Tuesday, July 28, 2009

TSADT Podcast Episode 06

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Lots of reviews from this year's Fantasia Fest, loads of babbling about the films announced thus far for this year's Toronto International Film Festival, plus the usual junk. It's like eavesdropping on a conversation of the boring friends you avoided having. I apologize for describing every movie as "awesome."

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Thursday, July 23, 2009


Jaume Collet-Serra | 2009 | 123 mins | USA / Canada

Orphan is one of those oddities that’s hard to recommend without spoiling. On the surface, it's 50% failed thriller and 50% failed horror, but deep down, there is a lot of entertainment value in its stupendously stupid (but funny) premise.

The film is about a couple, Kate and John Coleman (Vera Fermiga and an oddly fey Peter Sarsgaard), who have recently suffered the stillbirth of what was to be their third child. By way of dealing with their tremendous grief, they’ve decided to give the love they had for their child to someone who “really needs it”. One excursion to a school for orphaned girls later, they bring home Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman), a nine year old Russian girl with impeccable manners, a talent for painting and a penchant for wearing ribbons around her neck and wrists.

Esther seems wonderful at first, but soon mom starts feeling uneasy around the preternaturally genteel child. As Esther begins to show her manipulative, sinister colours, Kate must try to convince John that something is terribly wrong before it’s too late.

Kate's an ex-alcoholic, and some terrible accident involving the couple's younger, deaf daughter is hinted at but never fully explained. This subtle subplot is one of the things that makes the first half of Orphan a successful slow-burn thriller. Unfortunately, the third act seems to be tacked on from a completely different film. Basically, the ending of Orphan is the most crazy shit since Sleepaway Camp, but don't worry, no spoilers here. The shocker reveal is much more preposterous and thoroughly implausible.

Orphan is a bit of a Frankenstein's monster of a film. Had the ending been preceded by much goofier horror fare, or had the beginning been given a more dignified finale, it might have been great. Instead, the odd patchwork becomes laughable. And really, I'm not scoffing at the entertainment value of unintentionally funny films!

One of the best things about Orphan is the gorgeous architecture (a prerequisite for any film about a family being terrorized at home, it seems). The wood-and-glass structure set against the stark wintry forest is not just idyllic - it's a perfect backdrop for terror. Sarsgaard plays an architect, and the design details in this film (like the Eames rocking chair in the couple’s living room) did not go unnoticed by me.

Also: I wasn't sure why the film company logos played before the opening credits were tinged with weird day-glo hues until later in the film when it became obvious that Orphan was going to deliver one of the creepiest and funniest black light scenes in recent horror history. Thumbs up for that.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Power Kids

Krissanapong Rachata | 2009 | 90 min | Thailand

A rag tag group of young muai-thai students spend the first half hour or so of Power Kids, fighting a drunk meathead American, stealing money from their teacher to buy an RC car, racing said car, and getting their hides tanned. It's all fun, games, and character development until Wun, the youngest of the group, needs an emergency heart transplant. He's very lucky that another young boy in Thailand who had been in a coma (“asleep like a pile of vegetables” according to the film's sometimes iffy English subtitles), passes on, making his heart available for transplant. There's a catch though. The hospital across town that the heart is neatly packed away on ice in is being visited by the U.S. ambassador, and terrorists lead by The Rebel's Johnny Nguyen have decided to take the hospital hostage.

With only four hours until the heart is useless, Wun's muai-thai-for-kids classmates/pals take it upon themselves to go to the hospital to get the heart. Of course it's not quite that easy, and they need to deliver and receive some big fun beatings. Call me sick, but there's something really really fun about watching a child getting kicked across the room into a wall. At the same time though, it's just as fun to watch them deliver flying knees to the heads of full-grown adults.

The film's far from perfect but its flaws are entertaining. The far-fetched plot and intense melodrama enhance the film somehow by unintentionally making the film more fun than intended (though make no doubt it is meant to be very entertaining). Power Kids' solid fight choreography is its strongest element. It never feels like the moves have been simplified for the kids to be able to perform them or softened to keep kids from getting bad ideas upon viewing the film. If you've got kids, watching this will give them lots of really bad (and awesome) ideas on how they could kick your ass when you come home drunk and hit them. So keep that in mind, and if you do show it to them, be sure to replace all of your fluorescent light fixtures beforehand. Your face will thank me later.