Thursday, August 12, 2010

Toronto After Dark Festival-A Reason to Get Off My Fat Ass!

How about that? A reason to write something. And what a reason at that.

My beloved Toronto After Dark Film Festival rolls back into town (can you figure out what town? There's a hint earlier in this post. Good luck!) and I'm gonna watch some of the films they've been so kind to present.

Unfortunately it's a busy, busy time at work so I won't get to see them all (those puppies won't kill themselves! LOL ;) ) but I plan on making a decent go of it. And you 13 lucky readers will get to read all about it and maybe in 10 years time I'll write something else too!

First up will be The Last Lovecraft, which my lovely wife has agreed to see with me. So stay tooned! (get it? because I draw cartoons on my blog. funny)

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Asian Cult Cinema magazine is no more

The only magazine that I had a subscription to closed it's doors today. They were an enormous part in steering me towards movies I wouldn't have seen otherwise. Just recently 3 of their writers, Graham Lewis, Jerome C. Morris and David Aaron Clark died, but through it's incredible 18 year run, the creator, Thomas Weisser, always had interesting guest contributors, ranging from horror novelists Edward Lee and Jack Ketchum to Oliver Stone.

Sad, sad news. Best of luck to Weisser with whatever the future holds for him.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Video Store Graveyard!

Remember your first video store? Mine was in a gas station that rented video discs, where you'd have to rent the player as well. There I discovered American Werewolf in London and National Lampoon's Vacation, which we'd rent once every visit. Shortly after that a furniture store started carrying a few VHS tapes that they had off to the side of the floor. There I remember getting Vigilante, A Clockwork Orange and The Exterminator. Usually renting a tape meant renting a VCR to go with it. One of my favourite Christmases ever was when we got a VCR of our very own, though it was still good to rent one occasionally to do the old taping a cassette via the stereo cords to another VCR (a practice I had continued for a long while, even with DVD to VCR in later years).

Throughout my life I've always had a go-to video store. Some were amazing, but even the ones run out of a variety store hold a warm spot in my heart. When I was moving around as a student and in between school, the first thing I'd do once I got all settled into a new place is check out the nearest video stores. The excitement I'd feel as I cruised up and down the video aisles, finding treasures and trash, hasn't really been duplicated in any other form of cinema viewing. I grew up in the age of the video store, and I'd have it no other way.

Most of the quality video stores I'd frequent, usually have knowledgeable staff who I could discuss films I love or hate, and would help me discover many films that would become my favourites. There is a real sense of community in some of these shops, especially those that cater to the niche market of the "film buff", whether it be cult films (my poison), classics or others. Another customer could easily get involved in a conversation you may be having with your "DVD Dealer", and next thing you know there's a group of people talking film and even introducing you to films you might have never seen (this happened to me less than a week ago). I can't tell you the number of times I've asked a counter person, "Seen anything good lately?" and have come home with films that knocked my socks off.

I too was a "counterperson" for years, mostly at video stores that are the Corporate monsters everyone hates. Yet, I remember when Blockbuster first opened in Canada, and I was living in Welland, Ontario (not much of a variety of video stores) and I was thrilled with many of the films they carried that I could never see earlier, since they were either censored in Canada or just unavailable. They had Day of the Dead Unrated! I had only seen the chopped up Canadian version, so when I rented the uncut one this film skyrocketed from being a two and a half star film to a five star film that night. There were all those scenes I'd seen in my Romero book and Fangoria. That tape got rented by all my friends afterwards too, along with Tetsuo: The Iron Man, Man Bites Dog, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Eyes Without a Face and many more. Blockbuster may be a heartless, faceless corporation, but I definitely have very fond memories of going through their selection.

Sadly, the video store is dying a slow and cruel death. Where there once was the joy of discovery and the magic of being in a place that was devoted to film, there is now a fairly desolate place with the odd folk coming through to browse the aisles to get a good idea of what to download that night. With video stores closing all over the place, not surprisingly it's the big chains that are pulling the plug first and getting out after pillaging all the smaller video store's customers (isn't it odd how Blockbuster always opened up near another video store? That wasn't a coincidence), it's only a matter of time until they are all gone. Films are disposable now, they hold no importance to a lot of people. It makes sense, when there is so much available (at the click of a button) it's only natural to think of something as common and not at all special. Even film buffs plow through films so fast they don't appreciate them the way they would if there was even a little bit more difficulty in seeing them. With the loss of the video store, we are one step closer to losing film as art.

I'm sure lots of people out there still support the video store, but I'm terrified that most are waiting for 5 years after the final one closes it's doors before they get nostalgic about something they killed.

Friday, February 12, 2010


First off, if this is Mrs. Guitarbrother, Happy Valentines Day! No need to read any further.

Porn. How many have you actually seen? If you're anything like me you could probably count them on both hands... if they're not busy. Of course, that's not including clips here and there (daily) with the sound turned down. I was actually thinking a while back about whether I've seen more porn clips with or without audio. I realized the answer would be silent, by a landslide. To watch porn now with the sound actually on might blow my mind. That's right, my mind.

