The past week has been a very immersive and exciting experience in Amsterdam. Film fans, producers, directors, and journalists have all gathered in the confines of Amsterdam’s EYE Film Museum to celebrate and critique an array of films from the “fantastic film” genres (fantasy, sci-fi, horror, anime, etc.). In my previous article concerning Neil Jordan‘s Byzantium I promised you guys regular updates throughout the festival. Well, that didn’t culminate the way I had hoped (commuting back and forth from A’dam is surprisingly time consuming), but fear not–I have an oodle of reviews ready for you guys! I’ll give you the low down on my experience and cap off every day I sat in the EYE’s various screening rooms with a short review (with score) for each film I saw that day. If you’re ready for a super-sized helping of my experience at the Imagine Festival, buckle up because it’s going to be a fast and bumpy ride.
Tuesday, April 9, 2013
As mentioned before, I started my journey last Tuesday. I was lucky enough to score a spot in a masterclass and Q&A session with Neil Jordan and a screening of Byzantium directly following that. However, my day didn’t end there. Following Byzantium, the day was still young and I had two more films to go: Excision and Jurassic Park 3D. Technically the day ended up being a day of films I had already seen before, but for Excision it was my first time catching it in a cinema and for Jurassic Park it was the first time I had seen it in a cinema since 1993. How did they stack up on the big screen?
Excision is a quirky and stomach churning film directed by Richard Bates Jr. and starring: AnnaLynne McCord, Traci Lords, Ariel Winter, and Roger Bart. Excision‘s story is a “coming of age” tale concerning the dysfunctional family and school life of teenager Pauline (AnnaLynne McCord). Pauline isn’t like most girls her age. She doesn’t like to dress up and go on dates. Instead she studies to be a surgeon in the hopes of healing people like her sister, Grace (Ariel Winter), who suffers from cystic fibrosis. Oh and she has continuous wet dreams about self mutilation, sex while menstruating, and other things so vile you’ll need to see them for yourself. Pauline’s brash and oddball behavior gets under the skin of her mother, Phyllis (Traci Lords), which causes much tension and hilarity at home. Bates Jr. has concocted a very surreal, silly, and confronting film. The real horror of the film comes from Pauline’s twisted daydreams and culminates in a very real and very disturbing climax. The cast is solid all around, but this is certainly AnnaLynne McCord and Traci Lords’ show. McCord’s performance as the troubled teen is both off-the-wall and believable, while Traci Lord’s depiction of a prissy and proper mother at odds with her strange spawn is the film’s most powerful driving force. In fact, Lords’ performance got her the Best Actress award from 2012’s Fright Meter Awards. Unfortunately, despite some pretty solid performances throughout, the film’s slow burn and quirky tone take you out of the tension at points. Thus, when the blood starts flying it’s almost out of place within the film’s world. It’s only through the sporadic fantasies of Pauline that we are reminded of the darkness this film is trying to showcase. Take a bit of American Beauty, a smidge of The Addams Family & smother it all in blood, and you have Excision.
I’m going to keep this one nice and short. We know the film. We either loved it or couldn’t be bothered. Chances are: you love it. I know I sure did, and I still do. Thus, let us push aside the general aesthetics of this one and get to the question on everyone’s mind: what about the 3D? The 3D conversion presented in Jurassic Park 3D is quite admirable. For a post converted film you would almost think that some sequences were created with the medium in mind. Characters waltz throughout the various environments presented in the film as if the depth shown is the true field of depth they experienced on set. Interestingly enough the 3D actually manages to help the film’s primitive examples of CGI feel current and keeps them from being outdated. I need to note here that nothing except for the 3D conversion has been altered in the film. Graphics were not upgraded, colors weren’t enhanced, there wasn’t even an HD presentation of the film. This is exactly as we remember it from 1993, but with added layers of depth. So, when a stampede of dinos comes running at our characters, we are no longer thinking “that must have been a huge green screen they have behind them”. Instead we’re thinking “wow look how close things are to them…run!” The depth really added to some scenes, making it clear just how close the characters are in scale to particular dinos. There’s even one instance that managed to utilize the 3D effect to its optimum use (see it for yourself…you’ll find it). All in all, was it necessary? Of course not. Jurassic Park was and is a classic example of good and exciting film making. Did it benefit from the 3D? Yes it did. Jurassic Park 3D is a wonderful example of how post conversions could and should work in the future.
