Have you ever thought to yourself: what would happen if I mixed one of the worst disasters in human history with an anthropomorphic rapping dog and shoddy animation? Well fret not because Titanic: The Legend Goes On… answers your question in every sense of the word!

The cockamamie project was conceived by Italian director Camillo Teti. Not much is known about him but his other well-known films (if you can call them that) include Bye Bye Vietnam and College Girl Goes on Vacation.  Don’t those titles just scream brilliance?

This movie is so unbelievable that many people even question its existence. But don’t worry, lucky for you it indeed exists.

To start let’s look at the tagline for this movie: “A full-length animated feature, based on the legend of the Titanic.” Ah yes, the LEGEND of the Titanic. All those deaths, that giant sinking ship, all a made-up story. A good start. I don’t want to start off this review giving you a biased opinion and all but it’s kind of difficult not to.

So the movie begins with our female protagonist, Angelica, rowing in a lifeboat, behind her the sinking RMS Titanic. Yes, from the start we all already know how the movie will end. That is some stellar storytelling. We are then led into Angelica’s flashback, where the real film begins (rendering the opening sequence kind of useless).

Next, we are  met with Angelica (in the real opening scene?) with her stepmother and two evil stepsisters…Sound familiar? This movie is just a heaping pile of recycled Disney stories. In fact, every character in this movie seems to be a rip-off of another Disney character: Cinderella, the mice from An American Tail, Cruella DeVille.

It’s as if this director thought: How about I take a bunch of Disney cartoon characters and put them on the Titanic. Genius. There is also a musical troupe of racially insensitive Mexican mice. A necessary addition to any film about a tragic human disaster.

Anyways, the movie has something to do with Angelica’s locket being stolen and her trying to find it, I guess. As the film moves forward we are met with her creepy American Psycho-esque love interest, William, who, after their first encounter, finds it okay to aggressively rub Angelica’s hand. And from that moment on, they are in love…like ten minutes into the film.

There are so many different subplots going on at once it’s hard to keep track of who the characters are and what the movie is actually about. Sometimes there are stories that start to develop in one scene and then nothing follows from it or we never see the characters again.

The pinnacle awful movie moment in the film however is most probably the scene with the aforementioned rapping dog (shown below for your viewing pleasure). Why is there a rapping dog on the Titanic? Who the hell knows. Maybe there weren’t enough talking animals. Unfortunately though, this pooch only makes one appearance in the film so clap along with those poorly animated spaghetti fingers for as long as you can.

I mean, this movie is so bad that there is actually  a thread on IMDB for the film called: “Say something positive about this movie.” Some of the positive things include: “This movie has united people in how horrible it is” and “Camilo Teti hasn’t made anything since 2007, that’s positive.”

BUT WAIT! Don’t be sad if you haven’t gotten your fill of animated Titanic movies. There are two other ones directed by another Italian director. Yes that’s right, not just one but TWO. Both include, a giant octopus who tries to put the Titanic back together again. Why Italy? Why?

An actual scene from one of the other animated Titanic films.

You won’t actually get the full experience of this film until you see it, but I assure you it’ll make you wish the Titanic would hit the iceberg sooner.

Feature image courtesy of  Camilo Teti

For a while, I had been avoiding comedies, seldom watching them, and often opting for hard-hitting dramas. Perusing through Netflix, however, I came across this one film in the foreign language section, Wild Tales, an Argentinian flick from 2015. I decided to give it a shot and was not disappointed; this was indeed what I needed to start enjoying comedies again.

Wild Tales is unlike any other comedy film as of late bridging together slapstick and black comedy along with important social commentary. It is a film that is evidently being told with great cynicism for Argentinian society after decades of corruption and government incompetence, something many Argentinians can relate to.

It is made up of six vignettes, each more ludicrous than the last. Flight passengers learn they have something in common. A waitress serves food to a notorious gangster from her hometown. A road rage incident gone horribly wrong. A man brought to the mental brink after an unwanted parking fee. A criminal cover-up after a hit and run. A bride and groom have a falling out at their wedding. All of these tales have one central theme: revenge. And it gets served up adequately in each respective story.

 

In director Damian Szifron’s portmanteau of revenge, he finds the surreal in the mundane: in the road rage story a luxury car becomes a deathtrap and in the final wedding story social etiquette is spun on its head. All stories could realistically happen and that’s what makes them all the crazier.

All but one vignette, the cover-up story, stands out as a little more serious than the others but Szifron again does not disappoint and raises the bar to a ridiculous level with the final story about a bourgeois Jewish wedding.

There is a somewhat Quentin Tarantino-esque feel to the film throughout, especially in the third story about road rage, arguably the most violent story but also the most fun and tense one in my opinion.

 

The film has been called one of the most important films to have come out of Argentina in recent years as well as the most successful Argentinian film to have ever been made. It received a ten-minute standing ovation at the 2014 Cannes film festival and has, since its creation, had rave reviews. Which makes me wonder how I had never heard of it until now.

Do yourself a favour, get on your tv or computer and watch this little hidden Netflix gem, it’ll have you laughing, gasping and horrified all at once. Sounds like quite the Saturday night if I do say so myself.

(watch it on Netflix)

Feature image courtesy of Warner Sogefilms

Welcome back to Friday Film Review. Alright so it isn’t Friday but from here on out I will aim to have these film reviews on a weekly basis every Friday for your weekend viewing pleasure.

For my first review, I’ve chosen the film Network from 1976 directed by Sidney Lumet and brilliantly penned by Paddy Chayefsky. I have chosen the film mostly because of it’s extreme relevance to today and this past American election. It is about a madman who, perpetuated by the media to boost ratings, rants about the current troubles of the times without filter on live television. Sound familiar?

Howard Beale (portrayed by Peter Finch) is an aging newsman from the fictional television network UBS, who is going through a mental breakdown. Recently widowed and about to lose his job due to sagging ratings, Beale goes on television still drunk from the night before and announces that he will blow his brains out on live television in a week’s time.

During Beale’s final days on air, he delivers a series of on-air monologues mostly about the “BS” nature of existence and hypocrisies of American society all culminating in his messianic exclamation; “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

Upon seeing this, Diana (portrayed by Faye Dunaway), the heartless, cold and calculated executive from UBS’ programming department decides that they should keep Howard on air and exploit his prophetic visions, dubbing him a “mad prophet denouncing the hypocrisies of our time” at the behest of his friend Max (portrayed by William Holden), the head of the news department. Hesitant at first, the devious and equally cold corporate hatchet man Frank (portrayed by Robert Duvall) agrees to Diane’s proposal, seeing that it will boost ratings.

This all comes to a standstill, when Beale catches the eye of CCA president (the board that governs UBS) Arthur Jensen (portrayed by Ned Beatty), when he reveals and ultimately ruins a deal between the CCA and a Saudi Arabian conglomerate. Upon discovering this, Jensen invites Beale to his ominous boardroom and gives to Beale one of the best and most thunderous monologues of film history and all in his second and final appearance in the film.

At the end of the monologue Beale asks why he is the one to deliver this message. Jensen’s reply? “Because you’re on television dummy.”

Beale leaves with Jensen’s bleak message that essentially nothing matters but the almighty dollar and to accept the current state of corporatocracy. Preaching, Jensen’s depressing message puts Beale into a ratings slump once again, not liking the “new” madman, the network decides to dispose of him in a way that is truly appropriate for outrageous television.

If we look more closely into this film, we can posit that a lot of what Chayefsky wrote has come true. Corporate structures own more media outlets than they ever have before and the mad prophet archetype built up by the media speaking of corporate good existing with Trump didn’t start with him. It also exists with people like Glenn Beck and is even further perpeutated on social media by people like the rabid and overly-emotional Alex Jones of Infowars. In this, Chayefsky’s writing was way beyond its time.

The film is a swath of thoughtful and powerful monologues given by equally powerful actors with interesting stories and themes, to boot. I didn’t touch on a lot them here but there is also powerful commentary on the convergence of politics and the media with communist leader Laureen Hobbs meeting with Diana to create a series to exploit the ultra-leftist Ecumenical Liberation Front, led by the Great Ahmed Khan, to boost ratings. Their relationship begins with this memorable introduction:

There is also the relationship between Max and Diana, revealing Diana as the result of a generation that has grown up on television. In their final scene Max describes her as “television incarnate.”

