Symbol is Japanese comic legend Hitoshi MatsumotoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s second feature, the follow up to his lovably weird, boldly alienating and completely hilarious Dai Nipponjin (aka Big Man Japan, 2007). Two seemingly unrelated stories play in parallel in the film. In one, Mexican luchador Escargot Man must face the seemingly insurmountably strong and youthful Tequila Joe in a wrestiling match while his young son looks on. The other features Matsumoto as a nameless, pyjama-clad unfortunate who wakes up inside a large, seemingly endlessly tall white void of a room with walls studded with stylized cherubsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ penises that, when depressed, cause various household objects (chopsticks and sushi, space heaters, 3-d glasses) to be dispensed into the room. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll let you read that again.
Symbol is a near-masterpiece of weird, conceptual, existential humour and expertly handled, perfectly sustained and timed slapstick comedy of the oldest, best school. I can think of no comic actor other than Matsumoto who could pull something like this film offÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d have to go back to Andy Kaufman or before him Chaplin to find someone who could theoretically create a long-form, slow-boil whopper of a joke the way Matsumoto has, one that never gets boring, the set-up for the ultimate punch-line disguised and hidden behind masterfully funny vaudevillian shtick. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s one of the funniest filmÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve seen in the past couple of years, and it looks like a Tom Friedman art installation, and itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s smarter than I think I can really get a handle on. I loved it utterly. Completely bizarre, radically funny and oddly, wonderfully moving, and I won't say anything more. 9.5/10
Ever since some young dude drank a gourd-full of hallucinogenic wasp paste and stumbled out into the barren tundra to become a man, he alone against the cruelty of nature, people have been subjecting themselves to uncomfortable extremes in the name of self discovery. People free climb sheer rock faces. People run hundred mile races through the desert where theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re pretty much guaranteed to poo themselves and not even have enough sauce in their body to cry about it.
I go to Midnight Madness.
10 movies, 10 nights getting punted out of a downtown theatre at 2:30 in the morning to wander through the concrete heck that is Yonge and Dundas square. It teaches me about myself. Time dilates and contracts. Sometimes I feel really tired. They won't let me bring in food so I get kind of hungry. I find myself cheering Kevin Sorbo. I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t like Kevin Sorbo. Why am I cheering. What is happening. The room smells cheese poured on microwaved nerd.
Rajo, my movie-going partner, flipped over the promo card for Bitch Slap as we sat in line, looked at the gun, the boobs, and said Ã¢â‚¬Å“IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m excitedÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ this could be good.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ã¢â‚¬Å“No, it couldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢tÃ¢â‚¬Â, I said.
I learned something about myself. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m a genre movie pessimist. I believed then that itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not impossible to theoretically make a well-made, enjoyable Russ-Meyer-and-Foxy-Brown-inspired chicksploitation movie with big boobs and tough babes in 2009, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s just impossible that it had actually happened. Possible to do, impossible for someone to have done it, now. The circumstances that the original movies were made under were too weird, the people were too fetishistically dedicated to their odd craft. These people, these Kevin Sorbo people, they couldn't have done it.
I was right. They hadnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t. Bitch Slap isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t very good, at all. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a movie about killer babes that have shootouts and water fights and chaste lesbian make-out scenes in the desert. The story is a muddled pastiche of action movie tropes and half the film is purposefully bad green-screen stuff in front of gaudy backdrops, and the other half or more happens in the same 10 feet of sand in front of a trailer. Two of the villains have amped up their performances so much, going so far over the top (the baseline established by the rest of the film already fever-pitch heaving-bosom sky-high) that it becomes literally and without exaggeration impossible to understand what theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re saying. The actors are emoting so hard, at such a pitch that all that grinds out of their mouths is a strangled series of grunts and whistles. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s awful, its unpleasant, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s gaudy and worse, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s boring.
I may be a pessimist, but IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m right I guess. The boob glass is half empty and the space in the glass thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not boob juice or whatever isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t even air, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s terrible poison air that will make you feel sad about yourself if you try to drink in the small meager amount of boob juice in the glass. 3/10.
Sean Byrne's The Loved Ones is a charmer for horror fans, a charmingly revolting mash up of Hostel and The People Under the Stairs, with none of the former's glitzy nihilism and enough of the latter's goofy implausibility to create a harrowing, hilarious amalgam that'll entertain the hell out of you without making you feel bad about yourself as a person and your choice of entertainment.