Film: 4.5/5–Conversion: 4/5
Wednesday, April 10, 2013
The next day of my little adventure was sadly a rather short one. Unfortunately, day-to-day responsibilities kept me from heading to the Big A until later in the evening. I managed to get one film in before heading home for more day-to-day responsibilities on Thursday. A good friend of mine had decided to hook me up with a belated birthday treat in the form of a ticket to catch Don Coscareli’s John Dies at the End! And what a treat it was!
John Dies at the End is the brainchild of internet madman and Cracked senior editor, David Wong (the pseudonym of comedy writer, Jason Pargin), whose novel has been painstakingly adapted for screen by the film’s director, Don Coscareli himself. If you’ve read the book, you’ll be aware of the logistical nightmare that would be adapting its narrative to fit an under 2 hour film screenplay. However, Coscareli did a commendable job in managing to pull off a fairly accurate (if a somewhat diluted version of the novel on screen. Meticulous care was put into adapting JDatE, which shows in how Coscareli kept pretty much 80% of the dialogue and narration verbatim from the book. I won’t outline the plot here (it’s too extensive and should frankly never be spoiled), but I will say that Wong’s novel is a complicated collection of scenarios that culminate into a greater whole. This was clearly the biggest–and most painful–hurdle to jump when putting the story to screen. Much of my favorite sequences were cut to allow a more coherent viewing experience and to fit the standard time frame of around 90 minutes. That said, nothing was truly lost in making a quality presentation of John Dies at the End. Fans of the book will have to lick their wounds due to omissions, but those who have never read the book are still presented with a wacky, crazy, and fun experience that celebrates the book’s tone well. Chase Williamson’s performance as David Wong himself is a brilliant driving force as “straight man” in a world of “What The Fuck?”. It was a bold undertaking, but due to some very evident TLC (no, not the singers) Don Coscareli managed to put together a film adaptation that seemed as impossible as the world it presents.
Friday, April 12, 2013
You may have noticed that I’ve skipped over Thursday. sadly I was unable to attend the festival on Thursday due to some home-side obligations that filled up my schedule. No matter, most of the films I was pumped to see on Thursday also came back later in the festival. On Friday I got myself a fairly early start and managed to catch three films: My Amityville Horror, The Tall Man, and a special screening of Warm Bodies with leading actor Nicholas Hoult there for a post-film Q&A. The day was certainly a mixed bag with my expectations being shattered by just about every film I saw…for good and bad. Read on for the down-low.
Contrary to how it may sound, My Amityville Horror is not yet another sequel to or remake of the 1979 classic film based on the Lutz family’s experience in Amityville, New York. Instead this is a documentary by Eric Walter that showcases one of the angles of the infamous story that has gone unheard until now: the angle of Danny Lutz. Danny Lutz is the eldest child of the Lutz family and has been harboring his deep traumas concerning the Amityville haunting for close to 35 years. As a grown man, he has finally decided to step in front of the cameras and present his side of the story. Unfortunately, I found it very difficult to be on any side that Danny Lutz was on. He has developed into a gruff, dramatic, and (frankly) unsympathetic individual. His approach to the story is both aggressive and showy…two things I am very allergic of in people. The way in which he recounts the events of the Amityville haunting manages to be more over-the-top and showy than even George and Kathy Lutz themselves had presented. Furthermore, the film adds very little to the Amityville mythos apart from Danny’s deep seeded hatred of George and his troubles as a developing boy at the time of the occurrences Any mention of the hauntings seem to come straight out of either the book or film versions of the story, but with the added anger and harsh language of Danny Lutz. I will say that despite sadly showcasing a very dislikable individual, Eric Walter has crafted a rather impressive documentary due to its technical aspects. The camera work is crisp and smooth, acting as Walters’ eye as he visually analyzes Danny’s behavior. Information is also presented in a nice way through the use of cassette recordings with particular bits of interview dialogue that keep everything connected. Still, despite the good ideas and best intentions of Walters, the documentary seems like a project gone wrong to a certain extent. It’s as if he had a different outcome in mind, but Danny Lutz’s personality could not have been predicted. I was really looking forward to this film, but it didn’t meet my expectations.
