Monthly Archives: July 2016

Familyhood

Go Ju-yeon (extremely well-played by Kim Hye-soo) is pushing 40 and running out of ways to feel young. Despite plastic surgery, affairs with younger men, and a faithful and well-meaning entourage that protect her from unflattering headlines, Ju-yeon has finally reached the point where she has to admit that the public just doesn’t adore her anymore.

It’s a tough pill for any actress to swallow but it’s even worse for someone so needy and self-absorbed. Not ready to be forgotten just yet, Ji-yeon makes one last desperate attempt at being loved. She’s going to have a baby. Or, more accurately, buy a random middle-schooler’s baby and try and pass it off as her own.

It’s actually quite terrible and, as her stylist reminds her more than once, illegal. Dan-ji (Kim Hyeon-soo) has nowhere to go except live with her neglectful big sister and sure could use some money for art school, a fact that Ju-yeon is quick to take advantage of. Dar-ji is quickly hidden away in a stranger’s house during the most confusing nine months of her life.

This movie really didn’t work for me. The comedy comes, as you’d expect, mostly from Ju-yeon’s lack of self-awareness and the outrageous misunderstandings that her charade inevitably brings. It just isn’t very funny. I found it very broad and, worse, obvious. Director Kim Tae-gon excuses the implausiibilities and all the selfish behavior as “satire” of celebrity, “the cult of youth and beauty”, and the hypocrisy and double standards surround teen pregnancy. When it comes to Familyhood’s satire of celebrity and youth, its target is too easy and its tone not nearly subtle enough for it to be effective as satire. Tae-gon does, however, have some interesting and worthwhile things to say about the shaming of pregnant teen girls. It was a nice surprise but seems to show up out of nowhere towards the end of a film that seems to have realized that it wasn’t really about anything and just blurted out “teen pregnancy” in a panic.

I just didn’t like it. I’m not sure why. The crowd at the International Premiere at this year’s Fantasia Festival responded with delight to every tired joke. So maybe I was just having an off day and you’d enjoy it as much as they did. But I can’t help thinking that Familyhood seriously missed its mark.

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Seoul Station

Standing outside Seoul’s central subway station, two young men are having a nice liberal chat. “I think there should be universal welfare,” one says  to the other. As if on cue, an old homeless man who is covered in blood comes staggering by. Concerned, one of the two men run to check on him but is quickly recoils from the smell. “I thought he was bleeding but he was just homeless,” he tells his friend.

So begins Seoul station, the first Korean animated zombie movie that I’ve ever seen. Though I was unsure of what to expect at first, it became immediately clear that this hilarious yet disturbing picture would have a lot more to say than the average episode of The Walking Dead. Because acclaimed director Sang-ho Yeon’s version of the zombie apocalypse seems to start with those who rely on the Seoul Station subway tunnels as a place to sleep, no one really seems to care at first and the infection is allowed to spread quickly. Unlike most zombie movies I’ve seen, we see the fall of civilization entirely through the eyes of pimps, prostitutes, and the homeless.

There aren’t many Zombie Kills of the Week in Seoul Station but the animation alone- surreal enough to be unique but realistic enough to keep it grounded when it counts- makes it stand out. As much as it has to say about the struggles of Seoul’s marginalized, this is not a movie without it’s guilty pleasures. There are enough close calls, creatively claustrophobic suspense, and hilariously over-the-top voice acting to work as a fun popcorn movie. It’s only unsettling once you let it sink in.

The Man Who Saved Ben-Hur

Johnny Alarimo was an assistant director on the classic masterpiece, Ben-Hur. The director, William Wyler, wrote him a letter of thanks. Charlton Heston drew his portrait on set and signed it “Chuck H.” But Alarimo received no credit, not for Ben-Hur nor any of the other numerous films he worked on because at the time studios only credited department heads. Johnny and many like him are lost to history.

Johnny was an old man living amongst relics of the so-called Golden Age of Hollywood when his second cousin, documentarian Joe Forte, showed up to make friends. Johnny’s lived a glamourous, star-studded life and had a successful career in film, but all that’s left is the dazzling detritus: a cigarette case engraved by Elizabeth Taylor, a stack of Christmas cards sent by Rock Hudson, a mention in a Gore Vidal book. Sure it’ll bring a bundle at auction, but it doesn’t keep you warm at night.

This film works on two levels: first and obviously, as a piece of film history. Johnny Alarimo saved lots of memorabilia from Ben-Hur and other sets, usually those filmed in Italy, where he provided invaluable translation. But it’s also just the story of two men, vaguely related, trying to forge a friendship. That’s harder than you might think considering one of them is a lonely old man. But it turns out that Hollywood may attract a certain kind of person: the kind of person who makes superficial friendship during the 3 or 4 months of shooting and then moves on. Johnny has never had a lasting relationship, and now, at the age of 89, does he have regrets?

I felt heart-broken for much of this film’s run time. Old people, like film credits before the 1970s, are often forgotten. He was the last surviving American crew member of Ben-Hur, but the L.A. Times refused to run his obituary because they choose not to honour those “behind the scenes.” This documentary very quietly shows you that you can have hundreds of bonafide celebrities on your rolodex but even all together they don’t add up to one real friend.

Film buffs will love this rare glimpse at little-seen memorabilia, but I think this movie speaks to all of us. The Man Who Saved Ben-Hur is available on VOD and with just an hour’s worth of viewing, you can do your bit to remember this man and his passion.

 

Outlaws and Angels

You know how it was in the olden days, walking to the bonnet store with your bestie, discussing the state of things on the ole homestead, the latest style in aprons, panning for gold, and the benefit of small pricks. As you do. And then suddenly your bestie gets her face shot off. It happens.

1.jpgThe olde West. There are good guys, and there are bad guys: you can barely tell the difference between them. They all wear black hats.

The really bad dude (Chad Michael Murray) has a scar. Luckily. For identification purposes. The slightly less bad guy chasing him (Luke Wilson), a bounty hunter, does not.

The really bad dude and his gang o’ miscreants decides to hole up and hide with a frontier family – a Christian ma and pop, and their two smart-ass, sassy-tongued daughters, the saucier of whom is played by Francesca Eastwood in her feature debut (that’s right: cowboy Clint’s daughter). The outlaws get more than they bargained for because little Flo (Francesca) is like a snake in your boot. A sexy snake who seduces her captors. And she’s well-florence_gun2-670x264versed in giving her daddy “rubdowns” as is the frontier way.

Director JT Mollner creates a spaghetti western send-up that abandons the sprawling land for a single interior locale. It’s not exactly wholesome though. Okay, it’s not remotely wholesome. While her daddy Clint may be used to exploring violence in westners, Francesca is busy exploring an often ignored side: sex. A very salty side indeed. This film has definitely shown me lots of outlaws, but I’m wondering if there are any angels at all. Mollner’s assessment is murkier than gravy although his long pauses and overuse of close-ups will make you think he’s making an awfully serious point. Personally, I think the blood pretty much sums it up. Bloodshed makes for excellent punctuation.

 

 

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.