In short, Network is a clever (at times too clever) and excellently written film and it’s not hard to see why it won four Oscars with performances as amazing as Peter Finch’s and Faye Dunnaway’s. The sharp, satirical wit of Chayefsky really comes out with this flick. If you want to stay in and treat yourself to a dark satire on the hypocrisies of our time look no further than this well-aged cinematic magnum opus.

Featured image courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer and United Artists

As the Sioux of Standing Rock persevere in their legal battle against the Dakota Access Pipeline, the promoters are resorting to violence to disperse peaceful protesters.

Energy Transfer Partners’s private security attacked the protesters with pepper spray and dogs on Saturday, near the camp set up by indigenous activists in Southern North Dakota. The same day, the company bulldozed sacred burial grounds on private land.

A video report from Democracy Now! shows a group of persons trying to disperse the crowd with dogs and pepper spray. We can see several protesters who have clearly been maced in the face and a man showing the bloody dog bite on his arm.

Activist Martie Simmons, who was present, tweeted that six protesters, including a pregnant woman were bitten. Four private security guards and two guard dogs were injured, according to the local Sheriff’s Office (Morton County). The nature of the injuries suffered by the dogs and the guards were undisclosed but eyewitnesses affirm that the dogs were out of control, and bit the guards too.

Police say they received no reports of injured protesters.The sheriff’s office confirmed there was no officers present at the confrontation.

Indigenous resistance to the DAPL

Standing Rock’s Sioux tribe has organized opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline ever since the project first became public two years ago. The trajectory of the pipeline is set to skim their reserve and cross the Missouri River twice, causing concerns about water contamination and protection of cultural heritage sites.

Thousands of indigenous people from the US and Canada responded to the call of the Sioux of Standing Rock and set up camps near the Missouri River. Over a hundred tribes are represented in what became known as the oil protest camps, what could be one of the biggest assemblies of Indigenous Peoples this century. Non-native activists also joined the ranks.

Meanwhile, the Sioux of Standing Rock are suing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for fast-tracking construction permits without consulting them.

The DAPL is a $4.88 billion pipeline that should conduct half a million barrels of crude oil per day from the Bakken Oil fields of North Dakota to Illinois. The pipeline will be just under 1900 km long and run through four states.

According to the Chairman of the Sioux Tribe of Standing Rock, Dave Archambault II, the pipeline threatens the lives of the people on the reserve and of the millions of people living downstream on the Missouri River, as well as ancestral Sioux sites.

“We never had an opportunity to express our concerns. This is a corporation that is bulldozing through,” Archambault told Democracy Now!.

His tribe is currently challenging the permits of Energy Transfer Partners in federal court on the grounds that the promoters did not adequately consult First Nations. They called for an emergency, temporary stopping of the construction on Tuesday, claiming that the company is already desecrating their burial sites. The federal court will announce its verdict on September 9th.

A Canadian Company

The DAPL is co-piloted by the American company Energy Transfer Partners and the Calgary-based Enbridge. Enbridge is no stranger to controversy, as it was recently forced by Canada’s federal court to give up on the Northern Gateway pipeline for similar reasons.

The $7.9 billion pipeline meant to export Albertan petroleum to the west coast had first been authorized by the Conservative government, despite the strong opposition of the native communities near its trajectory. However a federal appeal court revoked the permits in July, ruling that the Enbridge had not adequately consulted the affected aboriginal communities.

In 2015, Enbridge broke records by racking up $264 000 in fines from the National Energy Board, mostly because of safety and environmental hazards. However, the NEB ended up cancelling most of the fines due to lack of evidence.

Enbridge incidentally made the news today for acquiring Spectra Energy. The $37 billion transaction, if it is approved by appropriate authorities, could make Enbridge the biggest player on the North American market of energy infrastructure.

Question:
Is the recent guerrilla art installation Emperor Has No Balls (nude Trump statues in various parks) just an example of body shaming or does it get a pass because the subject, Trump, is obsessed with sexist body norms for women?

Answer:
As an American citizen I am embarrassed and abhorred that someone like this has gotten so far in our obviously flawed political system. He is the actual Republican nominee for President of the United States.

He is a racist, sexist, bigoted meanie face. All of his beliefs and moral stances are foolish and full of shit, he is not a politician, he is an ego maniac celebrity, a money grubbing monster, and downright evil doer. BUT, he is a human being.

While I do think he is an idiot and I want to see his campaign crash and burn, I do not believe in body shaming or making fun of any of his physical attributes. You are only as beautiful on the outside as you are on the inside, so obviously he doesn’t have much to work with. Judge him on his idioic ideas and not his lack of genitalia.

I don’t want to be shamed for my imperfect body so I will never do the same to another human. The piece features fat shaming and transphobia.

There is no pass when it comes to body shaming. I am a firm believer in two wrongs don’t make a right. If I judge him for being a jerk I can’t go right back and be a jerk in response, we must Love Trumps Hate to move on.

This publicity stunt got his name in the news again, the dumb people are still seeing his name. In good or bad context doesn’t matter, it’s in their impressionable minds. The stunt made headlines.

Although, on one hand I do believe that people should have a sense of humor. Public art is made to stand out, make people think. Trump’s naked body has nothing to do with his political agenda. I do agree that he would be a terrible president, and would probably erect similar statues of himself anyways.

I have dressed up like Trump in the past, mocking him and being satirical. I was a parody, a personification of his idiocracy and “perfect hair.”

Trump wins every time someone says or types his name, I am feeding the machine by even writing this article. He is an “even bad press is good press” believer.

He pulls this stuff out of his ass just to rile people up. He excites the hate mongers and ignites the protesters into a fury. Justice has not been served by erecting the larger than life nudes, he honestly probably really loves them, and will have the whole collection in one of his mansions.

Activist art crew Indecline was in charge of this public art frenzy, naked Trump statues appearing in many major cities: Seattle, New York, San Francisco, Cleveland, and Los Angeles- to protest the Republican presidential nominee. At 11 am in each city (8 on West coast) two people dressed like construction workers carried out this 6’5″, 80 pound sculpture under a blue tarp and then literally glued it to the ground and disappeared into the crowd.

Each statue was beautifully hand painted by an artist known as Ginger, a Las Vegas based horror artist (that admits he was once a Trump supporter, then wisened up as the campaign got more out of control). Ginger is known for his monsters, and Trump is a monster.

Once the tarp was removed mayhem insued. So many selfless were taken, one was “jerked off” by a homeless man, another was dragged into a nearby art gallery, but most were taken down by the police. The new goal is to make them for high end galleries and restaurants, willing participants.

Tiny penis and no testicles were the main attraction. Although art is subjective and takes liberties, it is not confirmed whether he actually has testicles in real life or not. He definitely suffers from foot in mouth disease and is a raging sociopath, but that is beside the point.

The Emperor Has No Balls is part of Indecline’s 15 years of art as activism, usually sticking to murals and graffiti. They are responsible for the Rape Trump graffiti on a fence at the US Mexico border. They knew that larger action needed to be taken as the Trump campagn was a real thing, he is the nominee, wow, this is happening!

Everytime I turn on a TV or look at the news I get sick, I worry that this impending doom is the final apocalypse. What will he do as our commander in chief? Not saying I love Hilary Clinton or anything, but COME ON! He is the worst, it’s a joke that has gone too far, and at OUR EXPENSE!

They started to think about how dictators were memorialized in giant statues throughout history. Illama Gore’s infamous drawing of naked Trump got so much attention (even the artist being assaulted due to her work) that it was a clear inspiration for this project.

Trump’s campaign did not comment on the statues. Of course not…

* Featured image: Naked Trump statue in Union Square, NYC

Got a question for Cat? Ask it: Cat@ForgetTheBox.net

To kick off ASK CAT, a new monthly advice column on FTB, Cat McCarthy dared her Facebook friends to ask her anything about Sex, Dating, Politics, Art, Feminism, Activism, LGBTQ issues, Drugs, Culture, etc. We published the first three responses and now the rest.

