9.30.2009

Walk him and pitch to the Rhino.....

Director Harold Ramis's Year One is one astonishing movie.

I wouldn't have thought it possible to put Jack Black, Michael Cera, Oliver Platt, David Cross, and Hank Azaria in a movie and not generate a single moment of genuine humour. Not one. It's incomprehensible. If you were to train a camera randomly on any one of these guys for 5 minutes, I guarantee you'd get at least a couple of impromptu chuckles, even if they were asleep. It simply boggles the mind how anyone could write a script that entirely neuters the natural comedic talents of some pretty funny dudes, and yet here it is – Year One.

I watched the whole thing, something I rarely do if by about the ½ hour point I haven't found at least a tiny nugget of worth to hold on to. It became a challenge of sorts, I began egging on Ramis to do the impossible – make none of these guys do or say anything that made me laugh for an hour and a half.

He won.

Year One is not quite as funny as Schindler's List but significantly more humourous than Stalingrad, so that's something. I would place it somewhere between Grave of the Fireflies and Lilja 4-Ever in terms of laughs and Patch Adams and The Wayan Bros' Little Man on a quality scale.

Year one is the worst film I've seen this year, a bland, shit-eating snoozefest of punchlines sans the all-important setup part. It's PG-13 rating is confusing given the R-rated material for 7 year-old content. I guess they split the difference.

Judd Apetow co-produced.

Quelle surprise.

Sporgey.

9.28.2009

Kitchen Sink Crime...

I keep coming across these little gems from a treasure trove of unknown British crime films released between 1950 and 1965 and wonder why they aren't better known. Last night brought a real scorcher, A Prize of Arms (1961) starring Stanley Baker, a young Tom Bell and a host of other excellent Brit character actors. It's a heist film set in a military camp where 3 ex-soldiers plan to rob the base of £100K. It's a stripped down, tense and efficient film, has no extraneous women characters to muck things up and ends with a bang.

This is about the tenth excellent yet unheralded British crime film I've seen from this period and it really strikes me as strange that the genre/period isn't better known. They seem to share a basic structure, a downbeat “pitch” for lack of a better word and have an urgency and nervous energy that make them pretty darn riveting. One of the first ones I caught was Never Let Go (1961) starring Richard Todd and an unbelievable turn as a bad-ass carjacker by Peter Sellers of all people. Three starring Nigel Patrick followed Forbidden Cargo (1954) ...only ok, The Informers (1963) excellent!, and Sapphire (1959) weird, but good. Stanley Baker and Richard Attenborough seem to have about 6 credits each during the period with Baker's Hell Drivers (1957), Jet Storm (1959), Hell is the City (1960) and The Criminal (1960) all well worth a look. Worthy Attenborough credits include several more well known films such as Brighton Rock (the earliest one, from '47), League of Gentlemen (1960) and the extraordinarily creepy Séance on a Wet Afternoon (1964). The Long Memory (1952) was another recent BV gem, again from a bit earlier starring John Mills an innocent man recently released from prison who searches out those that put him there.

A few of these are on Region 1 DVD and the balance are in the Black Vault or on the PAL wall at the FBW. I'd recommend Never Let Go and Hell is the City as two to start with. They're fast, cheap, hardboiled flicks for guys.

Sporgey.

9.27.2009

Disney + Marvel = The Dismal Corp.

The big news a couple of weeks back was Disney buying Marvel Comics for $4 billion. “So what?”... you say? Well, in a nutshell, this deal probably has more potential to impact on Hollywood film making over the coming decade than any deals inked at TIFF or Cannes this, or any other year. The comic book adaptation has arrived at the epicenter of mediocrity.... Disney Corp. What was once a source for fringe, low budget Sci-Fi throwaways, has landed with a giant-annual-sized thud at the corner of Main Street U.S.A. and Donald Duck Drive and the repercussions will be significant.

I thought it worth the effort to put together a quick summary of how the lowly comic book morphed into Hollywood's N.B.T. and make a case for why that might not be such a good thing for the average cinephile. There's always been an odd connection between comic books and the movies. They were both born around the same time, grew up together and have a shared history. As the first comic strips were making their newspaper debuts, the Lumiere brothers were filming trains pulling into stations. Their paths then diverged with movies exploding in popularity through the '20s and '30s as comic strips (and subsequently, comic books) grew at a relatively slower pace. Comic books (as opposed to comic strips) began in the early 30s, and in 1934 Flash Gordon became one of the first comic books to capture the public's imagination. Universal, then one of the smaller studios, turned Flash Gordon into a movie in 1936. Although there are a few comic-based films that predate Flash, this is one of the first movies based on a comic book rather than a strip. For the next 40 years movies based on comics were either low budget cheapies or even lower budget serials.

All that changed in 1978 when producers Ilya Salkind and Pierre Spengler looked at the huge success enjoyed by Star Wars the year before and realized that the marriage of pulp and state of the art special effects had the potential for huge returns. The first Superman made a mint, but more importantly paved the way for future comic book adaptations by making them respectable. It could be argued that Superman (and not Star Wars, as many have opined) changed everything. One look at Hollywood's mainstream output since 2000 is a pretty convincing argument in support of this contention. After a turn back to the banal (Howard the Duck, anyone?), it took another ten years before Tim Burton's Batman reignited the comic book flick and ushered in another wave of films adapted from from the worlds of DC and Marvel. Ten years after that, the modern comic book movie arrived with Bryan Singer's X-Men, arguably the defining and most influential mainstream Hollywood film of the past decade. As the quality and seamlessness of CGI has grown during the last decade, the comic hero has become more and more visually believable to film audiences and a new cinematic form has taken hold.

Films based on comic books have grossed nearly $8,000,000,000 since Superman flew onto screens in 1978 and 3/4's of that has come in just the past 8 years. In addition to being the surest bet in the Hollywood green light district, comic book adaptations have also influenced other films that would likely not have been made without them paving the way. One could easily lump Harry Potter, Pirates, Shrek and a host of other huge franchises with the Marvel and DC onslaught of the past decade. They are all cut from the same cloth. But what is that cloth and why is it so prolific? Successful script adaptations are all about familiarity these days. The built-in name recognition that comic books have offer some guarantee of a return on investment, an elemental part of the blockbuster equation. With a typical action film now costing over a hundred million to make, Disney coughing up $4 billion to get a toe-hold in a demographic they don't currently hold much sway with (drooling, 18 to 26 year-old man-children) starts to make some sense. Novels used to be the chief source of cinematic adaptations, but they are filled with pitfalls for filmmakers. With a novel, the film needs to recreate the story. With comic books, filmmakers can get away with recreating a storyline. It's a subtle, but significant difference. Comics have fast, easy to follow plots and pre-story-boarded visuals, are much easier to adapt to the big screen than novels with all their inner dialogue and reliance on pesky (and oh-so-last-century) “words” and are easier to market. Our society is moving away from words toward images and icons and the comic-book-adapted-movie dovetails with that cultural devolution phenomena nicely. Movies can't be adapted from literary sources partly because we can't (or choose not to) read anymore. That may not come as a revelation to any of you but it has fundamentally changed movies (and a myriad of other, far more important things) during our lifetimes. In the not-too-distant-past, filmmakers aspired to be storytellers, and although few would care to admit it, those days are long-gone. Any film that tries to make a point risks alienating potential audience members, and the business that is Hollywood simply can't afford to offend anyone with $25 and spare two hours. As a result, movies (particularly their mainstream incarnations) are becoming an increasingly simplistic art form, and the audience's ability to understand the language of cinema has faded with it. Creating more easily digestible stories is a way to combat the many entertainment alternatives vying for the same dollar out there. Comic books offer just that kind of fare.

So, should we care? I think so. There are those that would argue that it “twas ever thus” and that cinema has always pandered to the lowest common denominator but I believe that popular film can be about something other than superheros and video game escapism and still resonate with audiences. The problem with perpetually chasing after the same 18 to 26 year-old male demographic is the diminishing artistic and intellectual returns one can expect from a target audience that a) doesn't read, b) has little real life experience and c) is mostly ignorant as a result. Film cycles in the past have raised the cultural bar but we seem destined to keep lowering our sights these days. We use to celebrate the daring and challenging works of international film makers like Kurosawa, Bergman, Kubrick, Godard, Powell, Bunuel, Bertulucci, Fassbinder and Fellini and revel in the auteur glow of American film makers such as Penn, Sturges, Wilder, Wellman, Peckinpah, Welles and Zinnemann. Their modern equivalents are often making the same kinds of films that the Hollywood dream factory keeps churning out, ceasing to be an alternative to bland American escapist fare. There are exceptions to every broad statement like that to be sure, but the singular focus on man-child movies has undermined the potential for great film in recent years. As a result, we haven't had any.

This endless fascination with the comic book movie also perpetuates strange stereotypes as well. Never has a genre so single-mindedly offered up more counterproductive and backward perspectives on matters as varied as race, first-world-centric geography, gender and body image. Impossibly ridiculous super-bodies are augmented with CGI-enhanced skills and “actors” cease to exist in any real way. Fetishistic imagery pervades the form and an entire generation of movie goers have grown up on a steady diet of pop-cultural candy floss. I hate to burst the bubble here (actually that's not entirely true, but you knew that) but The Dark Knight and The Watchmen just aren't examples of great cinema. They're spectacular and accomplished but that's where it ends.

