31 May 2007

Steve & Margaret & Clive & Chuck

It's less than a week until Stephen King's first official Toronto appearance, and the event is getting better and better: next Friday's "Lifetime Achievement Award" gala at The Metro Convention Centre (on behalf of The Canadian Booksellers Association) will feature a handful of guests who are each worthy of a solo tribute of their own.

CanLit icon Margaret Atwood (who despite her hi-toned pedigree, knows a thing or two about writing fantasy and suspense herself), and British horror scribe (and filmmaker and artist) Clive Barker will pay their respective kudos to King, and the evening will be MC'd by one of my favorite pop culture critics, Chuck Klosterman (whose "Fargo Rock City" and "Sex Drugs And Cocoa Puffs" you should all go out and purchase right now, whose witty treatise on the visionary lyrics of Rush's "Spirit Of Radio" is the highlight of this month's Esquire).

Tickets are still on sale here. And here's more information on the Booked "Between The Covers" readers festival, which runs June 7-9 in conjunction with Luminato.

30 May 2007

Aronofsky Promises A "Fountain" Of Extras--If You Want 'Em...

I can't say enough about "The Fountain", which is a demanding film for some but a work of passion, artistry, and imagination the likes of which are rarely seen. The DVD just came out, and while the extras are intriguing, I thought it was odd that director Darren Aronofsky failed to record a commentary track as he did for his debut "Pi" and followup "Requiem For A Dream" (Aronofsky is that rare filmmaker whose commentaries are actually thoughtful and informative).

Well, turns he wanted to do one, but had problems convincing the studio. Cinematical reported today that on his MySpace page, Aronofsky has announced he'll be recording a track and making it available for freebie download soon.

He also urges fans to write the folks at Criterion to persuade them into investing in a proper special edition DVD: "i (sic) got a lot of extras in my bag so who know maybe if you all write to criterion they'll get interested."
You can write them at mulvaney@criterion.com.

29 May 2007

"Life Of Brian" Musical Debuts In Toronto

I'm not much of one for paying big bucks to see movies recreated as stage plays ("Legally Blonde: The Musical"--really!?)--an idea I find only slightly less offensive than three hours of live ABBA covers--but Eric Idle's Tony-Award winning/now-playing-just-about-everywhere "Spamalot" was a complete hoot for this long-time, hopelessly-devoted Pythonphile.
Idle's followed it up with a riff on 1979's controversial "Life Of Brian" and Torontonians are getting it first!

"Not The Messiah (He's A Very Naughty Boy)" is described as a 50-minute oratorio, written by Idle and "Spamalot" collaborator John Du Prez. There's a family connection, too: The Toronto Symphony Orchestra's music director, Peter Oundjian, is Idle's cousin. Idle promises "it will be funnier than Handel, although probably not as good." Too bad they already used LOB's signature song, "Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life", in their last hit.

It's part of the Luminato Arts Festival which runs in Toronto from June 1-10. While many of the events are free events, Idle's is not (he didn't title his last book "The Greedy Bastard Tour" for nothing). The show will be performed only four times between June 1-4 at Roy Thompson Hall, and tickets can be purchased here.

28 May 2007

Roth Plans "Trailer Trash"

Those with the good taste to have attended "Grindhouse" during its too-brief theatrical run (all 14 of us) will revel in the news that while Eli Roth (seen here with the notorious Takashi Miike may have a wee bit of a problem realizing his dream of doing "Grindhouse 2" with "Shawn Of The Dead" director Edgar Wright--now that Harvey Weinsten has all but washed his hands of whatever potential franchise he had--he's planning his own goofy omnibus which will feature nothing but faux sneak peaks: "Trailer Trash".

Roth told Time Out London: "There was a great response to my "Grindhouse" trailer 'Thanksgiving' and it's the most fun I've ever had shooting. I've spoken to other directors like Robert Rodriguez and Edgar Wright and they're all going to get involved and do trailers. I want to do a film like a Monty Python movie or 'Borat' or 'Jackass' – just totally silly completely ridiculous and fun and over-the-top."

Good news that Wright is interested, as his faux preview "Don't" was arguably the film's highlight. His current reteaming with Simon Pegg, "Hot Fuzz", is also brilliantly inventive.

