Sunday, December 31, 2006

Killer 63 - Ottawa Independant Short Horror Film Collective

Well, well, what better way to celebrate the coming good times of the New Year than by telling you about this fantastic little community event that took place late on December 30th.

That event was Killer 63, a showcase of Independant Horror Shorts, presented at the Mayfair Theater, one of Ottawa's independant film theaters.

The rule was as followed: "A group of filmmakers, mostly from Ottawa - Ontario... conceive of, write, produce, film and complete a short film within a nine week time-frame. The only rules for the inaugural year is that they all must be horror themed and be no longer than nine minutes in length."

A few months ago I attended the IFCO Summer Gala, Ottawa's film co-operative's semi-annual display of its members works, and I was so moved by it that I decided to keep my ear to the ground and be on the watch for other such community events.

I expected an event where I would run into a few people I knew from around the scene, (of which there were indeed a few), content in the fact that I showed up in support of them. To be quite honest, I had a feeling that the films themselves would be 'fine examples of burgeoning potential', or rather 'kitchy low-budge B-Grade ideas that were put on a DVD so that these dudes could see their stuff on the big screen.'

Instead I found myself sincerely impressed by every film that was presented at this show, and I thought I'd give a little review to you, my two loyal readers...

The first film was Marc Adornato's In God We Trust. This montage of news footage focussing on George Bush, the war in Iraq and graphic battle images was more of a documentary, though succeeded in being, as Marc put it, 'a non-fiction horror film'. The hosts of this event chose rather well in making this the first film, as it was the most stomach-turning, given the powerful images of the dead, dying, injured and amputated. A well-edited social commentary indeed.

What followed was my personal favorite, Dead Air, directed by Josh Grace. In this film we find a strange deranged fellow luring drugged individuals to his home, a 'talk show set' of sorts, where he dresses them up as celebrities and proceeds to torture / interview them, twisted commercials included. Josh's acting as host was most impressive as his delivery had quite a haunting madness to it. The gore effects for this one was top-notch. Not to ruin anything for you but here's two words to remember: lawn darts.

Checklist directed by Josh Stafford, was a quirky and funny tale of a writer who reads the work of a fan and decides to drop by for a visit, perhaps in hopes of getting lucky and crossing another reader off his checklist.

Day Camp Massacre directed by Jodi Pittman, is a classic slasher tale, but rather than being set in the rugged wilderness camps of the wonderfully cliché Vorhees Serials, Jodi comically sets it in a day camp. A nice surprise came in the finale when the real hilarity began, including the masked stalker's masked stalker dog.

Jeremy Kennedy's Dreaming In Revelation is not only the most professional, the deepest and the most Avant-Garde piece of High-Art, but it's also genuinely haunting fare. It's hard to imagine that this was all done inside of nine weeks, it's that amazing. Something this impressive had better get far more exposure. Here's hoping.

Brett Kelly's The Tell-Tale Heart was a modern retelling of the old Edgar Allan Poe classic of how a man's murderous guilt confesses for him. Brett in the lead role did quite the fine job indeed.

Ralph Gethings' Reckoning had a freakishly creepy imp thing (seen right) chasing after a man in the woods. Once the man is caught, we learn the reason for the chase and are explained some metaphysical principles of balance along the way. Well done.

Brian Singleton's Death Trike, seemed to be everyone's favorite, judging by the reception. This is the type of low budget film that embraces it's medium rather than trying to hide it. Seeing wires and poled attached to the malignant killer tricycle made what could have been a cute little story into a perfectly kitschy tale. With terrific suspense, a healthy sense of humour and gore galore, you'll certainly enjoy this favoured short.

I guess I could say I was only disappointed with the last entry, which started off by breaking one of the two rules of the event, as this late entry was received well after the December 3rd deadline. In Firuz Daud's film The Door, we find a lone woman haunted by a creature who only we as viewers can see. She searches for that which is amiss, growing more distraught as the creature steps up its disturbing antics. The thing wrong with this story was not the Horror, as that was enjoyable, but the credits. Out of a nine minute time limit, it seems that the credits reserved half that time. As they rolled by, we witnessed a computer animatronic karaoke show while Men at Work's 'Who Can It Be Now?' was playing. Credits included names of the 'Hong Kong' and 'Malysia' (sic) Crew, and had so many names that this did not seem anywhere near independant. Rather than being a contributing member of the spirit of this Horror event, Daud, 'alumni of Ryerson Polytechnic University's Image Arts program' chose to use it as a sounding board to plug himself, most likely to advance his own Dog and Pony show career aspirations. Shame on you. Though the lyrics of the song were appropriate, it simply made me wonder if the movie's plot was devised out of the credits rather than the other way around. If someone out there could explain this guy's motivation, I'd love to hear it.

