Father Gore’s Favourite 50+ Films Directed by Women

In celebration of International Women’s Day and also Women’s History Month, here’s a list of 50+ films directed by women that are downright spectacular. Spanning the genres from drama to horror to science fiction there’s something for everyone on this list.
We need more female artistry. Not only in independent cinema but in the system of filmmaking as a whole. These are just a fraction of the amazing stories women have brought to the medium.


Meshes of the Afternoon1) Meshes of the Afternoon (1943)
An experimental short film from the first half of the 20th century co-directed by a married couple, Maya Deren and Alexander Hammid. This one’s hard to explain. For a 14-minute flick this one requires multiple viewings. Very innovative, particularly for the ’40s, but honestly it’s generally an impressive short, even by today’s standards. A great surreal film.

The Night Porter2) The Night Porter (1974)
Directed and co-written by Liliana Cavani, this 1974 drama is one part eroticism, three parts disturbing psychological torture. Some consider this an exploitation film; I don’t agree. While it has erotic elements, and of course its heavy dose of Nazism, The Night Porter is about the lingering effects of the past on the present, how evil of a certain magnitude won’t ever wash away, and more. Sure, it’s a shocker of a movie on many levels. But trust me, Charlotte Rampling’s performance, Cavani’s direction, the compelling and disturbing story, they all add up to something perfect.

Near Dark3) Near Dark (1987)
Maybe Kathryn Bigelow’s directed ‘better’ films than this one, I don’t know. I’m not the taste maker. However, this vampire flick of hers is one of the horror genre’s greatest hits. And for good reason. Vampire stories are a dime a dozen, more so when you fast forward to today. Bigelow doesn’t just populate the cast with the likes of the late, great Bill Paxton and genre hero Lance Henriksen, she infuses her horror with a bit of Western sensibility and, yes, realism (the vamps’ vehicle kitted out to block the sun is simple though classic). More than that she provides an examination of what family means in different senses through her depiction of a roaming gang of bloodsucking criminals who cross paths with a sweet, lovestruck country boy.

Boys Don't Cry4) Boys Don’t Cry (1999)
Brandon Teena’s story is an American tragedy, a wound that still hasn’t closed in 2017 when Republicans are, almost more than ever, intent on making it harder for trans men and women to live their lives.
Directed and co-written by Kimberly Peirce, Boys Don’t Cry tells the tale of Teena (Hilary Swank) in unflinching detail about the young woman formerly known as Teena Brandon living her life as a boy named Brandon. Most of the movie is dedicated to the relationship he has with a woman named Lana Tisdel (Chloë Sevigny). But Peirce never shies away from the brutal realities of what happened to Brandon after mutual friend John Lotter (Peter Sarsgaard) discovers his secret. This isn’t a film I can watch often, though this doesn’t diminish its importance. You need to see this film, especially if you know anyone trans and want to understand the fear many men and women live in to this day because of violent, often murderous bigots.

Ravenous5) Ravenous (1999)
There’s a lot to enjoy about Antonia Bird’s film. You could see it as a historical horror, even a transgressive satire at times. You can never say it’s boring.
Ravenous takes on the concept of manifest destiny, when cannibalism grips a remote military outpost in the Sierra Nevadas during the mid-19th century. What Bird does best is blend all the elements – Western, horror, satire, action and adventure – into an atmospheric tale that chills and also takes you on an intensely thrilling ride.
Two big welcome additions are the sprawling locations, plus one of the most unique scores you’re ever likely to hear courtesy of Blur’s Damon Albarn and composer Michael Nyman.

Werckmeister Harmonies6) Werckmeister Harmonies (2000)
Co-directed by husband-wife team Béla Tarr and Ágnes Hranitzky, this is one of post-2000’s most unique dramas. Don’t want to say too much. What I will note is that Tarr and Hranitzky offer up excellent black-and-white visuals, while navigating a story of decay in post-World War II Eastern Europe. Plenty of ways to interpret, many ways to enjoy. Visually this is great, and it’s shot in just under 40 single takes, giving it a lyrical quality.

Thirteen Conversations About One Thing7) Thirteen Conversations About One Thing (2001)
Jill Sprecher’s 2001 ensemble drama feels, in terms of story, like a film we could’ve seen from Robert Altman or Paul Thomas Anderson. There are a number of themes at play, and for a mostly serious drama a proper dose of appropriate comedy. It’s the case who bring the A+ work alongside Sprecher and her directorial choices. Roger Ebert fittingly described the story as philosophy unfolding through the regular events of regular peoples lives; nobody can describe it better.

Trouble Every Day8) Trouble Every Day (2001)
Get used to Claire Denis, she pops up on this list a few times and she’s one of the world’s best filmmakers; female or not. She explores the darkness of humanity, at every end of the spectrum. Naturally, she expresses the feminine side of life very well, but Denis understands human beings well as a whole.
Trouble Every Day is, on the surface, a story about sexual cannibalism. It looks and acts as a horror film. Within that are metaphors for and about love, how we tear one another apart for the sake of emotional satisfaction, lust, so on. Aided by the top notch performances of Beatrice Dalle and Vincent Gallo, Denis gets to the bloody, beating heart of love in an uncomfortable though intriguing way.

Monster9) Monster (2003)
In the study of abused women throughout America, a conflicted and devastating case is that of Aileen Wuornos. In this 2003 Patty Jenkins film Charlize Theron figuratively and physically embodies the executed woman, giving tender life to a marginalised, victimised soul whose trajectory in life was set in blood long before she ever made it to Florida. Lesser director-writers would’ve settled for a sensational horror bordering on hack-and-slash to tell this grotesque true story. Instead of that, Jenkins offers something more pensive, more personal, more focused on character and motivation than the crimes themselves.

The Woodsman10) The Woodsman (2004)
Adapted from a play of the same name, Nicole Kassell’s The Woodsman is an uncomfortable piece of cinema. I have no empathy or sympathy for paedophiles or those attracted to underage teens. But, like so many great works, this story challenges the limits of acceptance and to what we the viewer are willing to relate. I won’t say any more. Go into this without knowing much and it may surprise you.
The scene from the image above is perhaps the most telling, in regards to how the audience is asked to try and understand Kevin Bacon’s character, whose past transgressions include molesting a young girl. When Walter (Bacon) steps past the boundaries of normal conversation his brother-in-law Carlos (Benjamin Bratt) is no longer empathetic, he’s disgusted and almost physically assaults Walter. There are different interpretations of this moment, mostly it illustrates the fine line between understanding and contempt when it comes to these types of issues.

Deliver Us from Evil11) Deliver Us from Evil (2006)
This is a difficult documentary, so I advise anyone who’s been a victim of sexual abuse, specifically at the hands of a priest, maybe tread lightly with this one. Not only are there a few explicit descriptions of the abuse perpetrated by the monstrous Father Oliver O’Grady, we also spend significant time listening to the destruction he wrought upon his victims and their families. Documentary filmmaker Amy Berg (I could’ve put any of her films on here honestly) cuts to the core with an examination of the Roman Catholic Church’s failure to protect the most vulnerable in their care, as seen through the lens of O’Grady and his crimes.
Because make no mistake, this is a microcosm of the larger problem endemic to Catholicism. Thankfully Berg brings the issue to light with an expert documentary which leaves no stone unturned.

Red Road12) Red Road (2006)
I can’t say much about the plot without spoiling. Andrea Arnold is an English treasure. Not only is her directing and writing on point in this mysterious little drama, Kate Dickie pulls out a mesmerising, fearless performance as lead character Jackie Morrison, a CCTV operator on the Red Road Flats whose job allows her a front row seat to locating the man who irreparably altered her life.
Don’t read anything else. Go, watch. Experience this moody film for what it’s worth, and let the story sink into your bones.

In a Better World13) In a Better World (2010)
Susanne Bier covers a lot of ground with this 2010 dramatic thriller. From a small Danish town to an African refugee camp, Bier dissects the meaning and devastation of violent conflict, the constructions of masculinity, and more. The plot’s wonderfully divided between the two separate lives of one man, home in Denmark and away in Africa, as he struggles to understand the nature of violence while holding onto the man he is inside. Although the movie is great to look at and Bier’s directing is solid, it’s the story which ultimately captives, keeping you glued until the final moments determining whether the film is a tragedy after all.

Lore14) Lore (2012)
No shortage of WWII and Nazi-related films out there, though some are far better than others. At the top of the heap is Lore, based on one of the novellas from Rachel Seiffert’s book The Dark Room. Directed and co-written by Cate Shortland, the story is an uncompromising view of life nearing the end of Nazi rule, as we see the perspective of a young woman raised by Nazis and her aftermath when Allied Forces move in on their homes.
There’s so much in the film’s 109 minutes to absorb. Watching young Lore deal with the sudden disappearance of her parents in a time of intense crisis gets to me. Because she’s been raised by fascist parents to take part in a frighteningly fascist society, not the typical lead character we follow in WWII or post-WWII movies. But Shortland draws our attention to the right places, and Lore’s journey evolves into something far more compassionate than you’ll ever anticipate in the beginning.
One of the most telling moments is when Lore threatens her little brother, saying that the Americans have prisons where young people are tortured, horrible places; the irony as she subscribes to the Nazi ideology is staggering, showing us just how indoctrinated she’s become living in the world of adults ruling Germany with an iron fist.

The Pervert's Guide to Ideology15) The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology (2012)
Director Sophie Fiennes casts her lens upon philosophical cokehead Slavoj Žižek, who I’m half a fan of when he’s not spouting absolute madness and misguided wisdom. What I love is that Fiennes captures Žižek in his own world, in a sense. As he rants, often to great effect (his movie wisdom re: ideology is fairly spot on), she takes us into that world, and adorns each frame with the influence of the films Žižek discusses at length. My favourite section is where he discusses the John Carpenter classic ahead of its time, They Live, and in particular his dissection of the fight scene, which in itself is a perfect rendition of the struggle to accept ideology.

Ratcatcher 16) Ratcatcher (1999)
Certain filmmakers capture the essence of the middle to lower classes with absolute precision. One such director is Lynne Ramsay. Her 1999 drama Ratcatcher depicts 1970s Glasgow in all its visual squalor, as we infiltrate the poor housing districts populated by characters hoping for better, for more. From the striking binmen and all the garbage piling up outside, to the just as neglected inner lives of those inside the flats, Ramsay finds the beauty and the tenderness amongst all the trash.
There are two gorgeous, memorable sequences above all. One of those is a dose of magic realism you might not expect to see. When it comes, you’ll know. And you’ll never forget.

Away from Her17) Away from Her (2006)
The subject of Alzheimer’s Disease is a touchy one, like any disease that decimates a human being, physically or mentally. Directed and written by Sarah Polley, Away from Her is based on a short story called “The Bear Came Over the Mountain” by Alice Munro. It’s a film which will rock you. Both performances by Julie Christie and Gordon Pinsent are the stuff of dreams.
Polley does a stellar job in her dual role as writer and director. Not only is her work quality, the movie is directed by a woman, a Canadian, based on a Canadian writer’s story, filmed in Canada. Pinsent is even from my small hometown on the far East Coast of Canada, Grand Falls-Windsor, Newfoundland. What’s not to love?

The Virgin Suicides18) The Virgin Suicides (1999)
You can argue that Sofia Coppola has only gotten better as a director, so that would mean her debut feature isn’t necessarily going to be her best. But while I agree she’s matured since, The Virgin Suicides is my vote for her best. It’s a great film in terms of story, directing. It’s also an important one.
Based on the novel by Jeffrey Eugenides, it explores the utter pain of becoming a woman through eyes of young boys/men watching from a distance. At first that seems like a male perspective, and to an extent it is, when it helps capture the mysteriousness and elusive nature of femininity from all angles. Coppola was the perfect filmmaker to tackle this story, doing so with atmosphere and a deft hand for storytelling.

But I'm a Cheerleader19) But I’m a Cheerleader (1999)
When I was young I saw this on Showcase. Being 15 and stupid at the time I was like “Awesome there’s lesbians” and just enjoyed seeing a couple girls kiss each other. In my maturity, Jamie Babbit’s movie became a clever satire about the construction of gender roles, centred on a 17-year-old girl struggling with her sexuality. This is where I first really fell in love with the acting of Clea DuVall and Natasha Lyonne. Above all else, Babbit directs this with vision. Regardless of what critics said at the time she does wonderful things with the look and feel of her film, pushing its themes visually going against heteronormativity and the socially constructed way our society views being a woman.

The Selfish Giant20) The Selfish Giant (2013)
Clio Barnard directs and writes this modern fable about greed and guilt, loosely inspired by Oscar Wilde’s story of the same name. Apart from the fine acting from the young lads central to the story, Barnard shows us a raw portrait of those on the margins. At times tender, The Selfish Giant gives us a look at characters recognisable to those who grew up in little places, where any feasible way to make money was a good way to make money. If you’ve a heart at all this movie will shake you, though in an eye-opening sense.

Pet Sematary21) Pet Sematary (1989)
Not sure how everyone else feels. For me, both the novel and the film Pet Sematary got under my skin. I mean, the mom’s sister Zelda? Haunts me to this day, no joke. Terrifying.
For any of those idiot men out there who have a shit opinion about women in horror, check out Mary Lambert here. Not only is this one of my favourite Stephen King adaptations on film, Lambert generally does nice work in the horror genre with this late ’80s classic.
Gruesome, eerie, intense, darkly comic; this one’s got it all!

Titus22) Titus (1999)
Despite recently discovering Steve Bannon co-exec produced this movie, and the fact it’s based on one of Shakespeare’s more obscure and ridiculously violent plays, it’s still a fantastic slice of cinema directed by Julie Taymor. Boasting a fantastically epic cast, Titus is a visionary adaptation of Shakespeare up there with Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet.
Colourful, savage, metafictional, flamboyant, purposely anachronistic – Taymor isn’t afraid to be different, to be her own director. She is fascinating, and this movie is full of wonders. Fuck what anyone else tells you.

Harlan County USA23) Harlan County, USA (1976)
I don’t need to tell anyone about the spectacular work of Barbara Kopple, from her documentaries to her directing on episodes of Homicide: Life on the Street to one of my favourite series’ of all-time Oz.
This documentary is raw and powerful. A look at a miners strike in Kentucky presents the class divide between Americans more than a hundred lectures and articles by people who think they know it all. Necessary viewing for any wannabe documentary filmmaker, and for anyone serious about understanding classism in American society.