If you're a fan of bizarre and offbeat cinema you more than likely have made your way into the porn section of your local alternative video store. Rumours of films so unhinged and removed from the mainstream perhaps lead you there or maybe utter despairing loneliness. Either way, there is a treasure trove in the XXX world of strange, strange films. These are some of the porns I actually sat down and watched like a would a non-porn film. This list is in no way comprehensive, I seldom rent pornos to view this way. The main problem being is that the sex scenes are usually so bloody long, and I'm one of those weirdo purists who believes that if you fast forward through even a minute of any film you can't honestly say you've seen it. So if there are any truly awesome films I've missed, please leave a comment with your recommendation since I'm always happy to explore good films in any genre. With or without kleenex.


I thought I'd start off with my favourite. When I was around 19 years old I read about this magnificent flick in either Cult Films volume one or two. I couldn't believe what this movie promised.

In the future, after a nuclear holocaust, there are now two groups of people. Sex Negatives, folks who get sick if they are even aroused too much, and Sex Positives, those who can still have sex. The Sex Positives are forced to perform lifeless sexual acts for the Sex Negatives to view passionlessly at a club called Cafe Flesh.

The director, Rinse Dream (Stephen Sayadian) has made a stylish, surrealistic, well paced (sex scenes too!) and visually interesting film regardless of it's XXX rating. And the story is intelligent and funny. In fact, many are pissed off that it bites the very hand that feeds it. This is a damning condemnation of porno and the folks who watch it. Back in my early 20s I worked for a short time at a rental store that specialized in adult entertainment and I recommended this film to one of the customers. When he returned it he simply said to me, "Don't recommend this to anyone else". I guess it has it's detractors.

I guess you should see this if you are a fan of weird cinema, but not if your thinking of spending a romantic night alone.


The most recent of my XXX viewings. This is a new film from Noboru Iguchi, the director of Machine Girl and Sukeban Boy. I've yet to see Sukeban Boy (to watch pile) but Machine Girl is one of my favourites of the new batch of Japanese gore films. I remember hearing that Machine Girl is littered with porn actresses and after seeing Hypertrophy Genitals Girl I looked into his back catalogue and see why. What a pornographer his guy is! If those porns are anything like this bizarro piece he could be one of the world's greatest dirty movie makers.

I bought Hypertrophy Genitals Girl (from the wonderful and wacky Eyesore Cinema) without subtitles but was assured that this would not hamper in any way my enjoyment of the film. Actually , the fact that there were no subtitles made the film possibly more entertaining since I had to imagine what the characters were saying, which in a movie with such fucked up scenarios, made the movie more surreal. Here's what I could make out:

A Japanese girl runs into friend while she seemingly has to pee very badly. They encounter a silver, penis headed alien that punches them in the gut and gives them enlarged genitalia by ejaculating laser beams from his head (sold yet?).

The "has to pee" girl discovers she now has an enormous penis and is immdiately attacked by street youths (one looking like a Japanese version of Lipps from Anvil) who, of course, want to play with her penis. Kids these days.

She makes her escape, only to pop a boner. She runs around a small town with her massive erection sticking out from her skirt and is eventually accosted by the townfolk who hold her and take pictures of her wang. In restraining her they use the "hold by the breasts" method that the street youths did. Is this a legit way of restraining people? She escapes again to hide and masturbate, so obviously she has "possessing a dick" mastered. Here we get the pleasure of seeing that along with growing a giant pecker she has also gained a bush the size of someone's front lawn. Yikes.

The other friend wakes up to discover she now has an enlarged vagina. The same group of punk kids attack her. I guess penis or vagina mean nothing to these dissatisfied youths. Do they just roam the park in search of engorged genitals? Later, a man in a white lab coat punches her in the gut (another traditional move along with the "breast grope"?) and she blacks out.

Big Dick discovers her boobs have now grown enormous as well. At least she seems delighted at this. She's discovered by a couple who tie her (and her dick) up to apparently keep as a sex slave. They have sex. For a long time. Here's where porno scenes pretty much take up the rest of the film.

Big Vag wakes up tied up to a chair and a sweaty doctor (?), who is fascinated with her newly engorged hoo-ha proceeds to fondle her (I'm sensing a running theme of sex here). He's interrupted by penishead alien, who puts him into a trance like state so that he might help penishead get it on with big vag, with his penis head not surprisingly. And vibrators... surprisingly. She squirts (I believe that's the medical term) all over the joint and both penishead and the doctor die painfully. Big vag realizes that this could very well be her superpower.

Big Vag finds Big Dick, worse for wear after being a sex slave, and carries her away. They find a romantic hideaway and (spoiler alert) get it on. It's like they were made (by a penisheaded alien) for each other. Fuck The Notebook.


Whoa. I read about this years ago in Shock Cinema and just had to see it. And unbelievably, it actually has a legitimate DVD release in North America. Made by Shaun Costello and starring Harry Reems, this is one messed up film. A Vietnam vet, who has many flashbacks, giving Costello the chance to show tons of war atrocity footage (in a porn!), follows women home to rape and/or kill them. This is what is termed as a "roughie", and boy is it ever. There are some films you feel like you need to shower immediately after seeing, but I suggest you watch this one from the shower. And you still won't be clean. Ever again.