I'd bet that most of you haven't seen more than a handful of the following 25 films....

To Kill a Mockingbird, The Best Years of Our Lives, Network, The Gold Rush, The Deer Hunter, 12 Angry Men, Sullivan's Travels, Sunset Boulevard, Bridge on the River Kwai, A Streetcar Named Desire, The Maltese Falcon, Sunrise, Patton, An American in Paris, High Noon, Double Indemnity, Trouble in Paradise, Five Easy Pieces, Paths of Glory, Gun Crazy, The Third Man, In the Heat of the Night, On the Waterfront or From Here to Eternity.

These films all share interchangeable positions on nearly every greatest American film list and they are all literary adaptations on one sort or another. Nobody flies, has ludicrous muscles, giant rock-hard tits or battles super-villains by night (except Gary Cooper in High Noon, but he does it at lunchtime) but by any measurement, they are all “great” films that have stood the test of time and subsequent revisiting by other generations of cinephiles. I don't know how - or if - we can get back to this style of film making but the comic book era we live in now seems slight, insignificant and dare I say it, a little “last decade” by comparison. I'm hoping Tarantino does a straight up drama next time. He's one of the few directors with an ear for dialogue (aka “words” for those 45% of university students who will never read another book after graduation – true statistic) these days.

Sporgey.

9.25.2009

The Girlfriend Experience - 2009

Steven Soderbergh's latest film is about an upscale escort in New York and what happens in her life during the weeks leading up to the 2008 presidential election. This was a time when "financial crisis" was on the tip of everyone's tongue and it felt like at any moment the economy could fail.

The Girlfriend Experience uses this setting to maintain a level of the uncontrollable, a feeling that all is not in the hands of the people but instead is left to the Russian roulette wheel of the market.
The majority of the shots are stationary and often give us a sense of siting in a room with the characters or eves dropping from around a corner, heightening a sense of realism and helps us empathize for the protagonist Chelsea, or rather Christine, played by Sasha Grey.

Sasha Grey who is best known as a porn actress, single handedly drives this film in her feature film debut. She is stunning and delivers a performance that is just (for lack of a better word) fantastic.

Every scene feels so authentic from the dialogue, to the reactions, to the scenery that at many times you feel like you're watching a documentary.
The lack of a structured narrative will turn many off of this film, in fact there isn't much of a story at the core of the film yet it's completely engaging all the same. Many snippets of scenes from future or past events are played repeatedly to compliment a present scene. By the end you have the big picture letting you piece together the correct chronology on your own. The aesthetic is sterile and sharp, a look that would lend itself very well to a science fiction picture however here it works incredibly well. It gives us a sense of a very methodical lifestyle that's glossed over in a material existence.
The majority of the scenes are business pitches, not in the sense of an escort setting up appointments but rather people trying to make money wherever they can.
Try to count how many of the scenes are business dinners as people pitch ways for Chelsea to make more money, from advertising agents to sleazy internet forum board writers looking for a freebie.
We also spend time with Christine's boyfriend, Chris (played by the pretty Chris Santos) who is a personal trainer in the film and funny enough one in real life.
We follow him as he's trying to make money in a failing economy, desperately seeking a more comfortable way of life for himself.

The Girlfriend Experience is a film about the broken modern world, a world that runs on money that no one clearly has, yet we still make sure we get our excesses.
In this world we forget about dealing with others on a basic human level leaving us with an existence comprised mostly of false experiences meant to carry us over to the next false moment.

Highly recommended to anyone willing to take that plunge.

9.22.2009

Midnight Madness: the after party

It is only now, three days later, that I feel I am beginning to recover, physically and mentally, from the absurdities of Midnight Madness.  I'm sure there was at least one bartender at C'est What the last couple nights who was highly confused by the two empty stools in front of him, and perhaps a little bit concerned as to the whereabouts of "Cliff and Norm".

Kris mentioned in our last post that while not all the films were great, the screenings themselves were fantastic, and make me wanna do the whole thing all over again.  Thanks for reading Kris and my reviews - we put a considerable amount of effort into them, checking out and reporting on films to recommend or veto to YOU, the reader, if and when they are released theatrically or on DVD down the road.  Here's how the films break down for me, from best to worst:

1. Symbol
2. The Loved Ones (winner of the Cadillac People's Choice Award - Midnight Madness)
3. Bitch Slap (tie)
3. [REC] 2 (tie)
5. A Town Called Panic
6. Jennifer's Body
7. Daybreakers
8. Ong Bak 2: The Beginning
9. Solomon Kane
*n/a George A. Romero's Survival of the Dead

Cannot wait until next year, you're all "invited"(?).

-the coelacanth
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ten days, ten films, two men, two bikes, 40 pints, one bowl of shanghai noodles...

TIFF 2009 was a helluva experience.
Joe and I's decision to grab midnight packages this year came from last years festival. At last minute Joe picked up tickets for him and I to two midnight madness screenings, the only screenings we both could make with our work schedules.
Those two screenings were just so much fun that we promised to do more next year. So naturally, we picked up midnight madness packages and (without knowing it at the time) started a tradition.

They call it Midnight Madness for a reason, we were both losing our minds. When we talked to each other no one else really understood what we were saying. Basically we talked in one word sentences that were nods to in jokes on in jokes.
for example:
Kris: "Oh hey manz, i like the cask ale"
Joe: "Papa!"
... and then we would laugh, it's not that you don't get it. It's that we were out of our fucking minds.
All the gore, all the breasts, the zombies, the Jules's, the lack of sleep, the beer, the horror... the horror.
It was as psychologically disturbing and emotionally draining as i was hoping.
by the third film i was a zombie, by the 7th i was a demon of the night.
Can't wait to do it all again next year... we might even invite Tom this time! who knows?

Here's my picks of the fest from least enjoyable to most:

10: Survival of the Dead - People have said that this is a "step in the right direction" for George A. Romero but i think George should just be making good zombie films by this point.
9: Solomon Kane - Only problem with this fantasy flick is how mind numbingly mediocre it is.
8: Ong Bak 2: The Beginning - Rent it and watch the first 20 minutes and the last 15, skip through the rest.
7: A Town Called Panic - Great fun for awhile, but the novelty of watching yelling french toys gets tiresome after the 60 minute mark.
6: Jennifer's Body - The Midnight Madness crowd made this one more enjoyable than it really is. Moments of something truly special buried between a film trying to be something it's not.
5: Daybreakers - A vampire movie that's innovative and a lot of fun... when it's not spending time with all the wimpy humans which turns out to be too often.
4: [REC] 2 - truly expanded upon the experience of the first film while still feeling fresh.
3: Bitch Slap - Biggest surprise of MM, probably the worst of the films on here but honestly just too much fun. Walking out of this one we knew we saw a shitty movie, but why did we have giant smiles on our face?
2: Symbol - Surreal comedy that made me scared but also had me rolling in my seat with laughter while at the same time made me wanna jump on my seat and dance. Great stuff, i gotta own this when it comes out on dvd.
1: The Loved Ones - This Aussie horror flick from first time director Sean Byrne is just a beauty, and reinvigorates the genre with something new. Truly something special, also won the people's choice award this year for best Midnight Madness film so that's saying something. Here's hoping we get this one in the shoppe sooner than later.

Well that's pretty much it,
wanna thank Joe for being my light in the dark, my candle in the wind, my film buddy. Without you, there would be no way...
Also thanks to Scott for all the moral support. If it wasn't for you Joe and I might not have made it.
Thanks to Tom for getting our hopes up about coming to movies and/or coming to drinks.
Thanks Hey Manz" Pauly for bringing the noodles and sitting beside Joe.
Thanks to Kendall to braving that bad movie with me and bringing the crispers
Thanks to Alex for saving all those seats
Thanks to Colin Geddes for all the great picks.
And finally, last but not least a big thank you to Hopping Mad ale for getting me through, although you let me down that last night, our time was still a wild passionate ride i would never trade in.

-Dropkick

9.21.2009

12 Little Indians....

First up – nice work on the twin reviews for the Midnight Madness series boys. They were a treat to read and while I'm not a fan of the genre(s), there are a couple I'll watch when/if they get to DVD. The big tittie one comes to mind, for one.

On a more distressing note, an evil force has re-invaded the FBW. I can tell because the cafe J-Cloths are being sliced up like nubile young virgins from one of Joe's French horror films again. Like crop circles, this phenomena has occurred before, back in mid-summer if I recall. Then all of a sudden it stopped, probably due to a moon cycle shift or Jupiter moving out of Aries and finally squaring with Uranus. Some crazed lunatic has been cutting up the full sized J-cloths into little yellow and blue postage stamps, useless for pretty much anything. I've been pondering who it might be and offer the following analysis....

Jola... My first suspect due to her impossibly little hands, dwarfed by the relative breadth of a uncircumcised J-Cloth had been cutting them up to match her glove size. She's also Polish. Vindicated by her air-tight alibi during this most recent slate of cloth mutilations by being in Italy, or so we've been led to believe. Has an identical twin who may be in Italy in her place.

Nikki... A possibility. Likes to crop things like photographs. The J-Cloth remnants are roughly Polaroid sized. Coincidence?

Joey... Slightly mad. Could be more unhinged than we know. Will need to watch her carefully.

