Author Archives: Luke Sneyd
It begins with an act of war. Years ago, humanity and the Cylons fought a destructive war to a draw, so the Cylons withdrew. For forty years, nobody heard a peep from them, this rebellious robot race that humans had created. Each year, the armistice dictated they would meet at a distant outpost, a lonely space station hanging in the void. Each year, humans sent a representative, and the Cylons never showed. As the pilot to the brilliant reboot of Battlestar Galactica begins, a military attaché finds himself nodding off, probably for the tenth year running, sitting at a desk contemplating the empty hallway where the Cylons have again failed to appear. He glances at a folder of specs, centurion designs, the robot soldiers familiar to viewers of the original 1978 series. With a pneumatic whoosh and a clang, the far door opens. The startled attaché stares agog as two strange new centurions march into view, forbidding machine-guns protruding from their fists. They come to attention and the guns transform into only slightly less disturbing long fingered hands. But they’re not the strangest sight. For what comes through the door next is a beautiful human woman, in a captivating red dress suit. She draws uncomfortably close, studying him intently, and asks “are you alive?” “Yes,” he says breathlessly. “Prove it,” she demands, coming in close and they kiss. Outside, the station is engulfed in the titanic shadow of a Cylon base star, a missile arcing toward it and exploding. As she kisses the now terrified man, she says “it has begun.” The deadly hook is baited, and we’re plunged into the genocidal hell of Battlestar, in my book right up there with The Wire for one of the best series of the 2000s.
What was your first wuxia film? Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)? Zhang Yimou’s Hero (2003), or House of Flying Daggers (2004)? Maybe an old classic, like the Shaw Brothers’ The One-Armed Swordsman (1967)? With its balletic, often on wires martial arts, loner warrior heroes and sumptuous period trappings, chances are you’ve been watching and loving wuxia movies longer than you realize. While Ang Lee undoubtedly brought the martial arts swords and sorcery of wuxia to the Western masses, it’s even more of a surprise to find an arthouse legend taking on the genre. After an absence of eight years, Taiwanese master Hou Hsiao-Hsien bends wuxia to his own unique sensibilities with his latest opus, The Assassin (2015).
Frankenstein’s monster is one of the true classic horror tales. It’s incredible to think that the original novel, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus appeared in 1818 (anonymously—Shelley wouldn’t lay claim to her creation till five years later), almost two hundred years ago. The story’s utterly captured human imagination, and been told in different ways countless times. From a doctor’s overweening ambition to steal the power of life from God to the muddled motivations of his mutant creation, Frankenstein and his poor monster have fascinated endlessly. Over the years, so many retellings have drained the story of its potency. I, Frankenstein (2014) didn’t do much of anything for anybody. So it’s refreshing to see somebody bring something new to the operating table. Patchwork (2015) is one of the closing films tonight at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival, and it’s easy to see why the programmers picked it. Funny, gory and with a sly deconstructive eye, Patchwork turns Frankenstein’s monster over to the ladies, and she ain’t no bride.
I’m new to the blood-drenched idiosyncrasies of Sion Sono, the Japanese filmmaker getting a double-bill tonight at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival. Sono takes the word prolific and makes a mockery of it: both Tag and Love & Peace were released this year, as part of five feature-length movies he’s made over the course of 2015. He’s eccentric, and a bonafide enfant terrible. Love Exposure (2008) is a weird exploration of cults, Catholicism, transvestism, and upskirt photography. Suicide Club (2001) traces a rash of suicides that follow 54 schoolgirls jumping to their deaths in front of a subway train, its detective lead wrestling with the byzantine connections of a surreal epidemic. And surrealism is at the heart of what Sono is up to. Tag opens with a bunch of uniformed Japanese schoolgirls on a tour bus, laughing and talking together. Until the bus ahead is ripped apart for no reason. The heroine Mitsuko (Reina Treindl) bends down in the aisle to pick up her pen, and is the only one spared as her bus is literally sliced in half along its length—she stands up bewildered, the roof gone, surrounded by bloody torsos as the bus rolls along the highway. It’s visceral, gripping and deranged, but can Sono keep that up for a whole film?
