Film Reviews

How I Spent My Summer Vacation or, Films to Love Forever

FanTasia Film Festival in Montréal has an odd name. You’d never know that most of the movies are horror films, but that’s the ‘fantastic’ part. About half are from Asian countries (the asia part), and the rest from other places around the globe. This festival—2008 was it’s 12th year—draws over 80,000 people during its three weeks every July. There are world premiers with directors, writers and cast members on stage to reveal some of the weird and funny situations that occurred during filming, and to answer questions. Each July for the last dozen years I’ve sat in the dark before the silver screen for maybe one quarter of the hundred or more films showing. This is the continent’s largest and most relevant film festival for horror fanatics and I’ve seen amazing films this year which I’d like to tell you about.

Repo: The Genetic Opera (USA)

R: TGO started life as performance art, the brain child of Terrance Zdunich (who plays Gravedigger in the film) and Darren Smith. They wrote the story and composed the music for a ten minute piece that was staged (with other short pieces they wrote) in a tiny theater “So small,” Zdunich says “that during intermissions the audience had to walk across the stage to get to the bathroom.” 

Zdunich and Smith had the foresight to tape a performance and show it to director Darren Lynn Bousman (he of SAW 2, 3, 4 fame). Bousman’s heart was pierced and miraculously he managed to get this “passion project”, as he calls Repo: The Genetic Opera, to screen.

What’s it about? That’s pretty hard to convey. As actor Bill Mosley who plays Repo Man says, “You’ve never seen anything like this.”

The post-apocalyptic future is all about organ failure and the subsequent organ transplants...

Will Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings be reduced to just another action-adventure sword and sorcery commercial vehicle for selling Tacos and fries, action figures and lunchboxes?(Not there’s anything wrong with that.)

Another convention. Another article. This time is was Westercon 54, a science fiction convention in Portland, Oregon, where I was accosted by a group of rabid Tolkien fans.

After driving three hours from Seattle to Portland and settling in my hotel room overlooking the parking lot, I was too restless to sit still, deciding instead to check out the Con's evening offerings. Sorry to say, pickings were slim, but I found something interesting for a film buff: "Will Peter Jackson's 'Lord of the Rings' Films Be Any Good." Now that sounded interesting!

As a fan of fantasy, and having read The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring, I obviously thought it would be fun to go and hear some news, or at the least the latest 'gossip' about the upcoming film. But instead of finding other films buffs or writers, I stumbled upon a group of Tolkien fans who had gathered to discuss (or should I say, worship) their beloved fantasy. These people were more than fans, they were Tolkien devotees who could quote chapter and verse and exclaimed loudly "after reading The Lord of the Rings fifteen times, I finally understood . . ." They reminded me of a group of Star Wars fans who once told me about Boba Fett's family life. Sorry, but I didn't even know my favorite bounty hunter was married.

Anyway, after listening quietly to discussions about which characters might be left out of the film, and pledges of suicide if certain characters were changed or combined, I raised my hand and asked: "Knowing that almost all films take a 3-Act Structure, and knowing the novel as well as you all seem to, how do you think Jackson will adapt the novel to fit three acts?"

First, there was a beat of dead silence and then shouts of "It will never happen! Jackson said he would be true...

How I Spent My Summer Vacation or, Films to Love Forever 2010

FANtastic FanTasia, Montreal’s little genre film festival that could, has just ended. Fourteen years old and bigger and better than ever, FanTasia is an ecclectic mix of Asian films and horror/dark fantasy/fantasy/science fiction films with many a combination of both, shown over three weeks. All in all there are 120 films.

I admit it. FanTasia is one of the great pleasures of my summer. I thoroughly enjoy watching films that range from Hollywood blockbuster premiers to obscure independent horror flicks to two-minute shorts that show a director’s potential. There’s something utterly refreshing about viewing what, otherwise, for the most part, I’d probably never run across. And then there’s the utter thrill of sitting in the dark with a packed house of like-minded movie-goers, mainly horror fanatics, many of whom are not above a startled scream, spontaneous jolt, nervous laugh, frustrated groan and wild applause at the high points of creative cinema.