Gwynne... Too spacey to cut with such precision. Has big hands too. Unlikely.

Nick... Was in Montreal during the first wave of mutilations. Alibi sound.

Kris... Too focused on Twitter and other social communication devices to do something as mundane as cut up cloths for no reason. Little hands though so he needs to be watched.

Juan-Tom... Also a possibility. Was at the FBW during both periods, the first coinciding with him starting to cover west end shifts. Swarthy illegal to boot. Rationing common in the old country so it might be habit.

Joe... Of the 15 movies that arrived on Friday from KRK, 10 are disturbing slasher flicks (all ordered by Coffin Joe). Is he acting out his murderous dark thoughts on J-cloths? Is this a precursor to torturing small animals and then graduating to dicing children and the infirm? Works Fridays in the FBW, the day I most often notice the mutilations.

Kendall... Was in Bristol during the first wave of mutilations. Alibi sound.

David... Can't see it.

Luke... Listens to Jazz, dresses like Brian Ferry but doesn't know who Roxy Music is. A fraud? Perhaps. Reads a lot. Wears hats. Is considering Grad School in the States. Not to be trusted.

Justin... Cut his own hair “lobotomy style” Writes strange, often indecipherable things on this very blog. Lives on a boat where little squares of J-cloths might be useful. A strong suspect.

Whoever it is.... get some help.

Please.....

9.20.2009

Midnight Madness day 10: Ong Bak 2: The Beginning

Throughout TIFF, Kris and Joe will be doing "shared" reviews, in which we'll offer our opinions on a particular film in a single post. This is the tenth and final day.
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In the final third of my 10 hour shift yesterday, I experienced a strange shifting sensation, and not one exclusively confined to the bowels.  No, I felt light, elated, reborn, awake.  I had got my second wind.  I was hoping, like a girl awaiting her period after her boyfriend "forgot" to pull out, that it would arrive on time, mid-fest, and that I might meet second half of the films with enthusiasm and energy.  Unfortunately, the only movies that I entered with that feeling intact were the first two and last night's final film in the program, Ong Bak 2: The Beginning.

Ostensibly the "sequel"(?) to the jaw-droppingly revolutionary 2003 Thai martial arts gem Ong Bak, this one was a sequel in name only, having nada to do with the earlier film, and truth be told, aside from increased wattage in the violence department, this one left me feeling a little empty.  I wanted to love it so much, and when director/star Tiny Jaa (who couldn't be in attendance) spoke to the crowd in a prerecorded message onscreen and told us that he loved us all, I believed him.  However, after a super sick opening 15 minutes or so, the movie faltered by delving into Jaa's foray into gaydom dancing and repeating scenes (at their full running length) from earlier in the movie.  Jaa really should stay in front of the camera as the pacing is clunky, the slo-mo is beaten to death, then sodomized, and...okay, what the fuck was with the dancing.  Jesus Tiny, bring the pain already!

Perhaps I'm being overly critical, but the film, which ran just under 2 hours, could have easily had its wings clipped at 90 minutes.  With certain provisos in place, like the excision of the dancing and a conflation of the simple yet overly drawn out story, the film could have been excellent; as it stands, it is merely good, something to watch once on DVD, fast forward through the middle section, and forget about.  This really should have been called The Protector 2, as it has more in common with that film's love for elephants than the original Ong Bak.  I must say, though, two things in this were so badass: the final 15 minute fight scene was absolutely beyond belief; and within that scene emerged some kind of inexplicably crow-squawking evil version of Jaa (a la Venom) that bested him and then vanished after an awesome and brutal fight atop an elephant (yup).

I would have liked the Madness to have ended on a higher note, but all in all, it was a super sick time, thanks in large part to my film buddy extraordinaire, Kristof, without whom I certainly would have talked myself out of attending a couple of the screenings for the sake of a regular sleep schedule and my sanity.  It ain't called Midnight Madness for nuthin'...

I'm already looking forward to next year...

-the coelacanth
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and just like that BAM! ... that's all she wrote man.... that's all she wrote.

The final Midnight Madness screening (and the last screening for all of TIFF for that matter) was... ONG BAK 2: THE BEGINNING!!!!

Yeah man! Elbow throwing, elephants, mind blowing stunts, and dancing.... wait.. what? dancing?

well, i must admit Midnight Madness had its little way with me and i, sadly, could not for the life of me fight off the deep sleep i've put off for the past week and a half. Good news is, that apparently i slept through all the bad bits in the film. I vaguely remember seeing blurry images of masked dancers that seemed to go on forever.
I saw roughly 45 minutes of the film and what i saw was what i expected. High knees and low elbows galore.
Yet, the film seemed to be weakly paced between the elbows and was very redundant.
It was a film that had a heavy flashback aspect to it, only the flashbacks were replayed over and over. Now it's ok to show the audience a snippet of a scene that was revealed earlier so we can understand where in the films timeline it belongs, or just to flesh out the scene more to make it stick with us. But, it's NOT ok to play a whole 5 minute scene we've already sat through again. At one point during OB2 the whole openning scene was played again from beginning to end and in my state (i was constantly jumping from dream to elbow to the face state) my soul shook in horror as i thought the film was playing itself over again. Had i fallen asleep and woken up in the past, or did i live a premoiniton a la Final Destination style?

That being said, Ong Bak 2 is good when it does what you want it to do. It soars when it's kneeing you on the chin or fighting on the backs of elephants. Unfortunately, you have to sit through much tedium to get there.

Well that's all folks! Joe and I are gonna wrap this bitch up tomorrow or the day after with our faves, and some highlights of the fest.
Just wanna say it was a blast.
Not all the films were masterpieces (ahem, Survival of the Dead) but all screenings were a blast.

-Dropkick

Stupidity

"Only two things are infinite, the Universe and human stupidity... and I'm not sure about the former"
- Albert Einstein

Having flinched at the 12569th time a vaguely domesticated primate has clumsily expressed some sort of desire for an "eXpressobuddy" I'm inclined to agree. All I can do to stop from lashing out is systematically douse the fire inside with a good hour of deep 'George Carlin therapy'. I have found doses of Bill Hicks, Bill Maher, David Cross or Doug Stanhope equally as effective. Somehow I am not alone, somehow the world is not so big and empty. And it's a lot cheaper than my alternate 10 part Mill St meditations.

Having learned some basic Polish (Apparently "Toorah goolak offies" means "Two regular coffees") I have sought to enlighten myself further by understanding what stupidity really is. For some reason, working 2 shifts a week with Niki really isn't enough, I'm a glutton for it.

"History is made by stupid people"
- I don't know who said that but well.... it wasn't Martin Luther King.


This doc argues the point that "Stupidity has become a new trend" and analyzes the definition of stupidity, intelligence and the concept of an artificial stupidity used in the media from Jackass to Adam Sandler as some sort of escape from Vogon poetry. It's decent but not mindblowing, watch if you are stupid/curious.
Also see other politically charged yet ultimately benign docs: The Union: The business behind getting high, Super High me, or the much more accomplished Religulous.

Crazy Pete

I'm not nearly a good enough writer to properly explain the cinematic intricacies of one of Godard's essential films, Pierrot le fou from 1965. It's all at once complex, fractured, lyrical, jarring, linear, accomplished and uncertain. It seems a clear distillation of Godard's typical themes and yet a summary of what he is saying doesn't coalesce into easy explanation. The story has a man on an impromptu run from his dull, bourgeoisie existence with a woman involved in a bad way with Algerian gunrunners. The leads, the ever-watchable Belmondo and the gorgeous Anna Karina give spirited, physical performances as lovers on divergent paths leading away from their pasts, but also away from each other.
The balance of the plot matters not. The audience gets swept up in the visceral beauty of the cinematography (shot by Raoul Coutard, one of the best cinematographers of all time) and the film simply unfolds before you. The varied score rises and falls away in unusual ways with cuts to silence interspersed with short bursts of music that maneuvers the viewer in ways that you don't realize until you're there. For all the charges of elitism that Godard is commonly labeled with, Pierrot le fou is a relatively accessible film, a tragicomedy that might be his most emotionally direct. The fragmented narration, intense primary colour palette and dreamlike plot transitions will throw those unfamiliar with Godard's free-flowing cinematic style but if you can get by those techniques, Pierrot is an exuberant, thoughtful and thought-provoking film. Towards the end of the film, there's a jaw-dropping cameo by a complete unknown (at least to me) who explains in a 3 minute piece to Pierrot why he can't get a song out of his head. It's got to be seen.
It's hard to imagine anyone making a movie like this one anymore. I Heart Huckabees touches on the existential absurdity of pop culture nicely and Charlie Kaufman's films oscillate into this territory every now and then, but I can't think a film that questions with such intensity and intelligence the matters the matter quite so fundamentally as Godard did in films like Pierrot le fou, Weekend and others. His '60s films are warnings about a mass media-addled world where we can lose our ability to distinguish truth from fiction and important issues from trivial ones. One could argue (and I have) that those warnings went unheeded and we are now the lessor for it. It makes one pine for a return to socially conscious film making that challenges rather than placates us once again.
As vital now – perhaps even more so – than it was 45 years ago, Pierrot le fou is a worthy investment of a couple of hours, if only to see how varied cinema can be.
Sporgey.

