Monday, December 5, 2011

a very snowy Werner: episode one ....Bruno goes to America and gets eaten by albino crocodiles (aka my review of Stroszek)

Bruno S. goes to America and America gives Bruno S. a shit sandwich. It seems America has been doling out a lot shit sandwiches lately.  Only this sandwich uses German Rye as opposed to Wonderbread and its aged, like a delicious 1977 vintage Gouda.  This is Werner Herzog’s Stroszek, the film concocted in four days for  Bruno Schleinstein (a.k.a Bruno S.), because Werner gave his role in Woyzeck away to Klaus Kinski. But the kicker,  Bruno had already taken holiday from his fork lift warehouse gig.  So Herzog, just doing what any normal human mad genius does, pulled out his hat in less time than it took me to write this review, a melancholic yet charming almost road film-fable that so effortlessly, but not simplistically, examines the illusion of the American Dream.

Bruno S. is a sad sack of man, an artist and musician of the naive strain, who upon release from prison and post a number disparagingly depressing episodes in Berlin sets is his sights on televisions, trailers and a 9 to 5 job in midwest America. In the fashion of doomed, yet endearing protagonists, he finds for himself almost equally as hapless travel companions. One is Bruno’s sweetheart, a very un-street wise recovering lady of a night and the other is his bird companion’s caretaker; an elderly wisp of a man who appears closer to the end of life’s journey, than one who is about to embark on one.

Sure, it sounds like a slit your wrists kind of film, and maybe for some it will be, but you’ll be laughing while your cutting. Herzog, intentionally or unintentionally, I’m never sure which, somehow always manages to make me laugh. Did you see Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010)? Come on, albino crocodiles!? Crocodiles that can open doors!? 

Maybe Bruno S. is Stroszek’s albino crocodile, or maybe the chickens are the crocodiles? Regardless, Herzog takes a dead stare look at the golden ticket, and like many Americans have been finding out, reveals that its usually just tin foil with a bad paint job.   Stroszek shows us why Herzog was one of the stars of the New German Cinema movement, with a shot of a single captive dancing chicken, he chips away and reveals the deceit of the American dream.

*Spoiler Alert*
By the way the film isn’t about sandwiches and Willy Wonka doesn’t make an appearance.

This is my first of a few (by few I mean like maybe 3 more, I don't want be too ambitious, its just not my style) Werner Herzog related film posts over the winter. I'm calling it "A very snowy Werner". Yeah its a totally cheesy title, but I'm writing about a filmmaker who ends films with albino crocodiles.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Reel to Reel Radio Episode 106

Episode 106 of Reel to Reel Radio. Originally aired live on October 14th, 2011 on CFCR 90.5 FM. Visit for more info.

On this episode we feature three interviews with the founders of the Dark Bridges Film Festival discussing the aftermath of the 2nd Annual festival, as well as director Ken Cran (The Millennium Bug) and actor Matthew Amyotte (The Corridor), Also, we review the Straw Dogs remake and The Ides of March. Enjoy!

 - The Reel to Reel Crew

Friday, October 7, 2011

Into the Minds (w/ Actor Interview)

Director: Evan Kelly
Writer: Josh MacDonald
Starring: Stephen Chambers, James Gilbert, Matthew Amyotte
2010 | Canada | Not Rated | 99 mins

Independent cinema has always been known for taking risks and giving audiences the chance to see something that will make them think or challenge their ideals. And a lot of first time filmmakers dare to push these boundaries so they can make their mark, and they do so because this is a need to be able to survive in a big-budget world and a world dictated by mass consumption and technology. Are we really all that more connected because we now have access to everything at our finger tips? Do we really understand and know the feelings or thoughts of the people we surround ourselves with? These are the questions The Corridor dares to ask.

Five friends take a weekend excursion to a secluded cabin as a tribute and wake to the deceased mother of one of them. A year ago, an event occurred which changed all of them and left suspicions hanging and one of them seemingly insane. Now with the help of therapy and medication, Tyler (Stephen Chambers) plans to mend these wounds and ensure his friends he is better and that he was not involved in the death of his mother. But when the group discovers something impossible out in the woods, what they come to collectively call The Corridor, this spectral hallway will lead them all into each others' minds and ultimately lead to truths that will shatter bonds and destroy lives.