Of the dozens of films I saw this year, these (listed by category & alphabetically) stand out:

Fantasy

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (US). Nicholas Cage and Jay Baruchel star in Walt Disney/Jerry Buckheimer production, directed by John Turteitraub. Disney, she says??? I know, I know, but I loved it! The Sorcerer’s Apprentice has had so-so reviews in the mainstream media. Reviewers who didn’t like it compared it unfavorably with the classic Disney Fantasia animation. I haven’t seen Fantasia so I was unhampered by a comparison, although doesn’t it seem silly to compare a long-ago animation to a feature film released so many years later. Consequently, for me, the film was cute, fun and the FX cool...

A Sniff of S.I.F.F.

Shortly after moving to Seattle, I discovered another reason to live here: The Seattle International Film Festival, where over 150,000 people enjoy viewing more than 250 films from over 50 countries. This 25 day event (from May 24 - June 17, 2001) is the largest in the country and is considered to be among the top film festivals in the world. Over 200 filmmakers attend the festival each year participating in discussions with the audience following the screenings of their films.

The Seattle International Film Festival began in 1976 with a two-week, 18 film schedule at the Moore Theater. Seattle filmgoers immediately supported the festival in large numbers at a time when there were only a handful of film festivals in North America.

The Festival grew and prospered rapidly, expanding in 1985 to a new home, the Egyptian Theater on Capitol Hill. By this time, the Festival had branched out to present films in two venues, running more than 130 films over a period of 30 days each May and June. SIFF had also added many innovative new programs to its lineup, including a short film competition and two of its most innovative and popular events: the Secret Festival and the annual poster auction. SIFF had also begun to bring in many filmmakers for post-screening discussions, something that did not start in earnest until the fifth festival, in 1980.

Always on the cutting edge, the Festival is perhaps best known for its eclectic, wide-ranging programming which encompasses everything from the latest in European, Asian, and Third World Cinema to the premieres of American Independent and major studio releases. A large number of acclaimed films, including Blood Simple, Kiss of The Spider Woman, The Wedding Banquet, Dazed and Confused, Emma, Trainspotting, Mrs. Brown...

How I Spent My Summer Vacation or, Films to Love Forever 2011

Montréal's fantastic FanTasia Film Festival has just ended and with 35 or more films devoured by yours truly this year over a three week span, I've once again selected my favs in order to inflict, I mean bestow on Chizine readers my views about what's innovative and upcoming in our beloved dark field.

FanTasia offered up about 130 films, split as usual between Asian cinema and horror/fantasy/science fiction. I see mainly the H/F/SF films, and the Asian films when they overlap.

These are the most interesting films that I ran across:

Absentia (USA). If you love horror and you are looking for a movie that fits dead center of this genre, Absentia, winner of awards at festivals in Sonoma, Phoenix and Fargo is for you. This micro budget indie film kicks it big time. You won't have heard of the writer/director/co-producer Mike Flannigan, or the stars Katie Parker, Courtney Bell, Dave Levine and, Doug Jones, but down the road you will. There is nothing like being caught by surprise, although this movie had so much advance buzz both screenings were sold out two weeks before FanTasia opened, and the festival was compelled to set up a third screening. This movie deserves a theater release but sadly may not get one, so look for it on DVD/Blu-ray/Netflix. You will not be disappointed.

Desperate for an antidote to Twilight? Stake Land (USA) is it. You won't find one pretty vampire and none you'd want to date. These are the revolting undead stalked post-apocalypse by a grisly vampire hunter and his Karate Kid-like protégée. Rough,...