Rush24) Rush (1991)
Lili Fini Zanuck’s only feature film is a top notch crime drama that goes undercover with two detectives and gets lost in the drugs. Starring Jennifer Jason Leigh and Jason Patric, Rush is one of my most favourite undercover cop dramas out there. This is another movie you want to go into without knowing much. Just that Zanuck directs the hell out of it, taking us on a ride with Leigh and Patric that’s full of adrenaline and suspenseful dramatics.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night25) A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)
Ana Lily Amirpour has emerged as one of the more bold genre directors in the past decade, with this film and her newest, The Bad Batch. She’s got an eye for black-and-white. Moreover, she blends genres like nobody’s business!
I can’t properly describe the film without giving too much away. It’s a vampire film. It’s Iranian. It’s almost fantastical in nature, dystopian in a way existing in a place that’s otherworldly.

American Psycho26) American Psycho (2000)
Bret Easton Ellis gave us one hell of a novel when this was originally released. A wildly transgressive piece of literature. It was hard to imagine anyone translating that totally onto the screen. But, where there is doubt there is Mary Harron!
All of Ellis’ dark, satirical comedy comes out, as does the brutality and the depraved nature of Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale in fine form). She really gets the book, or at least how I interpreted the book. And you can argue whether it’s all real, that’s up to interpretation; regardless of authorial intent. Point is, this is a great horror in many ways, not least of which is the fact Harron does spectacular work as director bringing Ellis and his madness to the film properly.

Wayne's World27) Wayne’s World (1992)
For years I had no idea this comedy classic starring Mike Meyers and Dana Carvey was directed by a woman. Penelope Spheeris gives life outside SNL to Wayne and Garth, as the meatheaded young party animals with their own cable access television show. One of my favourite comedies. When I did find out Spheeris was behind the movie, only made it better to understand, still as a teenager then, that a woman can party on as good as any dude. Something I should’ve known sooner.

Honeymoon28) Honeymoon (2014)
I don’t know what the consensus on this flick is, but I love Leigh Janiak’s allegory about the concept of marriage, and what it is to truly know somebody, inside out. Honeymoon is like a metaphor wrapped in body horror sci-fi, underneath an intense, claustrophobic drama. Lots of good atmosphere. When the horror comes, it arrives in spades. The acting from Rose Leslie and Harry Treadaway is out of this world, which helps in such a closed environment; their paranoia, the fear is suffocating as they spend much of their time in a single space. Wonderful horror cinema, Janiak knows how to get at the soul.

Sleeping Beauty29) Sleeping Beauty (2011)
Part her own fiction, partly based on a couple novels, Julia Leigh spins a strange tale of a young woman who participates in various different occupations to make money. Some of which includes doing medical experiments, even working in a high end escort house where she’s drugged to sleep next to paying male customers. Equal parts creepy and symbolic, Sleeping Beauty is, like it or not, unforgettable.

The Babadook30) The Babadook (2014)
Jennifer Kent rocked a lot of us when she released this nightmarish psychological horror into the filmosphere. If you haven’t seen it, I’ll do my best not to spoil.
All I’ll say is this – you can interpret the film however you want, but either way it’s filled with frightening imagery reminiscent of German Expressionism, and can work on the level of a metaphor for how we deal with grief in the wake of tragedy.

Winter's Bone31) Winter’s Bone (2010)
I think Jennifer Lawrence is a bit of a knucklehead. As an actress, she is really great. Most of the time. In 2010’s Winter’s Bone, she plays a resilient young Ozarks girl left to fend for herself and her two young siblings after her deadbeat, drug addict father goes missing. Under the thumb of a ruthless community and her uncle Teardrop (John Hawkes in one of his best roles), she’s left with not many choices. Just like so many in the real world like her are left destitute, in every way you can think. The directing from Debra Granik is good stuff, from the picturesque locations to the shabby little backwoods town where the plot plays out she knows how to push us into a world that not everybody understands.

Persepolis32) Persepolis (2007)
I read this graphic novel in a university course a couple years ago. It struck a chord, seeing a perspective that I don’t know too well. Marjane Satrapi adapted her own novel into this fantastic animated feature, which helps hugely – rather than put this into live action, she sticks with the cartoon format, and that holds power. Just like Maus and its Jewish mice, Persepolis helps us confront hard truths and ideas about the Islamic Revolution, what it was like in Iran before, after; it does this by being presented in cartoon, automatically pumping up sympathy, even if unknowing in the audience. No matter what, Satrapi keeps the essence of her graphic novel autobiography and shows that she’s as skilled a director as she is an author.

Amer33) Amer (2009)
Hélène Cattet and partner Bruno Forzani direct this visually stunning tale of the development of a young girl into a woman, defined by three moments in her life. Like a psychosexual nightmare crossed with an expertly paced, mysterious Giallo sensibility, Amer plays less like a film, more as an experience. Honestly, I know that’s something that you might expect a pretentious writer to say, and maybe I am. But I do know that you won’t see many movies quite like this, a unique, one of a kind piece of horror cinema.

XX34) XX (2017)
What happens when a bunch of women come together to give us an anthology horror film? We get some fresh, unnerving new perspectives, such as St. Vincent’s Annie Clark, for instance. These four shorts are each impressive in their own right, though I’d have to say “The Box” (based on a Jack Ketchum story) is likely my favourite. Still hard to choose when all of them are chilling. Some are darkly comic, others outright horrifying. In an anthology, especially if there are more than a handful of segments, you’ll often see a few really weak links in the bunch. XX offers up four thrilling short films that you’ll be thinking about for days.
Kudos to these women, I hope they all continue to scare the shit out of us in the future! Horror needn’t be a boys club. I’d much prefer the feminine perspective pump out more genre work, and I feel this movie only helps the case for that.

The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things35) The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things (2004)
I love Asia Argento. She’s fascinating. And one of her few feature films as director, The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things, falls on its viewer like a hammer.
Without spoiling, this is the tragic tale of a mother who’s not fit to be a mother dragging her little boy through one messy life situation after another. This isn’t a comedy. It is outright brutal, in what it shows and what it opts not to show, too. Starring Argento and the Sprouse brothers before bigger fame, we also see appearances from the likes of Marilyn Manson, Kip Pardue, Jeremy Renner, Peter Fonda, Ben Foster, Michael Pitt, and Jeremy Sisto. The cast is varied, all of them giving their best efforts in the various sleazeball roles they play.
Be prepared – this film is not for the faint of heart. It isn’t a horror, it’s a drama. One that will grate on your nerves and wear down your psyche. However, it’s a great anti-thesis to all the romanticised versions of down-and-out families we see so often, proving that, as it says in the Bible: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”

Innocence36) Innocence (2004)
Lucile Hadžihalilović has two films on this list, because she’s a mesmerising talent behind the camera. Her directing is confident, even as the stories she tells fall into a space not quite of this world yet still a part of the human order of things. I know, that’s mystifying in itself. But trust me, Hadžihalilović is unlike any other.
Innocence is a film about young girls at a secluded boarding school, where new students are brought in lying within coffins, and there they being the education which takes them from girls into womanhood. You could take this and Hadžihalilović’s Evolution, also on the list, and use them as companion pieces exploring male v. female gender. This film is inexplicable until you see it. A visual feast. Furthermore, it’s a disturbing work of art.

Dans Ma Peau37) Dans Ma Peau (2002)
I won’t say much, other than a trigger warning for those who have issues with self-harm/mutilation: this is a doozy!
For everyone else, this film acts as an exploration of how we relate to our own bodies. Director Marina de Van goes into shocking detail, following a woman who develops a nasty habit after suffering a rough injury. This prompts a descent into body horror, as the viewer must come to terms with this woman and her increasingly masochistic behaviour.

Jesus Camp38) Jesus Camp (2006)
I was raised Roman Catholic, though when I hit 12 my parents gave me the choice on my own whether to go to church. I gave up, never looked back. As a grown man, I’ve decided I’m not without faith, I just don’t believe in God, organised religion, all that. I simply have faith in humanity.
When you watch Jesus Camp, you’ll see how humanity is warped. The kids in this documentary have been so viciously brainwashed that it’s abuse, to my mind. Watching some of the adults egging these kids on into realms of thought they can’t possibly understand is frightening, as well as sad and frustrating and a whole bunch of other emotions tied up together. Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing direct this documentary together, and they expose a sinister underbelly to what many used to think was innocuous summer camp-type activities.

Goodnight Mommy39) Goodnight Mommy (2015)
When two twins see their mother come back home after surgery, her face wrapped in bandages, they start to wonder: is it really their mommy under all that gauze?
Goodnight Mommy is a whopper of a film. A psychothriller we don’t often see. Sure, maybe you’ll ‘guess the twist’ early on. I didn’t. Even if I did, co-directors Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala weave us through the story in a way that still demands respect, and fear. Not only that, the directing offers up some stellar visuals, as the story messes with our mind right to the finish.

The Turin Horse40) The Turin Horse (2011)
Another film from Béla Tarr and Ágnes Hranitzky. This time, they take on the tale of Friedrich Nietzsche, albeit in an adjacent form. When Nietzsche lost his mind, supposedly it was precipitated by him watching a horse being flogged in the street, after which he crumbled mentally. Tarr and Hranitzky don’t follow the great philosopher. Instead, they show us what happens next to the horse. We go back to the horse’s home, we see the lives of his owner and the owner’s daughter.
This isn’t for everyone. Most definitely a philosophical film, for those with an interest in philosophy. Within the seemingly monotonous perspective of the film there are questions about life, waiting to confuse and titillate.

Bastards41) Les salauds (2013)
Oh, Claire Denis; I worship at thine altar.
What a filmmaker. She’s consistently interesting, even if you don’t particularly dig each of her films. She is always asking questions about the hardest aspects of life – love, loss, pain, pride; everything.
Les salauds (English title: Bastards) is a disturbing film, on several levels. Ultimately, this chalks up to a tragedy of errors, in the deepest, most painful sense possible. The titular bastards are all around, though more often than not they’re close to us than we think. Denis explores this idea well, with Vincent Lindon at the centre of the story giving another great performance as usual.

We Need to Talk About Kevin42) We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)
Another magnificent human being, Lynne Ramsay, reappears on the list.
And for good reason. We Need to Talk About Kevin is a hugely important movie, based on the book of the same name written only a few years after the Columbine massacre. Tilda Swinton takes on the role of Kevin’s mother, facing the hardship of having to live on in a world where her son has committed horrible atrocities. She takes the punishment from the locals, the news, so on. And while we’re tempted to feel sorry for her, the flashbacks we experience alongside her offer a different perspective. She certainly isn’t to blame for the horror of Kevin as a young adult. At the same time, it’s hard not to see the effect an unloving mother can have on a child’s development. In so many ways this is a difficult to swallow story. In so many other ways, it’s one of the most important films since 2000.

The Strange Colour of Your Body's Tears43) The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears (2013)
From the directors of Amer, this is another eerie tale. I won’t say anything further, except expect more of the same (though different) visuals and in turn visual storytelling rather than a ton of expository dialogue. This is a weird, wonderful slice of Giallo-inspired cinema you won’t want to miss.

Evolution44) Évolution (2015)
Watch this Lucile Hadžihalilović picture after you’ve seen her other film Innocence. They’re each innovative looks at gender. This one turns its gaze onto the development of young boys, albeit in a dystopian, sci-fi-ish way that isn’t always easy to grasp. Despite that the film is hard to ignore. Like a bit of body horror, fantasy, and dystopian drama in one big, weird bowl.

The Hitch-Hiker45) The Hitch-Hiker (1953)
Ida Lupino was directing movies at a time when it wasn’t exactly common for women to be helming big pictures. But it’s stuff like 1953’s The Hitch-Hiker that exemplifies exactly why. In this simple story of two men picking up a dangerous man on the side of the road, Lupino does more than a couple films combined. I don’t want to spoil the goods, because she truly makes a suspenseful piece of work out of a simplistic premise. The acting is great, and the cinematography will keep you cooped up in close quarters with the titular hitchhiker on the edge of madness with his unwilling passengers, from start to finish.

She's Lost Control46) She’s Lost Control (2014)
Anja Marquardt’s She’s Lost Control is a raw drama that looks at the life of a sexual surrogate. She’s forever altered when one client with whom she works becomes erratic in his behaviour, committing a brutal act that sees her question a job she never did before and also deal with the misunderstood conceptions about her job from the people around her. Definitely a slow burning drama, but filled with enough nuanced acting that you’ll forget any slower pacing. Brooke Bloom’s central performance is better than great, she genuinely falls into the skin of her character Ronah. And when you see those last frames, you’ll feel like you’re right there in her skin, as well. Like it or not.

The Adversary47) The Adversary (2002)
When a man’s family turns up dead, his life for the past couple decades unravels and it’s discovered he’s not who he’s pretended to be all along. Daniel Auteuil turns in a staggeringly powerful performance in the lead role. It’s the way director and co-writer Nicole Garcia shows us the story that offers the film’s most intriguing aspect. Going from the man’s present to the past, and everything in between, Garcia shows us where he is, how he got there, and all the pain of everyone involved. At times a straightforward drama, The Adversary surprises with the manner in which its revelations open up for the viewer.

The Blue Light48) The Blue Light (1932)
Leni Riefenstahl didn’t just make an awful piece of Nazi propaganda. She also made and starred in The Blue Light, a hypnotising fantasy about a woman suspected of being a witch, who’s the only person in her village that can climb a nearby mountain; at the top is a strange blue light that shines under the moon. Young men die trying to follow the woman. Eventually, tragedy strikes when she entrusts the secret of the mountain and its blue light to a man who betrays her.
There’s a lot to enjoy, from cinematography to the sweeping score to the dreamy pacing and equally dreamy imagery. I only saw this recently, seeking it out before Women’s History Month specifically. And I wasn’t disappointed. Its length is perfect to match the pacing Riefenstahl attains, slowly indoctrinating us into this mysterious village at the foot of the mountain. A fantastic work of early 20th century cinema!