Allow me to take this opportunity to remind the hosts that they should enforce their own rules and deadlines to ensure that such a disjointed display should not be allowed to taint such a tremendously fantastic event in the future.

All told, the Killer 63 event inspires me not only to make trips to every subsequent event in the future, but the thought that I could be a contributor myself is something very, very intriguing indeed...

Friday, December 15, 2006

Squish's Semi-Annual Best And Worst (December 2006)

'Tis the Christmas season and you all know and wait eagerly for Squish's Best and Worst Picks! As per usual, I'll be showcasing my best and worst rated films since last time. if it's one thing I've realized it's that the more movies you watch, the greater chance you have of finding deeper valleys and higher peaks. Luckily I have not a new worst ever film to report, which is thankful, however Squish's permanent list of top five films has definitely had a shuffle due to Chan-wook Park, but we'll get to that later.
In honour of the bleak and grim weather we Canadians will be facing for the next while, let's start with the stinkers:

The worst movies I've seen in the last six months are:

#1 - Song At Midnight - 22% (I'd Rather Listen To Crickets)

I know I had a blast writing the review, that's for sure, but watching this film because some book told me I had to see it before I died makes me wonder if the intent of the book is, in fact, to attempt to kill you with boredom and ulcer-bursting rage. Granted the China-shipped bootleg I bought had one of the worst translations I had even seen and may not properly reflect the wonder tale of, from what I can understand, a Chinese Phantom of the Opera dying to hump his sister... or something...

#2 - Evil's City - 26% (Metropolic Badness)

There's one good thing about straight to video films: they don't get any hype whatsoever and you can pretty much bet that these are gonna suck. Your expectations are lowered and if you're lucky, you find something with a couple of neat lines, shots or even lessons. Then, there's renting a movie with the intention of laughing at it with friends at how terrible it's going to be. Then, there's being embarrassed and squirming around on the couch and every scene contemplating turning it off, but giving it one more little chance. The worst has got to be the post-production gunfire effects, little starbursts put on the nozzle of the plastic gun. I swear, I don't remember anything else about this pile of dogshit.

#3 - Perils Of Pauline - 28% (The Perils of Bad Entertainment, Ugh.)

Remember hearing about those old films where the girl is tied to the tracks by the moustachioed man in the big black hat? Remember the story where the woman is tied to a log and put on the track of a lumber saw. In both those cases the woman is saved by her knightly macho saviour right? Remember the other perils Pauline went through? I was told that this was the silent serial short that did it all first. I went to the source and instead of finding some sweet gold, I discovered 1914's answer to stunt cinematography... Long shots that show us barely anything. What's worse is that the woman did her own stunts, injuring herself several times in the process, and what did she get for it? Chronic pain that drove her to alcoholism! It's garbage and it's no fun at all to watch.

#4 - Letter From An Unknown Woman - 36% (If Only She'd Have Stayed Unknown!)

Remember how Jar Jar Binks was so bad a character in Star Wars that he ruined scenes he WASN'T in? Well this film takes it one step further. This movie was so bad that when I saw the name Joan Fontaine in the opening credits for Rebecca, I immediate knew it would be a piece of upchucked liver. Luckily Hitchcock did a great job of reining in her talent, unlike director Max Ophuls, who deserves a refreshing exhumation so he can be burned at the great Film stake for this one.

#5 - House of Games - 36% (House Of Lames)

I was understanding of the fact that the previous four films were old and obscure, or straight to video caca, but when I bought this, it was because Roger Ebert said it was the best movie of the year. I should have known better than to trust a guy who used to write boobie scenes for Russ Myers. This is the story of a con game, and it's the most predictable film you'll see all year... and Ebert's a goof. The only reason this isn't as bad as #4 is because I was able to mock it on occasion.

And that's that. What's really great is that I've seen tons more fantastic films than bad ones, and even one that's reached the #2 spot of Squish's All-Time Favorites List, but we'll get to that yet.

Here's the five best movies I've seen in the last six month:

#5 - Dead Man - 92% (Knocks You Flat On Your Ass)

I found this to be on nice surprise. Turns out I'm a fan of the Western. That aside, I like tales of the underdog trying to deal with a messed up situation. I also like stories where the characters have a strong streak of the Lynchian, while all being framed in some nice black and white wildernesses. Johnny Depp is the cherry on top, and as simple tales go, this one is rich and runs deep. Enjoy.