Brent (Xavier Samuel) is a troubled high school student dealing with the loss of his father and his grieving mother. The afternoon prior to his highschool prom, he encounters some trouble and I know that is a terrible description, but so few horror films maintain the ability to surprise that I'm going to be extra careful to not ruin any of The Loved One's impressive ability to shock. Suffice it to say that it's an astoundingly deftly handled combination of light-hearted macabre humour and grisly, chilling violence. It does what I'd thought impossible, really, in that it leavens the morbid, transgressive gore of films like Ãƒâ‚¬ l'intÃƒÂ©rieur and the aforementioned Hostel with solid, character-based humour and somehow, a spirit of good-heartedness. It's incredibly, astoundingly well-acted with a top-notch score, and pretty good set design. It's also a masterclass in horror film editing: as a low-budget film, much of the emotional/psychological weight of the film has to be constructed with shot selection, pacing and cuts rather than effects or fancy impossible camerawork or incredibly expensive sets, and the cutting on The Loved Ones is top notch all the way, an absolute pleasure. To pick nits, it has a clunker of a sub-plot that does little more than function as comedic relief and release valve for the considerable tension that the main storyline builds, and its irrelevancy is distracting.
It's by far the maddest, best Midnight Madness film so far this year, and it's a shame it showed on Sunday to a 3/4-full house while the marginal Jennifer's Body and its crew of stars breezed in, opened the thing, and took off. The Loved Ones is a film that deserves to be seen, a genre freakout worthy of as much attention as it can get, which I hope is a lot. Truly enjoyable, truly independent, truly scary. 8.5/10.
Zombie movie legend George A. Romero and his recent films occupy an odd niche, to say the least. Having basically invented the zombie genre while at the same time arguably perfecting it with his first film, 1968's Night of the Living Dead, Romero made two sequels that each tried to expand on the social commentary-amidst-the-carnage he pioneered in the first. The first sequel, 1978's Dawn of the Dead is great while the second, Day of the Dead (1985), which introduced us to Romero's idea of zombie as degenerate, trainable creature rather than animated magical eating machine, is not. Then he stopped making zombie movies for 20 years.
In that time, a new generation of filmmakers and comic book authors expanded on his zombie vision, and a new generation of fans came to revere Romero as a master and pioneer. He's probably one of those things. None of his three late-period films, Land of the Dead (2005), Diary of the Dead (2008) and this year's Survival of the Dead are very good: they're technically unsophisticated, not particularly scary and painfully heavy-handed with alternately simplistic and totally baffling social commentary. But there are thousands and thousands of fans that love them, that enjoy the shit out of them, that will dress up like zombies and march to Yonge and Dundas square to see him accept some award from a local politician. They cheer every spurt of too-red cgi blood, they laugh at every clunker of a joke and every cheesy throw-away tough-guy one-liner. This is not a bunch of young people latching on to the bad-taste work of a director like John Waters. whose films "offended mainstream sensibilities". The bad taste in Romeros recent films is not provocative, not transgressive, not transvestites eating dog shit. The bad taste from Romero's latest film, for example comes from its basic flaws, its technical and tonal gaps and dips, its weird pacing, its uneven acting and incomprehensible plot. Stuff happens for no reason. Burly actors pitch hammy temper tantrums after other characters die for no explicable reason. Motivations are muddled or missing entirely. Zombies ride through scenes on horseback, apropos of nothing, and nobody notices save a toqued fisherman who remarks flatly "That was my daughter". Even the premise is enough to make you wonder if you're just not getting the joke: Survival of the Dead, tells the story of two feuding Irish patriarchs, one a roguish sea captain, the other a old-west land baron replete with wichester rifle and black cowboy hat. It's set on an island off the coast of Delaware. Seriously. It's easy to miss the joke. To get it, you just have to not care.
The crowd loved it. He's in a hell of a weird spot, Romero. He's a star, a living cinematic legend to an army of devoted fans who can appreciate the hell out of his films, and do, and will. It's not about how good they are, with Romero and Survival of the Dead and the rest of films and his fans, because the film's aren't very good. It's about something else. It's not about advancing the art of genre filmmaking, it's about paying homage its past. Romero's not going to have a moment with his fans like Kubrick did with his after Eyes Wide Shut where millions of eager devotees collectively shrugged their shoulders and got wistful for older better films. As long as Romero keeps making films with lurching starving ghouls, he will always have an audience because seeing his films for these young kids (and I was one of them, lionizing him after watching Dawn of the Dead as a kid and feeling like I had unearthed a secret, hidden treasure) isn't about being moved or scared or entertaned or informed by the actual story or it's actors, it's about communing with an anarchic cinematic spirit, and with each other, part of a zombie horde, out walking at midnight to the theatre, strange and powerful and leaking fluids onto the pavement. It's about being a zombie, which, hell... they had a hell of a lot more fun watching the movie than I did, which is probably my problem, not theirs. 5/10
Here's where you can see the video version of our review.