Now, it’s your turn. ASK CAT anything: Cat@ForgetTheBox.net

Dear Cat, What should I do if I wake up in between two dudes with cake smeared all over my chest, I’m wearing a 1980s blond wig, I’m thirsty, my feet are bound together, my nose is running and one of them looks like the messiah….while some famous director is filming me in his bloody underwear. Should I wait for an invite to the threesome?

– Melissa Campbell

Hi Melscamp! As you know from personal experience I am not the person to ask about joining into a threesome. While I have had several successful and life changing threeways in my life they don’t always end well for me. It will not work if you feel self conscious, if you feel like they are more interested in each other and not you, or if the girl doesn’t like you but the guy does and you would both rather just be with him. Threesomes must be mutual, all on the same playing field.

she lives richard simmons cat sinclairDid you smear the cake before you fell asleep? Is it tasty? Were you drunk or on drugs? Is this consensual? Are the guys hot? Is that REAL blood? Why is Dirty Jesus called that? Do you want this? Are you in the non-consent yurt? Is there a lambskin condom?

I know you are into some kinky shit, so in my opinion, YES, get into that threesome. Don’t be like me and wait for the invite, nobody is ever going to invite you, if you are already into it that far with them they want you there! Any self made flaws are not noticed in groupsex.

I once hooked with two friends, they answered the door wearing matching boxer briefs. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. I was a goddess to them. Make sure you are being treated with respect and have a safe word. You are a goddess and I blame you for everything

Dear Cat, Which side of a double sided dildo is preferable?

– Velvet

cat noseHi Al! Well my dad always says “if you go to the right, you can’t go wrong,” so the answer is you must spin the dildo
around counterclockwise in the center of a lesbian boob circle and whichever way it lands pick the side to your right, add lube, and enjoy with a special friend on the left end.

Or I would also say inspect the dildo and pick the side with less cat hair stuck to it. Silicone dildos are big time attractors of cat hair (which is prevalent in most lesbian relationships, the most common owners of double ended dildos).

Got a question for Cat? Ask it: Cat@ForgetTheBox.net

Hello faithful readers! I don’t know if this is going to make me seem like more or less of a narcissist but I am going to be writing a monthly ASK CAT column for Forget The Box.

While I don’t claim to be a real expert on anything in particular, I do know that I am real. I have been through a lot in my life and can use my experiences to help you with any question you throw at me.

I will answer you blatantly and honestly, without a filter, and completely from the heart. I will answer anything from questions about Sex, Dating, Politics, Art, Feminism, Activism, LGBTQ issues, Drugs, Culture, or anything else you can think of.

Email your questions to Cat@ForgetTheBox.net and I will answer them ASAP in a monthly blog entry. (“Ask Cat” sounds like “Ass Cat” when said out loud)

I threw this idea out there to my Facebook friends and responded to the first six questions I received (my friends are f*cked up). Here are the first three, with three more to come next time:

Dear Cat, what are your thoughts on art expression over personal issues with waste? I feel a calling to do a photo shoot in a giant tub full of blue cheese for the sake of art because I feel like the Buffalo chicken wing of life. My problem is I can’t convince myself to waste all of that blue cheese. I recall some of your work with the Wesley Willis song “rock n roll McDonalds” and how you were able to incorporate food into the act. Some of the fries never made it to the mouth. How do we approach artist feats like this and overcome the guilt?

– Micheal

cat mccarthy ronald mcdonald clown burlesque

Hi Micheal! As you know I am very much against the issue of food waste in this world, I am a big activist for dumpster diving and Food Not Bombs, using food that would have otherwise been thrown away to feed the hungry. It is also true that I often use food in my performance.

It’s a catch 22. I want to make a comment on shitty corporate food and the accessibility of vegetables and healthy stuff, but still feel bad for wasting. I am a hypocrite when I throw out rotten leftovers or put compost in the trash, I am even more wrong when I ejaculate burgers and toss perfectly good french fries into an audience, half to be smushed on the floor, or smash a 100 cupcakes on my body dressed like Marie Antoinette, cover myself in galloons of pudding in response to Bill Cosby, rub donuts on my boobs dressed like a cop, or dressed like Colonel Sanders throwing chicken at someone who is texting.

I make comments about greed, consent,corruption, body image, and corporate waste with my art. My vision is to participate in the bad parts of society on a stage so people can become aware of the abject horror of reality, kind of like John Waters. It’s like there must be sacrifices made for the revolution to be a success.

wet dreamland pudding buffalo infringement

Nobody is perfect all the time, myself definitely included. Of course I feel bad about the fries on the floor when there are hungry mouths to feed. I guess where I was coming from with that is the food I was “feeding” to people is shit food with no positive nutritional value anyways, so I feel less guilty about that.

I fully support the idea of you submerging yourself in blue cheese, make sure it’s the good kind. Buy it, and put yourself in a claw foot tub in the middle of an art gallery. Lay in in naked, submerged.

cat fashionHave plates full of chicken wings, carrots, celery, pizza, all the vessels for blue cheese. Invite people to dip in your tub, see how long it takes, see how far they will go for blue cheesy goodness. Will they lick it off of your body? People are obsessed with that shit. People also get weird in the name of art.

Document the entire thing. The exhibit ends when the food is gone, nothing is wasted, and you can probably get a pizza shop to sponsor you. I once wore a dress sponsored by Mr. Pizza. It was a collaboration with Melissa Campbell called Upper Crust Punk, we literally bit every slice of pizza. It was a cathartic, gross indulgence in the name of fashion, there was a spittune. I was empowered by food.

When we made the PBR corset, some of the PBRs were dumped down the drain because they couldn’t physically drink anymore damn PBRs and there was a deadline. It was a sin! If I was there I would have shotgunned every single one of those PBRs, waste not want not,bro. Let them eat blue cheese! Let them scrape it off of your flesh!

Dear Cat, what happened last night? I know I showed up at the bar with $1.25 in quarters, the last shot I took made me black out, and I know I fell off my bike mounting on the way home because of a bruise on my arm and a scratch on my face. I think you were there dressed in white.

– Darren

Hi Daren! I remember seeing you at Nietzsches last night for the Stripteasers weekly bar show, I was dressed in white because we were doing a tribute to Prince and I was a crying dove.

What I assume happened is that people bought your fine ass some drinks, since the bar is cash only. You then were too drunk to bike and should have left your bike at the bar and gotten a ride home or walked.

Or perhaps you were abducted by aliens and drugged, not remembering the experience. The bruise and scratches were from the alien probing, not from a bike fall like you initially thought. Maybe I wasn’t there at all and the “girl in white” was some kind of extraterrestrial being.

I cannot let you know for sure what happened to you, but am happy you made it home safe with minimal damage. Stay safe dude! Use the buddy system in the future. Or be like me and get a trike, I never fall off that thing when drunk riding!

Cat cycling (3)

Dear Cat, I think that you are the cat’s meow! Were you always fearless or did you work up to it?

– Melissa

Hi Melissa! Thank you for the amazing compliment, you too are the cat’s meow! I think have always been pretty fearless (sometimes stupidly fearless)! My parents are amazing and taught me to only speak my mind and fight for what I believe in.

As a little kid I was the one who stated the blatantly obvious. I was a little feminist, fighting to play football with the boys. I love myself and fight for those who are afraid. It’s important to be strong and never give up on important things.

I am also a constant work in progress, I know that I continue to grow and learn each day. I can’t say I’m fearless. I definitely get afraid of walking upstairs from basements, that feeling that something evil is coming up after you to pull you down the dark rickety stairs is real.

Got a question for Cat? Ask it: Cat@ForgetTheBox.net

I remember back when I started writing FFR, a time that now seems so long ago that in my memory I wrote on stone tablets, that my goal was to showcase the lesser-known, the obscure, and weird. Of course, times change and I started ruining Forget the Box’s carefully cultivated image of trendy urbanism with mainstream movies and Japanese superheroes. But back in those halcyon days, and even since, I’ve always had one movie stashed away for a rainy day, a special occasion. My favorite movie, in fact. Alex Proyas’s 1998 sci-fi noir, Dark City.

So why now? What’s so special about this FFR that I’m ready to break out so treasured a piece of my own cinematic DNA? Well folks, it’s because this FFR is my last. After many wonderful years at FTB, I’ve decided that it’s time to hit the road, and that I should leave you something a little special before I go.

