Ghostheads

Ghostbusters: a 1984 supernatural comedy starring Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis and Ernie Hudson as brave, wise-cracking men trying to rid New York City of its poltergeists one slimy green ghost at a time.

Ghostheads: what the super-deluxe fans of Ghostbusters call themselves. Not the fans who watch the movie every time it comes on TV, or the fans who collect all the Venkman bobbleheads. Ghostheads are fanatical. They dress up. untitled.pngThey own proton packs. They drive Ecto Ones. They horde merchandise to the extent that it threatens their marriages. Ghostheads is the 2016 documentary that takes a good hard look at these amped-up fans. Ghostheads is the new Trekkies.

The delightful thing about this documentary is how earnest it is. It’s easy and maybe even tempting to make fun of a grown man who believes he is “more himself” when dressed up as someone else, but this film never does. These fans may be extreme, but the documentary aims to humanize them. Some interesting things I picked up from watching the documentary:

  • Ghostheads are not the ones hating on the 2016 film. Their enthusiasm for the franchise is all-encompassing. Paul Feig reached out to the community and included them every step of the way. They seem to embrace it.
  • In fact, “Everybody can be a Ghostbuster” is not just a tagline for the new toy line, but a credo that Ghostheads seem to have been living by for the past 30 years. At Comic Con, you’ll see dozens of people dressed up as Wolverine, Ariel, Walter White, Sailor Moon and Doctor Who. You’ll see plenty of Ghostbusters too, but more often than not their name tags don’t read Ray Stantz, it’s their own names on the patch. Because every body can be a Ghostbuster.
  • While Leias and Leeloos tend to stand alone at conventions, Ghostheads are almost always found in packs. These cosplayers aren’t just connecting with a movie, they’re trying to connect to each other.

I’m the first to admit that I don’t really get cosplay. I’m a huge movie nerd but I’ve never loved any one film so much that I decided to make it my life. I’ve never, as an adult, dressed up as a fictional character. But people at comic cons are doing more than trick-or-treating, they’re doing performance art. medium_GHOSTHEADS_web_1Suddenly shy geeks who rarely interact with the human species don these alter-egos and strut around like heroes.  In Ghostheads you’ll encounter one painfully shy man who doesn’t hesitate to walk up to total strangers to spout any of dozens of lines of dialogue memorized from his favourite movie. He’s happy to pose for pictures and merrily draws attention by flipping on the siren on his Ghostbusters car (his only car. He drives his daughter to school in it). Fandom has really kicked into high gear these past few years (we discussed FANdementalists on a prior podcast) but I think the Ghostheads embody the very best of it: a sense of community. Just like-minded people sharing something they love, a movie that happens to be about camaraderie and helping others (and mutant marshmallows).

Ghostheads is nostalgic and sweet – maybe too sweet. It deftly sidesteps the whole “girl Ghostbusters” controversy and chooses not to look at a darker side at all. So this may not be a balanced view. But with interviews with Ivan Reitman, Dan Aykroyd, and plenty of real-life Ghostheads, it’s an awfully compelling one.

Trash Fire

 

Entourage’s Adrian Grenier plays Owen, a surly, selfish douche, wiped clean of any trace of Vince’s trademark charm, a man seemingly incapable of love or commitment who makes you wonder just what his girlfriend sees in him. Turns out, his girlfriend Isabel (Angela Trimbur) has begun to think the same, and attempts an anniversary breakup that’s only interrupted thanks to Owen’s inconvenient seizure. She dutifully nurses him back to health but is only rewarded by more of his blunt thoughtlessness when she finds out she’s trash-with-fire-movie-2.jpgpregnant. “Get an abortion” he says, and she agrees, because who’d want to have a baby with him? But he has a change of heart and she agrees to consider it if only he’ll finally introduce her to his surviving family members – a grandmother and a sister he hasn’t spoken to since his parents’ funeral.

Turns out, his parents died in a house fire that was accidentally set by him. His little sister  (AnnaLynne McCord) was badly burned but survived. The guilt is eating at him up(and maybe making him a less than awesome person to be around) but not quite enough to go back and get the sister he abandoned to his mean grandma. Grandma, it turns out, is a hellacious bitch and play with delicious abandon by Fionnula Flanagan.