9.19.2009

Midnight Madness day 9: A Town Called Panic (Panique Au Village) (2009)

Throughout TIFF, Kris and Joe will be doing "shared" reviews, in which we'll offer our opinions on a particular film in a single post. This is day 9.
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aka The Cowboy and the Frenchman?

A Town Called Panic is Belgian stop-motion animation at its finest, coming from the warped minds of the creators of Man Bites Dog.  It was incredibly hilarious at the start, but it went on too long, even at a scant 70 minutes (minus credits).  Had this come in at about 25 minutes (+/-), it would have been perfect, leaving me wanting more, and hugely satisfied with what I had seen.

Not much more I have to say about this one, it is a kids show in Belgium, after all.  I wonder if Flemish adults laugh hysterically at Teletubbies?

I thought this one was so funny and it kept me laughing because I imagined the goings on in this film to be the inside of Jules' head.  Yes, it's that funny.  I laughed the whole bike ride home.  Papa!   I liked the farmer.

-the coelacanth
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Last night brought Joe and I to A Town Called Panic.
A French family film based on a television series of the same name.

It's a stop motion animation film using toys you'd find in any kids collection (cowboys, indians, farm animals).
The hyper pace and absurdity delivers some heavy laughs but at about the one hour mark the novelty starts to wear thin.
This is the sort of thing you'd see on Robot Chicken, just without all the pop culture references, and proves why that show is only 15 minutes long.

Sort of like a long, yet more bizarre and funny, episode of Pingu.
You're laughing at it because it's loud and, as testament to the village's name, feels panicked. 

If only it were cut down about 15 minutes this would be an absurd masterpiece, the lack of moral tale beneath all the running around is what makes this truly special for me. It's all about the face pace and yelling without some moral tale about talking to strangers, or staying in school. No, the film just wants to be insane for insanity's sake. Man... the French are weird.

Actually, it's more like watching Jule's brain for 75 minutes.

Ok, it's almost over, just one more movie... can Joe and I make it through Ong Bak 2 without a flying elbow to the jaw? we'll see..

-Dropkick

9.18.2009

Midnight Madness day 8: Symbol (Shinboru) (2009)

Throughout TIFF, Kris and Joe will be doing "shared" reviews, in which we'll offer our opinions on a particular film in a single post. This is day 8.
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I apologize for the shortness of my review, but it is official. Midnight Madness has destroyed me... enjoy:

Hitoshi Matsumoto's Symbol is a surreal yet hilarious film about anything.
The film is comprised of two very different seemingly unconnected storylines.

One story follows a luchador in Mexico as he gets ready for an important match.
The other story follows a man who wakes up in an empty grey room.
Both stories connect in such an absurd way that you wouldn't actually believe me if i told you.

Symbol can be a bit of a mind bender but if you like getting your brain tickled in that way you'll have a blast.
It's always funny, with Matsumoto performing some great physical comedy coming off feeling much like Tati.

At one point the film goes transcendent and you can either be moved by it, laugh at it, or just be confused. Either way, this film is one hell of a ride for the senses and is just too much fun to pass up. If you get the chance, check it out.

Tonight a Town Called Panic promises to be... different.

-Dropkick

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Last night's film was the most ambitious and accomplished film so far, alternating between gut-busting humour and truly moving scenes.  Whether you view it as a surreal comedy, an absurdist horror, or a metaphysical and metaphorical meditation on god and chaos and everything else.

Symbol is divided into three segments, "The Education", "The Implementation", and "The Future", and if those seem too abstract or heady for you, know that the majority of the film revolves around a man (possibly God?) in pyjamas touching angels' dicks.  The other part of the film deals with "Escargot Man", a Mexican wrestler.  The film's balance of philosophical concepts and base humour mirrors the two seemingly disparate storylines in the film.  These stories come together in the most unique and uproarious way near the end.

I don't really know what else to say about this one - as cliched as the saying is, you really have to see it to believe it, in much the same way as, say, Takashi Miike's Happiness of the Katakuris.  Symbol is a glorious mindfuck that I'm going to be thinking about for days - nay, weeks - to come.  It was a real shame that the director wasn't in attendance, for if there was one film at MM that demanded a Q&A, this one was it.  Alas, he was home in Japan, where the film was also opening.  Colin Geddes in luchador mask and spotted pyjamas almost made up for that, though.

I can't see this coming to a theatre near you ANYTIME, but hope for a DVD release down the road.  This film is fucked the fuck up, in the very, very best of ways.   My favourite film of the fest so far, hands down.  See this at all costs - you won't know what the hell's going on, but a wildly wackier film you won't experience in a long time.  This is why cinema exists.

-the coelacanth

9.17.2009

Midnight Madness day 7: Solomon Kane (2009)

Throughout TIFF, Kris and Joe will be doing "shared" reviews, in which we'll offer our opinions on a particular film in a single post. This is day 7.
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And on the 7th day we saw Solomon Kane and we saw that it was... ok.

Solomon Kane is based on the early pulp stories by Robert E. Howard, who also gave us Conan the Barbarian. 
This film adaption is an origin story for the character, i guess in the assumption that more films would later follow. The director, Michael J. Bassett, stated during the Q&A after wards that he plans on making a trilogy out of his hopeful franchise.

Kane is your run of the mill action adventure fodder. It's there on screen, big, loud, and given the right mind set it can prove to be entertaining.
James Purefoy does his best as Solomon but there's just not enough in the script to make the character stand out from the genre.
You may find yourself forgetting you're not watching Viggo Mortensen or Hugh Jackman doing their fantasy action schticks, as Purfoy reads like a complete hybrid of the two.

There are moments of greatness in Kane but the film never capitalizes on these moments leading us on a disjointed adventure.
The problem with the film is that it is so average, it is just so ok that it is more annoying then if it were bad.
As it stands, Solomon Kane is an average action adventure romp that doesn't particularly do anything but just sit on screen. Not much to it.

Tonight we get trapped in Hitoshi Matsumoto's Symbol, really been looking forward to this.

-Dropkick

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Maybe I'm getting tired.  No, I AM tired.  Regardless, Solomon Kane, one of the films I was most anticipating at MM was a letdown.  It had such promise, as the original stories by Robert E. Howard (of Conan fame) that appeared in Weird Tales during the late 20s and early 30s were amazing and vivid and badass.  Unfortunately, that wasn't really translated to the screen.

There were a couple moments throughout the film where I thought, "Dope, here we GOOOO!!!!", only to have the momentum quashed by another talky scene.  Pacing was an issue in this one, and for an "adventure film" there wasn't a whole lot of action.  The soundtrack seemed to be solely comprised of music that was rejected from Lord of the Rings, and Solomon (played by Brit period drama stalwart James Purefoy) wasn't either particularly likable or hateable.  In fact, pretty much everything about this film was sort of plateau - I kept waiting for it to take off and it never did.

Let's talk for a minute about implausibility.  Now I know it's a fantasy, I know monsters like the ones in the film aren't real, but if you're going to operate within the confines of this sort of world, I'm fine with that, I love that; but you've gotta play by the rules.

Case 1: the witch that Solomon and his adopted friends (led by patriarch Pete Postlethwaite, dope as always) come across early in the film is said to have destroyed an entire village and defied the flames while being burned at the stake.  Later she is killed by Solomon's sword which he throws across a courtyard.  A witch who has the power to destroy an entire village is killed with a single blow?  Huh?  Where's the defender spell, DOOOOD?!?!

Case 2: Big magician on campus Malachi, who has been controlling the minds and wills of basically everyone (think Sarumon), is killed, and a massive hell demon beast thing is vapourized because Solomon shoots Malachi in the head.  Huh?  You can't have magic be such a big part of a story and then have the two most powerful magic wielders in the film be felled by a single mortal's blow.

Let's move on to the good.  The locations and whole world of the film were very, very cool - sort of late fall, dead leaves on the forest floor and scuttling across meadows, flurries constantly swirling, campfires giving off warm glows and wisps of smoke to ward off the darkness and the darker things that lie just beyond the darkness.  I liked this aspect quite a bit, and thought that that went a long way toward fleshing out the world in which the whole thing took place.

Costumes - in particular, I'm thinking the plague doctors and the big baddie whose name I forget right now but who turns out to be Solomon's presumed dead brother and basically the cause of that whole world-gone-to-shit thingy.  Dope costumes on those guys (and the plague doctors were in it for like 30 seconds).  The demons in the mirrors that grabbed the guys were cool too.  Oh hey mans, I'm maaaad tired.

Symbol tonight! Gon' be sick!

-the coelacanth

Why can't we be friends....

While working with one of our illegals last night, I asked him why he wasn't going to any of the Midnight Man-ness screenings with Joe and Kris. Seems he wasn't invited.... again. He also suggested that he “wasn't asked last year either”. It made me feel sad. It's got to be hard being a new immigrant in a strange land, a fair-weather Juan to your fancy friends, good enough to mop the floor but not to sit beside in the dark holding hands watching sexually-charged horror films and alternately jumping into one another's lap like frightened school-girls every few scenes. They're called climaxes for a reason I guess.

No, it's funny how we think we're all tolerant, inclusive and multicultural-minded, but how quickly we pass over the new arrivals when it comes to socializing. Sure they wear strange-coloured shoes and you can't understand a word they're saying but only a generation or two ago, Kadas's family were picking bananas in the Colombian jungle, spanked out on low grade heroin and dreaming of a better life in Guatemala picking coffee beans, blissed out on a better grade of dope. How quickly we all forget.