Roth's going to helm his adaptation of Stephen King's "Cell" first, though, unless he squeezes in the "Trailer Trash" shoot during production down-time, as he did with his contribution to "Grindhouse" while shooting "Hostel 2" (due this month) in Prague (which stood in for Massachussetts, complete with homicidal pilgrim!).

(thanks to Cinematical for the original post)

26 May 2007

Stop Griping About Sequels!

The summer movie season officially kicked off this very Memorial Day weekend, and you know what that brings: three full months of critical whining about sequels and budgets and the end of cinema as an art form--again (considering I was first made aware of the medium's death rattle around the December 1979 release of Spielberg's "1941", thanks to a "Year In Review" edition of Time Magazine in my optometrist's waiting room, it's been privileged with the most drawn-out demise since Jimmy Smits' on "NYPD Blue"). How appropriate that it's the 30th anniversary of the film everyone blames for the fact that we don't have a new "Mean Streets" or "The Deer Hunter" every weekend...

"Part 2"s and "Next Chapter"s, contrary to the collective lament of aging boomer reviewers, are hardly a recent, post-Lucasfilm invention (prequels on the other hand, are another story, although you can't blame Georgie for "Butch And Sundance: The Early Days") to indicate what is constantly trotted out as evidence of the dearth of creative ideas in La-La Land every g*damned third Friday in May.

When D.W. Griffith scored his first hit with 1915's controversial ode-to-the-Klan "Birth Of A Nation", the followup "Fall Of A Nation" came just a year later. There were 27 (!)"Blondie" entries produced between 1938 and 1950. "The Thin Man" romps had 6 installments in less 10 years. Yet despite the proliferation of such obvious mammon-fueled hackwork (such as we're conditioned to regard such fare), the motion picture managed to endure to give us the likes of "On The Waterfront", "Vertigo", "Dr. Strangelove", "Network", and "Memento". Truffaut made sequels, so did Bergman and Kurosawa. Before film even existed, Shakespeare, Jane Austen, and William Makepeace Thackery wrote 'em, too.

Look, I'm not here to defend the artistic merit of "The Whole Ten Yards" or "Speed 2" or "Beverly Hills Cop 3" or god help us, "Superman 4: The Quest For Peace"--but if the pundits want me to concede that too many Hollywood productions are governed by formulas and rote thinking (like that's news), then they'll have to admit that the same is true of what passes for insightful film criticism and analysis these days. I've all but given up on reading the Friday sections--column after column devoted to trashing the weekend's major release and overpraising the latest fashionable arthouse-darling-du jour--maybe instead of the blithe dismissal and the indignant sniff of an old grump who's losing touch with popular culture, they should attempt to evaluate these followups in a context of something other than box office returns and that fact that Robert Altman isn't around to do those long single takes anymore.

Sequels are not automatically "bad"--they only seem that way to those who insist on defining them by their worst possible example, and yes, there are many. The merits of "The Empire Strikes Back", "The Godfather 2", and "Aliens" have been well-argued--suffice to say I'm in agreement. I'd gladly sit through the overlong but dazzling and sweet-souled "Spider-Man 3" again before having to re-experience even five minutes of the shrill and laughably overwrought "importance" of "Babel" any day. And the recent "28 Weeks Later" is, IMHO, an instant horror classic that stands completely on its own and in many ways eclipses its predecessor in terms of its scope, intensity, and timely Bush/Blair-era allegory.

David Bordwell, Professor of Film Studies at the University Of Wisconsin-Madison and the co-author of "Film Art" and "The Poetics Of Cinema", leads a well-armed round-table debate here.

25 May 2007


Incredibly, the original "Star Wars"—yeah, yeah technically it's the fourth installment but the first produced all right?—is 30 years old today (that makes me--well, let's just say I’m limping dangerously close to what a certain Correllian smuggler would term an “old fossil”…). It's since become such a phenomenon that few will remember that once-upon-a-time in a not-so-far away Hollywood, California, young filmmaker George Lucas, fresh from his surprise success with "American Graffiti", couldn't give away his ambitious space-opera, until he won over Alan Ladd, Jr., the head of 20th Century Fox who put up the relatively modest $7.5M (which ballooned to about $11M)and let Lucas keep the merchandising rights, figuring he'd be lucky to get a kiddie matinee hit out of it--something to run on double bills with “Jack The Giant Killer” and vintage Three Stooges shorts perhaps--if nothing else.

