Tag: film festival

Toronto After Dark Film Festival: The Innkeepers (2011)

This review is part of my coverage of the 2011 Toronto After Dark Film Festival, taking place October 20-27 at the Toronto Underground Cinema. For more information, check out their website. For my full coverage go here.

With the spiffiest poster I’ve seen in a while and a lot of positive buzz for The House of the Devil filmmaker Ti West, I was definitely looking forward to The Innkeepers, the closing film at Toronto After Dark. Set at a purportedly haunted inn in Connecticut, the film documents the adventures of Claire (Sarah Paxton, aka the Most Adorable Person in the World) and Luke (Pat Healy) as they work one of their last nights at the soon-to-close Yankee Pedlar Inn. Using an audio recorder, Claire plans to find proof of resident ghost Madeline O’Malley before the night is out, with help from a psychic guest (Kelly McGillis).

Utilizing long bouts of silence and continued uncertainty as to the validity of spectral presence, The Innkeepers proves West is adept at the “slow-burn” style of horror. It is incredibly tense and at points truly scary, primarily because of all the crazy what-ifs I built up in my head as the action slowly unfolded on- (and off-) screen. The exploration of sound is effective and innovative, with a lot of dark scenes propelled by sound alone. This managed to terrify me by holding so much back, but then again I am a bit of a scaredy-cat.

For all its suicidal ghost brides and ominous portent, The Innkeepers‘ success lies primarily in its remarkable development of character. Sarah Paxton is phenomenal as Claire, a relatable and innocent young lady who manages to be hilarious most of the time with effortless charm. She makes a scene that is literally just Claire taking out the garbage turn into the most entertaining thing I saw all week. I spent most of the film imagining how fun our lunch dates and sleepovers would be once we became best friends. I also totally wanted her to hook up with Luke, since Pat Healy is so helplessly nerdy it looked like he could use a good, healthy boinkfest. The extreme attachment West is able to invoke for his characters is what makes the film so engaging- I cared so strongly what happened to these people, it was a little ridiculous.

Not much actually happens in The Innkeepers, plot-wise. It’s slow, it’s dialogue-heavy, and for a ghost story there isn’t much screen time devoted to actual ghosts. And I was captivated every second. West frames his story so closely and Paxton charms to completely that I couldn’t help but give in to this movie. Plus he totally got me several times with the mere possibility of a scare during all those prolonged, high-pitched-note type of scenes.

What’s cool about this film is that it’s based on West’s real experiences. He and his crew stayed at the Yankee Pedlar while shooting The House of the Devil, and he claims that while he doesn’t believe in ghosts, this is the most haunted place he’s ever been. Doors close by themselves, everyone has freaky dreams, things move on their own, etc. The inn’s lazy employees served as inspiration for Luke and Claire. The movie is filmed at the actual Yankee Pedlar and the whole crew stayed there while filming, leading to some spooky times.

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: I have yet to see West’s previous film The House of the Devil but I’ve heard it’s got a similar vibe. Otherwise, I’d say The Shining.

Toronto After Dark Film Festival: Vs (2011)

This review is part of my coverage of the 2011 Toronto After Dark Film Festival, taking place October 20-27 at the Toronto Underground Cinema. For more information, check out their website. For my full coverage go here.

Four superheroes wake up in an isolated small town rigged to explode if they don’t follow the rules of a vengeful villain’s (James Remar) homicidal obstacle course. Charge (Jason Trost), Cutthroat (Lucas Till), Shadow (Sophie Merkley), and The Wall (Lee Valmassy) were once a crimefighting team before going their separate ways due to ego struggles and relationship drama, but now they find they must either work together or kill each other if they want to get out alive and save the various innocent hostages tied up around the town.

Vs has a really solid premise. I enjoy dark superhero stories, and this one definitely has a Watchmen-esque take on things as the characters’ relationships are explored and their very human flaws and uncertainties are given focus instead of their superpowers (they’ve been injected with a power-muffling serum) or witty quips. Everyone is expendable, which is also nice for a less predictable story. Unfortunately the execution doesn’t live up to the promise of the set-up.

With uneven performances, some questionable narrative choices, weak characterization, and a tendency to take itself too seriously, Vs just doesn’t really work for me. I wanted to like it because I think the premise is so promising, but wound up being very disappointed. The cheesy flashbacks and stilted dialogue were unintentionally laughable at points, and while the effects are decent the action isn’t very engaging. I’ll spare you my seething diatribe about the incredibly incompetent, whiny, useless female superhero “Shadow”, who gets to stare blankly at the boys while wearing high heels and waiting to be ordered around, but suffice to say her character alone is enough to forfeit any respect I might have for this film.