In 2008 a little French horror film by the name of Martyrs swept the horror community by storm with its excessively brutal approach to telling a rather eloquent and smart story. The film had the horror community foaming at the mouth for more. In 2012, director Pascal Laugier presented his first English-language film with The Tall Man. Curiosities ran high upon its release, but reviews were not near as glowing as with 2008’s little gem. What went wrong? Is it really so bad? I’d say: no it isn’t that bad at all. However, I can understand why the scoring has been rather low for most reviewers out there. The Tall Man is an example of someone’s debut being “too good”. Everything about it is pretty solid and very much falls into what made Martyrs a really great film. Laugier’s directoral style has not faltered or changed much in any way. Every scene is meticulously shot and moody with a level of grit that sets the tone perfectly. As with Martyrs, The Tall Man is bleak and emotional throughout. Jessica Biel is the film’s lead and did a pretty outstanding job in my opinion. She handled the layered nuances of her character with a sort of intensity and grace I hadn’t expected considering her past performances in the genre. Why then would people be so critical towards the film if so much went well? Although the movie, in most technical cases, is a very good movie, it suffers from a very slow and subtle plot which is rather transparent while also possessing a rather heavily moralistic tone. As black-and-white as it may seem, perhaps the biggest factor that gets the film criticized is that it’s not Martyrs. However, if you strip away expectations of an emotionally and visually brutal film in the vein of Martyrs there’s still a lot to like about The Tall Man.
If you were to take Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, cut them into pieces, and have them tell a few jokes: you’d have Jonathan Levine’s Warm Bodies. Now that combination might not sound very appealing, but the result is actually quite charming. The story is fairly simple: boy dies, boy resurrects boy meets girl, girl screams, boy falls in love, girl is dragged into a very strange and disturbing relationship. At its core Warm Bodies is a very sweet and quirky romantic comedy. Ok, so it has zombies in it, but that really is secondary to the film’s plot. If you go into the film expecting another Shaun of the Dead you’d be sadly mistaken. Instead it plays out more like a (rather good) romantic comedy with a bit more groaning and shuffling than usual. The dialogue is snappy, the scenarios possess an appropriate mix of zombie action and cute comedy, and the cast is fairly solid throughout. Leading man Nicholas Hoult steals the show as zombie, R. Hoult has gone on record saying that he decided not to blink throughout the entire shoot in order to add a level of deadness to the character. This was a pretty good call. Sadly, the way in which the film’s main development arises is rather unclear due to Hoult’s mannerisms not being quite zombie enough for me. If there had been a longer time of seeing Hoult as a shambling corpse instead of a cute and slightly odd type of zombie, I would have likely enjoyed the film more. That’s not to say it’s not enjoyable. The camera work is nicely done, the soundtrack is top notch, and the humor is solid. I just prefer more Zom than Rom in my Com.
Saturday, April 13, 2013
Saturday was the big day for me. I had been waiting in anticipation of that night for at least 4 months. Every year on the Saturday night of the Imagine Festival one of the oldest theaters in the Netherlands (Pathe Tuschinski) hosts the Night of Terror. Four films, one night, lots of shouting. The whole purpose of the event is to check out some of the most anticipated horror films with a massive crowd of around 500 people…and shout horrible obscenities at the screen. Those creative souls who think up the best comments during a scene get the grand prize of applause and admiration from their peers.This is my second time at the event, and hopes were high after experiencing a fantastic run last year. Did this year deliver? Well here’s my review of three of the four films of the night (last film was at 6:00 am…no thank you) and their annual Scream Queen contest:
Irish gore fest and clown fetish film, Stitches started the night off at around midnight. The audience was in full swing, shouting vile adjectives at one another. Then, the room went dark and the curtains pulled back revealing a grand white screen. For the next two hours I relied on Dutch subtitles at the bottom of the screen to understand what was going on, because instead of shouting things at well timed situations the crowd decided to just shout any and every curse word they had in their arsenal throughout the entire film. Don’t worry, though. That didn’t really take away from the film much. Unfortunately, that’s not due to the film being so good it worked without audio. On the contrary. Stitches is a downright mess of a movie. The camera work was poor all around, the acting wavered between laughably bad and boring, and the effects came across like test videos. There was very little care or heart put into the film and frankly, there were hardly any honestly humorous moments to speak of. Stitches had a lot of potential, but it failed to use any of it. It’s a sad state of affairs when your flimsy “teenage hormones drama” plot is more interesting than your horror film. Perhaps my tastes are just different than the majority. I’ve heard good things about Stitches. Sadly I didn’t find any of them in my screening.