Another Shock Cinema recommendation. Not quite as brutal as Forced Entry (not much is) but is still a surprisingly rough XXX film from sleazemeister Shaun Costello. This is known as the Taxi Driver of porn/enema films (is there a Sound of Music of porn/enema films?) and really does bring to mind Scorsese's classic. The always lovable Jamie Gillis plays a Travis Bickle type of character who stumbles upon a live enema show. It seems he found his calling. He goes back to his filthy, porn magazine decorated apartment to begin his new life as "The Enema Bandit". He breaks into women's homes, rapes them and gives them enemas. Fortunately, the sex scenes are reasonably short in this one. Gillis' narration where he obsesses about women who need to be cleaned up is both hilarious and unsettling. Both this and Forced Entry are very stylish and well told downbeat stories that fit well into the American seventies cinema canon.


I saw this no more than a year ago and barely remember a thing in it, but I do remember liking it. Abel Ferarra's debut feature, where he plays a role himself (with a stunt cock I've been told), this is a must see for fans of his early work. How many directors have a porno in their repertoire that you have to view in order to be a completist?


The Muppet Show with XXX scenes. It's been a while since I've seen this oddity, but I remember it seeming like a real product of it's time. Definitely worth seeking out.


Pure insanity. A black and white porno that takes place in a creepy old dark house with an insane resident who takes in guests on a dark and stormy night. It gets very bizarre as the hostess' performance goes balls out crazy, the set pieces become more surreal and a gorilla makes it's way into the plot. Considered more of an arthouse item than a porno, this is an all time classic. I would recommend this to anyone seeking a strange porn, but for those wary of watching gay goings ons, there is one scene of man on man action. Highly, highly recommended.


Rinse Dream takes his stylized dialogue from Cafe Flesh even further. He experiments with editing, performances and images, but it's not near as transgressive as Cafe Flesh. I like this one a lot, it plays a lot more like an experimental film than a linear movie.


It's been ages since I've seen this one, but I distinctly remember the beginning and ending, which I thought were pure genius. Opening a porn film with a suicide was something that was rarely seen but the ending with Miss Jones trapped in hell with the director in a cameo is truly something to behold. I wouldn't want to spoil it, but it really is wonderfully bizarre. I should probably get around to re-watching this one day, I remember it being very stylish as well.


Another film I saw so long ago I barely remember anything about it, though I do remember it was much funnier than I thought it was going to be. I don't know if I'll ever revisit this one, but I will probably watch one or two of the many documentaries on the film.


The mother of all pornos. Such an unbelievable turkey that it really must be seen to be believed. One of the main problems is the editing, which is credited to "the production". No pacing whatsoever, it seems they use more outtakes than real performances (and it has been suggested that they do on the amazing 3 DVD must have set). Watch the scene where Caligula carries his sister up the stairs. It's done in a wide shot, and stays there, never cutting away as Malcolm McDowell seems to overact along with grunt and struggle to get the actress up the stairs.

This is one of the craziest films ever made. A star studded movie that the producer Bob Guccione (Penthouse magazine publisher) added hardcore scenes to after it was shot. That helped catapult it to the status it has today, but even without those scenes, this is possibly the biggest train wreck put to film. Extravagant sets that were too big to capture on film, director and producer disagreements and actors that knew they were in a spiraling out of control plane crash of a flick. If you don't own the 3 disc special edition and have any interest in the film at all, you need to get it. It covers almost everything you could ever want to know about this amazing failure. A must see.


Another film I heard about from Shock Cinema, this is a great porn parody of the original classic, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Along with my buddy Timbo, I rented this film and we sat down to enjoy this little gem. Only problem, the sex scenes are super long in this one. Sitting next to your buddy on the couch as an actress yells in a deep, guttural voice, "Fuck my ass" for the 40th time, gets a little uncomfortable. But the non-sex scenes are priceless, as the cast and crew put their hearts into everything about the film. It's obvious someone involved in this film really loves The Texas Chainsaw Massacre very much. I haven't really seen any other porn parodies, but I can't imagine any being much more sincere than this.


The only horror/porn hybrid I've watched to date. Since it attempts to be a horror film, the pacing is severely flawed due to it having to pause all the time so people can have sex for generous gaps. Sure they pile on the gore, but the filmmakers needed to figure out a way so that the sex and horror worked together rather than having both elements seemingly fight each other.

Well, there you have it, for now at least. As I wrote earlier, if there are any that are absolute must sees let me know. Unlike other genre films, there are few magazines or reference books that point the way to interesting and strange XXX works. Now back to watching 5 minute clips with the sound off!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Movies, movies, movies.... and movies

I recently dropped by one of Toronto's best video stores, Eyesore Cinema, to pre-order the House of the Devil DVD/VHS super duper package deal and thought I'd grab me some viewing material. Daniel (the owner) always has an outstanding selection of films I would defy anyone to find elsewhere in the city. On previous visits I've picked up Kioyoshi Kurosawa's impossible to find Sweet Home and later grabbed Unlucky Monkey with the director's commentary. This visit I picked up Noboru Iguchi's Sukeban Boy and Hypertrophy Genitals Girl which I very much look forward to seeing... when the wife is away. She thinks I'm peculiar enough without walking in on me watching a movie about a girl who grows a massive ding dong. And I finally got myself a membership as well. I poo poohed my previous reason for not getting a membership because the store was too far away to return the movies on time when I was confronted with the awesomeness of the DVD selection. Like a junkie in a heroin boutique, I needed more! And here I present my little reviews of what I brought home that fateful night.


