Tuesday, September 28, 2010

EIFF Week: The Corrupted

You need to have realistic expectations if you’re going into an independent, Canadian, horror movie. Those three words alone are usually synonymous with “don’t get your hopes up” and seeing all three of them in a row feels like a setup for some unholy trifecta of failure. But even if we were to mark “The Corrupted” on the curve, it’s still barely below a passing grade.

"Proudly, 100% Alberta-made (in Drayton Valley, to boot!), The Corrupted is a truly independent, deliciously entertaining sci-fi thriller shot in just 17 days last summer. And by shooting with the magnificent RED camera, The Corrupted has laid down the gauntlet – giving even the glossiest Hollywood horror flick a serious run for the money! So grab some popcorn, hang on to your seat, and support some ferociously fun local filmmaking!" - Edmonton International Film Festival Hype Machine

There’s no cell phone signal. People pair off to go make out. There’s something in the water. “The Corrupted” is quite faithful to the tropes that make-up a standard horror flick, and, to its credit, looks like a real movie. A sci-fi channel original movie, but a movie nonetheless. A group of friends meet up in a cabin by a lake. The one that was there a week early is behaving strangely, and his blank stares, aloof attitude and persistent nosebleeds arouse suspicions that he’s back on drugs. But because of dramatic irony, the audience knows that he’s hiding something much more... tentacle-ey... than a coke habit.

The first two acts are spent building suspense, but mostly has our hapless college kids walking around being irritating. Talking about life, drinking, joking, swimming. Nobody is pathetic enough to feel sorry for, and only one of the characters is obnoxious enough that you beg for his gruesome demise. But that never really happens, seeing as the monster in the movie possesses people in a manner that’s as brutal as being force fed calamari. There have been more disgusting challenges on Survivor.

“The Corrupted” also loses points on monster consistency. Every posessed (corrupted?) individual acts differently, weather it’s stumbling around like mental patient, staring into space, or crouching over and making funny “it’s the claw” shapes with their fingers. Are these corrupted individuals super strong or super resilient, or just normal people without respect for personal boundaries? Some of them can spit acid and take a beating, but some are taken out with a couple punches.

The editing needs work too. One particular scene is set up with a couple making out in bed, girl on top, when one of the corrupted grabs the girl by the hair, yanks her backward, roars/screams/hisses, pulls her off the bed and drags her away. This shot takes about seven seconds, after which we cut to the guy lying down on the bed and, after a one second beat, springing into action trying to help the girl. This gives the impression that as his lady was being manhandled he was staring blankly at the entire assault. This would actually have been hilarious in a “Huh, my girlfriend was just abducted right off of me. OH! Yeah I should do something!” sort of way.

“The Corrupted” is missing the manic intensity that makes a bad horror movie truly enjoyable, but it comes close in the third act. When the plucky college kids finally catch wind that something is afoot, the next logical step is to grab a rifle from a picnic table and start blasting away at anything that moves suspiciously. Seriously. They see a guy slumped over in a truck, assume he’s dead, and then shoot him in the chest when he jolts up and grunts at them.

To the film’s credit, it makes the most out of a low budget by working with the “less is more” school of monsterology. We never get a clear look at whatever this tentacle creature is, and the slime and gore effects are all convincing enough. This isn’t so much a point in its favor as it is a lack of demerit.

God bless ‘em for trying, but the “The Corrupted” has a combination of bad acting, slow pacing, decent effects and a passable script. If they cut out half an hour of chatting and added another fifteen minutes of monster rampage, I would recommend it. As it stands, “The Corrupted” isn’t something to go out of your way for.

Audience Grievance Level: I think I'll hang up the AGL for the rest of the week, because film festival audiences are generally a better breed than most.

Monday, September 27, 2010

EIFF Week: Erasing David

It’s Edmonton International Film Festival Week, and I’m going to make up for missing it last year by seeing as many movies as I can this time around. I’m looking forward to some good documentaries, independent films, and as many Canadian movies as I can stomach.

First up is the documentary “Erasing David” by UK director David Bond.

