Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Vampire's Kiss

Robert Bierman | 1989 | 103 min | US

The world seems to have forgotten what Nicolas Cage was like before his Con Air-ification. Well I'm going to remind you: he was awesome. Offbeat and sharp and hungry for unique roles and awesome. Cage also possessed a penchant for bizarre accents that did not exist in the actual world. For his role as New York publishing big wig Peter Loew of Vampire's Kiss he settled on "businessman," which is apparently shorthand for "fey, over-enunciating, preening, eighties power broker." Excellent call, Nick.

This successful publishing shark's life changes considerably after he takes home a remarkable woman from the bar one night. A woman, it turns out, who has a thing for neck biting. In the days following the bite, Peter Loew finds himself growing more sensitive to light, becoming increasingly hostile and obsessive toward his secretary, and eating cockroaches. As his mood darkens, everyone (Loew, Loew's therapist, and audience alike) are left to wonder whether Loew is turning into a vampire or whether he is a lunatic who has a thing for vampire movies.

This a wildly strange film. Back in the day it was positioned and marketed as a quirky romantic comedy. It is not. At all. Sure, everything about the film's delivery says "Comedy!", but Loew and the film's tone in general climbs a ladder of sadism as his obsession grows. Vampire's Kiss is incredibly dark, it just takes a while for one to catch on to that fact. After one scene I found myself thinking, "did he. . . was that a rape?". Turns out it was. But that is the great trick of the film. You are taken to so many extremes inside Loew's mind and in the real world that the "fact" and "fiction" within the film become confused in every regard. By the time the final reveal is made you know exactly what is coming, but it is still horrifying. And hilarious. This one was done square in the Awesome Cage Era, so treat yourself to visiting a time forgotten.

Terribly underrated movie! And it is Halloween today! Everyone loves a good Halloweeny movie! At least they should! Halloween!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Darjeeling Limited

Wes Anderson | 2007 | 91 min | USA

Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, and Jason Schwartzman are... BROTHERS!

They have... SCARS!

They have... BAGGAGE!

They're in... INDIA!

Wes Anderson has lost... HIS SUBTLETY!

Murder Party

Jeremy Saulnier | 2007 | 74 mins | USA

When Chris Sharp, one of the lead actors in the quirky comedy-horror film Murder Party, came up to the stage at the closing night of the Toronto After Dark festival to introduce the film, his words made me a bit nervous. He referred to the low-budget labour of love as something akin to The Breakfast Club, but with more killing.

In theory, a murderous Breakfast Club sounds fantastic – the culmination of everything a pre-teen me wanted out of a film. Romance, dancing, precautious introspection, and of course, blood and guts. If Noah Baumbach made a slasher film about urban dilettantes being brutally massacred by the bloodthirsty ghosts of the Algonquin round table, I’d be first in line at the theatre. But under normal circumstances, being warned in advance that a horror film is going to be “pretty talky” feels a bit like a death knell.

Nonetheless, Murder Party was far from disappointing. The film is talky in a way that works, relying on witty banter and self-consciously mocking dialogue between the failed-artist characters, who have gathered on Halloween in order to kill a random stranger for the sake of art, and the respect of a mysterious figure named Alexander, who has access to a lot of grant money. As the night wears on, the characters' roles are reversed (the strong become meek, and the meek go on murderous rampages) and all the dialogue-driven setup makes the violent mayhem that much sweeter.

The premise is funny, the dialogue realistically hilarious (I almost wanted to complain about the overuse of the word “dildo”, until I realised that if I had a nickel for every time one of my friends had said “douchebag” in the past year, I’d have been able to finance this film in full) and the violence satisfyingly gory. The art world is an easy target for comedy, but Murder Party manages to attack it without resorting to pretension or inside jokes that would be lost on a non-artschooled audience. Plus, any film with a good chainsaw-to-the-face sequence is ok in my books.

Nightmare Detective

Shinya Tsukamoto | 2007 | 106 min | Japan

The lead-off of almost every review of the latest Shinya Tsukamoto film, Nightmare Detective, is a heads-up that it's not like his other films. That it's his take on j-horror blockbusters, but with a tinge of parody. There's maybe an argument to be made there, but Nightmare Detective isn't nearly as un-Tsukamoto as everyone would have you believe.