James Remar looks like he’s having a fun time as the cocky bad guy and Lucas Till is pretty, but there’s little to really recommend in this film. It’s mostly wasted opportunities with a few showy moments. It strives for affecting superhero drama but manages to lay on the cheese with a dated Fantastic Four-esque dynamic and unconvincing characters. I would actually love to see someone remake this with a bigger budget and stronger script. I’m not trying to dump on the filmmakers here, I recognize that a lot of hard work and dedication went into making this film, the execution just didn’t work for me.

But seriously, are we really not past these stupid, infantile, one-dimensional depictions of women in superhero movies yet? It’s one thing when they’re being adapted from 60’s comic books but this is a new character written for the screen in a 2011 release. I continue to be infuriated by the lack of any decent female superheroes, it just seems like we should really be over this by now. Is Tank Girl all I’m ever going to get?

2/5

Pair This Movie With: Well I didn’t really care for the Watchmen movie but maybe if you like that you’d like this too? Long double feature, though. I would recommend to instead read Uncanny X-Men #123 with Arcade when he traps the team in a high-concept obstacle course. Good times.

Vs facebook page
Vs trailer

Toronto After Dark Film Festival: Manborg (2011)

This review is part of my coverage of the 2011 Toronto After Dark Film Festival, taking place October 20-27 at the Toronto Underground Cinema. For more information, check out their website. For my full coverage go here.

OK so this movie is called Manborg. What the fuck else do you need to know about it? Except that the tagline is “Revenge is back”.

Fine fine I WILL WRITE AN ACTUAL REVIEW. Brought to us by the Astron-6 collective (my new favorite people), Manborg is a short and sweet low-budget sci-fi parody that envisions a future after Hell wins a war with Earth. In a mechanized city populated with demons, the remaining humans are forced to fight for entertainment. When the mysterious half-man, half-robot known as Manborg (Matthew Kennedy) appears, the human prisoners make a plan to escape and overcome their tyrannical overlords with his help.

At a trim 60 minutes, Manborg offers perfect goofy entertainment and never overstays its welcome (unlike a number of other similarly-minded parodies). The premise is appropriately silly and interesting, with a hilarious cast of mismatched characters and effects that surpass (and at times betray) the $1000 budget. With the good guys there’s an outspoken Australian gunman (Conor Sweeney), his knife-wielding sister (Meredith Sweeney), and advanced martial artist Number One Man (Ludwig Lee, dubbed hilariously by Kyle Herbert). With the bad guys there’s the melodramatic Dr Scorpius (Adam Brooks), the evil demon lord Draculon (also Adam Brooks), and his second-in-command the Baron (Jeremy Gillespie), who just wants to be loved! Everyone feels vaguely familiar due to the various genre-specific references, but the likable cast imbues the characters with layers of comedy and sometimes badassery. It’s like Mad Max, Mortal Kombat, Robocop, The Terminator, and everything that’s awesome rolled together to make something even better?

The more I think about this movie the more I want to watch it again. The one reservation I had going in was the visuals, since the entire thing is shot in front of a green screen and the effects are purposefully (I assume?) sort of shitty. But writer/director Steve Kostanski is also a stop-motion animator, and I loved the various stop-motion monsters and effects he incorporated into the film. It gives it a simultaneously retro and modern-day feel. Plus the costumes were pretty cool (read: I dug Meredith Sweeney’s blue wig), with various mechanical things constructed out of everyday objects.

Most of Manborg doesn’t make any sense, but all of it is hilarious and amazing. Thank you Astron-6.

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: The silliness, enthusiasm, and shoestring budget of the Astron-6 crew remind me a little of Trey Parker’s student film Cannibal! The Musical. Alternatively, the Baron character is reminiscent of the Legend of Zelda parody webseries, The Legend of Neil.

Astron-6 official site
Manborg trailer
Manborg Q&A at TADFF

Toronto After Dark Film Festival: The Divide (2011)

This review is part of my coverage of the 2011 Toronto After Dark Film Festival, taking place October 20-27 at the Toronto Underground Cinema. For more information, check out their website. For my full coverage go here.

As the world crumbles and burns around them, nine residents of an apartment building barricade themselves in the well-fortified basement where the curmudgeonly super resides. Fearful of nuclear radiation they remain there and eventually become trapped by an unknown military force outside, and as alliances are formed and sickness takes over their mental states deteriorate with increasingly violent results.

