Category Archives: movie review
The TIFF Bell Lightbox, Toronto’s foremost review cinema house, is putting on an extensive stop-motion animation retrospective for the public over the next few months. Titled ‘Magic Motion: The Art of Stop-Motion Animation,’ the first screenings are set to take place this weekend. Two of the initial weekend screenings, King Kong (1933) and The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926), are particularly noteworthy features in the development of cinema. Both films laid an early blueprint for the future of action-adventure motion pictures. Read the rest of this entry
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.
Everyone who watches movies knows about the anti-hero. Hell, there are entire fandoms devoted to monstrous murderers in horror movies like Freddy Krueger, Michael Myers, and Jason Voorhees. Thanks to the subtle nuances of acting, complex narratives, or the vicarious thrills of watching dumbasses get slaughtered, every cinema fan can sympathize with (or root for) even the most despicable characters. It’s unwise, however, to have a main character do something as cold-blooded and boneheaded as dump a favorite pet out in a field to fend for itself within the first 20 minutes of a movie. Yet that’s exactly what The Hexecutioners does.
The oddly named Malison McCourt is not having a good first day at her new job. She’s a palliative technician who works for LifeSource Closures, a company providing euthanasia services thanks to the recently passed Proposition 177 and the legalization of assisted suicide. Her first client is a grumpy old man who is decidedly not interested in hearing Malison’s prepared speech. It gets worse when she administers the potion that will end the patient’s life: the formerly comatose woman bolts up in her bed, vomits, and then accuses Malison of being a murderer.
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.
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?
I’m easy to please and, if a movie features aliens, zombies, or ghosts, then I’m right there. Sitting in the back row of a theatre with my coat collar pulled up around my neck in case I needed to cover my eyes…or my screams, I anticipated being scared right out of my horror loving mind. The reviews for Guillermo Del Toro’s new gothic romance film, Crimson Peak tantalized the ghost investigator side of me. But, did the film live up to the hype? To find out, you’ll need to follow me to Allerdale Hall. Read the rest of this entry
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.
It’s been a long, slow evolution. But like most change, when the moment hits, it hits with force. And it’s everywhere. Exhibit A: the badass female action hero. The road from Pam Grier’s shotgun wielding avenger in Coffy (1973) to Charlize Theron’s fearsome Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) has taken over forty years, but by now there’s no doubt that a woman can carry an action flick. And rock the house! TIFF is celebrating this signal achievement with a program called Beyond Badass: Female Action Heroes, and they’re showing some of the best.