Japanese pop singer, hitomi stars as Keiko, an uptight police detective investigating a string of murders that appear to have taken place within the victims' dreams. While they sleep, a mysterious man known only as 0 is controlling their bodies to brutally kill themselves in REAL LIFE, resulting in apparent suicides. Keiko is told of a young man named Kyoishi (Ryuhei Matsuda)who can enter people's dreams, and she seeks out his help to solve the murders.

The film plays out in a fairly straight forward way until the last act which takes place in the dream realm. The intensity is turned up, and Keiko and Kyoishi take on 0 (played by Tsukamoto himself). It's always fun to watch Tsukamoto act, and even better when he plays an unsettling creep like he does here.

Nightmare Detective may be a little more naratively normal than most of Tsukamoto's films, but it's film about repressed or lost memories, rage, violence, and loneliness in a big city. If those aren't Tsukamoto enough for you, you're maybe just looking for another drill-dick, and that's not going to happen again anytime soon. He's a much more well rounded and mature filmmaker than he was when he made Tetsuo, and this, his first foray into mainstream filmmaking since Hiroku the Goblin is an excellent addition to his filmography and would be to your DVD shelf. Get the original where and while you can since the Brothers Weinstein are currently in the process of making an English remake. Meanwhile, Tsukamoto's making a sequel in Japan.

The Long Goodbye

Robert Altman | 1973 | 112 min | USA

I'm not sure how it happened, but somehow, even though I've always been a '70s-Altman fan, I had never seen The Long Goodbye until a couple of days ago, when I found it on the shelf of a place I'm house sitting and decided to give it a whirl.

The strange 1970s take on Phillip Marlowe has Elliott Gould (handsomer and more charming in the role than he had any right to be) waking up in the middle of the night to feed his cat, and getting embroiled in the murder of a friend's wife. The oft-mentioned Rip Van Winkle parallels are subtle but noticeable in Altman's take on the wisecracking gumshoe. Gould chain smokes his way through scene after scene in a rumpled suit and vintage car, seeming absolutely out of his element and yet perfectly natural just as he is.

The plot of The Long Goodbye holds up, the way most good '70s suspense films do, but the main reason to watch this is Gould's astonishing performance in a role that had previously been tackled by some of Hollywood's most charismatic leading men. Gould isn't just believable as Marlowe. He is Marlowe, the moral figure at the centre of a world gone askew.

Altman pulls no punches in his critique of modern alienation. There's no empty nostalgia here for a bygone era. Instead, the harshness of Altman's vision is thrown into stark relief by the out-of-time Marlowe, and by the time the film comes to its grizzly (but perfectly fitting) conclusion, it's impossible not to sympathize with his straight-talking, no-nonsense antidote to the bullshit around him.

Next to Gould's acting, the best thing about this film is the title song, which appears in a variety of more or less subtle ways throughout the film. As part of the score, it's haunting and pretty - but when it appears diagetically (on a thug's car radio, for example) the effect is almost disturbingly beautiful.

Basically, this film is a bizarre and daring work of genius. Altman manages to totally capture the vibe of the Raymond Chandler story and retell it without having to 'update it' in the usual sense - which would have rapidly dated the film instead of making it an instant classic. I feel like a dummy for living through 30 years without ever seeing this amazing piece of work.

Monday, October 29, 2007


Adi Sideman | 1994 | 55 min | US

An hour of gay pedophiles rationalizing and intellectualizing "man-boy love." This documentary is as relentlessly disturbing as it is fascinating. It interviews a number of men who are remarkably candid about their desires, without a trace of guilt. One in particular is unabashed about having honed his seduction to an art. When you see him on camera speaking with a young boy it is discomforting, to say the least, and when he recounts his "connection" with the boy later on he sounds psychotic.

Many of of the men presented in the documentary are involved with NAMBLA, the North American Man-Boy Love Association. They prefer to use terms like "child-lover" rather than, say, "molester" and point to their "struggle" and the historic precedent for adults taking child sexual partners. I don't buy their stance, personally, but the documentary avoids directing the audience to moral conclusions too overtly. It contains very little narration or titling, but the interviewees manage to dig their own graves just fine.

Visually, Chickenhawk leaves a lot to be desired. It is shot on what appears to be consumer video, and poorly at that. White balance, people. A little more attention could have been paid to the boom mic placement, too. The rare glimpse into this bizarre world is worth ignoring the stylistic shortcomings, though.