Pariah49) Pariah (2011)
I loved Moonlight. But 5 years before it dropped on us like a beautiful black bomb, Dee Rees brought us a story of a young African-American girl discovering and exploring her lesbianism while navigating family and friendship in Brooklyn.
While you can admire it for the gorgeously captured images of beautiful, young black women frequenting nightclubs, walking the streets of their neighbourhood, moving through the familiar spaces of their lives brought out in exuberant detail, Pariah is a tender if not tough look at this girl and her struggle. There are moments of such beauty you might cry.
And whereas Barry Jenkins’ Best Picture winner of 2016 ended on a hopeful, heartwarming note, Rees opts to end with a beat depicting the all too common fight of young gay/lesbian men and women out there just trying to be themselves.

Vanishing Waves50) Vanishing Waves (2013)
This film by director and co-writer Kristina Buozyte is a unique work of science fiction, especially if we consider the sci-fi that’s come out since 2000. It’s a very psychological piece. Above all, the visuals are to die for! What begins as nebulous, evasive story slowly morphs into something tangible as time progresses. At the beginning, you won’t know what to think. Then as you let Buozyte sink her images into you and they burrow under your skin, Vanishing Waves takes form right before your eyes. Not for everyone, but certainly a great female-directed film in a male dominated industry, where directors like Buozyte are pushing the envelope and plenty of men are directing heaps of shitty sci-fi.

The House is Black51) The House is Black (1963)
Watch this. Now. A short documentary, though no less important than one that’ll run for two-and-a-half hours. In twenty minutes you’ll experience a ton of emotions. Director Forugh Farrokhzad examines what it is to be ‘ugly’ and pits that against religion. Trust me, you won’t regret watching this one. The images are stark and they’re not always easy to watch. But all of the best documentaries touch a nerve, which Farrokhzad does with hers so effortlessly.

Vagabond52) Vagabond (1985)
Starting with the death of a young woman frozen in a field, Agnès Varda takes us back through her life leading up to where and when she’s found. This is like a snapshot of real life, in the sense that we often see these types of deaths, ones we deem sad and unfortunate, and we know nothing of this person’s life. While Varda’s eponymous vagabond isn’t a bad person, nor does she deserve a tragic death such as this, we basically watch the bittersweet flavour of her existence. And that perhaps dying in a field, free and in the open is what this vagabond wanted. Perhaps there’s more romance in her life and death than we suspect at the start. Or maybe not. The way Varda doesn’t show us everything, sometimes leaving out significant pieces for the audience to put together in a puzzle, how we get cinema verite moments of people talking into the camera about the young woman, there’s a very genuine feel of reality. We’re left to decide exactly what this woman’s life means, if anything, and how her death reflects the life she lived.

White Material53) White Material (2009)
Claire Denis, once more. An auteur.
White Material is a ferocious film, full of power. Isabelle Huppert, like always, wows in her central performance as a French coffee farmer struggling in an African country as a civil war erupts. What we see is less a political view into things as it is a personal, smaller scale look at child soldiers and what they’re made to do, as well as how the people of a country react to the violence of war in its many brutal forms. There are difficult moments throughout. In her usual awesome form, Denis often affects us more by what she DOESN’T show and merely suggests, rather than what she chooses to show. In the end, this all hinges on Huppert at the centre, a woman faced with losing everything she has in every way but refuses to just give in. Another one of her stories that’s heavy in impact, as if you’d expect any less.

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GHOSTWATCH’s Emotional Effects Top Even the Original War of the Worlds

Ghostwatch. 1992. Directed by Lesley Manning. Screenplay by Stephen Volk.
Starring Michael Parkinson, Sarah Greene Mike Smith, Craig Charles, Gillian Bevan, BRid Brennan, Michelle Wesson, Cherise Wesson, & Chris Miller.
BBC.
Not Rated. 91 minutes.
Horror/Mystery

★★★★1/2
posterOn the night of October 30th, 1938, Orson Welles directed and narrated an episode of The Mercury Theatre on the Air in which he adapted H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds. It caused a good deal of fright for those tuning in, as they thought it was real. Following suit 54 years later, BBC’s Ghostwatch aired on Halloween night in 1992. And as opposed to the uproar in the wake of Welles with his radio programme (an event that was likely inflated by people over the years judging by how many people actually listened to that station), Ghostwatch prompted some incredibly unintended consequences, even one death.
The reason being is because, for 1992 particularly, this is an exciting blend of paranormal horror, long before Paranormal Activity and its many copies, with a very real dose of mystery – 7 years before The Blair Witch Project (the filmmakers acknowledged they’d seen this BBC production before making their own movie). Of course it’s a mockumentary posing as a reality programme looking into whether ghosts are real, but because of the acting, the story, and the overall execution of the faux-documentary, Ghostwatch is effective. It’s a lot of creepy fun that doesn’t have to be outrageous to get you spooked. The subtlety of many scenes is what ultimately gives the horror its impact.
screen-shot-2016-09-28-at-11-19-30-amNot only is it documentary-like in its look at the supposed ghostly hauntings, the program plays truly great as a live television event. Excellent real look and feel, as if you’re directly in the midst of it happening. You’ve got the presenters of the programme, the camera guys, the reporters on location. Then there’s all the added fun of having people calling in, supposedly seeing things in the live show – figures and ghosts in the background, shadows in the curtains which the presenters later debunk. The number people called was actually genuine, although they were told immediately the programme was not real; they were allowed to tell their stories on air regardless if they wanted. So all that makes for a palpable atmosphere of eeriness.
Dread really sets in once the haunting aspects become more intense. The mother of the haunted family talks about being locked in the dark room once, the room under the stairs, where she feels a presence – a man breathing on her. We come to understand that this is the ghost named “Pipes” who lingers in the home. We get the expected voice on tape, an ugly and evil sound, breathless like you might expect of a spirit. Worse, nobody’s capable of recreating the voice afterwards, and things start getting scary. There’s a lot of amazing stuff we now consider archetypal of paranormal films focusing on investigations – marks on the children, disturbing scratches over the young girl’s face, weird photos of possible haunting evidence (an Amityville-style picture of a room in disarray comes up at one point). Because it was so fresh in ’92, these elements work wonders. Perhaps a little too well.
screen-shot-2016-09-28-at-12-21-07-pmAfter Ghostwatch, there were actual cases of emotional distress. Because the BBC’s always been popular and had a large viewership, the programme reached a lot of unsuspecting eyes. One case has to do with a thirteen-year-old boy who took his own life, leaving a suicide note that explained he believed ghosts were in his house (due to pipes knocking like the girl hears in this film), so “if there are ghosts I will bewith you always as a ghost.” This is a tragic instance which illustrates how real, and frightening, Ghostwatch actually played for people at the time. Another two years after the programmed originally aired, in ’94, a report in the British Medical Journal presented the case that this programmed was the first of its kind on television to cause cases in PTSD – specifically in ten-year-old boys. Clearly the reach of such a mockumentary could never be predicted. That doesn’t change the fact it was obviously effective in its aims. Sadly, there were very real consequences to such fake frights.
I don’t doubt why anybody found this disturbing. The story itself about the house, the revelations of Pipes and why he’s been haunting the place. All of it’s unsettling. At one point there’s even a brief view and discussion of pregnant mutilated animals. But it’s the finale that I find creepiest. Because of how everything is filmed, edited, the sound, there’s a genuine feeling even once things start to get over-the-top. Right before the credits roll is my favourite moment: creepy cat noises in the dark and the sound of Pipes’ voice will make your skin crawl. Although the bit in the studio feels too much, the rest of what’s going on is properly distressing.
screen-shot-2016-09-28-at-12-22-58-pmI only recently saw this for the first time. After seeing all the imitations, as well as the films rightfully influenced by it, Ghostwatch feels fresh. Going back to the earliest found footage and mockumentary movies it’s fun to see where some of the techniques used in later efforts originated.
Sure, there are more bloody, visceral stories out there. But this one is fun, a nice little grim thrill in the form of a live television programme. There are legitimately troubling scenes and brief moments. You can spot the spirit of Pipes in 13 different places, adding an extra creep or two when necessary. You’ll be hard pressed to find a better mockumentary in terms of paranormal/supernatural horror. Good mystery leads into full fledged creeps territory. The actors all sell their parts well, when things devolve into ghost madness they compel you to keep on watching past every dark turn. I’m excited to put this on again around Halloween. Perfect time of year for these sort of frights.

American Horror Story – My Roanoke Nightmare: “Chapter 2”

FX’s American Horror Story
Season 6, Episode 2: “Chapter 2”
Directed by Michael Goi
Written by Tim Minear

* For a review of Chapter 1, click here.
* For a review of Chapter 3, click here.
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Last we left Matt and Shelby Miller (Cuba Gooding Jr. & Sarah Paulson in the “dramatic reenactment“; André Holland & Lily Rabe in the documentary-style clips), things were bad. Shelby’s lost in the woods, finding a strange torch wielding cult (including Wes Bentley) and a man whose skull has been… partially removed. The strange woman Shelby thought she’d run over chants in the darkness (Kathy Bates), a group of people surround a man having a pigtail nailed to him. Terribly creepy little cuts.
After running and running, Shelby stops a moment. Only to find more madness. “I never thought about what could be in the wilderness, hiding in the dark,” the real Shelby recounts. We see Bates’ character lead a strange ceremony involving a man put up on a cross, a pig’s head stuck on his shoulders. Shelby takes off again until passing out in the middle of the road, where Matt’s sister Lee (Angela Bassett) finds her. Of course it all sounds mad to the police and everyone else. Poor Shelby. God damn. Ultimately she too believes it’s the “mountain men” trying to drive them out of the house.
A very bad, tragic misunderstanding.
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We get to see more about Lee now, she and her ex-husband Mason (Charles Malik Whitfield) exchange their daughter Flora (Saniyya Sidney) for a while. Yeah, that’s a great fucking idea. Bring a little girl into a haunted house, or at the very least a house out in the country being laid siege to by hillbillies. Anyway, things kick off real quick once Lee finds Flora talking to somebody upstairs. Who? Oh, just somebody named Priscilla. Who isn’t there. A ghost? Or something more? Lee does the smart thing and pries a bit. “She said shes tired of all the blood,” Flora responds when questioned about Priscilla and her bonnet. When Lee literally finds one laying around, she gets spooked.
The great thing about any haunted house film or show is that part of everything is the human, psychological drama happening. There’s Lee and her girl, as well as Matt and Shelby, everyone with their own issues, taking things in differently.
That night more pig noises come from outside. Shelby takes action and insists on tracking them down, so Matt tags along. In the dark, out amongst the trees, they get separated. As one would expect from any horror. When they find each other, they come across a large stick figure with a pig’s head on top, roasting in fire; the skin and meat hanging below dripping into the flames. “This was beyond having a cross burned on your lawn. There was something demonic about it.” the real Matt speaks through voice-over.
With a bit more evidence this time, the police reluctantly look into what’s happening around the Miller’s place. Then a phone call comes through to Matt in the night. Except the phone’s disconnected. In the shadows, he finds an apparition: mean nurses tending to an old, frail and sickly woman named Margaret (Irene Roseen). They can’t hear Matt, but he watches on as one of the nurses tells their patient “Youve been warned” before blowing her brains out with a revolver. Now he’s seeing terrifying things, it isn’t only Shelby anymore.

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This incident sets things into a frenzy. The police, as suspected, can’t find anything to backup Matt’s story. He starts questioning the integrity of his brain, literally, after the incident in the city. Problem is the cops are gradually getting less interested in helping, which isn’t all that abnormal by real world standards.
When Mason shows up for Flora, they can’t find her. It used to be a game she played with them. This time, not finding her may have something to do with the house. They find Flora in a crawlspace talking to Priscilla, who disappears quickly. Apparently Flora tried to make a trade: a doll for their lives. Seems Priscilla is homicidal. And it’s not just her. Flora warns her parents: “Theyre going to kill us all. And save me for last.” Fuck. That’s eerie. Dad hauls his daughter off and things aren’t looking any better for Lee as a mother. Especially considering she started drinking afterwards, off the wagon again. She broke a few things. Shelby’s not happy to find knives in the ceiling, although we can guess that probably wasn’t Lee. Those nurses are creeping about, too. In her drunken state Lee sees a lot of things from pigtails to pig heads and it’s one bad hangover she’s headed for in the morning.
There’s a little girl hanging around outside to boot, which sends Matt and Shelby outside. They come to a trap door with a ladder leading below ground a ways; hmm. Inside are a number of things including tapes in a camcorder. On them is a man named Dr. Elias Cunningham (Denis O’Hare). He speaks frantically saying things like “Im not what I am” and generally in distress over “forces that will not let me sleep.” He speaks of the house and its forces wanting to kill him. He further assures the viewer he’s not crazy. Then Cunningham tells us of his book about two nurses – Miranda and Bridget Jane. Oh yes, you guessed which nurses. Twisted bitches. They killed people with specific names to spell out MURDER. Everything got even wilder as it went on turning into one of those epic, insane tales of true crime.

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More craziness to set the Millers off. Peeling away wallpaper, Matt finds the unfinished word MURDE written on the wall. Everything gets more real at this point. They keep on listening to Cunningham’s rambling tape. Doesn’t help any, except to frighten the shit out of them further. Scariest yet is when the tormented doctor heads inside the house with only his camcorder, night vision on, to guide him through the silent hallways. “Show yourself,” he yells to whatever’s in the dark. Before something, someone appears and startles him. And downstairs, a butcher’s knife with blood on it is stuck in the front door.
They just wanted to leave. Not so easy, though. No getting out of that mad house. Everything amps up a notch after Lee shows up with Flora again. When she’s clearly not supposed to have here there. More of that impulsive Lee behaviour already. Her brother tries to talk sense into her. Shelby tries talking the ex-husband down from calling the cops.
But can Mason get there to take his daughter away before anything worse happens? The little girl whom I assume to be Priscilla beckons Flora to come outside, out near the trap door in the field. Then she goes missing. The adults start to search frantically.
In a clearing, Lee finds her daughter’s yellow sweater at the top of a thin, ridiculously tall tree, its trunk looking almost stained with blood. They stand below, not sure what to do next.
And what can they do?

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Very pumped for “Chapter 3” next week. Some people keep complaining, and I have no idea why. I love the re-enactment stuff, it adds a fun twist to the show. I’m still feeling like there’s going to be an angle to all that. Just like My Amityville Horror had its drama, My Roanoke Nightmare is going to bring something with that faux-documentary posing as a real documentary. Mark my words.
Also, did you catch Lady Gaga in her brief appearance? She shows up a couple times early on. Very unnerving look to her character. Can’t wait for more, of everything!