This certainly was not what I expected. What I thought was going to be a funny, low-budget creature feature turned out to be pure madness. In brief, Eddie, a sheep herder goes into town in the back of a pickup truck shared with half a dozen sheep, accompanied by church music of course, and enters an empty casino as creepy music plays on the soundtrack. Cut to a bustling casino and Eddie has come into some money! Some dude invites Eddie to accompany him to a bar in another town only to have Eddie's money stoled by a woman of the night. He accuses her and everyone in the bar takes a turn at beating him up. The local doctor brings Eddie back to his stable where Eddie has a vision and one of his sheep gives birth to a monster fetus. That's probably the first 10 minutes. Then Eddie and our monster are left by the wayside as we have a businessman vs the restoration committee, the doctor performing experiments, a lynch mob, a relationship with Eddie and the wonderfully named Mariposa and the monster actually goes on a rampage within the last 20 minutes.

Godmonster is packed with entertainment. Filled with subplot upon subplot and a hilarious monster suit there is seldom a moment of boredom. I've read that this film was considered lost for a long time, but thank goodness it was found. There is so much more to this bonkers film than just a monster movie.


Oh dear me. Here's a movie filled with unlikable characters doing dumb things in a silly story. But if you are a bad STV movie fan, you could do far worse.

The movie is about a group of friends (who don't seem to like each other very much): a douchebag boyfriend and his nagging girlfriend (the hero of the film), a ditzy blonde bimbo and her goofy overweight, rich boyfriend and some other douchebag who is upset with the bimbo for dumping him for fatso. Sounds like a fun trip, don't it? All they needed to do was invite a date rapist and they could be characters in a reality show.

Anyway, boat crashes, they get stuck on island with a killer tribe of neanderthals and the naggy heroine finds her inner strength. Actually, the film has a decent opening showing a group of researchers in the past getting killed, but about 20 minutes later I was fading fast. Then something miraculous happened. I was already sick of the nagging lead character who, upon getting stuck on the island, demands that she and her boyfriend abandon everyone by taking off in the only life raft that made it out of the shipwreck. Rather than the boyfriend saying, "Are you fucking kidding me? Wait, you are, aren't you? You almost had me there. I really thought you wanted to take a life raft and paddle into the vast ocean rather than waiting to be rescued using the radio readily available to us. You are kidding, right? You have to be. I mean, it would really be fucked up if you were serious... right?" he walks away. Then our heroine (Liz, to us in the know) storms away to go to the bathroom in the jungle. As she is piddling away she cuts a fart. A big one. And does not acknowledge it at all (me guesses the editor was allowed to put this in since no one had any faith in the movie anyway), so at this point the movie could do whatever it wanted, I was now happy I saw it.

And there are unintentionally funny moments:

-There's a stock shot of an iguana that's obviously taken in a zoo since it has it's food (two strips of beef and a lemon) sitting right next to it

-When they are apparently in the middle of nowhere at sea, in one shot there is clearly a ship behind them

-During an argument Liz pronounces ogle as oogle

-Liz's boyfriend gets a small cut on his leg and leaves a river of blood in his wake

-Liz manages to nag a dead body

-The climax, where Liz becomes a pantless Rambo

Please don't misunderstand me, I'm not recommending this film in any way, shape or form, but if you happen to stumble upon it, you might get a laugh or two between the yawns and cringes. And the hero farts!


Most know Eric Tsang as the mob boss in part one and two of Infernal Affairs. From what I've seen, he's now quite a well respected actor in his homeland (and we even brought him to Canada for the miniseries Dragon Boys). But back in 1989 he wrote, starred and directed this CAT III gem about a group of tourists vacationing in the Phillipines being taken hostage by a group of rebels. As with any self respecting CAT III film, the film has a sleazy vibe (rape seems to be always just around the corner in these films) and lots of bloodshed. In Fatal Vacation, everything is over the top. Tsang has crafted a fun action film that would satisfy anyone who also liked Born to Fight or Rambo (IV). The hostages decide they need to kick some ace or succumb to certain death and along with moments that will leave the audience cheering, there's also those wonderfully downbeat moments guaranteed in a CAT III flick. Also, I think this might be the only non-American film role I've seen Victor Wong (the squinty eyed actor from Big Trouble in Little China) in. Highly recommended for action and CAT III fans alike.


What did I just watch?

The doorway to hell is opened by a sorcerer. Only one problem. It's in his neighbor's stomach. What sounds like a comedy/horror hybrid is played mostly with a straight face as his neighbor, Michael, goes on the run from Satanists (?) as hell's foul creatures keep escaping from his gut. For the most part, the film works well, having an almost Lovecraftian feel (the first scene in the film involves 2 boys catching a monster along with some fish) and it contains some cool monsters and gore. It was shot in english in Argentina, so it takes a while to get used to every actor speaking with an accent and at one hour and forty some odd minutes, it is a little long in tooth. But for fans of bizarro cinema like myself I would absolutely recommend seeing this highly ambitious and imaginative low budget flick. I'm looking forward to the director's next work.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Another fucking list? - The best of 2009