Scream Queen contest
After Stitches rounded off and left quite a few of us frustrated for something better, the crowd was given a nice break for toilet and concession stand visits. They were also given the opportunity to sign up for and participate in the Scream Queen contest. The contest, named in such a way as it was previously exclusive to the female members (that is no longer the case), is very simple to be a part of. You need to jump on stage, act startled by the presence of some evil force, scream, and die. You can be as over the top or subtle as you like. As long as you stick by those three guidelines, you have a chance of winning some awesome DVD sets (David Lynch collection this year!). Well, somehow this year’s audience managed to not understand those simple guidelines. The performances went from bad to worse, with every guy that participated ending up either showing off their death metal grunts or simply standing on the stage like a golden god. That’s right, there were many small penises in the room. The three eventual winners–to their credit–actually followed the rules. Unfortunately, even the winning performance was mediocre and would warrant a third place award at best normally. Alas, better luck next year.
Before diving into this one, I need to say that (apart from the crazy ending) I quite liked the first Last Exorcism quite a bit. The found footage angle was implemented fairly well with a rather original protagonist. The format really added something to the story. Sadly I think it would have helped Part II as well. The film follows the development of Nell (Ashley Bell)–the possessed girl from the first film–as she copes with the events of the first film. The idea has been done countless of times with horror movie sequels where the villain survives. For a while it seems everything will be OK and that God has finally reentered Nell’s life. Naturally, things go horribly wrong and Nell slips back into very familiar patterns. The Last Exorcism Part II isn’t a terrible film, but it’s really not a commendable one either. Filled with stereotypical horror tropes and relying primarily on jump scares the film just seems to go through the motions. In fact, as I caught this one at around 2:00 am, I found myself easily nodding off and not startling awake during the jump scares. They were ineffective and just loud. Still, the camera work is rather pristine with deep blacks and raging colors during more intense sequences. Although I wouldn’t suggest this film to anyone, I certainly wouldn’t tell anyone to avoid it. Just avoid seeing it at 2:00 am in a room with bloodthirsty horror fiends who–for the second time that night–failed to get their fix.
The audience disbanded for the second time that night in order to freshen up, wake up, and man up for the next presentation. Finally it was time to unveil the pulsing and maggot covered gem: Fede Alvarez’s Evil Dead remake. Anticipation ran high and the energy through the audience surged. I was near the point of bouncing in my seat, as this was the film that got my ass in there for this year’s event to begin with. Again our host stepped on the stage to announce the film with a special surprise beforehand: a personal Tweet from “the Chin” himself, Bruce Campbell. When asked if he had anything he wanted to say to the Amsterdam audience, his response was, “I hope they enjoy the film as much as I enjoyed that city!” After a resounding roar from the audience, the curtains pulled back…and the nightmare began. And what a wonderfully delicious nightmare it was. This is not the Deadite film you remember, and yet there’s an inkling of the original winked and nodded at throughout. The slapstick has been replaced with over-the-top gore and brutal Deadite tongue lashings. Jane Levy’s performance as possessed Mia is nothing short of “Evil”. Her shrieks, laughter, and verbal assault added a wonderful onslaught of punishment throughout the already gruesome events. If ever there were a film that was designed as a right of passage for horror gore fans, this is it. I’ve seen dismemberment in as many ways as my imagination allows and I still had trouble keeping my eyes on the screen at times. Alvarez’s promise of lingering just a little too long on the pain is delivered in spades. Right when you get uncomfortable with the image it simply shows you the carnage from a different angle. For those who prefer the lighter side of the original franchise and need a massive dose of Chin, this one won’t please you. Frankly, you’ll never be pleased in that regard. This is clearly a completely different take on a familiar idea, and in my opinion it’s a very admirable take. Everyone in the audience ended roaring and applauding seemingly every few minutes. Also, it warranted the highlight comment of the night upon some amazing dismemberment, “Oh come on…she’s unarmed!” If you can get passed the Remake Blues, Evil Dead is a joy of horror brutality to behold.
Unfortunately I was in the process of becoming a zombie in the same fashion of Warm Bodies‘ R by the time the fourth film, Sawney: Flesh of Man began. So, I made my way home with a smile and new found energy. With a pep in my step, I stepped into the shadows of the early morning to rest for more movie madness on Monday.
Monday, April 15, 2012
Sunday seems like a strange blur to me as I spent most of the day sleeping off the Night of Terror. Luckily most of the films that day were either repeats from earlier in the week or were to be repeated on Monday. On Monday I hopped back into the train, got on a ferry, and went to the EYE one final time before normal life would grab me by the throat once again. My last day was a very conflicting day full of surprises and let downs. As was standard for me this whole festival, I managed to catch three films–including a surprise film no one could have predicted.