The Devil and Daniel Johnston Highlights the Line Between Genius & Madness

The Devil and Daniel Johnston. 2005. Directed & Written by Jeff Feuerzeig.
Starring Daniel Johnston, Laurie Allen, Brian Beattie, Louis Black, David Fair, Jad Fair, Don Goede, Matt Groening, Gibby Haynes, Sally Johnston Reid, Bill Johnston, Dick Johnston, Mabel Johnston, Margie Johnston, and Ken Lieck. Complex Corporation/This Is That Productions.
Rated PG-13. 110 minutes.
Documentary/Biography/Music

★★★★★
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Documentaries are everywhere, on every sort of subject. Anything in the world you can think of, there’s probably a documentary on the subject. Certain documentary films interest me because of how I connect with them personally, others are just intriguing and interesting topics that will draw me in.
The Devil and Daniel Johnston is one of the former types. I’d never actually heard of Daniel Johnston before this movie. Other people I know had heard of him, but not me. Either way, I dove into this documentary because I knew that Johnston suffered from mental illness; that’s the single thing I knew of him. Identifying with him, as both a hopeful artist and a man trying to negotiate life with a severe form of depression, this film spoke to me. While I’m not a fan of all his songs, there are pieces of music here and there which really reach out to me. More than that, to see Johnston struggle through being an artist, growing up, living life, all the while battling manic depression desperately. There are moments you might find yourself grinding your teeth sitting there almost feeling the pain. Certain scenes are funny, lighthearted. A huge mixed bag here that collides into making one of the most personal, wrenching, devastatingly awesome documentaries about a musician you’re likely to ever see.
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The most fascinating part about Daniel Johnston is the fact of his own rawness, his real and unabashed open qualities concerning his personality. At one point, on MTV no less during 1985, he tells the camera: “This is my album Hi, How Are You? and I was having a nervous breakdown when I recorded it.” He says it in such a matter-of-fact way that it’s hard not admire, or laugh, or smile. In just about every last scene where he’s talking, you find him divulging the most personal, inner secrets about the darkest corner of his life. And coupled with that, the way Daniel performs is different than anyone else I’ve ever seen. You can witness both the intensity of his musical ability, as well as his wildly nervous personality. He is visibly nervous each time a performance comes up, from his younger days to his later shows. Always there’s this fear inside him, which is actually endearing a lot of the time.
So it’s no surprise when, later, Daniel ends up having an actual serious breakdown. He becomes violent and crazy after experimenting with acid/LSD, which first began at a Butthole Surfers show. Slowly things deteriorate, as Daniel starts to get arrested, the police have altercations with him, he even causes disturbances in his family. Then there are various struggles. There were people who worked for him/with him, re: his career, who all tried their best to help him, whether that was committing him to a mental institution or getting him shows to play or whatever else could’ve been done. All the while throughout the history of Johnston, we’re seeing edits of him talking in various recordings (from dubbed tapes he did himself to video shot of him by others). It’s a strange conglomeration of things coming together to present his life to us. Best of all, even in the most intense, scariest moments of discussing Daniel and his condition, director Jeff Feuerzeig preserves a sense of respect and delicacy that shelters us from looking at Johnston like a freak. He isn’t, especially considering how mental illness is becoming less and less stigmatized today; this is a raw and honest look at someone’s struggle. But again, it doesn’t come off as “Look at how fucked up Daniel is“. There is a tenderness about the way Feuerzeig offers up glimpses of Daniel and his difficult life.
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You’ll find it hard to deny the power of this documentary. No matter if you hate Johnston’s music, or if you think he’s a genius (I don’t think; I do find him an incredibly unique talent), if you have a heart beating in your chest and a soul deep down inside, this film will absolutely shake you. In the last 45 minutes or so, the devastating details come out. Such as the time Daniel thought he actually was Casper the Friendly Ghost, took the keys out of his father’s small plane in which they flying and tossed them out into the air, prompting his dad to make a crash landing. Luckily, they made it out of the situation with only minor injuries, but to think of what could’ve happened. It is a really frightening thought. That’s one of the turning points in the documentary, as not only do we realize the extent and depth of his illness, we also see a slight change in Daniel. Shortly afterwards, he starts to come down out of his religious fervor, his hallucinations and other similar delusions. He probably didn’t lose his faith. He just understood the gravity of his own condition. Today, he still struggles with issues of manic depression, but I feel after some of the more insane moments in his journey, there’s a part of him which accepts all of the ups and downs, in one big package. We go along that journey. Maybe in the end, the documentary’s biggest aspiration is to show people the mania inside music. Often people want the crazy, unstable musicians out there doing their thing and entertaining, but forget the human people inside these celebrities, inside the fame, deep down at the core. The humanity can’t ever be forgotten; this, if anything, is what Daniel Johnston and the film of his life has to teach.
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This is a 5 star, flawless documentary. One of my favourites ever made. Because despite what you may feel concerning Daniel Johnston’s music, you cannot watch this without feeling something. To understand the mania and depression of others it’s necessary for people to be open, honest, willing to expose themselves to the world. It just so happens Johnston is one of the people willing to open himself up, like a living cadaver, and through this film he allows us a window into the damaged soul inside him. There are so many depressed and mentally ill people who could benefit from people coming out, talking of their own illnesses, their own struggles. We see so much of the devastation of unchecked mental illness in The Devil and Daniel Johnston, but in a roundabout way Daniel lets us understand how severe depression (or other similar mental afflictions) can be conquered: through love, honesty, openness, understanding, and yes, a dose of medication. There’s nothing ever glorious about this documentary, perhaps something which sets it apart from a lot of other biographical movies about musicians. Just remember – it isn’t all about the music, it is about the man. That is a point this film makes, over and over again. You may want all the madness that goes into the music, but don’t forget the men and women behind the music, their lives, what brings them to their talent and what gives us the unforgettable songs they’ve made.

The Seven Five is a Microcosm of America’s Police Problem

The Seven Five. 2014. Directed by Tiller Russell.
Starring (as themselves) Michael Dowd, Ken Eurell, Walter Yurkiw, Chickie, Dori Eurell.

★★★★★
Precinct-Seven-Five-UK-Quad-Poster To start this review, I wanted to give a bit of personal insight into my view on police.
Firstly, I have two family members, close cousins, who are both officers here in St. John’s, Newfoundland – for those who don’t know, Newfoundland is a province on the far east coast of Canada. One of them is a new officer, the other now involved with Major Crimes from homicide to whatever else. So, I can’t say that all officers are bad. Anyone smart should know they are not.
However, second of all, I’ve had a couple experiences with police officers, as a younger man in my teen years, which now as a 30-year old I see in a different light. There is a high room for error in law enforcement, simply due to the fact that as an officer of the law you are dealing in the lives of human beings. What you do, or don’t do, can either negatively or positively affect the life of someone you take into custody/members of a perpetrator or victim’s family/et cetera. There are huge repercussions when it comes to an officer not doing their job correctly, and as we see so much today in the news coming out of America there are deadly effects when police override the law and surpass it because of their lust for power. An enormous responsibility rides on the shoulders of the police – many willingly put themselves in harm’s way to protect us from the actual dangerous elements of society, then in opposition too many seem to also have no problem putting innocent/unarmed(etc) citizens in the way of harm or outright have no problem doing those same citizens harm themselves. When the responsibility is shirked, it is not the same as even an insurance agent messing up some forms and leaving a customer without proper coverage; incompetent and downright criminal police work comes with a hefty, fatal price in many situations.
QrLKvelTFB The Seven Five, directed by Tiller Russell, is the epic tale of police corruption in the seventy-fifth precinct out of New York when Michael Dowd was in uniform there. An insanely criminal lawman, Dowd seemed to infect everyone around him, including the rookies and other naive cops coming into the job. It was as if, for a time, Dowd became the centre of corruption in the entirety of the NYPD.
Through a number of talking head interviews, including Dowd himself, Russell brings us through a bunch of stories that emphasize how deep and devious the corruption went.
What began as a bit of cash, then on to thousands upon thousands of dollars, soon became a devil’s deal with drugs, guns, and murder to boot. Dowd, as we see through the documentary’s runtime, evolves from a smalltime crooked cop on the beat to, essentially, a drug dealer as vicious as any other man selling drugs on the street. From a hindsight perspective, Tiller Russell takes us through the names, the faces, the situations which brought Michael Dowd down the dark roads he took and where everyone has ended up today.

Basically, Michael Dowd is the literal representation of the criminal cop. I mean, he is the epitome of the description, he makes the whole documentary feel like a Martin Scorsese film. Sometimes he says things that are darkly priceless, maybe similar to something Ray Liotta or Joe Pesci might spit out. At times, he actually strikes me more like Lester Diamond from Casino simply because he’s a god damn nutter. It’s sick, but the way in which he basically corralled an entire dirty ring of cops is villainously smart.
But naturally things didn’t last forever for Mike. If they did, he certainly wouldn’t have been on camera telling us his darkest confessions of the nasty business he got into while supposedly policing the streets.
10425671.0One of my favourite pieces to The Seven Five is the stuff with Adam Diaz.
What can we say about Mr. Diaz? He loves Bryan Adams and sold tons of drugs. Best of all, he sold them out of a grocery store. His operation was supremely slick. With some tips from ole Officer Dowd, the store could have everything looking proper, no drugs on the premises, and nothing could be said – like Diaz himself relates, even if someone snitched and said they were there buying drugs the week before, what did it matter? Who cares where they were or went or who they saw, what they bought? Didn’t matter a pinch. Because as Diaz says, there were no drugs – “I sell groceries!
In the year 1987, one kilo of cocaine was equal to about $34,000. Diaz, 20 years old, was selling 300 kilos a week, bringing in hundreds of millions a year.
The reason Michael Dowd and Adam Diaz became as close as they were was due to when Dowd gave Diaz a tip which saved the dealer half a million dollars. A raid was on the way, which Dowd headed off with the tip, and this proved to Diaz this was his man.

So we can see how it wasn’t simply a bunch of crooked cops, Dowd was involved with true criminal organizations, such as the Diaz Organization which had its own ties to further criminal entities. It’s amazing to watch how the corruption basically leaks out, like an oil spill milking thick out of a barrel and spreading over the entire city of New York. Sad that while so many people needed help, some criminals could’ve been taken off the streets, Dowd and Ken Eurell, his unfortunate partner that was near hypnotized by Dowd, and the other corrupt officers were just feeding their egos, their bank accounts, and sure, their families.
But it’s funny, nowadays in America, and back then certainly, we’re less willing to indict cops as a society overall than we are to shit all over people in unions. And basically, these officers, headed by the insanity of Michael Dowd, went into a union-like situation – the big argument for corruption is “They don’t pay me enough for the danger of the job I’m doing” – and instead of striking, instead of fighting for higher wages and trying to negotiate, they went above and beyond any normal reactions straight into using the leverage and power of their positions to commit criminal acts; acts they were arresting others for committing, all at the very same time.
Precinct-Seven-Five-2Michael Dowd: “It wasn’t like you were hurtin’ people. You were hurtin’ fucking scumbag drug dealers.
WP-AS2957_MW-2With every day that passes by in America, there seems to be another incident where unarmed people – most if not all are black – get murdered by the police. Straight up. So many news stories breaking, each week, where another black man or black woman is taken down, either by police in the field or in custody. It’s disturbing. Feels like nothing has really changed, as we watch Dowd during his interviews and the tapes of his testimonies – sure, this is not about racism, but it’s above all about the corruption of power. The same thing happens today. We see at various points throughout this documentary how a lot of the negative behaviour some police officers come to display is bred into them through senior ranking officers, detectives, et cetera, the rookies are working under. Much like hate and racism/sexism is learned behaviour often stemming from the family one grows up in, or the parent figures one is raised by, the same goes for this corrupt behaviour in police officers; much of that comes out of learned and encouraged behaviour.
08SEVENFIVE2-articleLargeI don’t want to say too much else about the documentary, much of it is information you need to hear firsthand.
For me, The Seven Five is a 5 out of 5 star documentary film. It outlines the corruption of the time in the NYPD so perfectly, examining one of the most corrupt police officers to have ever lived. Michael Dowd is a truly disturbing, bad dude when it comes down to it. The quote above shows that, infinitely. People like to think there’s a need for that blanket statement – that all drug dealers are human garbage, every one of them. Unfortunately, you just can’t say that. Especially if you’re an officer of the law, not simply because you should be objective at times as to avoid collaring the wrong suspects and leading yourself into trouble, but most of all it can lead to the detrimental thinking in police officers such as Dowd: it leads to the illusion of power. It leads people like this man to believing that they are truly above someone else on the evolutionary scale, as if they’re the perfect example of Charles Dawin and the idea of Survival of the Fittest – the dealers, the crackheads, all of them are weak and therefore ought to be weeded out. In a microcosm, this is the thinking which leads people to believe the ideologies of leaders like Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, and so on.

You should see this documentary. One of the better recent crime docs to come out. Especially if you’re interested in police corruption, civil rights, and other similar subjects. I highly recommend this. Not only interesting, The Seven Five is a smooth and flowing documentary that keeps the audience engaged, provides a ton of information, and even gives us a few truly dark and disturbing moments when it comes to the crime underworld and corrupt cops.
Check it out, let me know what you think in the comment section below!

Nigerian Princes Need Money: The Horror of 419

419. 2012. Directed by Ned Thorne.
Starring Mike Ivers, Scott Kerns, Ned Thorne, Ezra Mabengez, Cara Loften, and Emilea Wilson. 120db Films. Unrated. 84 minutes. Crime/Drama/Thriller.