Remember 1999? What an amazing year for film. The Matrix, Blair Witch, South Park, The Straight Story, Fight Club, Being John Malkovich, etc, etc. Maybe there's something about years that end with "9", because this was an incredible year for film as well. I seldom recall being severely disappointed with many films and generally left films with a big smile on my mug. From the great films listed below to the excellent ones like Antichrist, Life is Hot in Cracktown, Frankenstein Girl vs Vampire Girl, Observe and Report, Up, Bronson, etc to the good ones like Big Fan, Orphan, Moon, etc, there were so many enjoyable films that I feel spoiled. Here's my top ten films from this exceptional year:

10. Enter the Void

A theatrical experience that I doubt will ever be duplicated (and I'm certain it's detractors consider that a good thing). Gaspar Noe proves again and again that he is the most innovative director working today by taking film to areas no one thought possible. With Enter the Void he attempts to capture the out of body experience of a junkie who is killed during a deal gone wrong. Noe uses the camera much like one would anticipate, as a voyeur looking down upon the world he's left behind, but he doesn't stop there. This film is far from a story told from a ghost's POV, Noe never does the expected. I can't wait to see this in the theater again.

9. The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans

A hoot and a holler. It's great to see Cage back to making an art out of overacting. This film serves as a great companion piece for Abel Ferrara's original masterpiece, playing with the same themes of redemption, morality, the soul and final judgement, but in a much different way than it would be expected. What originally seemed like the stupidest decision ever made by a film studio; the pairing of Cage and Herzog to remake the seemingly unremakable Bad Lieutenant, turned out beautifully and I'm grateful someone was either brilliant or dumb enough to make this happen. Now let's see if we can make a franchise out of this seemingly unfranchisable property. C'mon, it would have to be better than most franchises out there. Highly watchable.

8. The House of the Devil

I've been a big fan of Ti West since seeing his Trigger Man. It was like a combination of The Most Dangerous Game and Gerry and I was at the edge of my seat through most of the final hour. Then I checked out his debut film, The Roost, and once again I was pleasantly surprised at this methodically paced creature feature. While every horror filmmaker is out there trying to wow the audience for fear that they might be bored for even 3 seconds, West goes at a leisurely but controlled pace and heightens everything that is great about the horror genre. The characters are better, the tension is better and the shocks are better.

House of the Devil is his best and most accessible film yet. It concerns a college girl who takes on a babysitting job that requires much more than she expected. The film is a directing tour de force as West completely manipulates the audience into experiencing the night of terror along with the protagonist. He's like the Michael Heneke of the horror genre (without the moralizing everyone is so appalled by of course) as he gets more and more comfortable with the medium. House of the Devil may be an instant horror classic, but I'm anxiously awaiting what he will do in the future. Who would have thought the most exciting new horror director working today shows restraint instead of trying to constantly entertain with shocks, wows and whatnot?

7. Crank: High Voltage

As I've written before on Cool Stuff for the Uncool, I do have some problems with the overwhelming use of racist terms this film revels in, but I can't help but completely love everything else about it. The insanity of this film only matches the heights Takashi Miike achieved with the beginning and end of Dead or Alive. And unlike most films that try and be frenetic throughout their whole running time, Crank: High Voltage never becomes meandering or simply exhausting. Hopefully, much like the original, this gets a renewed life on DVD after completely bombing in the theater so we can see the further adventures of that lovable scumbag Chev Chelios.

6. A Serious Man

The Coens go back to their more cerebral filmmaking a la Barton Fink and The Man Who Wasn't There, and succeed yet again. The Story of Job and Schrodinger's Cat are two of the inspirations for this dark tale of a good man being put to the test as his world crumbles. He's a mathematician, so he looks for answers in this unfair world, and if he isn't careful he just might find them. I loved that A Serious Man is taken from a Jewish perspective, something I rarely, if ever, see in mainstream films. Another masterpiece from the Coens, and the scene with Columbia records might be my favourite scene they've ever written.

5. Anvil: The Story of Anvil

Your heart would have to be made of shit, piss, snot and puke for you not to be touched by this one. One of my favourite documentaries of all time, Anvil: The Story of Anvil tells the story of Lipps and Robb Reiner (one in many Spinal Tap connections), friends from childhood who have never given up on the dream of being in a heavy metal band. After any sane man would have called it a day, both of them keep looking on the bright side and always keep in mind that it could be much worse. The film also manages to be funny without mocking them, which with some of their antics would seem the easy thing to do. After I saw the film I felt the urge to look for my Strength of Steel cassette (though I'm sure it's long gone) and maybe buy a couple of their new albums. Even if I don't like them, I couldn't be helping out two nicer guys.

4. Symbol

My favourite film I saw at TIFF this year. Hitoshi Matsumoto's masterpiece of comedy, surrealism and deep personal vision proves that Big Man Japan wasn't just a fluke. He's definitely a filmmaker to keep an eye on, I suspect he'll have a lot more great films to offer us in his hopefully long career.

3. Inglourious Basterds

My favourite war film and not only a return to form for Tarantino (it's not like he went too off course, though I wasn't a big fan of Kill Bill Vol 2 and Death Proof) but also an indication that he's maturing as a filmmaker (which is exceptional, since he was shockingly talented to begin with). Much like his other work, Inglourious Basterds does invoke other films (which is good. I think people who get their panties in a bunch at Tarantino for paying homage to other films are more interested in proving how smart they are rather than actual criticism) but his plot driven story and dialogue is some of his best work. This is simply a great film that will be remembered as one of Tarantino's best.