Dark City posterDark City is one of those movies where the less you know going in, the better. It’s built around a mystery, and one of its greatest pleasures is not knowing where it’s going next, and holding on for dear life as it takes you around twists and turns with neck-snapping speed. But I have to say something, so let me try and boil it down as much as possible.

Rufus Sewell plays John Murdoch, a man who awakens in a hotel bath with absolutely no idea of who he is, where he is, or how he got there. And to make matters worse, there’s a dead hooker in the hotel room with him, because the only thing worse than waking up next to a stranger is waking up next to a dead one.

John naturally runs for the hills, and soon finds himself pursued by multiple parties, including a hard boiled policeman, a psychiatrist who seems to know what’s going on but couldn’t be more nervous and shifty if he were played by Peter Lorre, a woman who claims to be his wife, and a group of mysterious pasty men in trenchcoats.

The city he’s in is a bleak, perpetually dark art-deco burgh somewhere between the Gotham and Sin City, and the more he discovers about what the bleeding hell is going on, the less it all seems to make sense.

Even to my untrained mind, back in my teen years before my film appreciation had fully blossomed into what it is now, I knew that Dark City was beautiful. The film’s sets, costumes, props and atmosphere are all stunningly realized, bleak and breathtaking at the same time. The city itself is as much a character as Sewell or any of his castmates.

Speaking of which, the supporting cast is a who’s who of talents. Jennifer Connelly, despite a somewhat underdeveloped role, is able to pull of a perfect mix of strength and vulnerability as our hero’s wife. William Hurt is pure deadpan sardonic wit as the police inspector on Murdoch’s tail, and Richard O’Brien is the picture of sinister as the main villain, Mr Hand.

The only weak spot is a pre-Jack Bauer Kiefer Sutherland as Doctor Schreber, the man with the answers. Sutherland overplays it more than a little bit, affecting a weird, halting accent almost throughout. He’s fun to watch, but you have to acknowledge that his performance is more than a bit too over-the-top.

Dark City insert

A lot like Gone Girl, part of the fun of watching Dark City for the first time is having no damn clue where it’s going next. What seems to start as a straight-up noir mystery turns again and again as more new and outlandish concepts are added to the mix.

And Dark City literally never stops ramping up, coming to a glorious head in the third act, when director Alex Proyas suddenly tears every single brake out and the film explodes like the ending of Akira into a massive…….well, you really just have to see it for yourself.

I can see how for a lot of people, this slow shift from slow-burn noir mystery to something else entirely might be a bit jarring. I can understand that the vast shift from subtle to explosive might be a bit too much. But for me, the ending of Dark City is still more wonderful and mind-blowing than that of Fight Club or The Matrix, maybe because it’s such a jarring shift from the comparative sedateness of the majority of the film. A bit like Cabin in the Woods, it’s like the film suddenly decides to get the proverbial party started, ending on the bang to end all bangs.

For me, Dark City is one of the all-time great under-appreciated films, a visually gorgeous, mind-bending genre thriller that dares to go all-out for the finale.

I think I’ve said all I can really say without giving too much away, but I’ll leave you with one piece of advice: watch the Director’s Cut. The major difference between it and the theatrical version beyond one extra scene is that an opening monologue delivered by Kiefer Sutherland, imposed upon the film by braindead studio execs fearful of audiences being too confused, is cut from the opening scene like a tumorous mass, and the experience is greatly improved for it.

And on that note, it looks like my work here is done. I’d like to thank Forget the Box for allowing me these few years of hopefully coherent ramblings, and especially my predecessor, Stephanie Laughlin, for offering me the chance in the first place. Special thanks also go to my many hard working and long-suffering editors, as well. In a lot of ways, this is where I really discovered that writing about movies is what I want to do for a living. I found my voice here, built up my confidence as a writer, and for that I’m truly grateful.

Starting very soon, I’ll be joining Screenrelish.com as a regular contributor, and hopefully you’ll all continue to follow me there, and wherever else the future takes me.

Closing out Fantasia this year on A Christmas Horror Story, an excellent anthology horror flick, put me in the mood to go back and revisit some old favorites of the genre. Anthology films are always a tricky beast, you’ve got to have the right balance, combining the films in a way that makes them compliment one another, and it helps if there’s a decent balance of quality. Modern efforts like V/H/S often feel lackluster in this department, with maybe one decent segment standing shoulder to shoulder with lackluster ones, like a successful, attractive salaryman stuck in an elevator full of leprous drifters.

But good examples are out there, though for the most part one has to look back a few decades to find the buggers. So on this week’s FFR, I thought it would be fun to look back at some of my favorites.

Tales From the Crypt (1972)

Tales posterThe original Tales From the Crypt is far from the first anthology horror film, but it’s the earliest one I can recall seeing and one of the more looming classics of the genre. Far removed from the TV series that would bear its name, Tales feels far more classy than you’d expect. No pun-spewing skeletons here, friends.

While other films on this list would revel in the four-color pulp of their comics inspiration, Tales is pure old fashioned English Gothic, opening the strains of Toccata and Fugue in D Minor (the stereotypical “spooky horror music” you’ve heard the opening bars of a million times) and mostly featuring tale of stuffy aristos and upper-class twits getting what’s coming to them. There’s a killer Santa, a modern re-telling/re-spin of The Monkey’s Paw, a fourth-wall break at the end and Zombie Grand Moff Tarkin.

It may not have the buckets of blood and and cheesy fun of some later entries, but Tales From the Crypt is a fun and atmospheric movie that doesn’t get revisited often enough.

Creepshow (1982)

Creepshow is probably the best known and best remembered horror anthology of the 80s, arguably the one that kicked off the craze. Directed by George A. Romero himself and written by the one and only Stephen King, Creepshow gleefully embraces all the pulp and color of EC horror comics, crafting a gross, fun, colorful horror experience that often prompts as many laughs as it does scares.

The cast is full of recognizable faces, all of them clearly having the time of their lives. Ted Danson, Leslie Nielsen, Ed Harris, Hal Holbrook, Adrienne Barbeau and even Stephen King himself make appearances as conspiring lovers, evil corporate magnates, hapless hillbillies and vengeful cuckolds.

There’s a sense of pulpy fun that pervades almost every segment. While other anthology horror films at the time often seemed dead set on being scary as possible, Creepshow devotes just as much energy to being flat-out fun, with plenty of grossout moments, cathartic kills and loving reverence to horror tropes. Like Tales From the Crypt, most of the stories are about awful people getting their just desserts in silly, over-the-top poetic justice, and you’ll probably find yourself cheering more than once.

Body Bags (1993)

Body bags posterMade towards the end of the horror anthology craze, John Carpenter and Tobe Hooper’s Body Bags is doubtlessly the least well-known movie on this list. Hell, I hadn’t even heard of it until the good folks at Scream Factory did a terrific Blu-Ray re-release.

Body Bags spins three yarns, featuring a cast so expansive I couldn’t possibly list it here. For me, the most memorable performance is by far John Carpenter himself in the framing story as a morgue worker who introduces us to the various key players of each tale. He’s clearly having more fun than should be allowed in polite society, mugging for the camera as he doffs formaldehyde martinis.

The stories themselves are all great fun, one an atmospheric little slasher story, one a tale of a hair implant gone wrong and one about a baseball player (played by some guy named Mark Hamill) who receives the eyes of a serial killer after his own are lost in a car accident, which naturally imparts the killer’s murderous impulses on him.

Body Bags may not be the best horror anthology ever, but it’s a fun, often overlooked little gem that makes for a great watch with some friends.

Trick ‘R Treat

For my money, a lot of recent attempts at reviving the horror anthology for modern audiences aren’t much worth looking at. I never really got aboard the V/H/S train after being thoroughly unimpressed by the first entry, as you may have gathered by that bit about the drifters in the intro. But then there’s Trick ‘R Treat, a brilliantly crafted collection of Halloween horrors that remains head and shoulders above any other recent anthology films.

The stories that make up the film are beautifully balanced, each one subtly crossing over and feeding into the other. There’s a Halloween prank gone horribly wrong, a button-down killer trying to dispose of a body while his apparently oblivious son keeps getting under foot, an old man menaced by the film’s sack-masked poster child, and Anna Paquin as a stereotypical good girl who draws the attention of a masked vampire.