I had heard about this little film since it first premiered earlier during the festival. For a good three days it was at the top of the festival’s public award–titled the Silver Scream Award. With one last screening available, I just had to see if it was worth the praise…plus I was bitter that Byzantium was nowhere near the top of the light anymore. Well color me pleasantly surprised when I sat down and had a blast for the next 88 minutes. Ghost Graduation is a fun slice of Spanish cinema that hearkens back to 80s comedy aesthetics. The film revolves around Modesto (Raúl Arévalo), a high school teacher with a very familiar ability–he can see ghosts. After being fired from 7 schools for just being plain too weird, Modesto applies for a school that will change his life forever. The school is inhabited by the spirits of a rag-tag group of students who died during a dance in 80s. From there on the film jumps into wonderful 80s comedy territory. I felt a deep nostalgia bringing me back to old John Hughes films. In fact, there were even some direct references to The Breakfast Club that were really nice to see. The humor was great and quirky throughout, as well. Add to that a strong 80s-centric soundtrack and the fact that my screening was presented in good old fashioned 35mm, and you have a great piece of retro film that pokes fun at and celebrates the time period with joy.
Here’s another one I was really looking forward to. Not only am I fan of quite a few of the directors that made a short for ABC’s, but I had the pleasure of working with one of the actresses, Lucy Clements, over the course of summer 2012. Thankfully, with the exception of one short, my expectations from my favorite directors and my colleague worked out well. Unfortunately, they were among a very few that managed to do so. The major issue I had with ABC’s was there seemed to be no real guidance or purpose outside of the film’s title. Yes there were 26 shorts by 26 directors, and yes they all represented how one could die according to the alphabet. Sadly a lot of directors took the micro-budget of $5,000 as meaning “indie” or “basic”. Even Ti West managed to present a very unattractive and uninteresting short that should not have taken up the entire budget, which pains me because West is one of my current favorites in the horror genre. The shorts that stood out for me were D, I, S, and Q. I won’t spoil what the letters stand for, because they give away the plot of the short a bit. With perhaps some proper focus on a coherent connection between the shorts and some regulations on how the films should be presented ABC’s would have been as grand as we had all hoped. Shame that didn’t happen, though.
Every year at Imagine they host a very special screening of a surprise, one-time-only film. This year there was a lot of speculation as to what it could be. I was hoping for a special presentation of either Stoker or The Lords of Salem. My brain was shattered and spirits dropped when they announced on the Facebook page that the film was a comic book adaptation. This got speculations running higher than ever. Was it Iron Man 3? Kick-Ass 2? Man of Steel? What could it be? Well, when we were handed some 3D glasses upon entering the cinema it narrowed down our list. And yet, still no one could have seen the eventual reveal coming.
Wait what? That was what everyone in the cinema thought as well. You see, Hellbenders is based off of a graphic novel by J.T. Petty…who also wrote and directed the film. OK, so we were tossed a rather wide curve-ball here. Was it worth it? I’m not exactly sure, to be honest. On the one hand it had the audience chortling quite often with its snappy dialogue and outrageous situations. On the other hand it was needlessly presented in 3D (not a single moment called for the format) and the acting was all over the place. The idea is simple and amusing enough: a particular parish of the Catholic Church (the Augustine Interfaith Order of Hellbound Saints) is decreed with the task of sinning as much as possible in order to have a special back up plan against powerful demons. If the demons cannot be banished, they allow their impure souls to be possessed by the them and commit suicide to send both souls straight back to Hell. The premise allows for some great chains of curse words and perverse original sins to be created. Sadly it doesn’t all add up very well. The effects are “OK”, but the camera work comes across rather amateur, as does a lot of the acting. The story is also pumped full of back story that works in a graphic novel, but really weighs down a film like this. At the end of the day, the horror elements could have been stronger and the gags funnier. The film kept weakly balancing between melodrama and dark comedy. One or the other would have been nice, but not both. Like most films in its position, Hellbenders houses a good idea but fails to present it in a satisfactory way.
And there you have it! That was a full recap of my Amsterdam adventure into the Imagine nation. I saw a whole buttload of films. Some I loved, others I loathed. There were still many more I would have liked to have seen–namely the remake of Maniac and Kiss of the Damned. Despite the set backs experienced during the festival I still find myself sad that it is all over and I can’t wait for the spring of 2014 to roll around to get a good look at what they have to offer.