I would have liked to have seen it expanded into a feature with more information about the genesis and opposition to NAMBLA. The information would have opened it up to a wider audience, but I imagine the information and interviews the filmmaker did manage to get were difficult enough. Still, a little more time spent on the history of the organization and its public face would have made the documentary considerably fuller.

This is obviously not choice viewing for everyone. If you are interested in fringe documentary and subculture, this will suit the bill, but I would avoid making a blanket recommendation of Chickenhawk. You need a strong stomach.

Chickenhawk did have some good news, though: everyone featured in the film basically looks like just what you would expect a pedophile to look like. Tell your kids not to talk to strangers, please.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Picture Claire

Bruce McDonald | 2001 | 91 min | Canada

Juliette Lewis, Gina Gershon, and a special appearance by Mickey Rourke. How's that for box office poison?

Lewis stars as a young Quebecois girl who heads to Toronto to be reunited with a former lover. Shockingly, shortly after her arrival coincidence and bad scriptwriting collide head-on to send her spiraling into a poorly realized crime caper. Also Mickey Rourke is there for some reason.

Picture Claire was the first step in developing the composite-heavy visual trickery that has gone on to form the basis of Macdonald's recent feature, The Tracey Fragments. The aesthetic is frequently too much (it never seems to take a break), but at least it gives you something to focus on whenever Juliette Lewis starts to speak. This movie features some mind boggling audio trickery in form of Lewis' Quebecois accent. Bruce, you live in a country full of unemployed Francophone actresses. What in god's name were you thinking? There were more than a few snickers in the theatre anytime she opened her mouth.

Bruce McDonald was responsible for Roadkill, Highway 61, and Hardcore Logo. Those were some of the most remarkable, funny, and genuine films ever to come out of Canada. I'm at a loss to explain how he became so completely out of touch in only ten years following.

This seems intended to be McDonald's love letter to downtown Toronto; a return to the people and places that inspired those great earlier works. So why the fuck did I have to cringe through ninety minutes of Juliette Lewis muttering, "Ken-zing-tone?" in comedy-French? What an atrocious movie.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007


Nikolai Lebedev | 2006 | 136 min | Russia

A recent trend in foreign filmmaking is emulating Hollywood blockbusters on a less than Hollywood budget. Wolfhound is Russia's latest attempt at it. This time trying to make a cross between Conan the Barbarian and the Lord of the Rings films. While all of the film's budget is up on the screen, the refined professional look that's being attempted, just isn't realized. On top of that, money is spent on a slew of special effects and costumes, but the script and acting suffers because of it.

Wolfhound's titular character witnesses his parents and the rest of his village be killed as a child. Raised a slave, he escapes his shackles, and goes out looking for revenge. Along the way, he becomes involved in a mystical adventure that's pretty run of the mill. A princess, her nurse, a prince who she's meant to marry, a traitor in the camp, a big bad guy, and various other minor characters. The only original thing about Wolfhound is the Wolfhound's sidekick. An adorable bat named Ragged Wing because one of his wings has a tear in it which prevents him from flying. The little guy is a fun element, but is unfortunately the only consistently fun thing in the film's extended runtime. There's a decent 90 minute long time-passer under the fat if someone wanted to edit it down to the bare essentials, removing most of the cliched melodrama, and useless bit players.

A similar situation to the remake situation in Hollywood, a lot of original films could be made with the money spent on these overblown and hollow inferiority complexes. Think of all the small personal dramas starring Ragged Wing they could have made instead.

The World Sinks Except Japan

Minoru Kawasaki | 2006 | 98 min | Japan

Japan is the only of Earth's land masses with its head above water. The rich from all around the rest of the globe have flown their private jets to Japan to see refuge from their liquid assassin. Once there and without power (the US dollar plummets to less than 1 yen), they have no choice but to do whatever they need to do to survive. Famous actresses become high price prostitutes, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis (played by hamfisted Japanese actors) become bar jesters, acting like fools for whatever change patrons throw their way, and the prim ministers of China and South Korea become the PM of Japan's lapdogs.

The film's premise is obviously full of potential comedy, and it's well tapped. Minoru Kawasaki fills the film to the brim with outrageous but deadpan laughs. If you've seen any of Kawasaki's other films (The Calamari Wrestler, Executive Koala, Rug Cop) you're pretty well prepared, but those who haven't are sure to be scratching their head for a while before settling into the wonderful world where the absurd is as common as the banal.