Director Richard Bates Jr. has a bone to pick with religion and he’s not in the mood to be subtle about it. Everyone will have their turn to squirm underneath his unrelenting magnifying glass, like they’re the ants and he’s the little boy MV5BMTEzMTU1Njg2MDleQTJeQWpwZ15BbWU4MDcwMTAxNDcx__V1_UY268_CR229,0,182,268_AL_.jpggleefully catching them all on fire. Trash Fire has its roots in horror of course, a fact that constantly slithers up and down your spine, especially when AnnyLynne McCord tiptoes into the bedrooms of the sleeping guests with nothing but a ghostly white nightie and a shotgun.

Fantasia Festival programmer Mitch Davis described this as a “venomous black comedy” and director Bates echoed that, doubting we’d see “a darker comedy this year.” Flanagan accounts for much of that, with her acid tongue, shrewd timing, and zealotry so self-righteous it’s literally masturbatory. Bates exorcizes some major demonage on-screen, calling it “the most personal and fucking weird therapy session” but feels ready to be a good husband to his new fiancée now (they got engaged at Sundance). Can the same be said about his tumultuous lead character, Owen? I can’t give away all his secrets, but I will say this. That ending? You’re going to need a good stiff drink.

Assassination Classroom: Graduation

001As you may remember, I had a great time last weekend watching a thoroughly ridiculous manga adaptation. Assassination Classroom: Graduation starts off from an even sillier place, as it features a superpowered yellow smiley faced squid who teaches assassination techniques to middle schoolers so they can kill him. I was 100% ready to love this movie, but instead suffered a big letdown.

sfsWhich is not to say Assassination Classroom: Graduation is a bad movie. I mean, it’s not really a GOOD movie by any measure, but my post-screening research shows that it adheres quite closely to the source material (incidentally, this is a sequel to last year’s Assassination Classroom with each movie covering about half of the original manga’s story) and was a big box office hit in Japan. But this movie had no intention at any time of embracing the complete ridiculousness of its concept or the yellow squidlike teacher. Instead, Assassination Classroom: Graduation plays it almost completely straight, delivering life lesson after life lesson as the middle school class grows up and learns the ways of the assassin from a big yellow squid. How you can play that concept straight at all, I don’t even know.

The film’s straightforward approach seemed to satisfy the two white girls ahead of us who were eating a bagful of Japanese candy including green-wrapper Kit-Kats (green tea flavour?!?), but I wasn’t there to see an earnest coming of age story. And I certainly wasn’t there to see half an hour of the movie devoted to a love story between the squid and a lab technician. I was there to see an off-the-wall action movie and Assassination Classroom: Graduation is not that. Colour me disappointed.

bxzX8w6So back to those green tea Kit Kats. Apparently Kit Kats are a huge deal in Japan because the name sounds like “kitto katsu”, which means “you will surely win”. That nice sentiment has given rise to a whole host of ridiculous Kit Kat varieties being eaten up by the Japanese (and also at least two white Canadians), including Shinshu Apple, Edamame Soybean, Purple Sweet Potato, Hot Japanese Chili, and Wasabi, among others. Lots and lots of others.

That Kit Kat madness is a perfect example of what I was expecting from Assassination Classroom: Graduation, but did not get. Learning about this Kit Kat craze is a decent consolation though, and it only happened because I went to see this movie. Obviously, the lesson is that Japan never fails to provide wackiness but you can’t always predict just where that wackiness will come from at any given time. And maybe that’s part of the fun!

Red Christmas

A beaming mother is proud to have her family gathered round to celebrate one last holiday in the family home – until the drama erupts, which, like most families, is within the first 10 minutes. Not everyone’s happy that the house is for sale and Mom Diane is moving on. But then the doorbell rings and the real trouble begins.

Dee_Wallace_DrewDee Wallace plays the doting mother, who you may remember her from such Mom roles as E.T., Cujo, and Critters. Now she butters her bread with horror movies and though in pearls and a floral flounce skirt she looks like she’d be equally comfortable as a Stepford wife in a Diane Keaton romcom, her pipes have got Scream Queen oozing from them. But that’s not all that’ll ooze before the credits roll.