2. Watchmen

One of the few examples where the movie improves upon the amazing source material. Time will be very kind to this movie and much like The Thing and Blade Runner, film fans of the future will wonder what the hell was everyone's problem with this masterpiece.

1. Drag Me to Hell

Only Raimi could make a movie where a child, a pet and an important character die horribly and the audience leaves the theater with a big smile on their face. They could have called this Evil Dead 4 and I would have been cool with that (the Evil Dead franchise being my favourite films). Also, this makes a great companion piece to the Coen's A Serious Man in that they're both very tragic/comedic morality tales. A pure joy to see Raimi's triumphant return to the horror genre.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

2000s: The Rest of the Best

11. Brokeback Mountain

I avoided this one for years because it just seemed like such a gimmick movie. Also, it had that dude from A Knight's Tale and that Donnie Darko kid who "supposedly" give amazing performances. Finally I broke down, after all the hype and lame jokes were over, and rented it. My wife was just going to watch the beginning to see how crappy it was, her being a huge fan of the Annie Proulx story, and I was going to try my best to give it a fair shake. Next thing we knew 2 hours had passed and both of us were astonished. Ang Lee has told one of the greatest love stories using something that hasn't been seen in a long time; good, old-fashioned storytelling. Beautiful cinematography, amazing performances (I was truly shocked), a fascinating and touching script and masterful direction make this one of the films that breaks my heart that I couldn't fit it into my top ten of the decade. A great character drama and a definite masterpiece.

12. In Bruges

The story of a gangster fighting for his very soul with the help of a Jesus figure from the New Testament (Brendan Gleeson) against the vengeful Old Testament God (Ray Finnes). A truly brilliant film whose religious symbolism is fascinating and powerful (Colin Farrell's sinner entering hell over the River Styx, Pennies from Heaven, the son of God's sacrifice, Mary and her unborn baby with no father at the Inn, Farrell not being satisfied by booze or drugs, the list goes on and on) but can keep the folks who aren't interested in such things entertained with a great story of friendship, guilt, honour and revenge. Purgatory has never been so entertaining.

13. Memento

I was lucky enough to see Following, Chris Nolan's first film, at the Toronto Film Festival when it came out to much acclaim. And then Nolan just seemed to disappear. Where could he be?

It turned out he was preparing to kick the world's ass with this masterful film of a man out to avenge his wife's death, told in reverse. An amazing piece of work that I can't imagine anyone disliking.

14. Survive Style 5+

You had to have known another wacky Japanese film would show up on my list somewhere. Survive Style 5+ unfortunately may never see the light of day in North America due to music copyright problems, but I would recommend to seek this one out however you can find it. Truly a delight for the eyes, never have I seen such amazing art direction. Plus, the interwoven stories are imaginative and well told. Also, it took a song I hated, Cake's version of I Will Survive, and used it so perfectly that I love it now. Don't you love it when movies do that? A delight.

15. Drag Me to Hell

The most fun I've had in the theater in a long, long time. Raimi shows that you can go back to what made you famous and still bring something new to the table. Not so easy to do when you think about fans' disappointments with Lucas, Romero and many other directors who've tried to recapture their pasts. There are setpieces in this that are easily the best work he's ever done. And on such a miniscule budget. There's a reason I think he's the greatest director of all time (wait until he's dead for 20 to 50 years. See how much of today's cinema he will have been said to influence. Mark my words).

16. Kung Fu Hustle

Mr. Awesome returns with this fantastic tale of a cad, who wants to be a cad.... who'd do anything to be a cad.... but is actually a good person (well maybe Mr. Awesome makes him out to be an amazing person, but I love the idea of a good man trying to be bad). Never in a million years would an American film take the dramatic twists and turns this film takes, and once again Mr. Awesome makes incredible use of CGI that even the most whiny of fanboys couldn't bitch about.

17. The Descent

I rented this on a PAL DVD well before it got it's North American debut (making me awesome). All I knew was that it was done by the guy who did Dog Soldiers. My good lady wife and I sat down to watch it and were immediately intrigued by the characters and the story. We were on the edge of our seats as they went down into the caves. Was someone going to snap? We're they going to be trapped? You could cut the tension with a knife. Then something happened that blew my fucking mind. If you're one of the 3 people out there who haven't seen it I would never spoil it, but see it fast before someone else does.

18. Watchmen

Ignore the naysayers, this is an instant classic. I like that they took out a lot with the psychiatrist (maybe when I was a kid I would believe that Rorschach's story was enough to drive him insane. Not today though, there are stories on Law and Order that are far more distressing) and the ending of the movie is just plain superior. I love the graphic novel, but what Snyder does with the film is nothing short of incredible. Brilliant.