The World Sinks Except Japan isn't a perfect movie, and feels a lot longer than its 98 minute runtime, but it's a lot of fun and a fresh take on the end of the world. It's nice to know that someone else out there thinks that the world coming to an end is funny, and not cause to run around panicked with a Quaid brother.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Trouble Every Day

Claire Denis | 2001 | 101 min | France

Trouble Every Day stars Vincent Gallo as Shane, a newlywed and a total fucking creep. He has traveled to France with his wife with the ulterior motive of tracking down a biologist who's research has labeled him a bit of a crackpot. Shane is sick and we have suspicions that his illness is not what one would call traditional. In flashes throughout the film, we see Shane possesses a blood-lust that has often overpowered him. He maintains the veneer of a successful man, but it does not take too long for anyone to feel the terrible desire lingering just under his surface. Beatrice Dalle appears as an old friend of Shane's, Core, who is suffering from a similar affliction and being. . . helped? held prisoner by?. . .her husband, the aforementioned biologist. Core does not seem able to contain her desire in the same way Shane manages too. She has given herself entirely to cannibalism to the point where she seems incapable of (or unwilling to) communicate beyond her most base instincts.

Both Dalle and Gallo are exceptional when it comes to looking like weirdo nutjob freakshows. They really get a chance to shine here, showing off their knack for creating discomfort in an audience through a lingering look or uncomfortable proximity to a stranger. Simply due to the aura they carry in any given movie, the mysterious aspects of their characters work very well. Gallo in particular is a highlight of this film.

Trouble Every Day tries to tread the same path as Ferrara and early Cronenberg, but can never manage to unpack it's ideas. Though possessing moments of great tension and horror, I'm not sure this is a movie I can recommend. It's not the violence or story content that I take issue with, it is the deathly slow pacing. It seems Denis tries to tilt the audience off balance with a deliberate and steady unease rather than the shocks of typical horror, but that only works for so long. The chosen course leaves far too much out of the film. There needs to be a lot more in the way of characterization or development for it to feel like more than just passing time. There are only a couple of moments where we are attacked with the visceral violence we might expect and the story only hints at the nature of their cannibalism. Is their affliction a curable illness? A controllable desire? A chosen perversion? Each idea could could make for an interesting plot, but the film never wants to commit to and explore any one idea.

At many times I found myself thinking I was watching the outtakes of an AMAZING movie. There is a great mood and some terrific scenes in Trouble Every Day, but there isn't enough substance to sink one's teeth into. See what I did there? WHAM-O!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Punishment Park.

Peter Watkins | 1971 | 88 min | US

It's the middle of the Vietnam War in American and tensions are high on all sides of the debate. A bunch of filthy soap-dodging hippie dissidents are brought before a tribunal on vague charges of subversiveness. Without a hope of any other possible result, each young dissident is convicted of their crimes. For their sentences they are given a choice between a lengthy prison sentence or a stint through Punishment Park: a sadistic three-day obstacle coarse in the California desert. And what kind of a fool would choose a ten-year sentence over 72 hours of jogging? BAD CALL, HIPPIES.

Punishment Park is divided into two parts that we shuffle back and forth between, each part following a different group of young people. One group claws their way through a punishment park sentence, while a second group stands before the heavily weighted tribunal and awaits their inevitable sentencing.

The film we see is presented as footage shot by an international television crew who is present to ensure that the actions of the tribunal and the military police pursuing the prisoners are above board. Filmmaker Peter Watkins sticks to a verite documentary style, utilizing a very small crew and even appearing in the film himself as the director. The actors are clearly put through the ringer, forced to endure the oppressive desert heat and the berating of the tribunal. Punishment Park consists of a great deal of improvisational dialogue and there are many moments were it looks like the actors are about to fly off the rails. Their physical and emotional exhaustion are evident.

I expect Punishment Park was seen as terribly incendiary upon its first release. At the time the Vietnam War still raged and increasingly violent leftist activism was polarizing America. This film was withdrawn from North American theatres after only four days into its release in 1971. Its subject matter and delivery are a heavy viewing experience even today. Hell, especially today. Every single piece of dialogue about "national security" (and there is plenty) sounds disgustingly familiar. Highly recommended viewing.