The stories are all beautifully interwoven. There’s never more than a couple going on at once and there are enough connections between them to make the whole thing feel nice, cohesive and well-planned. The makeup effects are top-knotch, with the film’s mascot Sam standing out as a terrifically designed and conceived character.

From the opening sequence that effortlessly evokes early John Carpenter to the wonderful creature feature that is the closing tale, there literally isn’t a weak moment in Trick ‘R Treat, it all comes together beautifully to deliver the kind of fun, spooky experience that Halloween movies were meant to be.

Being the upstanding crew that they are, the folks at Fantasia saw fit to extend the festival by an extra day, giving me and others time to catch up on some of the more popular films we may have missed the first time around.

While I could have used this opportunity to check out Attack on Titan, I elected instead to hit up two of the smaller releases from this year’s line-up, Deathgasm and A Christmas Horror Story. Both films are Fantasia to the bone, fun, gory, clever crowd-pleasers that kept me entertained throughout and left me smiling. So for my last piece of Fantasia 2015 coverage, let’s take a look back at these two gems.

DeathgasmDeathgasm poster

Since Peter Jackson burst onto the scene with Braindead and Bad Taste, New Zealand splatter flicks have garnered a rep for being fun, gloriously low brow exercises in excess and black humor. Deathgasm, which takes this formula and adds a whopping infusion of Heavy Metal antics, might just end up being one of the best examples of the burgeoning sub-genre, a definite future cult pick and a must-watch for metalheads and horror fans alike.

After our hero, lonely metalhead Brodie, is moved out to a small New Zealand town, he befriends the only other metal fan for miles, Zakk, and starts up a band. But when the two find a set of mysterious pages of music clutched in the manic grip of a burned out former metal legend, they inadvertently unleash hordes of demons on the town. Demons that only they, naturally, can stop.

Deathgasm is an archetypal Fantasia movie, drenched in gore, full of tongue-in-cheek humor and tripping balls on its own manic, gleeful energy. The gags come hard and fast, the soundtrack is a constant barrage of roaring chainsaw engines and squealing guitars and it’s basically impossible not to have barrels of fun with the thing. It’s a cult tour-de-force, already bound for a place of honor in the collections of cult horror aficionados.

If there’s any one thing that kept coming back to bug me, it’s the films depiction of women. Specifically Medina, the popular girl who strikes up a romance with Brodie and joins him in the demon-slaying antics of the last act. She reminded me a lot of the female lead from Some Kind of Hate, a film I thought far less of. Both fall into a few stereotypes that I’m growing increasingly weary of, and which continue to not go away despite our best wishes.

Both are dating the resident bully when the movie opens, in flagrant defiance of prettymuch everything we learn about them later on, but almost immediately fall for the hero. At best it’s a bit of juvenile wish fulfillment, the attractive popular girl who likes bad boys but falls for the hero as soon as she sees what a sensitive soul he is and yada yada yada.

Based on what we learn about her, it seems completely unlikely she would ever have be dating the bully, but character consistency takes a back seat to how well she can serve as a fantasy for introverts and quiet types. Of course, “juvenile wish fulfillment” is basically Deathgasm’s log line, but that doesn’t totally excuse the film from engaging in this tired trope.

Also, in both cases, the female lead has metal bestowed on her by the male lead, implying that metal is an entirely male domain into which women must be led. And that just ain’t true, man. Tons of women find metal on their own, the same way as men do, and it would be nice to have seen this rather than portraying metal as something inherently foreign to women. Deathgasm sorta makes up for this by implying that by the end of the film, Medina has become more of a metal expert than Brodie, though.

But these problems aside, Deathgasm is still tons of fun, and I look forward to revisiting it in years to come.

A Christmas Horror Story

Anthology horror is something that keeps trying to make a comeback, with efforts like the much-seen V/H/S series and the under-watched gem Trick R’ Treat. A Christmas Horror Story is the latest film to try and rejuvenate the old formula, and arguably one of the most successful at recapturing the feel of classics like Creepshow and Body Bags.

Weaving multiple tales of Christmas-themed terror together, Christmas Horror Story is a rollicking good time at the movies. Like Deathgasm it’s gleefully gory but combines that with some terrific ideas and execution from the group of writers and directors who brought it to life.

As is always the case in anthologies, there’s a clear favorite, in my case the tale of a group of teens filming a project on a series of murders in their school. This story thread cleverly subverts expectation in a lot of ways, keeping the audience on their toes by subverting and conforming to horror tropes in equal measure.

Christmas Horror Story

At times I found myself a bit underwhelmed by the creature effects. While competently brought to the screen, the creatures of the film (including a murderous changeling and everyone’s favorite Christmas Demon, the Krampus) felt like they were missing something in the visual department. They aren’t as eye-catching as Sam from Trick R’ Treat, for example.

But there’s still a hell of a lot to love about A Christmas Horror Story. It’s smart and fun, packs a few great surprises, and if nothing else gives audiences the chance to bask in the glory of Shatner in what could be called the framing story.

Now, someone get to work on an Easter-themed horror anthology flick so we can complete the trilogy.

And with that, my Fantasia 2015 coverage comes to a close. I’d hesitantly call it the best iteration of the fest I have yet to attend, and can’t wait to see them try and top themselves next year.

We’re into the last week of Fantasia, and our coverage here at FTB is almost at an end. But it’s not over yet, and here’s three more reviews from my Fantasia experience.

Director's Commentary posterDirector’s Commentary: Terror of Frankenstein

Sometimes, a really, REALLY good idea is all you need, and Director’s Commentary: Terror of Frankenstein does indeed have a really good idea at its core. The film takes Terror of Frankenstein, an almost entirely forgotten 1977 Frankenstein movie and creates an entirely fictitious director’s commentary for it.

In the world of the commentary, the film took on a cult following after a serial killer cut his way through the cast and crew of the film over several years after the production wrapped. The director and writer, two of the only survivors, are now recording a new commentary shortly after the killer’s execution, and over the course of the recording, all the old baggage comes to the surface, bringing new revelations along with it.

On paper, Director’s Commentary is actually kind of brilliant. Taking the DVD director’s commentary and turning it into a way to tell a story in itself is a really interesting idea, and you have to wonder why it took so long to hit on. It’s a really clever example of remix culture, one that will probably have some imitators in the next few years. For good or ill.

The only serious problem arises in the execution. Of the two actors performing the film (there’s also an appearance by Leon Vitali, one of the actual actors from the original film, playing an alternate version of himself) one isn’t quite up to the level you’d really want, often coming off a bit too hammy. There’s also a lot of silence where we’re just watching the original movie, and it would have helped the authenticity of the thing if they’d thrown in a lot more of the usual director’s commentary babble to fill the time between major revelations about the story. But still, it’s a really interesting film. A really solid idea that just needed another ten percent in the execution.

Lupin IIILupin poster

I’ve never really been into the Lupin III series, the ridiculously long-running anime and manga franchise about the grandson of legendary French thief Arsene Lupin. What I am into is Ryuhei Kitamura, the maverick director who brought us Versus and Aragami. Kitamura’s films have a swagger, a kind of rock and roll confidence to them that appeals to the angry teenager in me, the one who still thinks that Katana plus trenchcoat is the most rockin’ combination ever.

So when I went in to his new live-action Lupin III movie, it wasn’t for the source material. It was for the style. And style is something the film has in abundance.

Kitamura’s signature over-the-top action, the nonchalant, sneering “cool guys” who can cut a truck in half while maintaining the kind of facial expression that says “this is as exciting to me as waiting in line at the bank.” It’s all there for fans of his to appreciate.

Problematically though, it’s also frequently buried under a lot of really choppy, incoherent editing. I’m not who’s responsible for this, but the action scenes frequently wound up frustrating for me to watch, because the flow and geography of the action scenes often got completely and utterly lost in a storm of quick cuts that seemed hastily put together.

And then there’s the Engrish. Oh ye gods, the Engrish. Again, not sure who’s idea it was to have half the dialogue in the film spoken in awkward English by the mostly Japanese cast but much like that dodgy editing, it just felt distracting and weird.

Is it still fun? Of course. You’ll probably have a fun time watching it. Is it Kitamura’s best film? Absolutely not.