The Corridor is a tense, disturbing, and intrinsically crafted excursion into the fragility of the psyche. Writer Josh MacDonald masterly weaves a high-concept idea that asks questions and is open to interpretation while balancing and then manipulating the truths and friendships of the characters who inhabit the story. Each character is well played by the cast who all do a tremendous and deeply emotional job and focuses the audience into caring for these people for the first half of the film, so by the time The Corridor begins to open and corrupt each one's intentions we feel for them as they all go at each other in the most sadistic of ways. Watching the silences break is almost as disturbing as the effects of The Corridor as they cannot handle knowing everything about each other.

Evan Kelly and cinematographer Christopher Ball keep the majority of the film confined to one room in the cabin and this claustrophobic imprisonment truly represents the atmosphere and tone the film sets. Could we really grasp knowing everything without going insane and are we over-stimulating ourselves to negative effect? This is the central question The Corridor asks, and also leaves up to the viewer to comprehend. The film does falter a bit near the end, but even still, when a film has continued to leave you thinking about its ideas, its tone, its intentions, its characters, and it's terror long after the credits have rolled, that is a successful mark for the dedication of the filmmakers and actors to transport the viewer into a story, and for this The Corridor is a great independent horror thriller worth seeking out.

Matthew Amyotte Interview:

All contents copyright 2011 Tyler Baptist

Big Bug (w/ Director Interview)

Director: Kenneth Cran
Writer: Kenneth Cran
Starring: John Charles Meyer, Jessica Simons, Christine Haeberman
2011 | United States | Not Rated | 88 mins

The world may not have ended after Y2K like some believed it would, however some long practiced aspects of cinematic magic did. The art of practical effects began to die out and long gone are the days of the man in a rubber suit, or really any monsters be them small or giant on screen being done in this fashion. Everything is being replaced or replicated digitally and actors are instead reacting to tennis balls on sticks. Kenneth Cran is a Los Angeles-based filmmaker who grew up on the works and talents of Rick Baker, Rob Bottin, and the magic of the giant monster films that came out of Japan. With this love he decided to make his own giant monster movie in this day and age complete with a man in a suit, miniatures, and absolutely no CGI whatsoever.

December 31st, 1999. The Haskin family escapes into the mountainside to get away from the city and technology in case the world does delve into pure chaos Y2K may bring about. They set up camp and prepare to celebrate the New Year regardless of the outcome but will soon have more to fear as they are attacked and kidnapped by an incestuous hillbilly clan that has been living in a nearby ghost town. But on this very night even more danger lurks as this night marks the arrival of The Millennium Bug, a giant 300 foot tall creature that gestates for 1000 years before being birthed onto the earth to lay its offspring before the dawn. And it's hungry.

The Millennium Bug, as described by its own director, is a cross between Godzilla and The Hills Have Eyes. Pitting a family in peril against two separate foes is a wise move to make an entertaining lower-budget horror film that can appeal to more than just the straight horror crowd. Aside from a few mountainside shots, the entire film was shot in a rented industrial garage where the filmmakers had to be creative since the film takes place in a forest, a hillbilly home, a jail, and a ghost town. Not to mention there's a giant bug with Godzilla-esque spikes rampaging about. Kenneth Cran and company successfully combine the use of miniatures, the man-in-a-suit monster, and some well worked compositing to get this all blended together. Considering their work space confinement this is really an impressive accomplishment.

The cast all work well in their roles with the hillbillies all cranked up way past campy. This isn't the most serious film, so if it was this would probably deter from one's enjoyment but here it's not out of place and good for comic enjoyment. The gore effects, again all practically done, are inventive and disgusting and will satisfy those who are looking for a bit of splatter. In an age where CGI has replaced the magic in filmmaking, The Millennium Bug is a welcome homage to the good old days of movie magic and an entertaining, and often hilarious, giant monster movie.

Kenneth Cran Interview:

All contents copyright 2011 Tyler Baptist

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Inner City vs Outer Space

Director: Joe Cornish
Writer: Joe Cornish
Starring: John Boyega, Jodie Whittaker, Nick Frost
2011 | United Kingdom | R | 88 mins

A group of young thugs led by Moses (John Boyega) are out prowling their block during Guy Fawkes Night. They come across a lone woman (Jodie Whittaker) walking home and proceed to mug her when what was definitely not a firework comes crashing down and obliterates the car next to them. The woman escapes during the confusion but the street thugs investigate the vehicle and discover an alien creature which they then kill and take up to the local drug dealer's top-floor apartment for safe keeping, hoping to make a couple of bucks of the discovery. But when more extraterrestrial things fall out of the sky under the cover of the fireworks, it's inner city versus outer space as the kids decide to take on the invasion to save their home and retain their street cred.