Building on the genre-clash crossover theme that was solidly established the first night of TIFF's Midnight Madness with the slasher flick cum teen girl comedy Jennifer's Body, programmer Colin Geddes has delivered another interesting hybrid: the futuristic, sci-fi-vampire film Daybreakers.
Set 10 years into the future and after the bat-spawned vampire plague converted the vast majority of humans into blood-sucking chain-smoking nocturnal regular joes who have to shave by watching themselves in a video feed, Daybreakers is directed by the twin Spierig brothers. They're MM vets, these dudes, as their last film (2003's Undead) famously closed out the beloved Uptown theatre here in Toronto, the still-mourned theatre that was home to the midnight TIFF screenings before they moved to the cavernous, impersonal and enormous Ryerson hall.
Ethan Hawke plays vampire Edward, the reticent, kind-hearted Chief Hematologist of the giant multi-national corporation tasked with farming the remaining few humans for their blood and developing a substitute to feed the billions of vampires teetering on the edge of starvation as resources dwindle. The film is a neat enough allegory any number of take-your-pick conservation issues, food, water, oil; one of the things that makes the film work is that it's sci-fi of the best kind, true speculative fiction that talks about what's happening now, or could happen soon, through a lens that both abstracts it slightly and makes it easier (if at times much too much and too obvious) to see. The Spierig bros' film is entertaining from the start, it takes an immediate heart-warming leap into territory any genre film-lover will like. The film says "ok, this is a vampire movie, it's in the future, the humans lost, the vampires have their own society now" and instead of just telling that story, the story of the battle, Daybreakers takes that as pat and asks "ok, now that you've accepted that in the prologue, what happens to vampire society when it runs out of blood?".
It's joyous just in its premise, so reminiscent and redolent of true movie-monster-nerd basement fantasy conversations about who would win between Dracula and Predator or what would happen if the Nazis had werewolf soldiers that any number of technical shortcomings, like a jumbled, poorly paced and overlong second act or a handful of not-very-good performances can be overlooked easily and gladly. While much of the film feels (and not just due to the presence of Ethan Hawke, who oddly spends the last half an hour of the film looking exactly like Han Solo) like vampire Gattaca as the machinations of the rebel-underground-vs-evil-corporate-overlords-and-there's-also-a-family-betrayal-subplot revolve, there are a handful of truly scary, truly sublime scenes of the best kind of vampire carnage, gory and stylish and terrifying. For lovers like me of genre freakouts, Daybreakers offers a flawed but thoroughly enjoyable, happy-making trip, one foot firmly in vampire flick tradition and the other in entertaining, creative and original speculative territory. I was sold the moment I didn't see Ethan Hawke's reflection in the rear view mirror of a sleek, futured-up Chevy cruising through the best Blade Runner future two Australian indie filmmaker brothers could create. 8.1/10.
Michael J. BassettÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s adaptation of Robert E. HowardÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Solomon Kane is the exact kind of film that IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d have somehow managed to see when I was 12 or 13 and fallen completely in love with. Thanks in part I guess to the fact that I havenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t grown up that much, I still love it. A pure, unsophisticated (in the best, most honest way) adventure film not designed to appeal to multiple demographics, it doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t get goofy to skew young, or have much in the way of romance. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s just a damned, pissed off dude with swords, hacking and slashing his way through the demonic hordes of evil men stopping him from finding the evil sorcerer that holds the key to saving his immortal soul.
Like the adaptations of Robert E. HowardÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s other, more famous creation Conan the Barbarian, Solomon Kane is unremittingly dark: itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s scary, dirty and violent through and through. At the same time, however, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s got a really charming innocence, a freedom from gimmick or the need to cast splashy stars. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d watch Solomon Kane or something like it every other week, and gladly give up all the $200M dollar blockbusters, good and bad, to secure a steady supply of well crafted pulpy adventure films, pirate films, jungle explorer films, swordfight films, genres that are largely ignored, to our detriment. The filmÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s complete absence of irony, its lack of a need to Ã¢â‚¬Å“put a fresh spinÃ¢â‚¬Â on an old genre is refreshing and a pure pleasure. The genre doesn't need a "fresh spin". Solomon Kane is proof it just needs filmmakers that like the material and a cast that can act.
James Purefoy is pitch-perfect as the troubled, murderous puritan, and the rest of the cast, including vets Pete Posthlewaite and Max von Sydow. The effects are used sparingly but to spectacular effect, and the filmmakersÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ reliance on physical props in incredibly detailed sets is another nostalgic pleasure. The morning after the screening, I went and picked up some Robert E. Howard books, which I hope will help me prolong the pleasure I got from Michael J. BassettÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s film. As a new, medium-budget hack-and-slash film with no stars, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a shame that it is for the moment, a unique pleasure. 8.5/10