scream, the film that gave birth to the franchise, employed old school scare tactics while simultaneously calling attention to genre tropes. A ghost-faced killer is terrorizing a suburban high school, gutting the students and terrifying a quiet community. As the anniversary of a gruesome murder approaches and the accused is freed, the target appears to be the victim’s daughter, Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell). The film also starred Skeet Ulrich, Matthew Lillard, Rose McGowan, Jamie Kennedy, David Arquette, Courtney Cox, Henry Winkler and Drew Barrymore.

The success of the first film led to the theatrical release of a sequel in 1997. Campbell was back as Sidney, as were her surviving co-stars. Sidney is trying to start anew in college when the mysterious phone calls that plagued her during the first blood-spree return and a copycat killer paints the campus red. The script was not as tight as the first but it followed the same horror rules as well as the rules of a sequel.

In 2000 came the third instalment of the trilogy and the surviving cast members were back for one last stab. Sidney is hiding from the world at a remote cabin when actors in a movie based on her story begin to die. Furthermore, to draw Sidney out, the killer is leaving mysterious images of Sidney’s mother at the scenes of the crimes. As in most trilogies, the past has come back to bite them.

The Scream films revitalized the horror genre and named Campbell this generation’s scream queen (even though she never did another horror flick). It also launched the career of Jamie Kennedy and initiated the union of Cox and Arquette.

With these films being the phenom they were, it is unfortunate they are being treated to such a lacklustre release. The three films are on two-discs and completely free of any bells or whistles, i.e. special features. Craven calls it a ”good trilogy;” doesn’t that count for something?

When someone dies or a tragic loss of life occurs, someone can often be heard saying it is part of God’s plan. But what if Death has a plan and it doesn’t take too kindly to people modifying it?

In the first Final Destination, Alex (Devon Sawa) has a dream before takeoff that the plane he is on will explode and everyone on board will be killed. While trying to warn the other passengers, he and a small group of his classmates are ejected and consequently spared. Having altered Death’s plan, the survivors most now decipher the pattern and try to keep Death from tying up the loose ends.

The sequel follows a similar plot of precognition, this time relating to a multi-car pileup on a busy highway. The survivors’ mission is the same, only now research reveals the mystery surrounding flight 180. They approach the lone survivor for help but discover only they can know how to stop it.

The final chapter of the trilogy centres on a rollercoaster accident. It recaptures the suspense and enticing story style of the first film, which had been so disappointedly diluted in the second. The characters are strong and it contains the best ending of the three flicks. However, the discrepancy regarding the cause of the derailment is nagging.

The idea in these films of man versus Death is intriguing and was a new take on the subject; furthermore, the methods Death employs to finish the job are usually quite unique and intricate. The filmmakers also did a good job developing Death into a vengeful being despite its invisibility.

The previous, individual releases of this trilogy had a lot of special features exploring most aspects of the film. Unfortunately, this two-disc release is sans extras.