Ninja The MonsterNinja the Monster Poster

With a title like Ninja The Monster, you probably already have an idea of what to expect. Something akin to Aliens Vs. Ninja perhaps, an over-the-top action fest full of gushing blood geysers, about as tongue in cheek as something Noboru Iguchi might do. And yet when you watch the film, you quickly realize that that isn’t the case.

A slow paced, moody affair, Ninja The Monster sees a samurai and a ninja team up to escort a princess through a forest plagued by monsters. Of course, the samurai is distrustful of our broody ninja hero, and they stand as much chance of killing each other as they do being killed by the monsters.

Speaking of the monsters, I throw the phrase “big pile of CGI” around fairly willy-nilly sometimes. It’s refreshing for once to see a movie where that description is entirely accurate, however.

The creatures that menace our heroes are some kind of slime or water based monsters, big floating blobs of liquid that occasionally coalesce into a monster-like shape. As creatures go, it’s fairly dull, and the fact that they’re never really explored or exposited upon goes a long way to making them the most boring part of the film.

I will give it this, though, it’s a lot better assembled than I expected. Given I was expecting something schlockier and cheaper, it was a pleasant surprise to see how much care went in to the compositions, atmosphere, and mood.

Though the last week of Fantasia is upon us, the coverage must go on! Here are three more reviews from what I saw this week.

The Interior

A few years back, I saw at Fantasia a sweet, quirky little movie called Doomsdays. It was exactly the kind of movie you go to a film festival to see: one made entirely out of passion and overflowing with charm, creativity, rock-solid formal elements and built a simple but staggeringly effective script.

The Interior is this year’s Doomsdays. It’s everything I just mentioned and more: a profound example of how a committed indie filmmaker can take a budget a major studio would blow on craft services and use it to trounce most major studio films in terms of both form and storytelling. It’s funnier than most studio comedies and scarier than ANY studio horror film of the past decade.

Interior

 

What begins as an office comedy in the vein of Office Space or Haiku Tunnel suddenly morphs into an alone-in-the-woods horror film as James, a downtrodden office worker, retreats to the woods after receiving a fatal diagnosis. But James soon finds he isn’t as alone as he thinks he is, as a series of odd occurrences escalates into a terrifying ordeal

On paper, The Interior seems impossible to pull off. A wacky comedy that morphs halfway through into a horror film? That kind of sudden tonal shift just shouldn’t work. And yet it does here, better than you’d believe. The comedy sequences are hilarious, full of quirky characters and biting dialogue. The horror sequences, by contrast are completely terrifying, exemplifying the “less is more” approach to horror that seems to have gone completely extinct otherwise.

Director and writer Trevor Juras expertly builds the tension over the course of the latter half of the film, taking us through pitch-black sections of forest only sometimes illuminated by James’ flashlight, almost constantly resisting the urge to have something jump out and go boo. But it never does. We keep waiting for the jump scare, the payoff we’ve been trained to expect by years of awful horror movies. But it never comes, because the tension isn’t just a prelude to a cat jumping out or a knife wielding maniac suddenly pouncing from the underbrush to show us his stabbing technique. The tension is the point.

The film, ts should also be mentioned, is staggeringly well-filmed. When James enters the woods the camera takes on this beautiful objective quality, gliding through the woods, not focusing on anything. The focus is as deep as the Marianas Trench, allowing us to take in these full, beautiful frames of untouched wilderness, beautiful and daunting at the same time. During the Q&A, I was knocked for a loop to learn these scenes weren’t even filmed using Steadicam, just a hand-held camera with a counterweight, and it’s clear that the DP, Othello J. Ubalde, has the steady hands of a brain surgeon.

I hope to heck that The Interior gets a distribution deal if it hasn’t already, because this is the kind of film that needs to be seen by as many people as possible. It’s a direct counterpoint to so many of the awful, toxic ideas plaguing not just horror films but cinema at large.

Cop Car posterCop Car

Oh hey, speaking of indie films that completely show up major studio films: Cop Car, a film for which expositional dialogue is a foreign entity and yet still tells a story so well it hurts.

The film focuses on two young boys who, after running away from home, find a seemingly abandoned cop car, which they naturally take for a joy ride. Of course, the car is owned by the corrupt local sheriff, whose drug connection is bound and beaten inside the trunk, putting him in a hell of a hurry to get the car back.

From the first few lines of dialogue, Cop Car is telling us everything we need to know about who the characters are and what they’re about, without the kind of awkward exposition you’d normally get. The film trusts us to put the pieces together from dialogue, characterization and by watching the performances themselves. This goes for both the boys and the sheriff, played by Kevin Bacon. We’re never told exactly what kind of seedy doings the sheriff is up to, but we know it involves drugs and the need to quietly dispose of multiple bodies. And that’s really all we need to know. We’re given all the relevant info we need about the entire cast organically and then left to put the pieces together for ourselves.

If it hadn’t been for Mad Max: Fury Road, Cop Car might have been the only film that I’ve seen all year that does this properly, but now we have a duo of organic storytelling movies heavily based around cars and the rapid conveyance thereof, and I’m more than ok with that.

Some kind of hate posterSome Kind of Hate

Here are some things you just don’t do in a story about self-harm. Eroticize it. Fetishize it. Make it a source of power. Some Kind of Hate does all three, turning a serious problem faced by countless depressives and turning it into a fetishized gimmick, producing a repulsive film in the process.

The protagonists are the students of a kind of camp/cult for wayward teens, one of whom swears to kill his bullies for tormenting him. To his “rescue” comes the ghost of a previous camper who was killed by her camp-mates, who cuts herself to inflict identical injuries on her victims.

While Some Kind of Hate COULD have been an interesting and thoughtful look at self-harm and depression, it remains teaspoon shallow throughout, using cutting as a gimmick for a blandly presented ghost/killer.

Cutting and self harm becomes a source of empowerment for the killer, a problematic depiction of a real issue that is never corrected. Cutting isn’t shown as self-destructive but rather as a source of power or agency, and that dangeous association between self-harm and power is never counteracted, even in the finale when the heroes defeat the killer by – guess what? The film even has the outright gall to depict a quasi-lesbian scene between the ghost and the female lead in which cutting takes on an erotic element as razor blades across the thigh result in what for all the world appear to be orgasmic gasps. I would have thought it was a general rule that you DON’T MAKE SELF-CUTTING SEXY, but there it is.

One person I spoke to found this interestingly transgressive, but there’s two problems with that reading. One: transgression is only relevant when it has a point, when it’s stripping away a taboo and forcing us to talk about something we aren’t. The scene in Some Kind of Hate just feels like cheap titillation, an out of nowhere spoonful of lesbian eroticism that exists only to excite the audience. And second, some things shouldn’t be transgressed against for a very good reason: because they’re harmful and toxic. And the sexualized depiction of self cutting fits “harmful and toxic” to a tee.

Some Kind of Hate is a repugnant, ugly movie and that’s as much as deserves to be said about it.

The Fantasia Film Fest is already nearing it’s midway point, and man, has it been a good one so far. While my FTB co-horts are off covering indie horrors and moody, introspective character pieces, I’ve been happily chewing away on Asian films and cinematic oddities, so let’s dive in.

Assassination-ClassroomAssassination Classroom

I’m not as plugged into the anime/manga scene these days as I was a decade or so ago (the tubes started chafing me), but I gather that Assassination Classroom is something of a big deal these days. How the live action movie (evidently the first in a series) holds up as an adaptation of the manga and anime is something I can’t comment on, but as a complete layman to the series, I can say it’s a heck of a lot of fun. It’s a prime slice of Japanese absurdity in the vein of Takashi Miike, but maybe with a touch less satirical wit.

The film, which tells the story of an alien who teaches a homeroom full of delinquent kids bent on killing him for a reward put up by the government, bears all the earmarks of an adaptation of a larger work, which is the biggest problem the film has. Characters who seem like they should be important come and go, plot points and important items are dropped in out of nowhere, giving the film that feeling of being condensed that you get with a lot of these kinds of works. It also doesn’t entirely have a proper ending, leaving way too many loose threads for me to excuse.

That aside, it has a lot of charm, humour, and surreal visuals that kept me consistently entertained.