19. Inglourious Basterds

I don't like war movies. I can count the war movies I love on one hand. Catch 22. Full Metal Jacket. Paths of Glory. I'm sure there's a couple more there. My main problem is that I just don't find war that entertaining or interesting. I guess I'll never be that guy who's library consists of WWII Books. But Tarantino made what could possibly be my favourite war film of all time, because it focuses on characters and plot rather than battles and action scenes. Wars are incredibly interesting backdrops for story driven films to take place in. Think of the civil war scene in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Once the characters are within the army base, Leone uses it to show the audience the true natures of each character. Angel Eyes revels in it and The Man with No Name and Tuto are horrified by it. Tarantino also uses the war to help mold his characters, from the woman seeking justice to an opportunist played by Christopher Waltz, who easily should become a star from his role. For all those doubting Tartantino's future as a leading filmmaker, this film should easily alleviate any doubts.

20. The Host

I love monster movies. And I love intelligent films about families. Therefore I love The Host. Simple mathematics. See it and love it too.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Favourite Film of the Decade #1 - Battle Royale

Here it is. Number one with a bullet. And a knife. And a grenade. And a pot lid. Say it aloud with a strong Japanese accent, "Battle Royale!".

As I mentioned in a previous entry (Exiled I believe) by the beginning of the 2000s I had become increasingly bored with American films. So much so that I rarely watched them. I was way more interested in reading (comics and horror novels, nothing too highfalutin) than seeing anything that was coming out. But I started dipping my toe more and more into Asian cinema, though there wasn't a lot that was available. And speaking of "not available", I eventually saw the movie that would change my viewing habits forever, Battle Royale.

Already a fan of Takeshi Kitano, I rented BR from the wonderful Suspect Video here in Toronto, and was completely floored by it's dark sense of humour, action, melodrama, violence, style and intelligence. I'm pretty certain I watched it again either the same day or the next one with my good buddy Timbo. Then I needed to show it to someone else. And so on and so forth.

Though it is still only available as an import in North America (there was talks of remaking it, yet no one wanted to release the original) most people know the plot. A group of students wake up on an island and are forced to kill each other until there is only one survivor/winner. What the director, Kinji Fukasaku, does with the material is outstanding. It would be easy to get lost in the plot along with the many characters he needs to juggle, but Fukasaku never missteps and manages to get every reaction from the audience he intends to. One minute you may be shocked and the next you may be saddened, then shocked again. It all happens so fast, yet rarely does it seem that way. And despite all the violence and nastiness, I did find the film's final statement strong and touching enough to completely vindicate anything that anyone may have found offensive. I might be in the minority, but I really didn't find the film that offensive at all, the symbolism of what we force upon our children in this increasingly competitive world is made quite clear from the get go and none of the violence seems like empty shock cinema (though I have nothing against empty violence either).

I gotta admit, when that copycat Quentin Tarantino revealed that his favourite film since 1992 was Battle Royale I felt like I was in good company, but everyone was going to think, "Hey, that's Quentin Tarantino's favourite. You're like Tarantino Guitarbrother. You have no mind of your own shitheel. I knew there was a reason I hate you." But then I remembered, with a squeal of delight, that I had posted my "favourite films of the decade so far", on the Mondo Movie message board well over a year ago, and what is sitting at number one? Battle Royale sucka! Obviously, it was Tarantino who read my posting and changed his list, and not the other way around. He should've covered his tracks better.

Needless to say, if you haven't seen this masterpiece, Git 'er Done! God, it's hard not to quote Larry the Cable Guy when discussing excellence in cinema.

And there you have it, my top ten of the 2000s. I'm going to post shorter blurbs for 11-20 in one posting later (though you notice how much shorter my write-ups for the films got as it got closer to number one? I'm a lazy, lazy man) and then shortly after make a list of my favourite films of 2009.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Favourite Film of the Decade #2 - Happiness of the Katakuris

Almost there.

Very few films on my list, or that I have ever viewed for that matter, have been life changers. Heck, most of us non-censorship advocates maintain that it is impossible for a movie to change one's life. I guess I'm lucky that the film that changed my life wasn't August Underground (well, it kinda did. It made me reluctant to watch films with the words "August" and "Underground" in them), but the incredible Happiness of the Katakuris.

Without going into it too much, there was a time in my life that, I guess it could be said, I was mostly unhappy. I wasn't doing it on purpose, it's just how things worked out. I got enjoyment from films, comics, novels, etc, but not much from humanity. I had friends that I dug hanging around with, and I did love my family, but there was no real joy there. Only problem though is, I was content to be unhappy, I didn't even really recognize it as a big problem. In fact, wasn't seeking happiness kind of selfish anyway?

But then, one of my favourite filmmakers came swooping down with the hugely entertaining, joyful and endearing movie called Happiness of the Katakuris. I cannot tell a lie, what struck me upon first viewing was the creativity Takashi Miike had when telling this story, blending comedy, musical numbers, stop motion, zombies and pitch black humour into what was essentially, a very optimistic/tragic tale of a father striving for happiness despite whatever horrific thing life throws at him.

The film is a remake of the excellent Korean film The Quiet Family, and it involves Mr. Katakuri purchasing a guest house on a mountain where he hopes a major highway will be going by sometime in the future. He relocates his family: Mrs. Katakuri, Grandpa, Son, Daughter and Granddaughter, in hopes that they will live happily and comfortably ever after. The only problem is that their guests, as few as there are, keep dying, and when is that highway going to be coming through? What follows is an imaginative and hilarious film about the family's struggles to bury all unhappiness (or corpses) and try and maintain their ideal of what a good life is. Eventually it all comes to a head in a climax that's as bizarre as it is wonderful.