#4 - Rear Window - 92% (Sneak A Peek at Perfection)

I know this is on numerous best films ever lists, and now I know why. You should too. Aside from mentioning that Grace Kelly has such a stunning presence in this as to make one weep at the fact that no one on earth has ever accomplished the grace of her namesake. Oh right and there's this awesome storyline about a guy who looks out at his neighbors and sees certain things amiss... right, that part.

#3 - Fanny and Alexander 92% - (Knocked Me On My Fanny)

The acting is unsurpassed. It's not because the actors know how to stand in one place properly, look natural or deliver their lines with impeccable timing, it's because the resonance of their words and their emotions is felt so deeply that it shakes your very foundation. As period pieces go this is probably my favorite. Definitely check it out.

#2 - True Romance 94% - (Truly Amazing)

Granted, this may have gotten such a bias due to the nostalgia and recall value, but isn't that what makes a great film? I have no shame in declaring I love Quentin Tarantino and this is one is written by him. Every actor in the universe is in this one and they're all super-wicked-awesome-hyper-cool. Dig it.

The best movie I've seen in a long time:

#1 - Sympathy For Lady Vengeance - 96% - (Perfection From Lady Vengeance)

I suggest this film to every adult our there just because the film is multi-faceted in its appeal. Fans of the Art-House will appreciate the highly stylized cinematography with just enough special effects added to give it an added edge without overwhelming the scenes. The storyline is extremely human, not to mention an extreme look at humanity pressed to the limit. Chan-wook Park is my new favorite director, and because of this frikken guy, I have to shatter my etched in stone tablets 'Top 5 Favorite Films Ever' list. How inconvenient, and I really liked the font!

Alright now in closing: it's official, is going up soon. I know I said that six months ago, but I really mean it this time, and it's one gorgeous site, yesiree!

Monday, December 11, 2006

Travelling Alone (1995)

This rather instructive video teaches how not to draw such attention as would put a woman travelling alone in potential danger. Picture Quiz: Safe or Risky?

Genre: Drama (Canada)

Starring: Lorrane Mackie; Venetia Marie

Directed By: Bradley H. Luft

Overview: This is a public service announcement meant to caution women that go business travelling alone, as told in three tales of based on real event accounts... but really it's about laughing at the big hair.

Acting: There's two ways of looking at this. 1.) Public service announcements are rarely commissioned on a grand scale. Never before or since old school ASTAR segments done by the War Amps have such coolness ever been associated with the PSA. One must forgive the low-budget and unpolished acting in favour of the overall message, much as it is with movies seen in science class... 2.) OH MY DISCO AWESOME GENIUS HILARIOUS!
Rating: 6

Cinematography: As it is with the PSA, the fashion trends and acting styles are at least five years behind their contemporary film counterparts. I would have dated this film at around 1989-1991. The best parts, besides the fashions of course, have got to be officer whoever inside a portrait studio walking and posing amidst jump cuts of himself facing different directions. Wow, erratic can be fun!
Rating: 7

Script: Granted, the delivery of the events was less that inspired, but there were some choice moments of 1980s chauvinistic dialogue and motivations. Go figure you'd find such a thing in a rape PSA.
Rating: 7

Plot: When we started watching the opening scene with a woman in a diner who goes outside and discovers a flat, only to be helped out by the friendly assailant, we knew right away that this would be the sort of tale where people do stupid things just to point out how they shouldn't do such stupid things. Well we were mistaken. These tales unfold in such a way that they're very believable enough while still being veneered in this odd style.
Rating: 8

Mood: Nothing kills a 'laugh out loud at the public service announcement from the big hair days that marked the end of the 80s era' mood like a hyper-realistic and terrifying account from someone who was victimized and almost raped and killed. What a downer. What's this woman's problem? Why can't she realize what we're here for? We didn't want to see women crying over it, we wanted to see dudes in tight shorts acting terribly. Holy jumpin' stop being so believable.
Rating: 8

Much like this family, the ladies in Travelling Alone decide to keep their hairstyles on the less extreme side of the 80s.

Overall Rating: 72% (Take A Group Trip!)

Aftertaste: I was at work restocking the supplies in the cabinet I never go to, and what do I find but this lovely tape sitting there with a rather dramatic and bouffanted lady on the cover. This is the type of thing you come across and realize, "Friday night, have a few people over and check out this 38 minutes of good times!" It was, except for that stupid serious bit... Party Pooper.
Ignore the score, really. It's about the badness of the effect, let the rest slide.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Psycho (1960)

Hitchcock! Hitchcock! Hitchcock!
And kinda crazy too!