“David Bond lives in one of the most intrusive surveillance states in the world. He decides to find out how much private companies and the government know about him by putting himself under surveillance and attempting to disappear - a decision that changes his life forever. Leaving his pregnant wife and young child behind, he is tracked across the database state by two ruthless private investigators, on a chilling journey that forces him to contemplate the meaning of privacy - and the loss of it.” - Official Blurb

Everybody likes to think that privacy is important, but every time we skip over an EULA and agree to terms of service, we willingly inching our way towards a voluntary Ingsoc. To access services, both governmental and commercial, we send our information out into the cloud, hoping that the “s” in “https” is security enough to prevent us from being “dataraped” (a term used in the film). So what information about ourselves does the government, big business, and dudes with Google have access to? Everything, apparently.

In “Erasing David” David Bond hires two private investigators to find him in 30 days, givingthem only his name and an eerily over-sized picture to work with. Despite a sequence where he checks his jacket and backpack for bugs/tracers using a spoon, this Bond is no 007. Within the first few days of staking out David’s apartment, they go through his trash and discover, among other things, his credit card number (!), train tickets, and a rough outline of his travel plans. His or his wife’s Facebook page is public (seriously, David?), and from there they glean numerous potential contacts and pictures. Nevertheless, Bond has an engaging spirit, and whether he’s on hold for hours or spiralling into paranoid madness in a grass hut in Wales, he’s an entertaining character to watch.

There’s no moment of great shock and surprise in “Erasing David.” Everything brought forward in the film is something we already knew, could have guessed, or seems reasonable enough. Or at least that’s what we tell ourselves. Hey, the guy that was nailed for child pornography because someone two continents away stole his credit card and subscribed him to a child pornography site? Yeah, that happens, saw something like that in a movie, maybe. Why does this not horrify us!? Why are we not meticulously combing over our credit bills to make sure somebody in Indonesia isn’t destroying our lives over the phone!?

Moral of the story? Buy a damned SHREDDER, people. When I got home from the theatre, I went through every piece of scrap paper in my house. I found my social insurance number, credit card statements, address and date of birth on notes jotted around my computer desk. This is enough for someone to give me a criminal record and ruin my credit, possibly for life.

Track this documentary down and watch it. It’s playing On Thursdsay September 30 at 11:00 AM and Friday October 30 at 11:00 AM. Book the morning off, you’ve earned it. “Erasing David” won’t change your life, but it could change enough of your habits to save you major grief down the road.

Audience Grievance Level: None. It seems like people that show up to a documentary at 10 AM are the sort of dedicated audiences that I like to watch movies with.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Dan vs Cinema: The American

The first thing you'll notice in “The American” is the stark lack of music. Don't go into this movie expecting a thriller with stock 16th note pulse-pounding soundtrack. Almost all of the film is done without musical accompaniment, providing an atmosphere that is both calming and creepy. This immediately sets it apart from every other movie you've seen this year, and its glacial pacing will give you either chills or brain-freeze, depending on your cinematic sensibilities.

Directed by Anton Corbijn and starring George Clooney, “The American” is the story of Jack, a mysterious assassin/custom-weapons-builder who finds himself on the run after a job gone haywire. He hides out in a remote Italian villa where he befriends Father Benedetto (a Catholic priest) and Clara (a prostitute). Both characters help Jack solidify his notions of sin and redemption. Guess which one he falls in love with.

The performances in the American are markedly subdued, with the most vibrant character being the lush Italian countryside. The rolling hills and idyllic streams provide ample contrast to the monochromatic lives that the characters find themselves in.

George Clooney is a compelling enough actor that I felt oddly mesmerized watching him meticulously assemble weapons alone in an apartment. Heck, he's so compelling that I would have been mesmerized watching him meticulously play with Lego blocks alone in an apartment.

The word “European” is being thrown around a lot to describe this movie. It certainly lacks the vanity and noise of a typical Hollywood movie, and I found “The American” to be a refreshingly original take on the spy tale. It makes you wonder if there are people watching “The American” over in Europe wishing that it contained more explosions and witty one liners.

In short, “The American” is an uncomplicated (but not naive) narrative that is carried by great performances and picturesque setting. Those expecting 16th notes will be sorely disappointed.