4 out of 5 stars
419-posterI’m always on the lookout for new films to watch. As of now, I’ve seen a little over 4,100 movies – that’s including made for tv movies, short films, straight-to-video stuff, and of course all the regular feature films I’ve seen.
So I’m always trying to find new titles that I’ve not seen, that I’ve put off seeing, et cetera and so on. Recently I got more into iTunes and also Google Play. Tons of fun deals, good selection. On Google Play especially, I’ve found a bunch of stuff I have not been able to track down anywhere else – at least not for the prices they’re offering, anyways. Even just the rentals are awesome.
When I came upon this one, 419, it looked pretty intriguing and possibly something fresh, exciting. So many found footage movies out there are really lame, however, 419 had some potential to me.
I wasn’t disappointed. There are some fun things going on in this movie and it doesn’t go for all the same tropes, it doesn’t suffer from all the regular pitfalls that others do in this sub-genre.
I’m personally a big fan of found footage. Some horror fans seem to act like horror movies that go found footage are all lame, they’re just cheap ways to film. Some times that is exactly true. In opposition, 419 is not a horror. It’s a pretty cracking little thriller that has elements of crime and drama, of course. This is a smart use of found footage in a way that presents as organic; something which other found footage films seem to be lacking, except the proper ones. The setup, the execution, and some decent acting from the lead actors makes this a decent outing in the found footage sub-genre, and something that isn’t boringly typical like so many of its fellow found footage titles.
IMG_0027IMG_0034Nigerian Penal Code – 419 is the code designated to acts of fraud.
We open to the story of Mike (Mike Ivers). He is a struggling actor who was recently scammed via e-mail. Falling for one of the Nigerian online scams, Mike is lured in by a man who eventually takes him for a ton of money. However, his friends Scott (Scott Kerns) and Ned (director Ned Thorne) decide to go with Mike to Cape Town, South Africa. Armed with little information, the trio head to meet with a local friend named Ezra (Ezra Mabengeza) who may be able to help them with their search.
Initially, things in Cape Town start out well. Ezra takes them to some places about where Mike and his friends try to extract a bit of information from people around the neighbourhoods. Clearly, though, they are out of their element amongst the poverty stricken locations Ezra brings them; a world they do not fully understand. And unfortunately for the trio of best friends, there soon proves to be complications; dark and dangerous ones.
IMG_0033IMG_0026I think overall 419 adheres to almost all of the unwritten found footage rules of the sub-genre. You can nitpick and maybe find a few shots here or there, but I don’t think there would be enough to say it detracts at all from its effectiveness.
Not only that, the story works well. The characters interact and act individually as real people would in such a situation. At one point when Mike and his friends start to see how crazy things could get, which is early on, they really start to question things – particularly Ned and Scott. They realize things are intense and there is potential for much further intensity.
There are some typical found footage moments of “Turn off the camera”. That being said, they’re not as typical as you’d see in other movies. For instance, the first time Mike asks for the camera to be turned off, there’s persistence not to but eventually it happens. There’s nothing too prolonged on that part like some other film scripts decide to go with, where we’re treated to scene after scene of pure argument over whether or not the camera is going to get turned off and put away. So while you expect these moments, a film can either go too hard with them or use them, sparsely. 419 does so in a way that works with the plot while not becoming an overbearing nuisance that keeps happening, over and over.
IMG_0030It wasn’t a case of the best acting I’ve ever seen, but I can’t say this was poorly acted. These guys seemed like three friends who were close, who had history. They felt natural together as a group. Not only that, I thought they all acted natural in the situations in which they found themselves. The script, if there was one officially, worked well and I think if there was one it contained decent writing.
So many found footage efforts come out seeming illogical at times, or all the time, because much of the dialogue and so many of the characters come out as unreasonable people; doing and saying things in the moment that sound unnatural, irrational, and downright stupid. Here, I didn’t feel this much, if at all really. The characters were all expectedly leery about things after coming to their senses; always at least one of them kept stating “we need to take a step back” and it made sense, it’s only normal someone would realize how wild their entire adventure into South Africa to try and find this online scam artist is getting.
IMG_0032One part that comes off so well, and natural, is after Mike has been doing cocaine in a bathroom at some club. His friends are pissed with his behaviour, and one wonders how the hell he even got any because they’d only been in Cape Town about 4 days; I found that so true and so sensible, and wondered it myself before the lines happened.
IMG_0031There’s no doubt that 419 is a slowburn thriller. Nothing quick about the plot of this film. For the longest time it plays out a lot like an actual documentary of their trip, there’s not too much going on in terms of convoluted action or dialogue. I like how organic things feel, but then the plot descends into its more sinister and dangerous thriller aspects.
BRIEF SPOILERS AHEAD! YOU WILL BE FUCKING SPOILED LEST YE TURN BACK!
While I’d predicted that Ezra was less than honourable because of some of the things he did/said beforehand. Still, when things really hit the climax of the film I found myself surprised all the same. There was good tension and suspense leading up to those moments. The hostage stuff was god damn scary at times. So real and raw, truly freaky.
HERE ENDETH THE SPOILERS!
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I liked how part of this also played out after the fact, so we’ve got a real documentary style feel to the found footage used here. We get people close to Mike and his friends, fathers, et cetera, as well as a woman involved in the whole case concerning Mike and the people they all encounter in Cape Town; plus a few other ‘talking head’ type interviewees. Gave this all a sense of realism that truly worked for me. Effective way to go about things instead of dramatizing all the events of the climax. Good way to push the story along near the end in the final 20-25 minutes. I thought it went smooth and paid off on all the slowburn-like tension built up throughout the first hour.
IMG_0035A really chilling moment that speaks to the universality of that gangster image in the Hollywood/other films we see glamourizing illegal lifestyles, et cetera: one of the South Africans, a young man involved in some of the darker things which come later throughout 419 walks around in a room by himself, on camera, imitating the musings of Tony Montana as played by the fabulously wild Al Pacino. Some may think it’s funny. I thought it was disturbing and spoke volumes.
IMG_0041IMG_0042IMG_0043One of the better found footage films I’ve seen from the past few years, I have to say. Mainly because there’s an excellent, organic feel to so much of the dialogue, the relationships between the main characters feels incredibly real (the betrayal between them all comes off so much harder because of these facts), and I thought the finale was amazing. There is one last sort of twist that I did not expect; maybe others might, I just really didn’t see it coming.
So I’m going to go right and put this up as a 4 out of 5 star film. It’s a truly well-done and intelligent bit of found footage that doesn’t go for straight up horror. Instead, we get a nice thrilling little crime drama that takes us into the peril of three friends who find terror in South Africa. Definitely not the typical found footage we always see, even if it has some of the sand watermarks in its DNA. Regardless, I cannot say this is a bad film, not even mediocre. This was awesome. Very refreshing to see a better take on the found footage sub-genre than so many cheap, independent efforts. Check this out on Google Play or anywhere else you can get your hands on a copy! Well worth the effort to track this down. Crackerjack ending – loved it a good deal.

THE PYRAMID’s Filled with Terror & Poor CGI

The Pyramid. 2014. Directed by Grégory Levasseur. Screenplay by Daniel Meersand & Nick Simon.
Starring Ashley Hinshaw, Denis O’Hare, James Buckley, Christa Nicola, Amir K, and Faycal Attougui. Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.
Rated R. 89 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★1/2
the_pyramid_poster_a_p
There’s no way that I can honestly say The Pyramid is a great horror – most of the CGI alone warrants enough criticism to put it out of the running.
However, what I can say for my personal take on Grégory Levasseur’s film is that I enjoyed it simply because it’s fun.

A movie does not need to be perfect to be enjoyable. You don’t have to either love or hate a movie; not in the real world. It’s silly to think that movies have to be flawless in order to be enjoyed.
By the same token, you can both criticize a film for its flaws while simultaneously you’re still able enjoy what you’re watching.
The Pyramid is enjoyable for me because it’s fun. It isn’t the same old found footage movie of people going out into the woods, or a tv show presented and his crew get trapped inside a haunted building. At the very least, we’re treated to a location and situation that isn’t often touched on through found footage (the only similar film is another one I enjoyed though plenty seem to hate – As Above So Below).

The Pyramid takes place during 2013 as the protests in Egypt against President Mohamed Morsi were heating up big time.
Father-daughter archaeology team, Dr. Miles Holden (Denis O’Hare – of whom I was a big fan already but especially since his genius turns on FX’s American Horror Story) and Dr. Nora Holden (Ashley Hinshaw) are on a dig where a pyramid with only three sides, as opposed to the four contained on the pyramids in Giza. Once the structure is unearthed, a robot is sent in – as soon as the pyramid was opened, toxic air inside killed a man in a near instant. After the robot goes offline, the Holdens, as well as their team – along with Sunni Marsh (Christa Nicola), a documentary host, and her cameraman Terry “Fitzie” Fitzsimmons – all head inside, geared up, ready to discover what they can.
Unfortunately, the area is being cleared out due to the protesting in Giza and surrounding areas. Quickly the team enters the pyramid quickly as possible without alerting any of the authorities.
Inside there are dark and dangerous things lurking amongst the shadows, things that have spent centuries feeding, and waiting for the arrival of fresh meat.
the-pyramid-2014Stop being an archaeologist for a second and start being a human being” – I keep seeing people cite bad dialogue, using this as a source. I mean, why? What makes that such a bad line? Denis O’Hare’s character was just saying he didn’t want to destroy a wall because it had been put there, however long ago, by people who’d built that pyramid, so much historical hard work. Instead of wanting to get out of that place, he was more concerned with preserving things for historical and archaeological purposes. So I don’t understand how that line comes off as poorly written dialogue. Someone please explain to me why that line written on paper is bad because I don’t see it. Maybe the delivery isn’t perfect? Either way, this is not, to me, an example of bad writing. You don’t think someone would ever say those words? Try being trapped in an ancient, underground pyramid with a guy who’d rather just suffocate alive than bust up any of the old artifacts down there. Then perhaps the line might feel more ‘natural’.
gallery-thepyramid4-gallery-imageNow, I’m not saying that The Pyramid avoids all the tropes of the found footage genre, or that it’s perfect – as I said starting out, it’s far from a perfect horror.
Typically there are always the arguments of “You lead us here”, et cetera. This moment comes, of course, after things start to get really hairy and one of the members, MIchael (Amir K) on the expedition is killed. Sunni flips on Miles and blames him for leading them down there, but as he points out she has to take responsibility because nobody forced her into the pyramid. I guess you can’t really avoid these types of arguments in found footage, as usually there is a ring leader. Most often, though, it’s usually the person insisting on keeping things filming – SO THAT THE WORLD WILL KNOW WHAT HAPPENED! If anything, at least they don’t go for that exact scenario. There’s a reason to keep filming here, as just being in the pyramid alone is a pretty amazing feat. I’m just glad there isn’t the same series of arguments over “Get that camera out of my face” and “Stop asking me questions – what is wrong with you?”, and so on. Might not be all fresh, but it does still avoid some of the familiar nonsense of the sub-genre.
6_zpsbcexgskw.jpg~originalThere’s no part of me that will deny the CGI throughout The Pyramid is pretty bad. Almost all of it, honestly.
I guess when it comes to certain stories, characters, et cetera, in horror films there’s only so much you’ll be able to accomplish with practical effects beyond the blood and the murders. That being said, there’s no reason CGI has to look atrocious. I think, had the filmmakers somehow come up with a way to costume an actor instead of draping them in CGI, the Anubis creature could’ve been much more frightening.
Problem is that when bad CGI dominates the screen, there’s a real smack in the face for an audience. You go from seeing these big sets, this giant pyramid and all these hieroglyphics around, statues, to this hulking presence of bulbous CGI pushing through the frame. It’s too much of a contrast from the real look of everything else to the fake look of Anubis, as well as the other little creatures and things. I liken it to looking a nice painting then throwing a bunch of cartoon cutouts on top and acting out a scene. There’s already suspension of disbelief with a horror like this, but that doesn’t mean things need to look fake and silly looking. I’m sure it’s easier said than done to balance the budget of a huge film, especially when there are so many costs. However, with Alexandre Aja (director of such films as the fantastically gruesome High Tension, the stellar remake of The Hills Have Eyes, and another I enjoyed which others hated – adapted from Joe Hill’s novel, Horns starring Daniel Radcliffe) backing this project, you’d think there would be some way to make sure the CGI came out looking much better. Really dropped the ball on this aspect, which is one of the reasons so many people did not enjoy the film overall, I think.

SPOILER ALERT – HERE THERE BE SPOILERS!
One effect I did like, or at least the second half of it, is when Dr. Miles Holden gets his heart ripped out. The first part looked a bit cheese-filled, but when the hand is sticking out, Miles is staring wide-eyed at it, and then it pulls back out of him, I thought that piece of the effect went really well. Because it didn’t look completely CGI built, it had at least a fraction of practical effects. Another bit I liked was the first night vision bit with Fitzie where he sees Dr. Holden get his face melted off – Anubis is all CGI, but the face melting still looks pretty damn gnarly!
For me, I love the practical make-up effects instead of big nonsense computerized junk – any day of the week. Most horrors will at least get a star or two alone from me if there’s an effort on the part of practicality. If not, I find it hard to engage with. Some horror does have pretty good CGI, but the good ones in that arena are those that don’t overuse it either – they know when to employ it, sparse, and they recognize all the other times where there’s no need of it at all. So, if The Pyramid was able to include more effects of a practical nature there might have been a better visceral reaction to all the other.
The Pyramid 2014 HD WallpapersI can’t recommend The Pyramid in that way I would recommend other horror movies I’ve enjoyed. Simply because I don’t think this is a great movie.
But like I said in the beginning – you don’t have to think a movie is perfect to have a good time watching. There are fun bits in The Pyramid. While the CGI is far from anything I thought worked, there’s adventure to this horror-thriller. We don’t have to watch a bunch of young people running around in the woods, constantly screaming – both in terror and at one another – there’s actually a different story here than the same old tripe with which we’re presented.
The Pyramid does not need to be perfect. Sure, I would’ve loved to see a lot of changes because this could’ve been an absolutely excellent horror movie if there were better practical effects and not so much reliance on the bad CGI. Especially the final 10 minutes – Anubis looked the worst when the red flare lighting was glowing and you could seem him terribly clear. Before, he skulked around in the dark, so there were times it didn’t look as glaringly bad.
So there is plenty of room for improvement. I don’t deny that at all.
What I’m saying is, just because a movie doesn’t work as a 5-star film does not mean it has to be without merits. There is at least some decent acting, a halfway sensible script (despite what others might say), and an intriguing location/plot to work around in. See this for a bit of fun – don’t expect something on the level of William Friedkin’s The Exorcist, but don’t expect a complete piece of trash like some reviews might have you believe.

Enjoy – or don’t! That’s up to yourself.