Attack the Block emanates a youthful energy that flows throughout the entire film from beginning to end. It's fast paced, exciting, scary when it needs to be, and smartly written combining non-stop action, witty dialogue, and characters you actually end up caring about. Joe Cornish proves a considerable emerging talent by successfully breaking taboos and stereotypes and setting up a film with characters that you wouldn't normally find yourself rooting for. The kids aren't friendly to outsiders, they stick to their guns, but their drive to survive and save each other in times of danger engages the audience. There's an honesty here that normally you don't see in these types of films and that sets the bar real high right off the start and thankfully Cornish doesn't let the film lose this energy.

The film puts these kids in danger, and the danger is palpable and real and not glossed over. Some of them get hurt, some of them get killed, this is not safe material and a ballsy move a lot of films shy away from, exaggerate, or ignore, but Attack the Block successfully pulls this off. The aliens themselves are very ferocious creatures, like small pure black grizzly bears with row upon row of neon blue fangs, who through both practical effects and seamless CGI take on a life of their own and are truly one of the most inventive and believable alien creatures we've seen in cinema in a long time.

The thing that sets Attack the Block apart from other alien attack fare is its sharp writing and direction. Dialogue is fast, funny, vulgar, and realistic and the kids sound like real kids. It is not censored or watered down, this is how these kids would talk, and each of these characters is unique and comes out. The young cast are all spot on and great to watch. The action, while fast and frenetic, is also expertly crafted and you can tell exactly what is going on. Suspense is actually sustained, humour is weaved into to all the right bits, and the story is as engaging as it is entertaining. Very rare is a "kids versus creatures" film what it should be and Attack the Block is easily this generation's Monster Squad and one of the best of it's kind.  It's is a pure blast from start to finish.

All contents copyright 2011 Tyler Baptist

Evil Is In the Eye of the Beholder

Director: Eli Craig

Writers: Eli Craig, Morgan Jurgenson
Starring: Tyler Labine, Alan Tudyk, Katrina Bowden
2010 | United States/Canada | R | 89 mins

Sitting in distribution limbo for nearly two years, Tucker and Dale vs Evil, aside from its run on the festival circuit, is finally seeing the light of day. And what took so long and why those studio executives couldn't figure out what to do is something of a mystery. The premise was pitch perfect, the idea quite original and refreshing for the horror-comedy genre, and the internet was abuzz with praise and demand for the film, so what were they afraid of?

Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine) are two hillbillies who set out to fix up their new vacation home, do some fishing, and just relax. Having this new humble abode is a dream come true. But when a group of college kids mistake them for kidnapping their friend (Katrina Bowden) when she was really rescued, the two find themselves knee-deep in blood and their vacation becomes a nightmare. The kids are dropping dead in various accidents and they think it's the work of the hillbillies, whereas Tucker and Dale think they are all performing some "suicide cult" ritual. Evil is truly in the eye of the beholder.

Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine are perfectly cast as the two wrongfully accused hillbillies. Bringing both warmth and expert comic timing, Tyler Labine as Dale steals the show. Eli Craig and co-writer Morgan Jurgenson know how to balance the slapstick of the situation without it becoming cliche, hokey, or overly violent. While the red-band trailer for the film gives away most of the deaths, the film is never spoiled or let's the audience down via their expectations, it delivers exactly what it promises: a bloody blast with more than a few belly laughs.

The question remains a mystery as to exactly why this took so long to be officially released but now, finally, audiences can experience this fun spin on the traditional slasher ideals. Part Abbot and Costello, part Friday the 13th and part buddy movie, Tucker and Dale Vs Evil is a bloody good time that continues to entertain on a relatively simple premise and delivers genuine laughs along with a good helping of gore. A real treat that's sure to become a cult classic in the years to come. 

All contents copyright 2011 Tyler Baptist

Mystery of the Phantom Headache

Director: Hark Tsui
Writers: Kuo-fu Chen, Jialu Zhang
Starring: Andy Lau, Chao Deng, Carina Lau
2010 | China/Hong Kong | PG-13 | 119 mins

Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame is a Sherlock Holmes-ian highly fictionalized account of Di Renjie, one of the most celebrated officials of the Tang Dynasty. In 690 AD, a giant towering Buddha is being built for the inauguration of Empress Wu Zetian (Carina Lau). But when the mysterious spontaneous combustion death of one of the towering Buddha's architects sparks a sinister mystery, the Empress decides to spring Detective Dee (Andy Lau) from his imprisonment for having spoken against her and puts him on the case. With two assigned assistants, Dee must use his detective skills to crack the mystery all the while being hampered by repeated assassination attempts and political mistrust. As more and more people become victim to spontaneous combustion, Dee is running out of time and the lack of people he can trust is dissipating, but Detective Dee seeks truth and justice no matter what gets in his way.