This Aussie horror flick made its international debut at the Fantasia Film Festival where the crowd riotously applauded Wallace for her performance and director Craig Anderson for his demented vision. The festival offers plenty of midnight delights, but none quite so satisfyingly delicious as this.

Diane isn’t quite the suburban Mom her sweater set would have you believe. She’s been hiding a 2-decades-past abortion which took place the same day as the clinic was bombed by a religious zealot. Turns out that Christian nut was also nutty enough to make off with her deformed fetus, snatched from a bucket, and nursed it back to semi-life, infecting him with the same venomous hate and bloody lust for vengeance. Twenty years later, that abortion shows up on Diane’s front porch with a letter for his mommy and a thirst for gory murder.

It sounds a little more evolved than most horror flicks, but the message comes out a little red-christmas-2016-australian-horror-movie-postermuddled. It’s mostly lighter fare with some heavy-handed slasher tendencies. While most serial killers have a preferred modus operandi, Cletus-the-fetus dazzles us with a whole host of murder weapons, each more impressive than the last. Arteries will spurt like they’re sprinklers on a hot summer’s day; body cavities will gush hot viscous blood in ways you’ve never considered and won’t forget. Anderson takes special care to use the Christmas theme to light his set in borderline festive-ghoulish fashion, keeping the senses on high alert.

Special shout-out to actor Gerard O’Dwyer who brings an air of authenticity to the proceedings. He’s an actor with Down Syndrome whose character forces us to think hard thoughts about ethics and eugenics and the whole lot. He’s also a fully fleshed-out character, fiercely protective of his family and prone to quote Shakespeare.

As a bad guy, Cletus-the-fetus was a little too over-the-top for me. He’s heavily bandaged, raspy-voiced, and wears a Grim-reaper cloak. He’s also either bullet proof or the victim of some bad editing. But somehow these things don’t really take away from the fun we’re having seeing a nice little family get hacked to bits, or the fun Anderson’s having satirizing the genre. As a Canadian, I am familiar with white Christmases; Australians tend more toward green ones. This one, splashed in a red that even Crayola would have to concede as blood, is one for the record books.

 

Psycho Raman

I can probably count on one hand the number of Indian films I’ve seen. And I KNOW I canraman 2 count on one finger the number of Indian films I’ve seen that were about serial killers. Which brings me to the appropriately titled Psycho Raman.

To expose yourself to foreign cinema can be a bit of a culture shock at first. I remember when I first started watching European movies I was thrown off at first by the storytelling, pacing, and acting that felt strikingly different from what I’d become accustomed to watching American movies. So with Psycho Raman, I braced myself for a style of filmmaking that would be completely new to me.

I was quite looking forward to seeing what this new (to me) voice could bring to the tired serial killer genre, and- bad news first-, was a little disappointed how much director Anurag Kastyap’s film reminded me of so many American crime films that I’ve seen. The magnetic Nawazuddin Siddiqui plays Ramanna, a poor man in Mumbai with a taste for killing people with his giant metal pipe. Before he can escape from the scene of his first crime, he witnesses a drug-addicted cop (Vicky Kaushal) stealing from his victim and committing a murder of his own. Raman immediately sees a kindred spirit with this crooked cop and sets out on a two-year mission to help him embrace the killer inside him.

raman 3The symbiotic relationship between cop and killer is nothing new and I feel like I’ve seen every version there is of the “You complete me” speech but Kastyap shows us enough memorable images and packs enough suspense into Psycho Raman’s best scenes that his film is well worth watching. Mumbai is a compelling setting for this familiar story and, as the Fantasia Film Festival website notes, shows a side of India that most of us aren’t used to seeing.

Raman, as played by Siddiqui, clearly has a very screws loose but- like all of our favourite movie psychos- is actually quite insightful. He’s a fun character and Kastyap enjoys filming him walking in slow motion to the beat of a pop song so much that it’s easy to get the sense that he seems him as the hero of this gruesome story. It almost feels like the start of a Raman franchise.