SOAKED IN BLEACH Exposes the Bullshit of Cobain’s “Suicide”

Soaked in Bleach. 2015. Directed by Benjamin Statler. Written by Donnie Eichar, Richard Middleton, and Benjamin Statler.
Starring Tyler Bryan as Kurt Cobain, Sarah Scott as Courtney Love; featuring, as themselves, Tom Grant, Brett Ball, Max Wallace, and Norm Stamper. Daredevil Films.
Rated PG. 100 minutes.
Documentary/Drama/Crime.

★★★★★
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Admittedly, even though I’ve always thought Courtney Love is bat shit crazy, I never believed she (or anyone else) might’ve been covering anything up or hiding information concerning Kurt Cobain’s suicide. As much as I loved Cobain, worshiped Nirvana as a young musician with a bad attitude and even worse fashion sense, I just took what the media fed me about his depression and how he’d always seemed suicidal, that he took his I.D out and put it on his wallet so that when he shot himself they’d be able to identify his body easily… and so much more.
After watching this, the other reviews and articles touting this documentary as a ‘conspiracy theory’ are way off base. There’s too much in this film to deny, from actual police documents, the tapes Private Investigator Tom Grant has with Courtney Love on it saying some downright incriminating things and even some with Rosemary Carroll (the Cobain/Love lawyer) saying things against Love. See for yourself. Judge on your own. But here’s my take..

The first thing we hear is a conversation between Tom Grant and Courtney. She hired him to investigate after Kurt went missing, this was only briefly before his alleged suicide. On this first tape, Grant questions Courtney about where she’d found some other letter, supposedly from Kurt, and she is telling him it was under the pillows on her bed. Grant, being there the night before Kurt was found dead, knew different; he’d tossed the bed and found Rohypnol, which Kurt had a prescription for. He knew the difference, and yet Courtney tried sticking to her guns even when Tom told her otherwise. So right off the bat, we get this very real, raw version of Courtney – outside of the media, outside of other celebrities and what they think of her or the general public and their view – right from a tape. It’s damning.
From there, we learn a little about Grant whose life story reads much like a lot of police/military officers. The thing I kept wondering is, for those who don’t believe the man or doubt he is credible – what does he have to gain from this? He’s pretty much haunted with what he sees as the facts. He’s not exactly a celebrity himself because of Kurt or Courtney; most people pass him off as just another conspiracy theorist. Yet, as he mentions later, Tom still gets letters, e-mails, all sorts of communication asking about Kurt, wondering why nothing has been done when there’s actually a lot of evidence suggesting he did not die by suicide. It isn’t only Tom who believes, but unfortunately the police seem to be the real roadblock.
soaked-in-bleach-1It becomes very clear that police negligence really had a hand in what came to pass. On top of that, Courtney Love set the stage for this “suicide” – when she hired Tom Grant, filed a police report (and did so in fake fashion using Cobain’s own mother’s name – the media promptly reported his mom was worried he was suicidal and filed a Missing Persons), and then perpetuated the myth of Cobain being frequently suicidal. What really troubles me is this idea of the myth – that Kurt really wasn’t a suicidal person. Yes, he was depressed. Yes, he had killer stomach pains that put him in agony. But he was happy with his friends and people around him. After the stomach pains were cleared up and doctors put him on the correct medication after many stressful years, Cobain himself told an interviewer he felt the best he’d ever felt and he was plenty happy. Sure, no one knows what’s going on in the mind of someone behind closed doors – ultimately, we never know. I had a friend who killed himself and none of us in our circle of friends ever expected it. Yet so many close friends claim Kurt never ever talked about suicide once.
Furthermore, he’s not in the movie but Buzz Osborne knew Kurt, and the rest of Nirvana, from the beginning – he and Kurt went to high school together, he knew him before and after Nirvana hit the bigtime. Buzz claims Kurt was never suicidal, it was all a lie. He has harsh words for the other Cobain documentary that recently came out, Montage of Heck, because aside from the suicide myth it portrays other stories that are not actually true (the story that Kurt supposedly had sex with an overweight, mentally handicapped girl when he was young is a total fabrication, according to King Buzzo). So during Soaked in Bleach, we get a lot of other opinions from people very close with Cobain that jive with that of Osborne – that Kurt could be quiet, shy, but the idea that he was a suicide case is untrue.
What really drove this home is Courtney Love. When Cobain accidentally overdosed on his Rohypnol prescription after having a glass of champagne, the incident was not called a suicide at the time. At first people speculated it was an attempt, but it was confirmed as being accidental afterwards. Love did not, at the time, claim Kurt tried to kill himself. Nobody did. Then, after Kurt was found dead, immediately Courtney began telling the media how he tried it in Rome, he tried before, so it wasn’t exactly a surprise. This is categorically untrue. Max Wallace brings up the fact they even talked with the doctor who attended to Kurt that night in Rome, and the doctor also denies to the bone it was a suicide attempt confirming it was most certainly an accidental overdose. It isn’t hard to see Love helped the media run with the image of Kurt as a suicidal persona.
news-cobain-2Once things get to the real down and dirty faces, looks at the crime scene and all that, it’s even more of an affirmation that Tom Grant is not just some ‘conspiracy nut’. The tapes are one thing, hearing Courtney go on about how maybe Kurt disappearing and all that before his death would be good for publicity on Hole’s next album and hearing her just lie to Grant over and over, but the crime scene is a whole other beast. I don’t want to say too much more because the evidence is some of the real knock-out stuff in this film.

I did like the little drama recreations they did with actors playing Love, Grant, Cobain, and others involved. Some of it was pretty decent. Not that she doesn’t deserve it after seeing this movie, but they really went hard at Love with their portrayal. However, I don’t see it as being that far off base. If you didn’t think Love was crazy before, you absolutely will after watching this. It’s hard not to. A lot of the evidence presented makes you wonder how this case isn’t being re-opened and investigated again. Truly. This was an eye-opener of a documentary. Even worse, it’s coming out that apparently Courtney Love has bought Twitter followers, et cetera, to help tank ratings on websites for the film; IMDB is usually bad for ratings, but the skewed low rating for this was ridiculous as about 1,000 ratings of 1 before the release drove it down. Suspicious? Make up your own mind.
kurtcourtneyfrancesbigThis is absolutely a 5 star documentary. I love Cobain, his music, all of it, but to see this was truly fascinating. I can’t get over it, honestly. I want to watch it again several times just to take in all the information. The whole thing is spooky. I’ll say no more other than – the directing is great, this whole film is put together well, and Tom Grant is a saint for offering himself up all these years as “that conspiracy guy” who has actually been fighting the fight for real justice.
One thing resonated with me deeply. Tom brought up how there have been tons of suicides that have been copycats of Kurt – either they did what he did exactly, or their suicide notes quoted Nirvana and related to the late rockstar – and he just wants the truth out there. Because it’s a shame for any kid to kill themselves, but if it’s partly due to the fact Kurt supposedly did, when he might not have, then there is a real need to have the truth known. Not only for all those kids, future kids possibly, but also for Kurt, for Frances Bean, and for all the people of a generation who related to him through his music.

The Real Life Fear of The Houses October Built

The Houses October Built. 2014. Dir.  Bobby Roe.  Written by Roe, Zack Andrews & Jason Zada.
Starring Brandy Schaefer, Zack Andrews, Bobby Roe, Mikey Roe, Jeff Larson, and Tansy Alexander. Room 101.
Unrated. 91 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★★1/2

Any horror movie, regardless of how its end product is perceived, always benefits from some decent performances. Whether it’s a central lead, or an ensemble cast of competent actors, horror can be really effective if you have natural performances to help grip the audience. In this respect The Houses October Built benefits from the fact that its main cast including Brandy Schaefer, Zack Andrews, Bobby Roe, Mikey Roe, and Jeff Larson all did what their characters here (essentially themselves) do in this film except in real life – The Houses October Built was also previously a 2011 documentary by Bobby Roe, featuring the same cast, and documenting the various haunts of America. The documentary was simply an exploration for the purpose of taking a real look into these worlds where people from all walks of life come to join together, and scare the living shit out of others.

imageIn 2014, Bobby Roe directs a dramatised version of their journey. This time, things go further.
Bobby and the crew set out on the road looking to find the absolute scariest haunt in America. Bobby claims he’s out seeking the haunts with “no rules” and “no regulations”; those little places off the main track, far beyond the beaten path. His brother Mikey thinks he’s foolish, but is well-enough along for the ride it seems. The rest, too.
At first, the haunts are a little creepy – lots of strange make-up, killer clowns, jump scares around every corner, oddities and weird horror in dimly lit rooms, the offering of a real life experience laying in a closed coffin.
After a little bit of time, though, the gang begins to encounter more nefarious characters. A brief interview with a man in clown paint outside a haunted house has him confirming “shady shit” most likely goes down in such places. At one haunt Bobby and a couple of the crew get up onto what looks to be a roof – one very devilish-looking clown is not pleased. Afterwards, he shows up in the headlights in front of their R.V. The gang’s clown trouble does not end here. Later, another clown seems pretty intent on harassing Mikey and Brandy; they were told not to film inside a particular haunt and yet, of course, Bobby did indeed film. The clown is insistent they need to get out of there, or else things might get worse. Events continue to spiral downwards. Bobby and his friends have a strange encounter with a girl from one of the earlier haunts, who somehow ends up miles upon miles away from where they’d first seen her – she shows up by their R.V out in the bush. After being invited in, she makes a few creepy noises, unsettling everybody, and then takes off into the night.
These are just a few of the things which happen to Bobby and his friends while wandering down a scary highway of strange roadside attractions and backwoods roads searching for the perfect haunt. Eventually, they find what promises to be the worst, most horrifying experience of their lives, let alone for a Halloween night.
And as Bobby’s brother Mikey questions him at one point – there’s only so far it can go before someone actually gets hurt.
film-review-the-houses-october-built-ed03f358-af21-4f9e-8c08-15baf29d3f99Some people complained about too many jump scare-type gags. I understand that in other films, however, this one is about haunted houses. You should go into this expecting at least a certain degree of those scares right off the bat.  Secondly, a lot of them paid off because it’s done in found footage style. They go for a much more natural found footage feel because everything really terrible is saved for the end. There’s a tense build-up towards the truly awful moments. So, unlike a regular film where you’d probably have a bunch of jump scares involving people getting killed off, or something equally intense, in The Houses October Built we see a lot more jumps where it’s only the world of the haunted houses working on us.
Later, the scares get less about making us jump and concern themselves more with grating on our nerves, making us uneasy, taking us away from those comfortable areas where we think “here comes another jumpy one”, and instead shows us a more relentless and disturbing conclusion. There’s a drawn out nature – we start the entire film seeing Brandy being, what appears to be, abducted. So we know there is a build to something sinister. However, I don’t think it’s drawn out in the sense it becomes boring. As I said before, there’s a tension built up by Roe here. There comes a point where the viewer feels safe in the knowledge we know where this is going, how it’s going to play out, but Roe toys with those expectations.
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One of my favourite things is Bobby Roe uses found footage very well. There are countless found footage horror films out there, to the point of exhaustion. I mean, how many different possession movies came out after Paranormal Activity hit the market? Tons. Even before that, after the success of Blair Witch filmmakers started coming out of the woodwork to capitalize on the newfound popularity of these techniques (a lot of people harp on about Cannibal Holocaust as really making the found footage genre ‘a thing’ yet also forget to mention the fantastic and unique 84C MoPic from 1989 that does not get the credit it deserves for making good use of the sub-genre while also making a great film overall). Yet a lot of these movies tend to fall by the wayside opting to forget the ‘rules’ of found footage – most times we’re left ending up wondering how the footage really ever was found. At times, the ways certain scenes end up being filmed start to defy the movie’s internal logic. The Houses October Built, on the other hand, really sticks to the found footage aspect, and even at a few points when you do find yourself wondering exactly how something is being filmed there is a perfectly good explanation. The plot itself allows for a number of different possibilities; this is proved by a scene a little over halfway through the movie’s running time where Bobby and his friends wake up to find they’ve been filmed during the night, and it’s been posted online. This is one of the best parts about the entire movie because it really makes us feel like we’re still watching a documentary.
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The performances are fairly natural, which is aided by the fact these people are obviously friends in real life. They’ve already gone on this journey before just for real instead of following a script and shooting a dramatic feature. I really like the chemistry between the characters because we feel their history, they don’t seem like this is the first or second time they’ve all talked together as it often does in low budget found footage outings. The found footage sub-genre is littered with terribly acted films. It helps that The Houses October Built boasts some, at times, tense, and natural performances. I felt for these people, as opposed to loathing their every second on camera and hoping soon to see their fictional death – as is the case with way too many horrors in general, let alone found footage.

There were times the pacing of the film was a bit slow. I enjoy a slow and tense ride through a film, but at a certain point I just wanted The Houses October Built to really kick into gear. The running time isn’t long, but they could have actually trimmed even another 10 minutes or so out of the movie without hurting the overall finished film.
That being said, once things start to get really creepy (cue: Jeff walks down a dark alley & is then confronted by some of the horrible people they encountered earlier in their trip) everything spins out of control, wonderfully, for everyone involved. The pacing totally ruins anything. Although, there could be a bit better of a flow to the entire film had they eliminated a few bits of fat here and there.
HOB_STILL_M-1024x576I feel safe giving this movie a 3.5 out of 5 star rating. It isn’t perfect. The pacing slows down some of the effect simply by not building the tension appropriately.  nstead of a slow burn to the terror in the finale, it muddles things a bit to the point where you sort of want the movie to really pick up and get a move on. Other than that, I love the premise, I love the characters and the performances of the actors involved, and there were some genuinely creepy, unsettling moments throughout: from the strange and balding trans-looking masked girl, to a few moments in the various haunts, to even just a few more subdued scenes involving the interviews Bobby conducted on the trip. All in all, this makes for a great found footage film, as well as a decently spooky horror. Check this out for a nice little scare, and keep it on your list for Halloween!

Dig: The Ego & The Id

Dig. 2004. Dir.  Ondi Timoner.
Starring Anton Newcombe, Courtney Taylor-Taylor, Joel Gion, Matt Hollywood, Peter Holmstrom, Zia McCabe, Brent DeBoer, Eric Hedford, and Dean Taylor. Cinetic Rights Management.
Rated 14A. 107 minutes.
Documentary/Music

★★★

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A lot of people think this documentary, and The Brian Jonestown Massacre themselves, are the greatest. My opinion differs.