Audience Grievance Level: HIGH. A guy behind me kept impressing his friends by saying "I knew that would happen", a fourteen-year-old in front of me just wouldn't shut up, a group of people kept laughing at inappropriate moments, and someone nearby me smelled heavily of cologne.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Comics You Should Have Read: Hsu and Chan

It's fairly easy too find a solid humour comic online, but in print it's a scarce commodity. Most published comic books that people consider funny are usually action... with some jokes. Or drama... with some jokes. Oh comic books. Your name implies mirth but your delivery is often far from it. Rarely do you come across a book written strictly for laughs, and even rarer is the specimen actually done well.

This brings me too the brilliant Hsu and Chan: Too Much Adventure by the equally brilliant Norm Scott. Imagine if you took the imagination and cartoony fun of Steamboat Willie and merged it with a hyperviolent Michael Bay style car chase. That's about the level of intensity that can be found in the pages of the average issue of Hsu and Chan.

Hsu and Chan Tanaka are brothers, video game developers, and all around miscreants that are often accompanied by their odd sidekicks Chernobyl (a radioactive chipmunk) Gila Mobster (a short, reptilian gangster) and Arnie the Ground Squirrel (who, self admittedly, looks like a Sonic the Hedgehog knockoff).

Hsu and Chan was originally published as one or two pages comics in Electronic Gaming Monthly. In a fun twist, the comic book and the EGM strips took place in the same continuity. Hsu's hand a chopped off and replaced by a robot claw in the comic. This change carried over into the EGM strips but was never actually explained. Later the Tanaka brothers made the jump to blog format at 1up.com, but they have since retired (in September of 2009). Scott's current online domicile is located at Spookingtons, which features an archive of Hsu and Chan and other comics done for the web.

Scott's panels are fairly wordy, but there's as much comedic energy coming out of his verbose dialog as there is in his art. Whatever mundane task the Tanaka brothers are currently engaged in, they will describe their exploits in a serious of disarmingly descriptive and sardonic monologues.

The book was extraordinary long lived for its genre. It's genre being a black and white independent humor book. The first issue was printed in January of 2003, and it was released quarterly that year. And then twice the next year. And then once in 2005. And then once again in 2009. I think issue number ten is due by 2037.

If you want to follow the adventures of the Tanaka brothers but don't want to go lurking through back-issue bins in seedy comic book stores, the first five issues of the comic are collected in a handy trade paperback.

My dream is that someday a Hsu and Chan omnibus collecting the entire comic books series, EGM strips, webcomics, and various online doodles that have since vanished into the cybernethers will see print. Until then, enjoy this picture of a car crashing into a helicopter.

Scans taken from Norm Scott's Hsu and Chan: Too Much Adventure

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Marvel Essentials Presents: Namor vs Daredevil

Today, let's look at the first Namor/Daredevil fight featured in Essential Daredevil Vol. 1.

The blind-but-not-really superhero Daredevil finds himself at odds with the super powered mutant Namor, the Sub-Mariner. For those not in the know, Daredevil's only super-power is that he has a radar-sense which lets him perfectly perceive his surroundings. He's also a super great acrobat and martial artist. Namor can fly, punch through walls, and has an entire underwater empire at his command. So what does a crafty tumbler do when faced with a top tier super-nobility?

So is “Namor by the ankles” the Marvel U equivalent of “tiger by the tail”? I hope so. I hope at some point Spider-Man fought Thanos and was sticking to his back where he couldn't reach and let out a big “I've certainly got this NAMOR by the ANKLES!” with an asterisk leading to a box that read “SEE DAREDEVIL ISSUE #7 MERRY MARVELONIANS! – SCRUPULOUS STAN”.

Daredevil jumps around for a bit longer until he's completely clocked by Namor. At which point, we learn that Daredevil had the right idea about going for the ankles. Only this time, he doesn't just go for the ankles...

...he goes for the heart. Namor likes Daredevil's spunk and decides to stop trashing New York and Daredevil goes back to pretending to be handicapped, if only for the sympathy and the parking spot. What a dick.

Illustrations from Essential Daredevil, Vol. 1 (Marvel Essentials)