Genre: Horror Thriller

Starring: Anthony Perkins (Catch-22; Psycho II), Janet Leigh (The Naked Spur; Touch Of Evil)

Directed By: Alfred Hitchcock (Strangers On A Train; Shadow Of A Doubt)

Overview: Oh my God it's Norman Bates and a dead girl in a shower.

Acting: When comparing the actors to the Gus Van Sant fiasco version, I'll tell you that the original is far better. I was impressed most of all by the role of Anthony Perkin (of course) with his gitchy little disarming smile. Janet Leigh was fine and great and sexy, but I was surprisingly impressed with Martin Balsam's (12 Angry Men; Breakfast At Tiffany's) role of the touch-of-noir donning private dick.
Rating: 8

Cinematography: The best way to describe the feel of this category as 'creepy cool' There's these neat little pan-ins, the mirrored aviator shades of the curious cop, the dramaticaly freakish shots during the murder scenes, like that fantastic focus on Janet Leigh's eye, and my God that house. This film is a pleasure to look at. The lens dances as it warps perception and takes you on an exciting little trip indeed.
Rating: 9

Script: "A boy's best friend is his mother..." - Norman Bates

The dialogue is natural, appropriately expository, lets us know what's going on in an exciting and believable way... until our little lady shows up at the Bates Motel. At that point it twists itself up into this creepy little knot of suspicion and oddity, Norman's perfectly written. From then on you realize how unique everyone is, from the private dick to the town's sheriff and the missing woman's family. This is a fantastic script.
Rating: 8

Plot: Different, trend-setting, completely unexpected. Imagine being in a theater in 1960. You're watching a woman steal from her boss and run away, until she holes herself up in a hotel. The last thing you would expect is that that plot getting turned on it's ear when the woman gets famously murdered. It makes you wonder where the movie's going from that point on. Audiences were stunned. Yes we're far more jaded today, but though this ending is relatively predictable, it's that way because so many others have copied all the twists and turns that were fist taken here..
Rating: 9

Mood: Firmly rooted in the contemporary modern day, Hitchcock managed to stylize this film not with the use of colour (in fact this is shot in glorious Black and White), but rather with the expressionistic angles and lenses that I know him for best. Besides that, you can guess yourself how much of an impact this has just by looking at the ominous house and how it has been fused into the minds of film fans everywhere, into the minds of people everywhere, even.
Rating: 8

Perkins' role in Psycho actually hurt his career, as his reputation of an attractive boy-next-door was shattered by this perfromance.

Overall Rating: 84% (Crazy!)

Aftertaste: I had no idea that there were three sequels to this movie, not including the Gus Van Sant carbon copy. I had no idea that Anthony Perkins directed one of them, and I had no idea that he was bisexual, or that he died of AIDS in '92. One thing I DO know about Anthony Perkins, is that he has no relation with the ice cream chain...

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Sympathy For Lady Vengeance (2005) * Top Picks * * Viewed Twice *

Chan-wook Park is my new God to be appeased.

Genre: Drama Mystery Thriller (South Korea)

Starring: Yeong-ae Lee (The Gift, One Fine Spring Day), Min-sik Choi (
Oldboy, Brotherhood)

Directed By: Chan-Wook Park (Oldboy, Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance)

Overview: After having served thirteen years in prison, Geum-Ja seeks vengeance on the man who betrayed her. (There's so much, much more but I dare not ruin this for anyone).

Acting: Now that I've seen a film this good, I wonder how much acting is responsible for making or breaking a film. Without a good script an actor is left to the hounds, granted, yet no matter how well something is written, if an actor doesn't have it or doesn't get the right direction, it can fall apart just as easily. All this to say: lucky someone with a story this well-planned and perfected also had a team with skill to deliver it just so. Every single role in this film is an act of perfection, directed in kind.

I'm talking effin' halos.
Rating: 10

Cinematography: Peter Greenway, eat your heart out, then regurgitate it up and eat it out again because once just isn't enough. It seems that Chan-Wook took a few lessons in colour composition from Peter, as well as from other South Korean directors, but this isn't in any way pretentious. This film's cinematography rivals those of my favorite (and also hyper-stylized) films, Requiem For A Dream and Fight Club, however this is far less subtle. The intensity never stops from wardrobe to locations, from lenses and filters to angles, even right down to props (didja SEE that custom handgun?). I remember rolling my eyes at some point and saying "Could you STOP being perfect? It's distracting me from the story."
Rating: 10