Detective Dee is a giant convoluted mess. Continually adding new cogs into the wheel every scene, the mystery piles up with more vague and secretive clues or back story that don't challenge the audience in participating in solving the puzzle, but instead further confuse the audience with multiple characters and set-pieces to keep track of. It's such a mess you literally need a pen and paper to keep track of everything. If properly structured this could have been an entertaining challenge, but instead poor plotting, dialogue, and the rampant idea of cramming as much action into any given scene instead causes the Mystery of the Phantom Flame to simply flicker and die out.

Combining epic action set-pieces and the fantastical locations requires wire-work and some of the worst CGI since Lawnmower Man. One of the characters, a shape-shifting Chamberlain, is represented as a CGI deer and there is even a fight scene between Detective Dee and said deer, and the CGI on display is atrocious. The biggest fault of the over-use of CGI is when it's executed poorly, it takes one out of the story and that's the worst thing any film can do, and Detective Dee does this in spades.

Tsui Hark puts his focus on maintaining the fantastical action rather than focusing on properly explaining the mystery. Filled with more junk than it can handle, Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame loses its audience in it's own labyrinth and ignores explaining the proper clues to get out. The run time also contributes by excessively cramming this all together which gives the film a feel that it's as long as an extended cut of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, it is that unsatisfying and boring. If attention to detail was paid to properly mapping out the convoluted plot this could have been a fun and engaging mystery, instead we are left with just plain bad filmmaking that will induce countless headaches.

All contents copyright 2011 Tyler Baptist

A Tale in Two Halves

Director: Woo-ping Yuen
Writer: Chi-long To
Starring: Man Cheuk Chiu, Michelle Yeoh, David Carradine
2010 | China | R | 115 mins

True Legend is the story Su Qi-Er (Man Cheuk Chiu), a Qing dynasty general who retires from his position so that he can raise his family and start his own martial arts school. When his wife's (Xun Zhou) evil brother Yuan Lie (Andy On) returns to avenge the death of his father Su's life is disrupted as not only is his own father killed, but his son is kidnapped and he is left seriously injured. Training in the ways of Drunken Boxing, Su believes he is being trained by The God of Wushu and the Old Sage themselves, however his wife thinks he may just being going mad, but he vows to be able to stand up to Yuan Lie's perfected Five Venom Fists and save their son.

Oh, but this is only the first two-thirds of the movie. After rescuing his son, but losing his wife, Su now becomes a drunken beggar who travels from town to town with his son only in search for a jug of wine that taste's like his late wife's own recipe. When he enters a town where an arena is pitting anyone willing to showcase their martial arts skills to the death, Su challenges a group of Russian brutes commanded by the sinister Killer Anton (David Carradine) after a friend is almost killed in the arena. This no-holds-barred, no rules, weapons-allowed fight may prove difficult as Su drunkenly boxes his way through towering brutes with knives and names like Molotov. But this is a legend and the rise of the "King of Beggars".

True Legend, not based on a true legend, was promoted as the first Chinese 3-D film. And again, this proves to be a gimmick and a failure. Being director Woo-ping Yuen's first film since 1996 really shows as direction is highly unfocused and the storytelling is considerably weak. Far from his days at creating entertaining martial arts fare such as Drunken Master, Iron Monkey, and Magnificent Butcher (which he co-directed with martial arts choreography legend Sammo Hung) Woo-ping Yuen relies heavily on wire-work and CGI.

Running just under two hours, True Legend truly falters in its story structure and goes on for far too long. Cramming two different tales through one legend severely halts the flow of the film and the two halves, aside from their two main characters, never mesh. Separated via animated title sequences this juxtaposes the viewer and the tone of each shifts considerably. Being David Carradine's last film this is not so much a swan song or tribute to his days of Kung Fu and Circle of Iron as his presence in the film is short lived and forgettable. True Legend is ultimately boring and disjointed which shatters any fun or entertainment the martial arts segments may have provided. A true disappointment.