Gary Lennon | 2006 | 101 min | USA

I love Milla Jovovich as an action star. More than any other woman in Hollywood, she gets type cast as a fantastically hot, near-robotic killing machine that's either out to save the world or destroy it, and quite frankly, it's satisfying every time.

That's why I was so disappointed that .45 failed to deliver what the cover of the DVD (showing a crouched Jovovich in a mini skirt and stilettos, holding a gun) promised me. That is: a sexy gun toting vixen out on a dangerous mission.

Instead, .45 turned out to be a plodding revenge drama centred around Kat (Jovovic) and her boyfriend Big Al (a convincing Angus Macfadyen), a pair of low level gun runners who rule their neighbourhood (even though Jovovich predictably yearns to get out). When Big Al's thugish behaviour ceases to be charming and he beats the hell out of Kat in a jealous rage, she begins to plot an elaborate revenge, double crossing friends and foes alike along the way.

The film co-stars Stephen Dorff, a man whose work I usually avoid because he seems to poison films with his mere presence. His only convincing role (excluding the '87 classic The Gate) was probably Aerosmith's Cryin' video. And yet, somehow, in spite of the obvious plot, predictable twist ending and so-so supporting cast, the film manages to be kind of engaging because Macfadyen and Jovovich pull off their gross skid characters so well.

My main complaint: for a film that's named after a gun, there's nowhere near enough gun play in this one.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Wrong Turn 2

Joe Lynch | 2007 | 93 min | USA

Henry Rollins and some other one dimensional idiots go into the woods to make a Survivor style reality show called Apocalypse, and are attacked by inbred cannibal hillbillies.

Obviously, Wrong Turn 2 doesn't boast the finest acting or writing, but Joe Lynch has made a fun movie filled with wicked kills and fun camera work, which deserved to be given a theatrical release, and possibly a new title that has nothing to do with Wrong Turn. Hillbilly Holocaust would have fit.

Hatchet director, Adam Green must be blowing the right people while Lynch (his friend) stays at home hard at work. Lynch has made the throwback to 80's horror that Green claims Hatchet is, but his movie is going straight to video while Green's snooze-fest has been released theatrically, and is being hailed as the second coming. Hopefully Lynch's next movie is treated with the proper amount of respect, and it can be enjoyed in a theatre. Green's too. Straight to VCD in Thailand maybe?

Oh! Also... Huge props to Lynch for the badass body-mount shot. It's been a while since that trick's been pulled off effectively. When did Mean Streets come out?

Wednesday, October 03, 2007


Nicolas Roeg | 2007 | 120 min | UK/Ireland/Canada

Puffball is the latest film from Nicolas Roeg, the director of Walkabout, Performance, and Don't Look Now. It's about a young architect who becomes pregnant while working on a strange cottage project in a remote town full of strangers who show more interest in her baby than is wanted from strangers. Unfortunately, the movie's not as good as the talent and premise would have you believe.

Where to start? What's the biggest problem with Puffball?

Expectations? Nicolas Roeg's made BRILLIANT films in the past, and this isn't one.

That it's shot on video? Roeg and his DP have created some interesting visuals, but they've also used a fair bit of slow motion and zooming (two things which don't work on video in the same way they do on film).

Bad acting? Yes and no. Miranda Richardson and the films lead, Kelly Reilly (originally to have been Samantha Morton) give good performances, but the rest of the cast is pretty bland.

Music? OH HELL YES THIS IS A BIG PROBLEM!!!! It should be illegal to put this much terrible celtic music in a film.

Roeg's crush on Womb-cam? When things start to get a little dry, interior shots of female reproductive organs are meant to keep the audience intrested. Nope.

Its reliance on cheap scare tactics? An old lady constantly staring into the lens, and loud noises? That's it? Are you sure you don't want to try something more original?

Is it a bad script? I think that might be it. It's not a 51% shareholder of the film's problems considering how many there are, but this is a two hour long film, and you want it to wrap things up as early as half way through. Not a line of memorable dialogue to be found, paper-thin characters, and ridiculously laughable devices such as a character putting together a puzzle, which is meant to represent the film's plot.

Puffball is a really frustrating two hours which you sit through in hopes of a payoff that will make up for all of its flaws, but that payoff never comes. Would it be inappropriate to call it a cinematic miscarriage?