Script: The magic of this film is that motivations are clear enough without words, hell, silence and score may even have been MORE effective at some points because the way this plays out, the subtext, the drive, the characters are written so well that their actions become so obvious so quick, and all without being predictable.
Rating: 9

Plot: The worst part of this movie was how difficult it was to follow. Like 21 Grams, we have an intense semi-linear timeline that jumps back into the past perhaps even a little too often. Had I known about that going in, it would have made things a little easier, so there's my gift to you. As for the story itself, the constantly changing evolution in the character arc in this is severe and the way this woman resolves her problems is one of the most original vengeance plots you ever could have conceived.
Rating: 9

Mood: My favorite part of the film was the constant effort put into combining style with form visually, while including a haunting and repetitive score, just like Kronos Quartet did in Requiem For A Dream. Add to this the intensity of the characters, the stoic drive of those involved, odd and strange and highly symbolic dream sequences, and you have here a film that plays in the field of high-art while staying deeply rooted in logic and humanity, dark as it may be. My God, I have to see this again.
Rating: 10

Anyone who goes to so much trouble to have a custom-made handgun this cool... untouchable in my books.

Overall Rating: 96% (Perfection From Lady Vengeance)

Aftertaste: This stays with you. This is important. This is original. This is art film, action film, thriller, drama and mystery all put together with such perfection that I will safely call this one of the top films of the decade. It's just so right, so honest, unabashed, and what the future of all film should strive to be: a spectacle for the eye, a tale of humanity pushed to the limits of reason, a brilliant comment and an innovation leaps and bounds beyond the imaginable. This had weaseled it's way up the chain to my Top 5 favorite films, and I need to go own a copy.

I dare you not to like this.

Originally Reviewed September 16th, 2006, see comments for re-viewed review.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Deathrace 2000 (1975)

Yes, mofukas... it IS that cool!

Genre: Sports Action Sexploitation Sci-Fi Comedy

Starring: David Carradine (Kill Bill: Vol. 2;"Kung Fu"), Sylvester Stallone (Rocky Balboa; Judge Dredd)

Directed By: Paul Bartel (Eating Raoul)

Overview: Welcome to the Year 2000 and welcome to the Transcontinental Road Race where running people over isn't murder, it's scoring!

Acting: Machine Gun Joe Viterbo, that's Sylvester Stallone's name in this. As for Carradine, he's Frankenstein. Say what you will about one of the first starring roles Sly's ever done, he uses what he knows, firing off machine guns with his crooked mouth and getting punchy with men and women alike. The actors know to go to a realm beyond the serious, but except for that one fight scene choreography, the talent is terrific.
Rating: 8

Cinematography: Honestly, the angles and the shots are really dynamic. There's even some healthy doses of good gore when the killing happens, and for as much as they may not be completely believable, the explosions are grand and plentiful, be they planes, cars, or bombs. Did I mention all the T'n'A?
Rating: 8

Script: "She was a great, dear friend of mine and I shall remember her forever howling down that freeway in the sky, knocking over... the angels."

Imagine sports commentators who love the sport they're reporting, during the Olympics being held in their home town. Imagine the energy. The commentator dialogue has that feel and though the biggest issues I had were in the logistics of the actual scoring system (the math works out wrong), the one liners are witty and catchy, with my favorite being "It's Euthanasia Day at the geriatric centre" when the hospital lays out the old folks in front of the road. Consistent witty groaners make this really enjoyable.
Rating: 8

Plot: And best of all, rather than just having a story about a run-people over and make it first From New York to L.A. race, there's the whole resistance movement going around trying to abolish it through sabotage and pirate broadcasts, and we learn early on that the favoured Frankenstein's very own navigator is in on the plot to assassinate the president. It's got depth! I know, it's totally surprising!
Rating: 8

Mood: I read that the first script was a serious one. When completed they decided it was a rather vile premise to be taking seriously, so they dumbed it down and laughed it up a notch. That's what makes this movie great, the overarching comedic streak to it. What you'll love best of all though is the year 2000 as seen through the eyes of 1975. Bubbled cities in the sky, hilarious outfits and the technology all give it that 70s kitsch that is coming back with force today.
Rating: 8

And check out the navigator's fuzzy little hat

Overall Rating: 80% (2000 Laughs!)

Aftertaste: This is one of those movies that has to be seen for the pure kitsch of it. It's hardcore seventies style and though not a milestone film is really fun to watch and quote from. usually when watching something like this, you know that one or two categories are really going to suffer, but even with my scrutinizing eyes I could find only joy in this fifth or so viewing. And it's really short too.