After he got done mopping and we closed up, Juan-Tom rode off on his brakeless bicycle and was swallowed up by the lonely night – likely heading off to another menial job he's too proud to tell us about so he can afford to send a little extra money back to his legless sister in the old country – I felt a tinge of melancholy and guilt. Here's a guy an ocean away from what he knows trying to make his way in a place where he doesn't speak the language or understand even the simplest things about our culture and yet he's here. I think that deserves more than $3.50 a shift so I'm bumping Juan-Tom, or whatever the fuck his name is to $3.75. That should be enough to get one of those little skateboard things for his sister to get around with.

Damn, I'm welling up. It just gets me right here.

Sporgey

9.16.2009

Midnight Madness day 6: [Rec] 2 (2009)

Throughout TIFF, Kris and Joe will be doing "shared" reviews, in which we'll offer our opinions on a particular film in a single post. This is day 6.
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When I first watched [Rec] last year, I was blown away by the super fresh take on the first person shaky-cam horror flick.  Needless to say, I was psyched when I heard that [Rec] 2 would be having its world premiere at TIFF.  Kris and I stumbled into the Ryerson just after midnight and took our seats, and what began was an immediate burst of terror on the screen which lasted for about half the movie.  The suspense just barely sustained itself in the last half, and nearly fizzled out in the last third, but not before it gave us a few more jumps and faded sense of eeriness.  All told, a highly effective film that achieves what it sets out to do; namely, scare the yell out of ya.

I've got to meditate more on this particular film, however.  I was so taken by [Rec] because it expertly mixed social commentary, human drama, and creepiness, without glossing over any particular aspect.  However, [Rec] 2 ramps up the thrills and the chills, often at the expense of the other areas.  So it was a trade off that I'm not sure paid off (see what I did there?), but it certainly felt like it did.

What I did LOVE about [Rec] 2 was its further exploration of the supernatural side that was only briefly hinted at in the first film.  The fact that that was the focus of this plot was incredibly compelling, and made the film far more frightening than if the directors merely had the characters being chased by the "infected"; these people were not "infected" at all, it turns out, but possessed.

With a few nods to The Exorcist, [Rec] 2 sets out on a new path and blazes an awesome trail.  When the characters  realize there is a hidden world that can only be seen by night vision was a development that was superbly carried out, with the tension slowly building around a fantastic concept.  However, I think they "showed" too much of the monster in this one (I'm sure many would disagree), but what made her so creepy in the first film was that you only saw her in silhouette, then for a few brief seconds in eerie night vision green and black.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed [Rec] 2, but I hope they don't do a third.  I think what they've got right now is a excellent, tight little package with its own mythology and visual style, and to mess with that would be to cheapen the whole thing.  The directors said as much in the Q&A.  Although....I hated Nightmare on Elm Street 2, but thought Dream Warriors was brilliant, so you never know...

-the coelacanth
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Last nights' screening marked the home stretch for Midnight Madness 2009. 6 films down and everyone of them has been a lot of fun. Even Romero's Survival of the Dead, which i didn't enjoy, was still a ruckus of a screening. The festival is taking a visible toll on Joe and I but we're loving every second of it.

Day 6 of Midnight Madness hosted more zombies. [REC] 2, sequel to 2007's [REC] and the film Quarantine was based on, picks up where the original film left off. In [REC] an apartment building is under quarantine for mysterious reasons with tenants locked inside as well as a television crew who record all the events that transpire. [REC] 2 starts 15 minutes after the events of the first film and put us in the perspective of a SWAT team whose orders are to enter the building to try and control the situation.

What makes [REC] stand out from the pack of other first person horror films (Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield, Diary of the Dead) is the way directors Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza utilize the camera to tell their story. Many times the camera is used as a tool to see in the dark or to act as a second pair of eyes to look around a corner or in an attic. The shots are blocked in such a way that they deliver some really horrifying moments while still feeling natural to the central plot device of first hand recording. Unlike other films that utilize the first person camera, I've never questioned the characters in [REC] for recording everything. I never wanted to yell "throw down the camera and run!" Their reasons for filming everything are valid and make sense.

For [REC]2 Balaguero and Plaza have once again come up with fun and inventive ways to keep this device from feeling "gimmicky". The SWAT team not only carries a conventional video camera with them but they are all equipped with helmet cams which, you can imagine, capture some of the most scariest scenes of the film.

If you are a fan of [REC] than you'll really enjoy [REC] 2, it is a sequel in the true sense of the word. It plays like a counterpart of the first so well that you could actually watch both side by side, in fact i can't imagine watching one without the other now.

Great stuff, and i'm hoping Plaza and Balaguero keep cranking out some more of these.

Tonight we take on the demons of hell in Solomon Kane.

-Dropkick

9.15.2009

Midnight Madness day 5: Bitch Slap (2009)

Throughout TIFF, Kris and Joe will be doing "shared" reviews, in which we'll offer our opinions on a particular film in a single post. This is day 5.
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Well, last night's screening was an absolute blast!  Colour me shocked.  I was kinda dreading Bitch Slap, but ended up being thoroughly entertained.  Perhaps because of my low expectations, or maybe because the film was actually not bad - either way, good stuff, and tied for first with The Loved Ones as my best of the fest so far.

Godard's famous quotation of "all you need to make a film is  girl and a gun" gets multiplied by 4 here (on both fronts), and what we get is an obvious homage to Russ Meyer and sexploitation films of the 70s, all tits, ass, and big guns.  The opening credits were some of the best I've seen in years (in any genre).  Comical slow motion fetishization of the female form in all its glory (mainly the curvy bits), girl on girl action, supremely over the top dialogue, and a handful of locations all add up to something that is less a tribute to the films it clearly draws from, and more authentically one of those very films itself.  Director Rick Jacobson knows what's up (he's clearly seen an Andy Sidaris film or three), and cameos by Lucy Lawless and Kevin Sorbo were inspired.  The film was overly long, but that's a small quibble.  Also cool to see stunt person extraordinaire Zoe Bell live and in person as part of the fun Q&A (girl's seriously built, and could easily take me and Kris down).

I'm sure someone (Kris, maybe?) will write an incisive dissertation of the post-feminist politics and subversion of genre and gender in Bitch Slap, but for me, it was all on the surface.  What I saw was what I got, and what I saw was glorious.

-the coelacanth
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Bitch Slap is boobs, and cars, and fire, and boobs, and guns, and Hercules and Xenia, and boobs, and girls with boobs, girls on girls with boobs, and motorcycles ridden by girls with guns on fire with boobs and girls.

i liked the part where the girls fought each other, and the other part where they threw water on each other... and i liked the girls alot.

i wanted to go to the washroom but i couldn't because if i got up i thought everyone was gonna laugh at me.

i like movies.

-Dropkick

9.14.2009

Midnight Madness day 4: The Loved Ones (2009)

Throughout TIFF, Kris and Joe will be doing "shared" reviews, in which we'll offer our opinions on a particular film in a single post. This is day 4.
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Lineups are getting shorter outside the Ryerson in the moments leading up to the witching hour.  That's not to say that the films being screened are of any less merit than the previous three - quite the contrary, in fact.  It is simply evidence of the average moviegoer is more likely to attend a film in which the entire Hollywood starlet cast will be in attendance, or they'll have a chance to ask a few probing questions of a few acting legends, or gaze upon the creator of some of the most seminal walking dead films ever.  However, with that out of the way - with the lack of recognizable names and deepening weirdness, the casual moviegoer is less inclined to take a chance on "one of those crazy midnight movies".  It is entirely to their detriment, though, and to the benefit of Kris and I finding decent seats in the crush to do so.  You see, as Kris mentioned in his Romero review, the stars have gone and the novelty for the curious has worn off, and coupled with the reality of getting to bed by 3 am (at the very earliest) only to have to rise and go to work a scant few hours later turns a lot of people off.  For this often leads to a sort of mania, a celluloid psychosis where dreams begin to fuse with reality, and ghosts can be seen in broad daylight.  We're lucky to have jobs that facilitate perfectly the MM schedule, and its attendant debauchery.

Last night's film, newbie Aussie director Sean Byrne's The Loved Ones, truly signalled the beginning of MM to me.  It also served as this year's "extreme film", of which there is one every year, seemingly designed solely to shock and gross out and generally mortify the audience.  I didn't find The Loved Ones to be that shocking, though, especially when compared to the previous couple films that have occupied this role at MM, Frontier(e)s, Inside, and Martyrs.  There were some cringe-worthy moments, for certain, but the overall effectiveness of the film lay in its unique pacing, building of tension, and outright chillingness of the female lead, Robin McLeavy, doing her best Kathy Bates-in-Misery impression, and damn near pulling it off.  And just when you think it's going to be a straightforward teen horror, things take a turn for the weeeeeeiiiirrrrrrrrdddddd......