By the numbers and with its fair share of familiar faces, Gridlocked (2015) is a serviceable action flick showing tonight at Toronto After Dark. In the style of The Expendables franchise, it’s a bullets and brawling bruiser with cheeseball jokes, some wincingly gruesome violence and probably $50 million less of aging testosterone-fueled ego. If that gets you excited, then take the safety off, rook. Let’s dance.
Film is a fragile medium. It’s easy to forget in this digital age that so much of our cinematic history is committed to old-fashioned celluloid, the plastic spools wound on reels that rattle and clack on their way through the illuminated projector gate, giving us our magic in the dark. And celluloid is decidedly impermanent. The winding and travel of projection can damage film prints. And they fade, dry out, flake and become brittle over the years, even when they’re kept in optimal conditions. Film preservation has become a big concern, with directors like Martin Scorsese trying to raise awareness about how much film history might be lost if efforts aren’t made to keep these prints around.
TIFF has gone to great efforts to preserve films in its collection. This October, they’re breaking out a rarity, Canada’s first horror film, and first 3D feature as well. It’s a little known picture called The Mask, directed by Julian Roffman and released in 1961. In the film, a psychiatrist comes into possession of an ancient tribal mask. When worn, the mask assails him with nightmarish visions of monsters, occultists, and ritual torture. Believing that he has discovered a portal to the deepest recesses of his mind, he continues to explore this terrifying new psychic world — even at the risk of his sanity. It’s a dark, malevolent journey, with a riot of psychedelic 3D imagery every time the film intones for the doctor, and the audience, to “PUT THE MASK ON”. A definitive version of the film hasn’t been seen in decades, but through the restoration efforts of TIFF and the 3-D Film Archive of New Jersey, The Mask has been returned to its full, dizzyingly surreal glory. I spoke with the TIFF Director of Programming Jesse Wente about The Mask‘s strange journey, and TIFF’s challenging restoration.
One of the many cool things Toronto After Dark does is they’ve pitched a wide tent for themselves. The gory heart of the festival is and will probably always be grand guignol horror, with its gouts of blood and maniacal glee. But they like to stretch out in other directions, too. Friday was sci-fi night, and I caught an offbeat futuristic thriller of sorts, a weird little gem called Synchronicity (2015). Not really a horror film per se, director Jacob Gentry’s edgy sci-fi noir is a time-traveling paean to Ridley Scott’s 80s masterpiece Blade Runner (1982). But can a low-budget indie live up to one of the most influential movies of the past forty years? Is that the future we’re living in?
Fairies are creepy. Maybe not fairies, but certainly faeries. The fantastic creatures of celtic lore have a decided dark side, and you’re wise to give them a wide berth. In his video introduction to the screening of The Hallow (2015) at Toronto After Dark, director Corin Hardy advised the audience to keep their iron tools and flashlights handy, to ward off the malign faerie folk. We giggled nervously, having left our wrought iron at home. What a mistake. “If you trespass on them, they will trespass on you,” the movie’s introduction says, and boy did we get trespassed on, by an eerie, unsettling creature feature as relentless as the demons in the woods.
Like being scared witless? Do gouts of candy-apple-red blood sluicing across the screen make your heart beat like an overclocked dynamo? Maybe throw in a little zany comedy, too, along with the bumps and the jumps and the psychos in the night? Well fear aficionados, have I got the festival for you. Toronto After Dark opens on Thursday, October 15th, and this year’s gorefest promises thrills and chills galore.
I’m firing a friggin’ blaster! On Hoth! Yes, I’m a hated Imperial stormtrooper crushing the Rebel Alliance. But dude! I’m firing a friggin’ blaster! On Hoth! Electronic Arts decided they’d better play-test their monster franchise reboot and see if this shooter could handle a million fanpeeps before it comes out for real. So yesterday, like the Deathstar powering up its planet-searing cannon, the beta for Star Wars Battlefront hit the console stores. Download it we must. But is the Force with EA’s anticipated title? Brace yourself for the jump into hyperspace, and let’s take a look.