The Arti: The Adventure BeginsArti poster

But speaking of movies over-packed with too many characters and story elements, here comes The Arti, a Chinese fantasy adventure brought to life by a combination of intricate puppet work and CGI that walks the line between Wuxia epic and Japanese role-playing game.

I don’t make that last comparison lightly, by the way. The Arti feels very influenced by stuff like the Final Fantasy series, combining martial arts mythology with a metric ton of lore, magical locales, creatures, and increasingly outlandish character designs. While Assassination Classroom more or less held up under the weight of the story it was trying to tell, The Arti feels smothered by all the lore, characters, sudden betrayals, macguffins, and flagrant deus-ex-machina.

Which is a shame, because it’s definitely an interesting film to watch purely on a visual level. The design and implementation of the puppets that make up the film’s cast is at times astonishing, and the copious amounts of CGI actually doesn’t look half bad alongside the puppet work. But it still feels ridiculously over-written in some cases, and under-written in others.

The Case of Hana and AliceThe_Case_of_Hana_&_Alice-p2

From two movies over-packed with story and suffering for it to a film light on story but heavy on charm, we turn to The Case of Hana and Alice. The film focuses on Alice, a teenage girl who finds herself in a new school and neighborhood, who befriends her reclusive neighbor on a quest to unravel a school mystery involving a supposedly dead classmate.

While this is the basic premise of Hana and Alice, the film seems less concerned with the plot as a whole so much as the scenes that make up the film. For long stretches, the quest at large will sort of drop by the wayside for infectiously charming scenes of simple character interaction, comedy sequences, and atmosphere. And throughout these sequences, I never felt myself growing bored or yearning for a return to the main plot.

I think this comes from the fact that the film is loaded with characterization. The cast rarely feels two-dimensional or hollow, everyone is bursting with character, which makes watching them interact and bond continuously fascinating. It’s a ridiculously charming, enjoyable little movie, one that kept me smiling and entranced virtually from the first frame until the last.

RoarRoar poster

I don’t think I’ve seen a movie quite so perplexing in a long time. Roar, a 1981 oddity of a movie that was recently re-released and picked up by Fantasia, is like some weird, tone-deaf mashup of a nature film and a home invasion horror movie. A hilariously All-American family comes to join the patriarch, a nature… scientist of some kind, in a house in Africa where he lives with over 150 lions, tigers, panthers, and other assorted big cats, in a mad scheme to prove that big cats and people can co-exist in the same habitat.

Of course, the family arrives when dad is out, leaving them to get menaced by their new housemates. The film was the demented brainchild of its stars, Tippi Hedren and Noel Marshall, who conceived of the film as a way to raise awareness about the hunting of big cats and to cast them in a new, less threatening light. But in the process, Marshall and co. accidentally managed to craft more of a horror film than anything else. Especially if you’re aware of the fact that the big cats in the film’s feline cast were mostly untrained, Roar is a tense, sometimes terrifying experience. Watching Hedren, her real life daughter Melanie Griffith, and Marshall’s two sons run from big cats that very clearly want to do them no small degree of bodily harm is often more unsettling than anything I’ve seen in Fantasia’s actual horror film crop this year.

Of course, the horror element is often underscored by the bouncy, happy-go-lucky soundtrack that seems to suggest we should be finding all of this terribly amusing. Tell that to my clenched buttocks during the screening. Roar may not technically be a good film, but it is a fascinating one. It’s intriguing to see how colossally misguided and unaware of itself it is. I’m sure you could do a really interesting post-colonialist reading, the thesis statement being “white people are just so goddamn silly”, but sadly, I haven’t the room for that here.

It seems like in the last few weeks that the lumbering walrus that is summer finally reared its head and dropped its heaving, sweaty bulk on the people of Montreal, because MAN has it been hot lately. Thankfully, the Fantasia Film Festival is here to give us the perfect excuse to stay inside, bask in air-conditioned comfort and take in the latest cinematic delights they’ve brought us this year. I’ve only been able to take in two films so far (curse my need to work and write) but judging from Fantasia’s first offerings, we’re in for a good three weeks.

Miss Hokusai

Even though I’m not much of an anime watcher these days (at least when it comes to series) I always make a point of checking out as much of Fantasia’s anime content as I can, and this year the fest started on some, with Miss Hokusai making its North American Premiere.

Miss Hokusai PosterMiss Hokusai tells the sorta true story of O-Ei, the daughter of a famous Edo period artist. For the most part, the film is a fairly light slice-of-life affair consisting of short vignettes taking us into daily life in the period, O-Ei’s troubled relationship with her father, and her close bond with her younger sister.

Where Miss Hokusai feels a bit muddled and off-topic however, is the odd paranormal/ghost story sub-plot that sees O-Ei, her father, and his student helping a local courtesan with a ghost problem. It’s the best example of the only real problem the film has, which is a bit too much variety for its own good.

The soundtrack, for example, will alternate between contemporary rock and soft, period-accurate woodwinds and percussion instruments, giving the film an unpredictable, almost discordant soundscape. Similarly the sudden switches between slice-of-life drama and paranormal spook-ery may leave a lot of audience members confused about what the aim of the movie really is.

This isn’t helped by the fact that the episodic nature of the narrative makes it somewhat hard to get swept up in the narrative. Maybe if there were one vignette less, so the rest could feel more fleshed out, perhaps this problem would be lessened.

That being said, Miss Hokusai is still a perfectly pleasant and enjoyable experience, and got Fantasia 2015 off to a great, if inoffensive start.

Kung Fu Killer

If there’s anything that says Fantasia more than anime, it’s Donnie Yen kicking someone in the head, and Fantasia delivered that on Day 2 with Kung Fu Killer, a Hong Kong beat ’em up that delivers exactly what you want it to: action, style, melodrama and intense Donny Yen faces.

Kung Fu Killer poster

Yen plays Hahou Mo, a former martial artist serving a prison sentence for killing a man in a duel. But when a mysterious serial killer starts tracking down and killing martial arts masters, Mo is brought in to help the Hong Kong police bring the killer to justice.

Kung Fu Killer is a definite crowd-pleaser, since it gives you exactly what you want going in. The fight scenes are fast paced, well shot and full of style, the pace stays brisk and to-the-point practically from the word go, and Yen does what we all know and love him for: kick ass and look intensely off into the middle distance while swearing revenge for this, that or the other thing.

The one problem is that for a gritty martial arts flick, Kung Fu Killer seems too reliant on digital effects, greenscreening and wirework. Not that there’s anything wrong with “wire-fu” in general, but in a contemporary-set Donnie Yen vehicle, focused more on grit and realism than Wuxia movies, the few uses of wirework seem out of place and distracting.

And that goes double for the film’s post-production visual effects, the most egregious example being a terrible looking CGI boat jump. It wouldn’t be such a big deal if it weren’t a stunt I’ve seen done for real in at least a dozen movies. Who knows, maybe they had a good reason not to attempt the stunt for real, but the sudden CGI took me out of the moment hard.

But these gripes aside, I had a lot of fun with Kung Fu Killer. The action is solid and the melodrama thick enough to cut with a knife, which kept the audience sufficiently amused, and I was right along with them.

If nothing else, watch it for the villain’s hilarious lack of any subtlety when it comes to facial expressions. He’s like the Chinese Matt Smith, in every second shot his face is contorted into some weird cartoon-approximation of what a normal human expression looks like and it’s hilarious and endearing every single time.

Watching the Terminator franchise has been like watching the trajectory of a half-brick flung with wild abandon by a carefree, callow youth. It began with an explosion of power and from there, the sky was the limit as it soared towards the heavens, unchained and free. But then gravity took hold and the flight towards glory was replaced by a tremendous fall, leading to the half-brick landing in old Mr. Macduff’s birdbath and left to be horribly mistreated by neighbourhood crows.

So it is with the Terminator movies. The glory days of the first two films are behind us, now replaced by shame and crow droppings. Terminator Genisys, the fifth film in the franchise, is out in theatres now. I can’t say for sure if it’s worse than Terminator: Rise of the Machines, the other low-point of the series, but it nevertheless represents another crushing failure of an attempt to bring the franchise back to its former glory – a confused mess with only passable action and a script that desperately wants you not to notice the tanker-truck sized holes at the very centre of the thing.