Essentially a study in teenage obsession and loss, The Loved Ones ultimately succeeds as a horror film, despite a few missteps along the way.  Because it doesn't rely solely on its gory money-shots and focuses more on the madness of the female lead (with some seriously fucked up daddy issues), her insane but willing father, and the bizarre and gruesome details of what goes on within the walls of their little farmhouse, it transcends the incredibly stigmatized and grievously misunderstood "torture porn" subgenre.  Toss in some gorgeous cinematography and set design, and a pretty good understanding by the director of what works and what doesn't in the genre, and you've got a pretty decent flick.  I didn't love it, but didn't feel like I had wasted my time either.  The final scene is brutal, hilarious, and cathartic, and will have you singing quietly to yourself "Am I Not Pretty Enough?"...

Anyway, a very solid first effort by Byrne; he'll be one to watch in the genre for years to come, I hope.  And Scott won't watch this one either.

-the coelacanth
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Day 4 of Midnight Madness hosted the best film at the festival so far, first time director's Sean Byrne's The Loved Ones is an Australian horror centering around prom night. Not what you might think, the film deceptively turns the genre on its head blending laughs and blood so flawlessly without ever feeling cheap or awkward.
It's one part Carrie, one part John Hughes, and two parts Misery.

The story splits it time between a kid named Brent, a pot smokin' metal head, who is dealing with his fathers death who died in a car accident. Brent just so happened to be driving the car at the time.
The other half of the story focuses on Brent's friend Sac and his prom date with hot goth girl Mia.

The dual storyline seems awkward at first. Whereas Brent's storyline is where the horror lies, Sac and Mia's is where the comedy is.
At first i didn't enjoy how the film jumped back and forth between the stories because i felt they didn't congeal well as they both went in completely different directions. In retrospect, the dual storyline really works for the film, during the horror scenes the film pushes you to your absolute limit. Sean Byrne is very aware of the audience as once you've been pushed he throws you back at the prom and ingeniously these scenes feel like they were designed to help you catch your breath before he shoves you back into hell.

Something must be said for Robin McLeavy's stunning performance as Lola. She delivers a Kathy Batesesque (circa Misery) performance so hypnotizing and deranged that it is destined to join the cannon of the greatest villains of horror. I'm talking people will dress up like her for hallowe'en.
Of course that depends on if this gem even gets picked up for release in North America and there's no good left in this world if it doesn't.

Films like The Loved Ones is what makes Midnight Madness one of the most reknown film programmes in the world.

Tonight i shudder as Joe and i take on Bitch Slap, a Russ Meyer/Sports Illustrated hybrid of a film made by the same people who made Xenia and Hercules.... so i guess that's Sam Raimi?
huh.

-Dropkick

Happy 62nd Sammy!

Happy birthday to the sexiest man alive, Sam Neill.  Here's to many more years lighting up the screen.

Prawns, Spawn and Autobots

For all the rave reviews Neill Blomkamp's District 9 received, I found my first shot at it engaging but vaguely disappointing, particularly as political allegory. A great premise and some clever script writing gives way to a third act that morphs into vintage Michael Bay-styled shoot 'em up and undermines the thought-provoking qualities of the first two acts. First the upsides... and there are plenty. Visually, it's stunning. The CG integration is almost transparent and the aliens are repulsive and creepy. The lead actor played by South African Sharlto Copley is very good. He plays a character who's a combination of Kafkaesque-nightmare bureaucrat and bubbling idiot. Without giving away the plot, he is charged with the impossible task of moving an impoverished alien population of a million+ away from Johannesburg to a remote encampment several hundred kilometers away. The South African setting is a welcome change from traditional Euro/American framework of most modern science fiction. The underlying themes of race, displaced populations and man's capacity for cruelty are front and centre in District 9, admirable and unusual for a genre picture, but it's hard to find the moral centre and therefore the point of the film without first understanding the political context that Blomkamp is working under. An hour of Wikipedia research into modern South Africa later, I rewatched the film with a more up-to-date understanding of the issues facing the region today and it plays like a different (and much better) film on a second pass.

So it comes down to this. You can have great fun watching District 9 as a campy straight-up Sci-Fi with loads of gore and nasty black humour ….or you can view it as a complex allegorical treatise on modern race relations and humanity's unending appetite for self-destruction.

In order to discuss the deeper themes plumbed in District 9, a basic understanding of the plot's start point is necessary. In documentary/newscast flashback, we told that a massive alien ship arrived over Johannesburg in 1982 and hovered some 1000 feet above for over two decades. Why they came and how they became stranded is never explained. A mission is mounted to enter the ship and it is discovered that the aliens inside are in dire straits. They are starving and apparently unable to provide for themselves. The authorities make the area in the vicinity of the ship a holding compound for the visitors, where they feed and provide for them: District 9. They are fenced off from the rest of Johannesburg's population and detained in the squalid conditions of a shanty town. They are surrounded 24-7 by the military, ostensibly for their own protection but actually more out of fear. This fear is seemingly justified as violent clashes between the aliens and the human population begin to increase, leading to a decision to relocate the entire alien population, some 1.2 million, to a remote area 250 km. from the city. This is where the film opens.

A Catch-22 exists in cinema when it comes to dealing with matters of race. It's nearly impossible to write a script that delves in any substantive way into the issue without stirring up counter charges and claims of racism, a dilemma that certainly complicates a deeper reading of Blomkamp's script. Almost by definition, discussions about race are contentious - a subjective topic that more often than not divides opinion depending on the viewer's perspective. As a result, most movie scripts end up skirting the issue, avoiding it outright or offering up overly-simplistic examples where the lines are clearly divided along the good victim/bad oppressor theme. District 9 may be something of an exception to this rule. On the one hand it seems to be wearing it's rather obvious political stripes on it's sleeve but upon closer inspection it may indeed be saying something rather more profound and subversive.

Intentionally or not, there is a bleeding of pre and post-apartheid South African politics in the District 9 story line. On the surface it first appears that we are immersed in an allegorical pre-1994 South Africa, but as the story unfolds, much of the plot involves sociopolitical overtones from present day South Africa and it may serve the audience better to view this film as a post-apartheid parable about illegal immigration and Malthusian despair. (Malthus was an influential early 19th century writer who wrote extensively on matters of excessive population growth). The modern fable Blomkamp has fashioned here is a contentious and potentially explosive one – that black South Africans are prone to the saying and doing the same intolerant things that white Afrikaans were universally condemned for two decades ago. There are unpopular, politically incorrect elements of District 9 (specifically the portrayal of the evil Nigerian crime syndicate, among others) but we westerners have all but ignored the region since Nelson Mandela was elected in 1994 and it seems that the truth of the matter is rather more grim than you might hope. It seems that they didn't live happily ever after.

In order to properly contextualize the story in District 9, you also need to be aware of a couple of key political events in the recent past....

Political primer #1....After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the Afrikaans elite (aka: rich whitey) decided within three months to deal with the then-71 year old Mandela, confident that a black government wouldn’t be so influenced by the godless Commies as to immediately kill the capitalist goose that lays the golden (and diamond) eggs. The system that emerged has been fine for those whites rich enough to afford ample private security, but unsurprisingly bad for the Afrikaans working class, many of whom (including the director's family who fled and now reside in B.C.) left the country. Not surprisingly, the early decades of the new ANC government and a vanishing middle class have left the country corrupt, riddled with crime and flirting with anarchy. A sort of reverse ethnic cleansing has seen the country's skilled white middle class depart for safer havens and a vacuum develop in its place.

Political primer #2....After 20 years of black rule, neighbouring Zimbabwe experienced a political meltdown/societal collapse in recent years that has left millions of refuges fleeing the country for the relative safety and financial promise of South Africa. This massive influx of refuges (3 to 5 million is the latest count) has caused a great deal of social unrest in South Africa pitting two black communities against one another. In a recent interview, writer/director Blomkamp had this to say about the current state of affairs in South Africa:

“Another part of recent South African history that isn’t world news is that the collapse of Zimbabwe has introduced millions of illegal Zimbabwean immigrants into South African cities. … Now you have this powder-keg situation, with black against black … [W]e woke up one morning to find out that Johannesburg was eating itself alive. Impoverished South Africans had started murdering impoverished Zimbabweans, necklacing them and burning them and chopping them up.”

Armed with this information, District 9's political underpinnings make substantially more sense to the uninitiated and underinformed like myself. While the film is quite easily viewed as a piece of video-game escapism, the more interesting layers of the plot almost require a bit of background detail to help contextualize the story. Without this frame of reference, the film's allegorical side is all rather confusing. I understand why the film maker chose to shift the film into Sci-Fi fanboy territory and leave the more political aspects on the margins. It was probably the right decision. The fact that a sociopolitical context exists at all in District 9 is impressive enough.

Once this releases to DVD and a few others have had a chance to watch it, I'd be interested to hear what you thought of the film's tricky undercurrents.

Sporgey

9.13.2009

Midnight Madness Day 3: George A. Romero's Survival of the Dead

Throughout TIFF, Kris and Joe will be doing "shared" reviews, in which we'll offer our opinions on a particular film in a single post. Kendall is sitting in for Joe who couldn't make it. This is day 3.
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It was fitting that last night i attended George A. Romero's latest entry in his ... of the Dead series "Survival of the Dead" zonked from a 3 hour sleep and a following 10 hour shift at the FBE.
I showed up in line looking very much like a member of the undead and feeling not too far off from the same.
Kendall soon joined me and we shuffled into the theater where chaos for good seating ensued. Somehow we snagged some pretty amazing seats, middle row center.
It wasn't until we looked around and noticed that disgruntled cast and crew members were yelling at Tiff volunteers and that we were also sitting right behind the man himself, George A. Romero, that we started to think we were sitting in the wrong seats.
Ah well, it was too late to do anything about it.