Kastyap enjoys his serial killer so much that he often neglects the equally if not more raman 4important character of Raghavan, the cop with a dark side. The film is divided into ten chapters and way too many of them don’t feature Raghavan at all. Not that I’m complaining. Kaushal doesn’t bring anything new to the drug addict or the angry cop and his scenes are often tedious. Still, the battle over this man’s soul is the whole point and Kastyap needed to put in a little more time developing this character.

A better film would have been about 20 minutes shorter and used that time more effectively. Still, though Kastyap always cuts away before the violence becomes gory, he doesn’t pull his punches. Psycho Ramanh is a dark and uncompromising movie and you may find its villain/anti-hero tough to shake.

The Master Cleanse

The master cleanse is a cuckoo-for-cocoa-puffs fad diet wherein some idiot eats nothing and drinks only a “juice” made from water, lemon, maple syrup, and cayenne pepper and actually believes that their body is benefiting. Instead of, you know, being completely nutritionally deprived.

TheMasterCleanse_FilmStill_Final_FeaturingJohnnyGalecki_PhotoByMichaelFimognariIn the movie The Master Cleanse, the inventor, Ken Roberts, has pledged to take this purification further – let’s not just detoxify our bodies, but also our souls. And like all high end products and really good, safe ideas, it’s advertised on late-night infomercials.

Who is up late at night with only a bowl of Cheetos for company, that awful orange dust thickly coating his remote, trolling the airwaves for a quick fix for his spiritual malaise? None other than down-on-his-luck Paul (Johnny Galecki), recently (though not THAT recently) dumped and unemployed, living one functioning toilet above squalor. While the promise of a free retreat from a disembodied voice on our televisions might raise a red flag for most of us, Paul diligently irons his only suit to make the best impression.

A small group, including struggling actress Maggie (Anna Friel), and a squabbling young couple, are taken out to a remote wooded area. Bombastic Lily (Anjelica Huston) is their fearless leader, and bids them to drink special juice formulated just for them. That juice leads them to the crucial elimination phase, where all of their hurt, disappointment and trauma are physicallyBTSJohnnyBobbyAnna_TheMasterCleanse_PhotoByBobAkester eliminated…and that emotional baggage just happens to look like a cute little creature.

The dark woods, the derelict cabins, the mysterious cult leader Ken (Oliver Platt)…director Bobby Miller has all the trappings of a horror, and indeed you’ve unconsciously braced yourself for something terrible for quite some time. At a special screening at Fantasia Film Festival, Miller said that at first wallowing in sadness is cute – that Ben & Jerry’s, sweat pants phase. But if left unchecked, your emotional baggage just grows and grows, and threatens to overwhelm. Miller’s film gets pretty serious about those consequences. This is body horror with a pulsing conscience.

There is no mathematical way in which any equation involving  both toilets and horror should add up to something enjoyable, at least for me, but this did. Miller’s got some magic slipped in there somewhere, perhaps in his confidence even as a first time director in sticking with character and theme while being quite conservative in the gross-out department. It’s a lot more melancholic than you’d expect, even sympathetic, but the message is clear: shortcuts to happiness can leave you literally lost in the woods.

 

Star Trek Beyond

vag96xveob5rjf34m2mqWe were treated tonight to a marathon of the new trilogy of Star Trek movies, including a screening of Star Trek Beyond. Seeing the first two reminded me how good Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness are, and seeing them all in a row made me all the more sure that Star Trek Beyond is my favourite of the three.

The most difficult part about the movie is how it reminds us that we’ve lost both Leonard Nimoy and Anton Yelchin from the Star Trek family. Nimoy was a larger part of the first two than I remembered, and his presence served as a nice reminder that there’s a whole alternate universe of adventures waiting to be rediscovered. He receives a nice tribute in this movie, which I was glad to see.

8_-_nurovgqYelchin, having died so tragically after filming was complete, is a key cast member in all three and is excellent in Star Trek Beyond (as always). But it’s bittersweet to watch, as his posthumous presence is harder to take than his absence would have been. Every one of his scenes serves as a reminder that there will be no more Chekov in the instalments to come.  He will be sincerely missed but it feels right that his role will not be recast. May he rest in peace.