All contents copyright 2011 Tyler Baptist

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Deadly Miscommunication

Directors: Aharon Keshales, Navot Papushado
Writers: Aharon Keshales, Navot Papushado
Starring: Lior Ashkenazi, Danny Geva, Ania Bukstein
2010 | Israel | Not Rated | 90 mins

Rabies (Kalevet) is Israel's first horror slasher film. Late to the game, but ready to tackle the genre, the film promises to put fear and fright into cinematic form through the eyes of a culture we have never witnessed this form of storytelling from. Like the infection the title suggests good things and praise are spreading like mad about the film, so does Rabies in fact live up to its bite?

After running off into a deserted nature reserve because of their shameful love, a brother (Henry David) and sister fall victim to a psychotic killer. The sister becomes trapped and the brother manages to escape and runs off to find help. Meanwhile, a couple of teens on their way to a tennis match get lost driving through the nature reserve when they come across the bloodied brother who asks them for their help. The women stay behind while the men run off to see if what has been told to them is indeed true. Now every action will not go unpunished as the teens, a couple of cops, and a ranger and his dog all become intertwined in a deadly game neither of them know they are playing.

Rabies is an impressive debut. Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado pile on the twists and turns that not even the most jaded of horror fans will have seen coming. As the story progresses and the mystery seems to unfold the carpet is pulled out from underneath the audience multiple times to multiplying effect. Intricately scripted, darkly humorous, and refreshingly original, Rabies packs a wallop of a punch. The cinematography is beautiful and frantic, the music tense, and the characters are superbly written, each with their own ugly side that adds gritty realism as well as a lot of substance to the story.

Rabies is a roller coaster ride of a slasher film that does not take you on the same old course of previous films in the horror sub-genre. Each turn is expertly placed and each loop as thrilling and deceiving as the last. For a first attempt this may well be a new emergence of talent and one of the more reinvigorating surprises genre film has seen in a while. Violent, dark, and seriously twisted this is a film that will have the horror community raving. Don't miss Rabies, it's contagiously good and a gem worth seeking out.

All contents copyright 2011 Tyler Baptist

Monday, October 3, 2011


Director: Jim Mickle
Writers: Nick Damici, Jim Mickle
Starring: Nick Damici, Connor Paolo, Danielle Harris
2010 | United States | R | 98 mins

Jim Mickle and Nick Damici made a film called Mullberry St. for $60,000 back in 2006. This was an infection film with a fresh perspective and nods to films such as the original Night of the Living Dead. Quite a surprise, well scripted, and thoroughly entertaining it has been a bit of a wait for their next effort, Stake Land, a post-apocalyptic tale involving a different kind of vampire which seems to blur the line between blood-sucker and the infected undead.

After an infection that turns humans into feral blood-suckers seemingly wipes out the entire country, chaos and anarchy ensue and freedom is up in the air. Martin (Connor Paolo), a young teen, is rescued by Mister (Nick Damici), a grizzled man who has turned to hunting these vampires. The two embark on a journey heading North to New Eden, a place they believe will be free of the blood-suckers. Along their journey they not only have to fear for the vamps, but also a religious fundamentalist group called The Brotherhood who believe God has sent the vampires to cleanse the earth. With the help of some other survivors along the way they may have a chance at making it to New Eden.

Stake Land is a cross between films such as The Road, 28 Days Later, and Near Dark. All three however are far superior. While Stake Land has promise, it takes itself way too seriously considering it has a lot of one-liners and humour misplaced along with the bleak setting. Nick Damici plays a hard-ass who picks his lines directly from the Bruce Campbell School of Witty Remarks Handbook and Connor Paolo's Martin narrates needless information during sequences where the visuals already tell what is or has been going on. Characters are introduced and killed off without much structure to the plot other than to be stereotypical plot markers, and the religious commentary is quite heavy-handed.

Quite a big step down for the ingenuity and writing of Mulberry St., Mickle and Damici seem to want to borrow too much from other genre films than find their own voice for Stake Land. If you view the film as more of a campy action film, it can be a bit of fun and it does have a few things going for it. The cinematography, colour pallet, and production design are all quite good. Overall though it is loosely structured, lazily written, the ending vampire segment really ruins a few of the minor things it had going for it, and the actual ending itself is a laugh. As a serious vampire post-apocalyptic tale Stake Land fails, but if you can watch it with some camp value in mind it can be somewhat entertaining.

All contents copyright 2011 Tyler Baptist