Like so many post-apocalyptic movies, The Divide reminds us that most people are monsters at heart and craziness is always just around the corner. The major players here are Eva (Lauren German), a wide-eyed recovering drug addict who doubts her commitment to her clueless partner Sam (Iván González); Josh (Milo Ventimiglia) and his friend Bobby (Michael Eklund), who both embark on a destructive power trip when they get control of the supplies; Mickey (Michael Biehn), the paranoid super with a violent temper; and Marilyn (Rosanna Arquette), a middle-aged mother who just breaks after her daughter is taken away. Most of the performances are strong, with the actors partially improvising their dialogue and character arcs- director Xavier Gens filmed in sequence and put his actors on a 30-day diet, so it’s safe to say the cast became pretty involved in their roles. Lauren German is the weakest link, and the film suffers for it since she’s meant to be the main protagonist. She spends most of the film ambling about with nice hair and no personality to speak of, plus she’s got a mad case of the stares. It’s annoying.

Though The Divide is showing us a premise we’ve all seen before, it is bold and creative in its complete focus on the moment. There are no flashbacks or expository character backgrounds, there is very little attention given to the outside world (the main trip out is in the beginning); the characters are so completely shut-in and cut-off that they (along with the audience) forget there is anything outside those walls. This story is all about what these people are doing here and now, not what they did before the world ended or what they will do if they ever get out. Escape seems to be forgotten early on and only survival matters.

This movie is a brutal experience. It’s well-shot, I liked the score, and most of the performances are strong, but the meandering script and blank lead character make it less successful than it could have been, plus the story takes a few turns that don’t make any sense. The most important thing is that Michael Biehn was there in person and I saw him and it was amazing. Michael Fuckingggg Biehnnnnnnnn.

3.5/5

Pair This Movie With: I think this would be kind of cool to play as a precursor to The Road– like maybe this is what was going on before the Father and Son started their journey.

The Divide official site
The Divide trailer

Toronto After Dark Film Festival: A Lonely Place to Die (2011)

This review is part of my coverage of the 2011 Toronto After Dark Film Festival, taking place October 20-27 at the Toronto Underground Cinema. For more information, check out their website. For my full coverage go here.

A-Lonely-Place-to-Die-2011

Merging survivalist thriller with action-packed chase movie, A Lonely Place to Die focuses on a group of thrill-seeking mountain climbers exploring the Scottish Highlands. When they come upon a young Serbian girl buried alive in the middle of the woods, their vacation is suddenly catapulted into a deadly chase populated with sheer cliffs, killer kidnappers, a pagan festival, and mercenaries with questionable motives. Experienced climber and presumably professional badass Alison (Melissa George) leads the way as the group tries to find help in the closest village.

With extensive birds-eye views of Scotland’s gorgeous mountains and impressive on-location climbing action, A Lonely Place is a tense, engaging film from start to finish. At first I thought it would be a nail-biter survivalist film, which really isn’t my thing because I am far too paranoid and squeamish for such matters, but after the characters are established in the opening scenes it pretty quickly changes over into a well-executed chase thriller with terrifying realism. A lot of people die in this movie and I had no idea how far sibling filmmakers Julian and Will Gibney would take their story, making the high stakes and removed setting all the more intensely felt.

The main thing we can take away from this movie- besides that mountain climbing is terrifying and Serbian crime lords are totally creepy- is that Melissa George is fucking hardcore. Her character is immediately shown to be the most capable in the film and continues to display signs of utter badassery with each passing scene. She takes a beating (both physically and emotionally) but refuses to stay down and pushes on through sheer force of will. It’s amazing. The rest of the cast is good too but she is just so strong and resourceful it’s hypnotic.

While some of the script’s details are a little fuzzy or convoluted, for the most part A Lonely Place to Die is tightly-paced, with beautiful cinematography, strong characterization, and a bit of a mystery. Our heroes have stumbled into a major conspiracy completely accidentally, and for most of the film they have no idea who is chasing them or why exactly, which makes things more exciting and even scary for the audience. It’s definitely one of the best films I’ve seen at Toronto After Dark.

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Maybe it’s just because I’ve got Michael Biehn on the brain (he was at TADFF for his thriller The Divide– more on that later), but I could see this going well with The Terminator. They’re both well-executed chase movies with a cool lady.

A Lonely Place to Die facebook

A Lonely Place to Die trailer