A lesser movie would have been overshadowed by those real-life lossses. Star Trek Beyond is instead comforting and uplifting in their face, providing a classic trip to a strange new world, plenty of humanoid aliens (some good, some bad, almost all English-speaking), and some fantastic interplay between the series’ seven main characters. This time, Bones and Spock are the standouts, getting a ton of one-on-one time and delivering banter that is consistently hilarious and completely fitting for this odd couple. Writers Simon Pegg and Doug Jung do a Star-Trek-Beyond-photo-11wonderful job of capturing the sarcastic Bones and the quiet pleasure Spock takes in driving Bones crazy, while letting us see that underneath it all there is nothing but love and respect between them.

That is the way all these beloved characters get treated – with love and respect. I just wish Sulu’s coming-out moment had not been such a source of controversy leading up to the movie’s release, because in the movie it comes off as another nice nod to the original cast that also fits with the diversity that is the series’ staple.

I cannot say enough good things about Star Trek Beyond. It provides a massive amount of fan service while remaining accessible and enjoyable to all. Star Trek Beyond is a welcome and worthy addition to this classic franchise and a fitting sendoff to two absent friends.

 

Rupture

Steven Shainberg is the director behind Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus (wherein Nicole Kidman takes photographs of a hairy Robert Downey Jr) and Secretary (wherein James Spader bends Maggie Gyllenhaal over his mahogany desk and spanks her). He was in Montreal recently at the Fantasia Film Festival to host the world premiere of his new movie, and just our luck, so were we.

Bugs.gifAfter a ten year hiatus, Shainberg is back with Rupture, a film decidedly less kinky but a little more kick in the teeth. You know how when a cartoon character falls in love, his heart visibly pounds out of his chest? I’m pretty sure mine was doing much the same while watching this film, out of discomfort and dread.

It tells the story of Renee (Noomi Rapace) who is kidnapped and held in a vague and shabby medical facility. Her captors insist they’re just conducting research but to Renee and her fellow “patients” it looks and feels more like torture. Semantics aside, they are taking an individual’s greatest fear and Rupture-movie-1exposing them to it – not to scare them to death, but to scare them beyond it.

The film has a viscous quality to it that is immediately haunting. The medical facility is bathed in reds and purples, giving it the look of a blistering emergency. The conditions here are unclear but something feels off, and there’s a sense of threat. The film births the most sinister lock mechanism I’ve ever seen, 3 dead bolts that get thrown one after the other, establishing a rhythm and a constant reminder of what’s at stake. Boom boom boom goes the lock, and the claustrophobia sets in. Boom boom boom and the hairs on the back of your neck prepare for the ominous. Boom boom boom and Renee strains at her restraints, sweat glistening, her eyes frantic. The score takes a cue from this repetitive sound design and continues its evocative menace.

rupture-review-fantasia.jpgCanadian cinematographer Karim Hussain creeps around corners to give us a relentless and increasingly cramped view of our heroine and her struggles, soaked and saturated in hues of viscera. He tightens the frame like a vise so her pain is sharply in our focus. Noomi Rapace, no stranger to body horror, is up to the challenge, aided and abetted by Peter Stormare, Lesley Manville and Michael Chiklis, who are surreally spooky. Things are so peculiar that the audience sometimes titters with nervous laughter.

The end, when it comes, isn’t as enlightening as you would hope, but the end point is never as relevant as the escape: it’s the journey, not the destination.

 

Terra Formars

MV5BN2JmNjVhNmEtMGZhYy00NjEyLTk2ODgtOGRjYzczNzkyZTk1XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjA2OTcwNzE@._V1_There will always be a place in my heart reserved for ridiculous movies.  Ones that know they are dumb and just go for it anyway.   Terra Formars is one of those movies.  It is everything that you’d expect from a Japanese sci-fi battle between giant humanoid cockroaches and criminals with bug powers who are being paid to destroy the roaches so that humans can live on Mars.