Romero came out before the screening to a very impressive standing ovation. As an audience we were not only paying tribute to the legend, but we were also welcoming him as an official Torontonian. Now that he does live here I wonder if Scott will buy 10 copies of all of his films just in case he comes into the store... we'll see.

After a few formalities from George the lights dimmed and i was already fighting to stay awake and that's without one frame of the film playing.

Survival of the Dead is a sequel of sorts to Diary of the Dead which i haven't seen. Unlike any other "of the Dead" films this one has a direct connection to another. The lead in this film was a character in Diary.

Sorry for pussy footing around the review for this flick, i just don't know how to come out and say i didn't like it. So I'll say that. I didn't like it that much.

All the characters have unfinished or unused character arcs, the plot branches out in many directions yet it never follows any plot twist to its natural end. Instead the film jumps and stalls constantly, the film desperately seeking some sort of conclusion but no one is kind enough to just shoot it in the head and be done with it. We watch it limp in horror; a living dead film.

Keep in mind that maybe Romero films aren't my thing. I love Return, Dawn, and Day but when i attended Land of the Dead i was left baffled as i was the only one i knew who just didn't get anything out of it. So there, it may just be me. I heard a lot of people say that Survival was better than Diary of the Dead.

Joe told me to separate the film from the director and look at it as just a film to form a more honest opinion but i can't help it.
It bothers me that Romero's name is on it. I feel like he should be a beacon of quality for the zombie genre, at the very least he should be a director that holds onto old film techniques and the use of special effect make up instead of going digital and heavy use of cheap cgi.
I want one more really good Romero film and this one isn't it, not by a long shot.

What followed after the film was quite possibly the worst Q & A session i have ever attended. Questions like "Do you prefer fast zombies or slow zombies?" or "Why did the zombie cross the road?" or the closing question "Can we see your best zombie impersonation?", all great stuff Toronto.

But i was a zombie by that point so who knows? It may just have been the best b style horror movie ever made followed by the wittiest questions anyone has ever asked a director.

I would like to thank Kendall for being such a blast of a Midnight Madness partner, she snuck in crispers which we would have ate during the movie if we weren't sitting right behind George A. Romero.

Tonight an Aussie horror flick, The Loved Ones looks very promising. Now that the big name tittles are out of the way and the star gazing element of Midnight Madness becomes more subdued I'm excited to sit down and watch some real film. No more big names, no more expectations, from here on in it's all about the films. (minus the closing film Ong Bak 2, I'm hoping for that one we will be treated to a martial arts demonstration by Tony Jaa)

-Dropkick

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When Survival of the Dead began my (very low, after the disaster that was Diary of the Dead) hopes began to rise. 'Here [I thought], here we will have a Romero movie that is really worth something, about the survival of humanity as a species and the disintegration of our benevolence and the human condition in the face of a crisis.' Ok so maybe i didn’t think quite so poetically in the moment, but you get the idea... unfortunately Romero didn’t. I love sci-fi and horror that aims to expose our humanity as a total crock, a facade of intelligence and superiority over other species that crumbles as soon as we are faced with disaster. Day of the Triffids and The Stand, to me, are both brilliant books that explore this concept, if you’re interested in a good read (I’ve seen neither of the movie-versions). Survival of the Dead, initially, seemed like it was going to be in the same vein as these; the theme of the film murkily reflects this sort of idea with constant references to the difficulty of choosing to hold on to our humanity in terms of our lives, and our humanity in terms of our relationships with people, something that we like to think separates us from animals, at some point in this movie everyone must choose one or the other. However, this whole idea is so muddled by useless story lines and characters that it is hardly noticeable, in fact I’m not even sure Romero noticed it, or really intended it. The story of Survival moves in way too many directions, one leading to another, introducing us to a new character, who we then think will be the focus of the movie, but never turns out to be. In the end the focus settles exactly where it started, making everything that happened in between feel completely useless, and where the film started is with a feud between two Irish families who live on an island outside of Delaware, and it’s exactly as ridiculous as it sounds.
I really don’t have anything else to say about this movie other than that it’s only redeeming quality is that it is ever so slightly better than Diary of the Dead, which I guess is good for Romero... I guess.
-Chandles

9.12.2009

Midnight Madness day 2: Daybreakers (2009)

Throughout TIFF, Kris and Joe will be doing "shared" reviews, in which we'll offer our opinions on a particular film in a single post. This is day 2.

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Spierig Brothers rebound from their fun but flawed Undead to bring us Daybreakers, a vision of a world 10 years hence in which vampires have overrun the planet (but they're urbane vamps) and humans are the minority.  However, dwindling blood supplies and a failure to find a synthetic substitute leads the vampires to more extreme measures....Cool concept, and was carried out kinda like Dark City with vamps.

Some real cool ideas about vamps changing back into humans and dwindling blood supplies (insert water/oil/economic meltdown metaphor here).  Excellent cast with Sam Neill and Willem Dafoe standing out for me. I love Sam Neill.  He's the sexiest man alive.

Anyways, fun film, if a bit shallow, but some good jump scares, solid acting, and a couple cool ideas make Daybreakers an above average entry into the vampire canon.  Not a great film, but it fit the bill, and I'm glad to have seen it.  (Sorry for the lazy review, I've got a wedding to go to in 20 minutes and this stain isn't coming out of my jacket...Just read Kris' review for a nice take on the film).  Also, look for a guest reviewer tomorrow, as Kendall will be attending George Romero's newest in my stead.

-the coelacanth

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Had enough of Vampire movies yet? Cause i have! well... after Daybreakers that is.

Daybreakers is a sci-fi Vampire pic set in the future, where humans are vastly outnumbered by the Vamps. This has lead to a dwindling food supply for the Vampires who are desperately seeking a solution to save their civilization.

The strength of the film lies in the Dystopian depiction of earth's future run by Vampires. Stylistically it's reminiscent of Gattica and Dark City, sort of a hybrid of those two but with vampires. You really get the sense of a backwards world. The way the city is alive at night but bare at noon. Also nice touches like Starbucks style coffee shops that serve lattes with your favourite type of blood, and Subwalks instead of Subways to get Vamps around by day. These scenes of Vampires living in a society on the verge of collapse is what makes Daybreakers stand out from your run of the mill Vampire flick.

It's when the film veers away from this Dystopia that it begins to drag on and feel more generic. Which is also how i feel about Gattica and Dark City.

The three leads hold their own, Ethan Hawke makes a great vampire. Willem Dafoe is, as always, kick ass. And Sam Neill is a god amongst men.

Daybreakers is a good movie, not a great one... which is too bad because it has some really great ideas going for it. I guess we'll see what the public thinks in January, I feel it may be a bit of vampire overload for the masses but we'll see.

For the screening the directors Michael and Peter Spierig were in attendance as well as Sam Neill to answer questions. I think Sam may have been drunk and i didn't get to ask him my one burning question; "Do you read Sutter Cane?"
Dafoe also showed up for a small appearance incognito as a press cameraman.

It was a fun night. Tonight we switch it up as Kendall and I take on a horde of zombies for Romero's Survival of the Dead... kinda sounds like this noon to ten shift I'm working.

-Dropkick

Hunger (2008) - Steve McQueen

It is a treat to write about a film like this, it's not often I watch something new that is so spectacular. Hunger is a very sparse film, with little dialogue or back story. It simply presents a realist portrait of prison life. The prisoners involved happen to be IRA members in the early 1980s who have lost their "political prisoner" status under Thatcher (under the previous Labour gov't!) and start a protest with the only thing they still have any control over--their bodies. This means excrement, piss, and finally a brutal hunger strike that kills several of them, including the protagonist Bobby Sands (who doesn't eat for 66 fucking days! Seriously!). However, I wouldn't call this a political film about Ireland's "troubles." I think it is more a film about how heartbreakingly evil power is, and there is no better place to see it in its full glory than the prison. The way the prisoners, and even the guards are reduced to total animals by the circumstances created through extreme power is terrifying to watch. The use of the body as a final site of this power struggle is fascinating, and conjures some thoughts of the philosophical ideas circling Europe at the time this film takes place (i.e., Foucault, Deleuze, Negri, etc.). What an exciting first feature film by McQueen, and how happy I am I have a new director to follow!

All that being said, there certainly is an underlying political message here about how nasty those "troubles" really were. In particular, there is something that carries over into our current culture: people need to talk to each other, even to talk with "terrorists," because the lack of dialogue and recognition is what breeds violence. The film also reinforced my idea that there is a special ring of Hell set aside for Margaret Thatcher.

9.11.2009

Midnight Madness day 1: Jennifer's Body (2009)

Throughout TIFF, Kris and Joe will be doing "shared" reviews, in which we'll offer our opinions on a particular film in a single post. This is day 1.

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Megan's Body, uh er... Jennifer's Body, the second coming from stripper turned Juno wizard Diablo Cody, is a teen horror flick in the same vein as Buffy The Vampire Slayer. It's a teen sex comedy with all the glee and gore of an Elm Street flick.