10,000 BC

Roland Emererich (The Day After Tomorrow, Godzilla, Independence Day, Stargate) takes us on an imaginary journey back in time that combines early man, prehistoric beasts, and an Egyptian-like culture enslaving all the others. D'leh (Steven Strait) is a member of a hunter-gatherer group living off the Wooly Mammoths when their peaceful existence is disturbed by mysterious raiders (Affif Ben Badra as The Warlord) who make off with many of D'leh's tribe, whom they plan to sell as slave labor. Among the kidnapped is D'leh's woman, Evolet (Camilla Belle.) D'leh, along with the tribe best hunter Tic'Tic (Cliff Curtis), set off to follow and rescue their brethren. And so they march and march, follow and follow, walk and walk, rest and eat, eat and rest until I couldn't stand it anymore. Boring! The other problem I had is that, along the way, the raiders attack more villages and kidnap more native people, but the ones that survive outnumbered the raiders (I counted about ten or twelve raiders in all.) Therefore, it made no sense that these raiders were able to defeat anyone. Finally, after about an hour of this illogic, my 10 year old started twitching in his seat. I told him it should be over soon. When it wasn't, we decided we'd had enough and couldn't wait any longer. We'd seen the previews and knew how it would end. We walked out. When asked how I liked the film, the only thing I could think to say was "torture." Try it yourself if you must, but be warned. Make sure you have a soft pillow for your ass.

13 Ghosts

Some really pissed off poltergeists prove that what you can't see can hurt you in this "re-imagined" version of the William Castle 3D classic. In spite of some plot inconsistencies that could have used more guts and gore, I found myself wanting to see more of the ghosts and thinking "how neat" when gasping at some of the ghastly ghouls.

1408

Swedish director Mikael Hafstrom (2005's Derailed, plus a long list of Swedish films) brings Stephen King's short story to the screen and leaves us with a gem. Mike Enslin (John Cusack) turned cynic after the death (we assume from an incurable disease) of his young daughter, Katie (Jasmine Anthony), has separated from his wife, Lily (Mary McCormack). Enslin has moved to the West Coast to write books about haunted places—motels, B&Bs, graveyards, farms, and hotels—mostly to debunk the idea that ghosts exist. Then one day he receives an anonymous postcard telling him not to stay in Room 1408 in Manhattan's Dolphin Hotel. So off to Manhattan he goes, where he meets the Dolphin's manager, Gerald Olin (Samual L. Jackson), who pleads with Enslin not to stay in the room. There have been over 50 deaths over the years, mostly suicides, and no one lasts more than one hour, he warns. But Enslin has to see for himself and after some humorous first moments in the room, the radio turns on by itself, blasting the Carpenter's "We've Only Just Begun." Then the radio's digital numbers spin and stop at 60 minutes to begin the countdown as all hell breaks loose. 1408 is Stephen King at his best. The screenplay is tight and non-stop with the film going into real time when the clock begins the countdown, creating even more tension. The ghosts made me jump, the bizarre happenings gave me the creeps, and the tongue-in-cheek humor made me laugh out loud. Cusack and Jackson are perfect in their roles and Hafstrom's direction holds it all together to give us a great Twilight Zone-style film. 1408 should satisfy fans of all genres.

15 Minutes

Two films in one. The first hour is a slow paced crime-drama held together by DeNiro. The second hour, launched by a surprise plot twist, spun the film into a frenzied social satire bordering on camp.

2001 Maniacs

This 2005 straight-to-DVD rental starts out familiar enough. Two carloads of college students and a couple on a motorcycle heading for spring break in Florida come upon a detour in Georgia that takes them to the sleepy town of Pleasant Valley. Strangely enough, the town appears to be awaiting their arrival so the town can start its centennial barbeque. After greetings by Mayor Buckman (Robert Englund—the only familiar face in the cast—who does a great over-the-top job), the gang decides to stay and have some fun with these backwoods yahoos. Little do they know that these yahoos plan on having some fun of their own. Bring on the blood! This film is a hoot as it soon becomes obvious that the college students are to be the main course at the barbeque. And, as with all films in this genre, its how they meet their end that makes the film worth watching and again I was surprised to find there are always innovative ways to kill snotty college students. Of course, you'll have to watch the film to find out what they are, but if you enjoy this sick kind of humor, as I do, you'll be as entertained as the producers who throw in plenty of tongue-in-cheek humor and obvious salutes to other films like 2002's Cabin Fever. Also of note is that, although the deaths are gruesome at times, scenes are handled rather well without any over-the-top gore. There is even an ending that gives this one a Twilight Zone spin, but that is only frosting on the cake. Rent 2001 Maniacs for a group get-together and enjoy yourself at the expense of the poor bastards who took the wrong turn. You'll be glad you did.

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