Jay tells me that this is a very tame and straightforward addition to director Takashi Miike’s body of work.  I would have found that hard to believe but for the clip of his work that was played before our screening, in connection with Miike being awarded a lifetime achievement award by the Fantasia Film Festival, and the descriptions offered during the presentation by the festival’s organizers.  All five that spoke clearly  love Miike’s work and a more ringing endorsement could not have been given, though with a clear disclaimer that his most extreme work is not going to be enjoyed by many.

001Personal taste aside, Miike would be deserving of the lifetime achievement award based on productivity alone, as he has somehow screened 30 films at Fantasia during the festival’s 20 years of existence!

Though Terra Formars may be tame and straightforward for Miike, it is a deliciously over-the-top action romp that proudly pays tribute to its manga roots.  The roaches look very cartoony on screen but that seems intentional given how closely they match the source material.  Just as cartoony are the hybrid human-bug heroes, who to my delight received voice-over intros describing each of their powers.  The heroes look incredible in their bug forms, and the glee with which they rip apart the roaches (and vice versa) is contagious.

That glee carries over to the movie as a whole, and is the main reason that I was thoroughly charmed by Terra Formars from start to finish.  It’s such a fun and bizarre adventure, you won’t care that much of it makes no sense at all.  Highly recommended for anyone whose guilty pleasures include cheesy sci-fi monster movies.

 

For The Love of Spock

I know very little\almost nothing about the Star Trek universe, but I do know Mr. Spock. He’s a pop culture icon who transcended the television show with his message of peace and reason. William Shatner soon learned that though the captain’s seat was his alone, the spotlight would have to be shared. The man behind the pointy ears and the Vulcan salute was none other than Leonard Nimoy, hand-picked by Gene Roddenbury to portray this cool and calculated character.

tumblr_nv1msf7Hdg1ug3pr6o1_400The documentary For The Love of Spock was originally a collaboration between Leonard Nimoy and his son Adam but Nimoy Senior got sick and died very quickly, leaving his son to alter their plans somewhat, honouring the character, but also his father. It’s clear Adam Nimoy’s knowledge of the Star Trek universe is encyclopedic; the footage of the original series is a lot of fun, but also well-chosen and well-timed. A part of me badly wants to gush about all the cool things I learned watching this documentary, and I’m barely restraining myself so that you’ll have your own joyful moments of discovery upon seeing it for yourself.

Almost all of the original cast members are interviewed, and most from the new Star Trek movies as well (including J.J. Abrams), and everyone’s got glowing things to say. It’s nice when the man behind such a beloved character is a nice guy himself. In fact, the only person who seemed to have a problem with him was his son, the film’s director. So no, this isn’t a puff piece. It’s an honest look at intriguing and sometimes enigmatic man who put a lot of himself into his character, and gave a lot of himself to his fans.

Watch this documentary to see Jason Alexander to a spot-on Kirk impression, to hear Shatner Spock_Good_Evilpronounce who was the better singer, to get George Takai’s take on the Spock-Kirk slash fiction, to find out who came up with the Vulcan salute, to hear how Harry Belafonte inspired the character, to learn where Nimoy’s kids had to watch the show’s premiere, to note who once called it a “treadmill to oblivion”, and to discover who spent hours responding to Nimoy’s fan mail. You don’t have to be a Trekker to enjoy this movie, but by the end of it, you might just be one.

Adam Nimoy says that his father was eternally grateful to have created this character, never jaded by the experience or the fame. Clearly, the apple doesn’t fall far from the Vulcan tree. Though Leonard’s work kept him away from the family and Adam often felt he was competing tumblr_inline_nkfyuoaAP21rlqxn6with fans for his father’s attention, he still describes Star Trek as “hitting the lottery.” Creating this film was an act of mourning for the son, and absolutely an act of love. At the end of the documentary, Adam asks the many interviewees to describe his father in one word. People offer: hope, integrity, love, but the final word comes from Zachary Quinto who plays Spock in the rebooted version, with Nimoy’s blessing. Quinto throws it back to the documentarian and the son, asking “What’s yours?” Adam Nimoy was at the screening of this film at the Fantasia Film Festival, and he was able to answer that question for us in person.

He said “Passion.”