I enjoyed this documentary, but only because it was a fairly thorough look at how the music industry often works [in all its strange and pitfall-littered glory] by parallelling two bands’ journeys: The Dandy Warhols & The Brian Jonestown Massacre.

I did not enjoy watching Anton Newcombe being praised as a genius and some sort of musical god by people who are clearly too spineless to be honest with someone about how big of a maniac they are, or witnessing unfortunate audiences who paid money to see a show only to see a regression of the BJM band into ego-filled, hysterical fights.
I really think Joel Gion is one of the more narcissistic people here, aside from both Anton and Courtney [these two listed in descending order of first and second in obnoxious narcissism].  It’s unbelievable to see the absolutely brazen, ignorant bliss this man is in because he, for some reason, thinks Anton is akin to the Second Coming of Christ [another overhyped celebrity – but that’s another story].  Gion plays the tambourine.  That’s it – as far as I can tell.  The fact he presents himself as a percussionist is not only funny, it’s sort of insulting to people like friends of mine – Andrew Bartle for one – who are real percussionists, capable of actually playing at least several, if not many, percussion instruments.  And well.  I’m not saying you can’t be a good tambourinist because you certainly can.  I just think this guy’s head is swollen almost bigger than Anton’s, and at the very least Anton is a multi-talented guy – Gion is pretty much a one-act type of guy.  Yet he acts like the biggest rockstar to ever grace planet earth.  I think, in a nutshell, Gion sort of presents what the whole aura around The Brian Jonestown Massacre is: a big nebulous entity of bullshit.
dig-music-documentaryThe documentary succeeds by taking a scathing look at both bands, but most certainly focusing on the volatile nature of Anton’s personality. It does not succeed in making you like Anton, or Courtney for that matter; the latter is not nearly as egotistical, but often falls into diva-ish behaviour while condemning others for acting the same way.

My only opinion on Anton is this: BJM makes good music, but for people to drool over him, and say he is a musical genius, or one of the best musicians ever is foolish. Sure, maybe he had a hand in starting the whole 60s revival that is so fully in swing now in all its hipster glory, but the fact remains his music is completely derivative of the 1960s and 1970s. Yes, Bob Dylan was building on what musicians like Woody Guthrie and Robert Johnson had done before, but he made something new out of it, and fashioned it into a way to ‘fight the system’, or at least wake people up to TRY and fight it.
Anton doesn’t come with a message other than “I AM ABSOLUTELY CRAZY”. I don’t care if he plays 80 instruments, I don’t care if he puts out three albums in 1996, I don’t care how many recording sessions in various places across the world he does- nothing changes the fact that he acts like a spoiled brat who didn’t get what he wanted, and throws tantrums, or belittles those around him.
I am a musician- when somebody fools up on stage, you don’t stop and freak out or hit somebody, you just keep playing because most times NOBODY notices. Yet Anton claims he is a musician, and trashes a show just because someone didn’t hit the right chord or slightly messed something up [get over yourself – it’s a live show!]. All the while everyone around him simply puts up with it, and claims he can’t get a deal because “he won’t conform”. I’m sorry, but beating up your band or throwing a 12-year old girl tantrum on stage because of something so minor is not non-conformism.. it’s simply a boy who has never grown into a man.

Finally, what I find hilarious is that Anton continually wonders how he stacks up against The Dandy Warhols (even though he makes it clear he thinks they and Courtney are a joke compared to his band), and even at shows he claims they’ll get “the biggest record deal of all time”, yet he says it’s not about being for sale (like he says the Beatles were). Then later on he invokes The White Stripes’ name, basically laying claim to how he paved the way for them to come on the scene, which I found to be in highly poor taste, beyond poor taste – it’s downright ignorant and obnoxious.  He continually slams new bands for not telling people who influenced them, and yet through the entire documentary I never once hear him talk positively about an influence of his from the 1960s (a decade he so shamelessly riffs on and copies).
DIG-012All in all, I give this documentary a 3 out of 5. It’s fairly well made, but even though I have a lot of opinions on Anton, I feel there was a heavy degree of negative tone when showing the BJM on screen; I can’t imagine there weren’t at least some good times for the band to enjoy. I also find having Courtney Taylor do the voice-over narration for this documentary was a little strange.  It sort of put things in an immediate perspective of “Okay- we’re going to see more of the plight from The Dandy Warhols side”, which kicks things off assuming most of the drama will come from Anton and The Brian Jonestown Massacre (of course it did, that just isn’t the point).

While those aspects do feel as if they slant things in favour of The Dandy Warhols’ perspective, and I don’t particularly like how it makes things come off at times, the documentary still does a good job of simply showing things as they are, just like they happen, have surely happened before – and they will absolutely happen again.
The best thing about this documentary is how it portrays the bands; we can clearly see The Dandy Warhols changed themselves a little from where they started.  This is possibly [or – most likely – knowing our society and the way popular culture/music works] why they’ve received more mainstream attention, as opposed to BJM. Although I don’t agree with the conformity stance many have on Anton [as in he’s some sort of rebel breaking the rules and mould of modern music – because sorry to break it to you – he just isn’t], The Brian Jonestown Massacre is unique, and definitely haven’t tailored themselves towards being marketable.  Even the rest of the band seems perfectly happy with letting their ‘leader’ terrorize them for the chance at enjoying some moderate level of success; this is probably [again – most likely] why they will never reach the mainstream in the way Courtney did with The Dandy Warhols.
I recommend watching this film, and I dare you to still like Anton at the end. I have never disliked somebody more while watching a documentary, and I have watched a ton of them on serial killers, so.. you be the judge.  However, this is still a film, it is a documentary.  As a film, I can give it 3 out of 5 stars confidently.  It’s a good documentary – you seriously should take the time to watch.  If only for the sake of understanding what the idea of fame can do to people.  Even those who claim it isn’t what they’re seeking it – they are.  They just do it in different ways [eg. how Anton misguidedly does in his own maniacal way].
Decent film about some highly jaded yet relentless musicians, but it leaves me with more questions than any kind of answers as far as who these people are as human beings.  All I saw here were plastic figures dancing to the tune of their own narcissistic behaviour.

Drop Something on a Walk Down Toad Road

Toad Road. 2012.  Directed & Written by Jason Banker.  Starring James Davidson and Sara Anne Jones.  WTFilms.  Unrated.  76 minutes.  Horror/Thriller.

3.5 out of 5 stars

I didn’t know until recently, but Elijah Wood and his company SpectreVision were the ones to present Toad Road.  They’ve been starting to bring some interesting films to the world including this one, the recent Open WindowsCooties [which I can’t wait for], and my personally most highly anticipated horror of 2014, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night [which people have been raving about a lot lately – dying to get a chance to see this].
Toad-Road-FRONT-COVERToad Road has been described as being a cross between Kids and The Blair Witch Project.  I’d definitely agree there is an aspect of Harmony Korine in there, not only in the characters but also in the way Banker shot everything.  Aside from that alone, I don’t think I’d really try and draw any parallels between Toad Road and The Blair Witch Project; to my mind, there isn’t anything really paranormal, supernatural, or whatever, going on here.  One of the best descriptions [albeit coming from a negative review] is a contemporary annotated version of Dante Alighieri’s Inferno.  To this, I can draw comparisons absolutely.

The story isn’t anything really challenging, or complex – James [Davidson] is a guy who hangs around with a group of people that get their kicks out of drugs, everything, anything they can get their hands on, but mostly psychedelics.  He then meets a girl named Sara [Jones], who has the false belief she can find herself, find something, in drugs.  While James tries to talk her away from all of this, Sara is unmovable.  She wants to experience more through drugs.  Soon, James drops the name of Toad Road into conversation, telling her drugs are a path similar to that place; an urban legend about a path in the woods behind a mental institution, which goes through the Seven Gates to Hell.  Sara becomes obsessed, believing Toad Road to be a beautiful legend instead of creepy.  Eventually, James and Sara go down Toad Road, as she believes going through the Seven Gates will be some sort of revelation; not the Christian Hell, but something real, and possibly miraculous.  Reluctantly, James goes along with Sara.  Nobody has ever made it past the fifth gate, where time starts to warp, and change.  No one has ever gotten to the sixth or seventh gates, apparently.  She wants to take drugs, and experience Toad Road like some sort of literal path to enlightenment.  Sara says “something attached itself” to her after her experience on mushrooms earlier.
As they wander further through the gates, it’s evident there may be a lot more to the legend of Toad Road than James had ever thought.
Toad Road 5The whole film has a very documentary style feel.  I’m not positive if the people in the movie were taking actual drugs or not.  Regardless, they did a good job of showing what it’s like to be on drugs.
For people who’ve never experienced drugs or the people who have while managing to never really slip into the whole lifestyle, the characters in Toad Road may seem unrealistic, maybe even foolish.  Yes, they’re definitely a bunch of druggies, fairly ridiculous crowd, but for those like myself [luckily I turned my life around – that’s a whole other tale unto itself] who’ve been into that lifestyle, these characters are all too painfully real.

For an indie film, this has a decent little story.  It’s simple yet effective.  The message isn’t particularly anti-drugs or anything, but the plot really does help work against any decision people might make soon about dropping acid and heading out into the woods.
As James and Sara head down Toad Road, The Seven Gates of Hell mirror the plot.  Soon, Sara is missing, and time stretches out much longer than James conceived it to be.  He makes it out of the woods, she is nowhere in sight.  Suddenly, the police, friends, family are looking for her.  They all think James knows something more than he is letting on.  Essentially, The Seven Gates of Hell come to represent the whole lifestyle James and Sara were falling into, and while they went further and further down the road, The Gates took on real meaning in their lives.  They made it all the way down Toad Road.  And they also paid the price.
toad road 3The acting is fairly good, as I mentioned before.  If they were taking drugs for real, it’s certainly a testament to the fact they could still be coherent at times to do any dialogue.  If not, the acting is even better because they really put forth the feeling of being under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs, and the like.  Davidson and Jones carry things nicely, even more so when the plot focuses in solely on them as they begin their journey down Toad Road.

One of my favourite bits concerning the acting was Jones’ voiceover as Sara.  It played over various portions of the film.  Most effectively, Banker used the voiceover narration to really drive home the points where James is really going insane, straight off the deep end, near the film’s finale.  She narrates his spiral downward, as he essentially is recalling her tell him about what happens as you pass through each gate on the way to Hell.  Some really chilling moments, which I enjoyed a lot.  Very quiet, subdued moments coupled with great cinematography, a few beautiful locations.  This really worked.  Jones’ voice is beautiful and kind of guides us down Toad Road in a way.  Spooky stuff.
I think the real problem with Toad Road overall as a film is that even though there are things happening, a lot of time gets chewed up almost feeling like a documentary about a bunch of drug addicts.  Though there are some good moments, and certainly scenes which add to characters of both James and Sara, the pacing starts to really drag in several spots.
toad-road-3I also think the finale of the film is a bit hindered by the fact there’s no real huge climax.  It almost feels as if there should’ve been more additional scenes involving the aftershock of Sara’s disappearance – it seems like the police went really soft on James.  Although we see a few scenes where James is being interrogated, I feel like those were the scenes which ultimately lacked sincerity.  We get a lot of reality, documentary style moments in the early half of Toad Road, but once it starts to shift into a more mystery/thriller genre for the last half [which could have worked wonderfully] it lacks the composition of a real drama.

The switch from the reality-based portion of the beginning to a forced dramatic and thrilling angle didn’t work.  I didn’t particularly think the cop interrogating James was really great either.  Not terrible, just not great.  It didn’t feel as if those bits matched up to the rest of the film.  Even the closing moments of the finale, those worked very well with the atmosphere and tone built up by the first half of the film.  I just think they would’ve benefited by either giving the cops more screentime and making it feel as reality driven as the earlier scenes, or just cut out those parts; they could’ve just as easily focused mainly on James trying to evade police, talking to his friends [bits of which they did include], and then went with the finale they’d chosen.  Instead, the parts with the cops really throw off the balance, and make the last quarter of the film a bit sloppy.
Toad Road 1Though there are some flaws here, I think Toad Road is a pretty decent horror outing.  Certainly for an independent horror film.  There’s a lot of visual flair here, and you can tell Banker has an eye for beauty in horror.  That being said, I did have a problem with some pacing issues here, and if they could be ironed out I think this would be an even better film.  I still loved it.  Once the credits start rolling [with an appropriate dedication to one of the film’s stars, Sara Anne Jones, who died of a drug overdose just as Toad Road started screening in different places], there’s a haunting little song to go along.  It really all works.  Toad Road stuck with me for days and days after I first saw it.  You can get it on DVD now I believe, as well as through Amazon and other VOD options.  I had to come back to it after seeing it a long while ago when I got the chance, and while there were small bits I felt held it back, overall Toad Road is good, and definitely a lot better than the hordes of low budget horror out there tackling the same zombies and vampires and masked killers as the hundreds which came before them.  This film at least aims the bar higher.  I hope to see more from Jason Banker, and look forward to his upcoming Felt, which recently found distribution.

Get yourself a copy of Toad Road.  Even if you’re divided after watching, it’s hard not to admit the film has a certain charm to it, and a creepy, haunting quality.

William Friedkin Gets to the Pulse of Fear with The Exorcist

The Exorcist. 1973.  Dir. William Friedkin.  Written by William Peter Blatty, based on his novel.  Starring Ellen Burstyn, Max Von Sydow, Lee J. Cobb, Kitty Winn, Jack MacGowran, Jason Miller, and Linda Blair.  Warner Brothers.  18A.  132 minutes.  Horror.

5 out of 5 stars [Movie]
5 out of 5 stars [Blu ray release]

By now, everyone has either seen The Exorcist or knows all about it.  Simply put, it is the story of a young girl who is possessed by some type of demon; her non-believer mother eventually gives in and realizes what she needs is not modern medicine, not psychology, but a Catholic exorcism.  This is the plot of the film.  From there, the wild bits begin.
1380897081_1What I’d like to talk about instead of the plot itself are the effects because on the Blu ray release from Warner Brothers there are tons of amazing special features.  The best, and my most favourite, is one called “Raising Hell: Filming The Exorcist“.  This basically features tons of shots from behind-the-scenes, filmed originally without sound [explained to be because they wanted the extra filming to be inconspicuous to Friedkin who might’ve gotten annoyed had they been dragging more crew around the set than was needed], and over top we get interviews with everyone from Friedkin to Blatty to Blair, to people working on the crew.  It is amazing.