The first midnight madness film to kick off Tiff was one i was looking forward to the least at the festival. My expectations were pretty low. I haven't seen Juno and have vowed never to put myself through that. I'm not a fan of Megan Fox, or teen sex comedies either.

Yet, with my expectations in the ground it was nice to have my enjoyment rise like the the undead.

Jennifer's Body is about the hot girl in high school (Jennifer) becoming possessed by a demon, which she needs to feed to stay alive. To feed her hunger she takes to eating various boys at school. All this told from the perspective of Jennifer's nerdy best friend Needy who is, surprisingly, our protagonist.

This film, as i suspect is the case with Juno as well, is a future classic. Think Heathers or Weird Science, but made today. Jennifer's Body will, like a cheese, age really well. The obvious metaphors in place here for teens in high school (having the popular girl in school be a boy eating demon?) secures its place as a future cult favourite.

For today however, i felt the film didn't deliver on some of the goods... even with my expectations shot. For a horror movie the scares were pretty standard, not too much new or innovative here. The writing can be at times beautifully honest such as a pretty realistic sex scene and the way all the adult characters are portrayed however, the writing is also this films achellis heel. Coady's use of invented slang and wit should conjure up more similarities to Heathers, but here it only makes the whole ordeal feel less engaging, and towards the end and i was ready to throw the Heathers comparison out the window for Idle Hands.

The performances are top notch, Megan Fox is mostly just Megan Fox, here and there she does shine but she felt more dull then i would have liked, which i guess works better for her character. Amanda Seyfried (Mean Girls, Big Love) really steals the show as needy best friend Needy. She brings all the right elements to the table for her character in a role unlike one i've seen her play in before.

Another mentionable performance is that of Adam Brody (The O.C. and uh.... The O.C.) who i don't particularly even like. Mostly because i felt he always plays a shy nerd, which i know is just a front so he can get chicks... what an asshole. But in Jennifer's Body he actually just plays an asshole which he is really good at.

The whole aesthetic of the film is pretty fantastic, from the sets to the use of colour and in particular the cinematography.

For the Tiff screening the big names of the cast were in attendance as well director Karyn Kusama, producer Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Coady... who by the way used to be a stripper.

I always forget the energy of a midnight madness show always makes a film seem better than it really is. So walking out of Jennifer's Body i thought it was pretty great. But after a good night's rest and the roar of the crowd far behind me i could make up my own mind on the flick.

In conclusion, Jennifer's Body isn't anything spectacular. As a horror film it isn't all that scary, as a teen drama it doesn't take itself seriously enough, and as a teen sex comedy it isn't crude or satirical enough. Mix up a film with short comings going in many different directions and you got yourself a cult hit.

Can't believe there's nine films left... whoa. I hope i make it through this. Next up Daybreakers, I really hope Willem Dafoe is there.

-Dropkick

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Last night marked the kick off to the Midnight Madness program, and while the film shown, Jennifer's Body, isn't likely to be the best of the program, it certainly is the most buzz-worthy, and offers the most star-power. Megan Fox stars as high-schooler Jennifer possessed by a demon after a failed satanic sacrifice. OC's dweeby-cum-dreamy (really?) Adam Brody plays a dickish leader of an aspiring "indie rock" band, and is the one who botches said sacrifice, giving Jennifer that nasty demon. Gloriously and atypically frumpy Amanda Seyfried plays Jennifer's best friend - and ultimately her worst enemy - Needy, and is the narrator of the tale.

What seemed to draw everyone to the film (aside from Fox's assets), was the presence of Juno-scribe Diablo Cody, who picked up the pen once again to churn out the script for this one. You either like Cody's dialogue or you're not too crazy about it. I'm in the latter camp - I find it rings false, is too "snappy", and seems written expressly in order to cement her status 20 years hence as some kind of modern day John Hughes. The film was not frightening, occasionally funny, and a sub-Tarantino hatchet job of teen comedies/horrors that were made a few years before the stars of this particular film were born.  However, despite all these things, I actually liked the film. Or rather, I liked most of the film.

As I mentioned earlier, the dialogue didn't work for me, but there were a couple quiet actions onscreen that rang true and really captured the awkwardness and overflowing hormones of high-school. One thing that struck me as particularly touching was a two second shot of Jennifer and Needy's hands after they've been tightly clasped at a rock show, the imprint of Jennifer's grasp still visible on Needy's hand, slowly returning from white to rosy pink. And the funny/real/awkward sex scene between Needy and her beau, Chip (Johnny Simmons) was nice. Sound and production design were very good. There were a few really cool set-pieces, but some of the ones that should have been BIG failed to deliver (i.e. the prom).

I found Fox to be a distraction, as well; the real stars are the tough but vulnerable Seyfried, and the (unfortunately lost in the glitter) assured direction of Karyn Kusama, two apsects of the film that I think will be its greatest strengths when everything comes out in the wash. Oh, and JK Simmons was awesome too.

Anyway, not a bad way to kick off MM, and a film that would certainly be fun to throw on with friends a few year's hence. Pretty sure this'll be huge with the high-school set when it comes out theatrically in a month or so, and equally big on DVD among the same group. For genre fans, though, it's a bit too tame. In the Q&A following the film, an audience member asked Cody if she would be offended by a comparison of "her" film (everyone kept referring to is as such, and I almost felt embarrassed for the grievously slighted Kusama) to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and I don't think the comparison is a stretch at all. Jennifer's Body came off a slightly bloodier version of a Buffy episode, which isn't to say it's bad, but merely to place it in a familiar context.

Once the hype and the star power fades, and Jennifer's Body stands naked and shivering, there's just not enough substance behind the beautiful faces and snappy bon-mots to make it worthwhile. However, as Kris said after the film, this one seems to have been tailor-made to provide endlessly quotable dialogue, and to improve with age. Like Heathers. Like Carrie. Unfortunately, Jennifer's Body can't leap through time, and I fear the next 15-20 years on the road to cult classicdom are going to be bumpy.

- the coelacanth

9.09.2009

Midnight Madness 2009 : Jennifer's Body is going to be rad, the New York Times told me so; Kris and I will either confirm or deny this with our live(ish) coverage of TIFF's Midnight Madness

So TIFF is rapidly approaching, and Kris and I have both purchased passes to the Midnight Madness program, which means that for 10 days in a row (9 for me - I'll have to miss George Romero's latest on Saturday to go to some stupid wedding) we'll be entering some sleazy, dimly lit den at midnight only to be spat out into the weird, dirty streets 2 hours later, delirious and dazed, elated and exhausted, our eyes still blinking and sore from the assault of unholy images.

First up is tomorrow night's screening of the highly anticipated Megan Fox/Diablo Cody juggernaut about a girl gone wild, Jennifer's Body.

Friday has the awesome looking Daybreakers, a film about the world 10 years hence where vampires rule and humans are the minority, starring Ethan Hawke, Sam Neill (swoon), and Willem Dafoe.

On Saturday, Kris and, uh, maybe Kendall(?) will check George Romero's newest, Survival of the Dead.  Have fun, ya dicks.

Sunday holds perhaps the most anticipated film for me, the deranged Aussie date flick (how fitting), The Loved Ones.

Monday is the boobs, bullets 'n bombs post-lobotomy Bitch Slap.  That's a movie, by the way.

I'm also super excited for Tuesday's feature, the sequel to 2007's awesome [REC], imaginatively titled [REC] 2.

Solomon Kane is Wednesdays' offering, coming from the mind of the same guy that created Conan, and directed by some pale Brit who hails from the same region as our beloved Mot.

I'm looking forward to Thursday's Symbol, if only because, for me, it holds the biggest bust-or-masterpiece possibility.

Next Friday we'll be treated to the Belgian stop-motion animated feature A Town Called Panic.

And to wrap things up with a tearful goodbye on Saturday the 19th, we get Ong Bak 2: The Beginning, in which we see the formative years of the ass-kickingest Thai kickboxer in the history of everything, ever.

Couple all these screenings with the fact that my erstwhile best friend is going to be visiting from Japan during that period, and my regular work schedule, and you'll forgive me if I seem a little, well, tired.  But excited.  Anyway, follow along here as Kris and I are going to try our best to do shared reviews (not really sure how we'll work out the logistics of that) on each of the films, with perhaps Kendall (or whoever accompanies Kris to Survival of the Dead) chipping in a thought or two.  Buckle up, motherfuckers...

Oh, and to get in the spirit of things, here's an article from The New York Times that talks about Jennifer's Body, the state of modern horror, and girls in the genre.  Boosh.

9.08.2009

Fessenden's Skin and Bones

I'm a huge Larry Fessenden fan (as those elite few who took part in this year's "Hidden Gem" film fest and were subjected to my Habit pick are well aware) and have been wanting to see his latest offering, Skin and Bones, for some time now.  However, as it was part of last year's made for TV series Fear Itself, (generally considered to be a low-rent version of the Masters of Horror project, though they share the same creator and many contributors) the chances looked slim that this would find its way to DVD as a solo release.  Well, Fear Itself is coming out in October as a complete season, and there look to be a few intriguing entries (from Stuart Gordon, Mary Harron and Brad Anderson); however, the shining star in the set seems to be Fessenden's film, and after clicking around on LF's production company's site, I discovered a link to the film online!  Free!  I've only watched a couple minutes so far, but thought I'd share the info with anyone who might be interested in following the progression of this unique voice in modern horror cinema.