Miike, who's mostly known in North America for shocking the audience, does not hold back at all during the film (However, I disagree with a lot of critics who claim that Miike is just a shockmeister. He never just thoughtlessly throws horrific or crazy moments in his film, they really do make the film what it is; a Takashi Miike film). I found every scene wonderful, whether it be the wacky musical numbers or an outtake Miike kept in the film of the actor playing the son cracking up during a take. Also, I have a love of films that involve something I consider extremely important in life; family. Miike has handled family stories very well in other movies (I also find Visitor Q very touching) but I really love how he tells this story. It actually seems Japan is the country with the best movies about family, from early Ozu right on to Tokyo Sonata.

When I rewatched the film I was really struck by the father's struggles to make his and his family's lives happy. It seemed like such a noble struggle even when the odds were stacked against him. It made me think of my own life, and the many ways I sabotaged my own happiness. I, like a lot of people, was content with the hand that I assumed was dealt to me, and lived day to day that way. Shortly thereafter I became determined to be happy. One definite way was to find love, which I went in search of. To cut to the chase, it worked out well and my life has changed for the better. Thanks Miike.

I'm not guaranteeing that Happiness of the Katakuris will change your life, but I'd be surprised if anyone absolutely hated it. They'd really have to be a miserable bastard to hate this ode to joy.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Favourite Film of the Decade #3 - Frailty

Well, we're up to #3 on my list and I know you must be thinking, "Hey cockfucker! I thought you were the dude who just loooooveed horror films. Looks like you're a lying piece of human garbage. Fucking fuckface! I don't see one horror film on your stupid, horribly written, godawful list. Seriously, fuck you Guitarbrother, fuck you."

In my defense, I do love the horror films, and I'm not like many of my brethren who have turned on my beloved genre (I don't automatically hate remakes, Eli Roth isn't a hack and I'm not going to wait 20 years to consider the films coming out today to be good once I get nostalgic), but there have just been so many good films coming out this decade that weren't horror. Even though this is the only horror flick on the list, I think my next 2 definitely appeal to the horror fan (much like Jodorowsky, Lynch and others appeal to them as well) though you wouldn't find them located in the horror section. Without question though, the 2000's were definitely the decade for horror after the meager offerings we had in the nineties after folks were sick of the slasher filled eighties. In early 2000 saying you were a horror fan to any serious film fan was the equivalent of saying you only watched films with anal fisting in them.

The one horror film I thought towered above the others released this decade was Bill Paxton's directorial debut (not including the wonderful Fish Heads video) Frailty. I saw this movie at least 4 times when it came out in theaters, being completely hypnotized by the style, story and performances. Anyone who hadn't seen it I made certain that I drilled it into their heads that Frailty was a must see and it was one of the most exciting and thoughtful horror films to come out in a long while. Most agreed (when they weren't so friggin' caught up in whether they knew "the twist" or not. When did movies become about guessing the ending?) but sadly not many other people went to see it. Too bad, with the exception of The Greatest Game Ever Played, Paxton seems to have given up on directing, even though I think Frailty ranks along with Night of the Hunter as the greatest films ever directed by actors. And unlike many other actors who've tried their hands at directing, Paxton showed a confidence with the style and pacing of the movie, along with getting great performances (2 of the fantastic performances were from children no less). Frailty is so much more than just an acting piece.

Frailty is steeped in insanity from the beginning. Paxton plays a father who believes God has told him that it is his and his sons' duty to kill demons disguised as regular human beings. So along with his trusty blessed axe, he goes about doing God's work. The black comedy in some of these scenes; Paxton finding the axe, the angel's (Uriel?) appearance to him at work, are hilarious in a way seen in very, very few films. You laugh at the pure lunacy of the situations, while still remaining on edge at what is happening. There's axe murders, child abuse and children being forced to murder, but Paxton handles the material in such a masterful way that it's never offensive.

We've seen Paxton play crazy before; The Dark Backward, The Vagrant, Weird Science, Near Dark, etc, but he's never played it in such a subtle way, making it much more menacing. The sincerity he shows in his madness is some of his best work as an actor. And the boys playing his sons, Adam and Fenton are great. Adam, who follows his father blindly, has some of the funniest moments and is easy to like in his naivety. And Fenton, who is the character the audience identifies with, is easy to sympathize with as he tries to bring sanity back to his family.

I don' want to give too much away, but upon second viewing, once you know "the twist" the film plays a lot different. It's much more of a tragedy rather than just a straight up horror film. Though Paxton himself might disagree. I really liked an interview I read with him back in the horror hating 2001s when the interviewer said that Frailty was more of a psychological thriller rather than a horror film. Paxton stopped him and said that it definitely "is" a horror film and he couldn't be more proud about that. He continued to say that horror is a great genre and he's proud his film is now amongst so many other great horror films. What a wicked dude.

Oddly enough, I just bought Frailty for my father this Xmas, it being one of his favourite films of all time as well. The film has a lot to say and I think it should appeal to just about anyone who is looking for a quality horror film. Let's just hope Paxton decides to direct again one day, if this is what he can do his first time out I can only imagine what amazing work we can expect from him in the future.