Genisys posterOur story begins with Kyle Reese, now played by the ever-dull Jai Courtney, being sent back in time on his mission from the first film: save Sarah Connor, mother of legendary resistance leader John Connor, who just saved humanity from extinction at the hands of Skynet. Reese goes back in time, only to be immediately attacked by a liquid metal terminator and rescued by Sarah, already in badass T2 mode, and her pet terminator “pops.” When Sarah was a child, it seems, her parents were killed by a terminator, and pops rescued and raised her, having been sent back in time by parties unknown.

You’ll notice that “parties unknown” part right at the end there. Important detail. One of the many, many problems plaguing Genisys, is that spoiler alert, that big question mark… never gets really addressed or explored, despite it being the inciting incident that set the whole movie off. Who sent back that terminator that killed Sarah’s parents, and who sent back Pops, are questions the characters dwell on for all of two lines of dialogue. To say nothing of who sent back the liquid metal terminator played by Byung Hun-Lee that menaces our heroes in the first act.

Now, it’s absolutely fine to have the inciting incident of your film be a mystery. Many great films have been built on this premise. But the problem with Genisys is that not only is it not answered in the film itself, it’s never addressed or brought up again. The writers give no indication that they have a solution in mind for the mystery and, in fact, sweep it under the rug as quickly as possible in what feels like a desperate attempt to hide the fact that have absolutely no idea what’s going on. Maybe that’s not true. Maybe the writers of Terminator Genisys know exactly what’s happening, and this is an attempt at setting up mysteries for the sequel to explore, if there is one.

And yeah, that’s a valid strategy. Guardians of the Galaxy never reveals the identity of Star-Lord’s father and why he was taken from Earth in the first place, after all. But the difference is, in the case of Guardians, we’re given hints and indications that there’s at least some plan for what comes next. It’s brought up multiple times, we’re given some information about Quill’s father to feed speculation, etc. Genisys, on the other hand, seems desperate for you to forget about the whole question, paying it the most token of lip service before dropping it entirely and never mentioning it again. It doesn’t feel like a mystery so much as something they never bothered to write.

Genisys insert

And Genisys is full of stuff like that, logical gaps that we’re expected to ignore, but which bring the whole affair crashing down the second you start fiddling with them. It’s like a Jenga tower five minutes into the game.

So does it at least look pretty? I suppose, but… look. I don’t like ragging on a film’s special effects because a) I think how photo-realistic an effect looks isn’t as important as how visually interesting it is, and b) I’m aware that low-quality special effects are a symptom of the fact that the VFX industry is critically broken, but don’t you dare try to mention that in public. But I have to say this.

Guys. Hollywood. Digital recreations of younger actors? Doesn’t. Work. It didn’t work in Tron Legacy and it doesn’t work here. I refer of course to one of the film’s most touted scenes, where the now aged Arnie squares off against a recreation of his younger self from the first film, accomplished with CGI and a body double. And it looks awful. Seriously, stop trying to do this effect, the technology just isn’t there yet.

Besides that, the action is at least competently staged, and there are some interesting visuals, especially once the actual villain of the film is revealed about midway through.

But Terminator Genisys is just the latest in a long line of lazy summer action blockbusters that expects us not to care. To “turn off our brains” and just enjoy the explosions, blithely ignoring the fact that it has half a script at worst, and one full of half-explained or completely unexplained gaps at best. The time travel mechanic that drives the plot is fuelled by nonsensical babble about “nexus points” and alternate timelines that wants you to believe it makes some kind of sense, when really it just feels like the technobabble in a bad Star Trek episode: a bunch of fancy sounding words thrown at a problem until it goes away.

It doesn’t respect its audience enough to expect them to ask questions, trying to skirt by with a script as sound as a house cards made of wet saltines. It cynically tries to placate fans with references and call-outs to previous films, hoping to distract us from its awfulness with fan-service. And I didn’t even talk about the dull performances, the reduction of Sarah Connor to an eye-rolling, squeaky-voiced bore chafing under Pops’ psuedo-parental figure, the stuff they do with John Connor that’s guaranteed to have fans frothing, and how utterly wasted JK Simmons is in a bit part that goes nowhere.

We deserve better. Terminator fans deserve better, general audiences deserve better.

The three weeks that make up the Fantasia International Film Festival are always my favorite of the year, twenty-one heady days of filmic delights and unwise dietary choices broken up only by manic writing sessions and bleary-eyed journeys home on the night bus. This will be my fifth year covering the fest, my third for FTB, and already I can feel the pure Dionysian joy that awaits me.

The main release of the 2015 schedule has yet to happen, but the fine folks at Fantasia have already released more than enough of what’s to come to get me and every other film nerd salivating with anticipation, and this week on FFR we’ll be looking at some of the highlights of this year’s Fantasia line-up.

Assassination Classroom

It wouldn’t be Fantasia without something delectably weird and inimitably Japanese, something that by all sanity shouldn’t be a live-action film, but somehow is. I’m sure we’ll get several such films at Fantasia this year, but the one that’s caught my eye so far is Assassination Classroom.

Based off the hit manga and anime, the film centers on an all-powerful alien lifeform that comes to Earth, partially destroys the moon, and…..becomes a homeroom teacher. Naturally, the Japanese government places a reward of 10 billion yen to any student who can manage to kill the alien before it destroys the planet, meaning every student has come to class armed for war.

So it’s basically Great Teacher Onikuza meets Battle Royale with a grinning, yellow, be-tentacled monstrosity at its center. Yep, that’s a Fantasia movie all right. And I’m DOWN.

The Hallow

What’s that now? Practical monster effects? Congratulations, with those three words you’ve piqued the interest of every old-school horror buff worth his or her salt, myself included.

The Hallow looks like a classic creature feature, playing on well-worn but still rich themes of nature and old world monsters and myths wreaking havoc on the lives of us ignorant city folk. In this case, a married couple move to a remote village in Ireland, only to be warned by the local Scary Older Gentleman to stay out of the woods, lest they disturb something best left to itself. Naturally, they don’t, and much screaming ensues.

The Hallow is already garnering great reviews from its run at Sundance, and should be drawing additional attention for its director, Corin Hardy, who will sit in the director’s chair on the long-gestating remake/reboot of The Crow.

Deathgasm

Want something that’ll get a Fantasia crowd pumped? Get something loud as a piledriver, gory as a weekend internship at a slaughterhouse, metal as Optimus Prime’s ass and involving at least one chainsaw.

Deathgasm looks to be all those things. Coming out of New Zealand, home of such favorites as Brain Dead and Housebound, Deathgasm looks like the quintessential “Hall Theatre Midnight Screening” experience. This is the movie you go to see with a raucous audience of devoted gorehounds and metalheads, the movie Mitch Davis spends five minutes gushing over before the screening, God bless his heart.

The director, Jason Lei Howden, already has an impressive resume working on big Hollywood features in the digital effects department, and with such experience under his belt I think we may be looking at a festival favorite with this one.

Big Match

Past readers will recall me being a bit cynical about Korean films in the past, harumphing at the gray and blue action thrillers and raising an eyebrow at the period dramas. Korean film is something that I have a hard time connecting with, for one reason or another, but Big Match looks more up my alley and may just be the film to turn me around.

Zombie, an MMA fighter, is thrown in the clink on suspicion of kidnapping his coach and older brother. But just as quick, Zombie is released and finds himself a pawn in a city-wide board game masterminded by a mysterious genius.

Big Match looks, above all else, fun. Bright and colorful, not-too-serious, and with plenty of well-choreographed stunt work and fight scenes. I’m sure there will be more than enough dead-serious political action thrillers out of South Korea at Fantasia this year, but Big Match looks more my speed.

Miss Hokusai

Of course, it wouldn’t be Fantasia without anime, and this year’s fest will be opening up to the tune of Miss Hokusai, the story of Oei Hokusai, daughter of famed Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai, who produced woodblock prints during the Edo Period.

What draws me to this film most is the director, Keiicha Hara, a relatively recent talent who got his start on the Shin-Chan movies. Miss Hokusai also comes from Production IG, a studio whose watermark is usually a stamp of quality, and who have previously wowed me with efforts like Giovanni’s Island and A Letter To Momo at previous Fantasia Fests.