One of the moments I absolutely just died for was when they show two things.  First, is a moment where Reagan [Blair] attacks a man.  Friedkin wanted a shot following the man all the way down as he fell to the floor, shot tight looking right at his face, as if from Reagan’s point-of-view.  This is brilliance right here.  Friedkin clearly has an innovative spirit.  We watch as they show the contraption they’d built to do just that one shot – it is the best thing ever.
Second, they show a bunch of shots detailing the house set for the film.  I should have known, from how some of the camerawork goes, the house was a set, open at the top and such, but just to see them doing actual shots going up the stairs with the rig they’d built to get the camera operators up and down in smooth ways.  It is crazy.  Beautiful, really, to see all the effort that went into making this film so god damn great.
Exorcist11Another aspect worthy of note in regards to The Exorcist is the lighting.  At one point on the “Raising Hell” documentary, they talk about the use of wires in the bedroom; for pulling people, as well as objects, around the room in certain shots.  It looks perfect on film, but to hear Owen Roizman [Director of Photography] talk about how he had the wires painted in broken formations of black and white so it would make the wire less visible on camera, it is an absolute treat!  These tiny tricks of the trade are really cool to hear from the mouths of those involved in the production.

Later, we get to watch as Roizman talks about all the wire work, including how they dragged all the furniture around in Reagan’s room during those frenetic scenes.  It’s wild.  I knew it had to be practical the way they’d accomplished such shots, but to actually see it and watch the process is something special.  Roizman especially has a very nostalgic memory of the production, and a lot of his comments, especially concerning a young Linda Blair and her performance/attitude on set [which seems to be remarkable for such a young actress at the time], are great to hear.  These features really help give The Exorcist even more appreciation amongst its fans, and genre fans in general.

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One of my favourite things about DVD and Blu ray is the fact we get commentary on a film while watching it.  Probably one of the best things to come along with the advent of these new technologies.  William Friedkin’s commentary on The Exorcist is fascinating and pretty damn informative.  Even in the first few moments, Friedkin puts to bed any notions people have about the opening scenes not belonging in the film.  He explains why it is there, what it means, and I love it – I understood anyways, but it helps to actually have a director of a film say “this is the reason”, and having it match up with what you thought.  I’m sure most people who love the film get it, it’s just better to hear it right from the horse’s mouth [disclaimer: William Friedkin is a human man, he is not a horse.], and know for sure.  Even further, you get a lot of really interesting tidbits and facts about the production of The Exorcist.  Just delightful to hear Friedkin talk about his experience filming the opening of the film in Iraq, how he was there without the protection of U.S government, and telling us about how he enjoyed the Iraqi people and their hospitality.  Very neat.  Hearing the director talk over beautifully framed and perfect looking images on a high quality picture of the film is sublime.

The film itself is an astounding 5 out of 5 stars.
The story works on its own, but Friedkin really hammers it home.  The acting from both Linda Blair and Ellen Burstyn is on point.  Burstyn is one of the greatest actresses ever to grace the screen.  Here, she really excels, as a mother who doesn’t believe in religion or any of that stuff yet soon comes to understand the devil has taken hold of her daughter, seeking out the help of priests; not many could pull of such a horror role, but Burstyn is so wonderfully natural here.  Blair did a fabulous job as a young girl.  It’s incredible to think she was able to do such a role and give the performance she did.  On the Blu ray documentary, she talks about how Friedkin would often shelter her from the reality of what she’d be doing onscreen by joking with her; Friedkin himself talks about it, and it seems they really had a cool relationship, a lot like an uncle and niece sort of thing where he coaxed her into some of the scenes by tickling and teasing and the like.  You can tell Friedkin works well with actors and actresses just by how Blair, at such a young age then, was able to work with him and give it her all in a tough role.  Combined with the effects and the pure intensity of Blatty’s writing, the performances lift The Exorcist above a lot of trashy horror that was coming out in the 1970s and makes it an absolute masterpiece of filmmaking.
1380821626_1The Blu ray release is far beyond the state of perfect.  So many special features are available here, you’ll take days and days to get through it. “Raising Hell” is absolutely the best of them all, but there is more than just that.  You get a real in-depth look behind the making of The Exorcist.  I couldn’t believe how much bang for my buck I got when purchasing this, especially seeing as how HMV recently had it there for less than $10 [the ultimate steal of a lifetime if there ever was one!]. It is really worth it if you enjoy the film.  You get some great inside looks at the make-up effects Dick Smith pulled off; a master of the trade.  Those alone are almost worth the price of the Blu ray, just to see him work at the craft.

Anyone who has yet to see this, go buy a copy now.  If you’re a horror fan especially, don’t sleep on this.  When I first saw The Exorcist I was about 15 years old.  It didn’t really affect me at the time.  However, I still enjoyed it alot.  Years later, I revisited the film, and I couldn’t get over it.  For days, the story lingered on me like cigarette smoke.  I could not shake it off.  Burstyn and Von Sydow really pulled me in and rocked my world.  The performances and the effects, it all got to me.  It’s now one of my most treasured Blu rays, as well as one of the best horror films I’ve ever seen.  Once again, this is a film that has no hype – the hype is very real, in fact.

And if you don’t get a chill running up your spinal fluid into your brain when you hear the repeated line from early in the film, “Father – could ya help an old altar boy?“, then you know what?  Check your pulse.  Because the rest of us are absolutely terrified.

The Redemption Song of Anvil: The Story of Anvil

Anvil: The Story of Anvil. 2008.  Dir. Sacha Gervasi.
Starring Anvil. Abramorama.
Unrated. 80 minutes.
Documentary – Biography/Music.

★★★★★

Before this film, I had only briefly heard of Anvil by thumbing through old metal records in my search for bands that had escaped mainstream eyes. I never much gave them a listen, and it wasn’t until a few years ago when I saw Anvil: The Story of Anvil that I went back after viewing the documentary, so I could listen to their tunes. Have I been sleeping! As a metal fan, it’s a shame I had never discovered Lips and the crew before because they are true, old school, tongue licking, brain rocking heavy metal.
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Since the late 1970s, Anvil have influenced many other great metal bands, some who reminisce on the band’s early performances, their edgy sound, and the dirty, saucy songs they wrote throughout this documentary. For whatever the final reason, Anvil never became commercially successful the way people like Slash, or bands such as Metallica, Anthrax, and Twisted Sister did; they spiraled into years of making monetarily unsuccessful albums on their own, and playing whatever gigs they could manage to get. All the while, many of the bands they influenced with their stage performances and gritty tunes were out touring all over the globe and back again.

However, Lips (real name- Steve Kudlow) and Robb (Reiner) never ever gave up on their dream, and continued to rock on as the only solid members of Anvil to stay the entire course.

1239226371_1This documentary picks up as the boys get contacted by a European fan who basically offers to be their manager, and wants to help arrange a tour of shows in Europe for somewhere around 1500 Euros a night (or so she says). What follows is a very disheartening tour where they are late for gigs, delayed here and there, and generally followed by an air of discontent; at one point, Reiner even refuses to play and says he will quit the band, but Lips convinces his oldest best friend to stick it out. These guys have taken time off work for five weeks, and make little-to-no money whatsoever.

It almost feels like Anvil is doomed. Lips, though, still feels the passion, and so does Reiner. Lips sends Chris “CT” Tsangarides (a producer they had previously worked with many years ago) a demo tape of their new album called This is Thirteen; CT calls Lips back, and says it has potential, but they still need funds to make it all happen.
Lips tries to do telemarketing with the help of a very enthusiastic lifetime fan of Anvil, but cannot even produce one sale; this part was especially sad, as even though Lips holds another job, we get a glimpse at how rockers feel when not on the stage, and forced to go to work just like the rest of us (Lips is a man who knows only music; it feels to me he is compromising himself by working a regular job, and that’s why this scene is particularly depressing). An emotional visit with his sister yields a great opportunity for Lips and his band: she gives him what I understood to be around $10,000 to help him make the album.
This is where we see the true spirit of Anvil begin to shine, and even though there are still arguments, fights, scraps- the band pushes to achieve their dream.
AnvilIn the end, Lips and Reiner travel with Anvil back to Japan where the film began in 1984 at the Super Rock Festival. Now, they find they are booked for 11:30am to play, and Lips immediately begins wondering how they came so far to simply be booked for a morning show. With all routes looking to lead towards more disaster for Anvil, they take the stage in front of a massive crowd of people DYING to see them, and proceed to rock their fans from beginning to end of their set. You can almost see the fire return to Lips and Reiner, as they finally have made it back to the huge stage in Japan where they once played with the Scorpions, Whitesnake, Bon Jovi, and many other big names.

I give this film a full and fat, rocking 5 out of 5 stars because not only is it a well-documented film about the trials and tribulations of Anvil as a band, but also it showcases what the human spirit is all about: never giving in. The ability to get knocked down before getting back up each and every time they fall is something Lips and Reiner are both masters at; they falter, but never do they fall flat on their face. Every moment is just another moment for redemption. Highly recommended.

Just a note- whenever I feel down, or like life isn’t giving me a fair shake, I throw on The Story of Anvil, and I’m reminded just who the real heroes are. Those are the times I’m reminded that determination really is everything; it’s not just some tired cliché. It’s truth.

Trollhunter: Found Footage Fairy Tales

Trollhunter. 2010. Directed & Written by André Øvredal.
Starring Otto Jespersen, Hans Morten Hansen, Tomas Alf Larsen, Johanna Mørck, Knut Naerum, Robert Stoltenberg, and Glenn Erland Tosterud. Momentum Pictures.
Rated PG-13. 103 minutes.
Dark Fantasy/Comedy

★★★★ (Film)
★★★★★ (Blu ray release)

When you hear the title Trollhunter it isn’t easy to imagine what the plot and story of the film might be. You guessed it.
Basically, a group of students are making a documentary about a slew of supposed bear killings, and a possible poacher. While visiting places where the poacher supposedly killed bears, illegally, the students talk to hunters, as well as a man from the Wildlife Board in Norway. Though there is some doubt, the consensus is this poacher, Hans (Jespersen), has been killing animals, regardless if they were bears or not.
Then the students start following Hans until one night they see wild lights in the forest while trailing him, and roars in the trees. Eventually they discover Hans does not hunt bears, he hunts trolls. Of course they don’t really believe him at first, but soon enough it is all too obvious Hans is telling the truth. And so the students continue on with Hans to uncover the truth about trulls that the Norwegian government hopes to keep covered up.trollhunter-poster

Most obviously to me when I first started watching the movie for the first time, Trollhunter is one of the more original films in any genre, from any country I’ve seen – in a long time. Not to say there aren’t original films. Yes, of course there are, I’m not crazy. But this film is one of the more unique of those originals probably in the past decade. This story is fresh. They take found footage, which can often be a tired genre nowadays with the flooded market of bad horror entries using its premise (side note: I love found footage – when it’s used well), and used it in a fantasy style. Though the effects are not always perfect, the trolls are absolutely incredible. When you first get a good look at one of them, it’s fascinating. They did a great job of taking a fantasy element and dropping it into a modern setting. I suppose the fact it’s a Norwegian film helps, as there’s a lot more folklore and such from their culture/geographical location to carry the subject along. I feel if the Americans wanted to remake this, which I’m sure they’ll do (apparently Chris Columbus’ company has the rights – not sure if this is the case any longer or what), they would have to pick some other type of monster instead of trolls; the trolls just fit so well with Norway, and perhaps might fit with other European locations. That’s what gives the story some better pull, in my opinion.
The actual physical locations used in filming Trollhunter are also part of what makes it great overall. There are some beautiful landscapes.
TrollHunter-1024x576The entire film is played as a mockumentary, which also lends itself well to the story, as there are some real great silly bits. It helps that Otto Jespersen, as well as some other Norwegian comedians, were in the film. I didn’t know this until I watched the special features. But you can tell a few of the actors have great comedic timing. While there are bits that are definitely verging on horror, though not blood & guts style, the best parts of Trollhunter are the ones which are played firmly with their tongue jammed in cheek. This is absolutely a dark fantasy film, but the comedy really shines, and the mix of genre blends pretty well. Jerspersen especially as Hans really does a fabulous job at bringing out laughs, even at times when you’re not sure if you’re supposed to be laughing or not.
trollhunter01As I mentioned before, the special effects are not always spot on. That’s not to say they’re bad. Not in the least. The budget, in American dollars, was only $4-million.
Only you say?
Well, take a look at some of your favourite big budget pictures, and compare those with that of Trollhunter. They did a fabulous job with the amount of money they were working with, and it shows. Not every troll looks flawless, but so what? They still look like massive god damned trolls. They were at times funny, but always creepy, and always terrifying. The look of the trolls works, regardless of the effects. My favourite troll is the one with three heads; I don’t know why, just dig it. A lot.

As a film, Trollhunter is topnotch. However, I could have used some better acting. That’s my only problem. Jespersen was solid the whole way through, but some of the supporting actors weren’t exactly great. They weren’t poor, either. They could’ve just used some work. I can’t really knock them for the few parts where their special effects weren’t perfect because, as I mentioned, the budget wasn’t huge compared to most films. Especially for something indulging the fantasy genre the way Trollhunter does. Overall, I loved this film, and I can watch it often when I want a fix of both some fantasy, as well as a bit of comedy.
trolljegeren2The Blu ray release for Trollhunter just don’t quit! Love it. There are some deleted scenes, plus they include some moments of improvisation while filming, and to add, a bunch of bloopers. All a good time. Then there are also some extended scenes thrown in. One of the best featurettes is the visual effects; they give us a nice little look at some of the work they did. You really get a better appreciation for the film watching a lot of the behind-the-scenes extras.

Any fan of foreign films, whether you enjoy drama, comedy, horror, or whatever, will certainly get a treat if they check out Trollhunter. Like I said, this is dark fantasy, all the way, but the comedy really sustains it. Not that you couldn’t make a deadly serious horror about trolls; you absolutely could. My belief is that Trollhunter treats things seriously at times while knowing exactly when to pull out the comedy bag of tricks. You won’t be disappointed. This is a great film. Also refreshing to get a look at something that isn’t typical; this is a movie with a bit of creative backbone. I hope others will check out the Blu ray, and really hope those who watch the movie enjoy it the way I did.