This story of “a boy, a girl, and a universe” opened on just 2 screens and expanded to 43 within a week (to compare, "Spider-Man 3" recently opened on 4,000) to surprisingly positive critical notices (go back and read 'em--the pundits turned on it when it became a smash) and to everyone's surprise (and Ladd's delight, suffice to say), became an immediate word-of-mouth hit that spawned more prints, repeat viewings, and annual re-releases and landed it at the top of the list of all-time box office hits, dethroning "Jaws" and "The Godfather". It was even nominated for 7 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Screenplay, and Best Director--unheard of today--losing (not entirely undeservingly, sez my inner more adult sensibility, but yeah, it was robbed) to Woody Allen's Annie Hall.

In my hometown of Pembroke, Ontario, there were only two movie theatres and neither of them qualified as "first run". Usually, a new release had to play out its run in nearby nation's-capital Ottawa first, then we'd get the broken, emulsion-scratched print for maybe a couple of days--most films didn't play the town of 12,000 people for even a week. By the time "Star Wars" made it to the Centre Theatre (most big ticket studio releases played The O'Brien as a single feature, so that it ended up at the sleazier double-bill grindhouse was a rare thing), it was October of 1977, and I'd already read the Alan Dean Foster novel (credited to Lucas), owned the Marvel Comics adaptation with art by the great Howard Chaykin (before someone at the Bullpen thought they’d expand the saga by adding a green, humanoid bunny), worn out the vinyl soundtrack LP, and memorized every Starlog article going back a year. I even kept a scrapbook of reviews and clippings, mostly consisting of the serialized novelization the since-defunct Ottawa Journal ran in its Arts & Entertainment section. The Centre would allow you to sit through a movie twice for a single admission, so I went every night for the seven days it ran, and again each summer that it was re-issued (with cooler poster art) until its first official sequel came along and eclipsed it. The trailer attached to the print was for Paul Mazursky’s “An Unmarried Woman”—thanks to the theatre’s bad audio, I couldn’t figure out a single word Alan Bates said (y’know I’ve never seen the film—does it all work out for Jill?).

Unlike some, I can't say that "Star Wars" single-handedly turned me on to filmmaking--I was already an obsessive movie buff and a budding auteur (thanks to one of my teachers, who arranged to videotape a play I'd written)--but what it did unlike any other film I'd seen up until then was cement the idea in me (and legions of others) that anything I could imagine could be put on screen with a degree of realism and seriousness unlike most of what passed for genre filmmaking in those days ("Planet Of The Apes", "2001", and the original "Star Trek" were too-rare exceptions). That someone else out there got it. That millions of people, most of them not committed sci-fi fans, would line up to see it. More than once.

Still, it was hard to find anyone at the time who would admit to liking it, let alone having seen it at all. Most seemed to be "dragged" to it (the same people, presumably, who didn’t buy “Thriller”, reportedly still the number one album of all time). My teachers were--quelle surprise--damning and derisive--it took a good decade before the educational establishment woke up to its powerful and highly educational mythic undercurrents. To admit to being a fan was then--much as it is now--an exposing of one's "geek" status in an era where people flocked to see not "Nashville" or "The Conversation" (sorry Mr. Biskind), but impersonal hackwork like "Smokey And The Bandit" and "Airport '75". Still, "Star Wars" helped to legitimize science-fiction--just a little bit.

Most of all, Lucas made the story of its production readily available, with then unheard-of backstage access, so that when we read of his modest (Modesto?) background and his childhood obsessions with serials and pulps and his education at USC's film program, kids like me who were scratching Super-8 emulsion to fake laser beams felt like we actually had a shot at the big screen.

It's hard to convince a younger generation today just how ground-breaking and significant "Star Wars" was that summer--I can only imagine that The Beatles on Ed Sullivan or perhaps hearing the first line of sync-sound dialogue in "The Jazz Singer" would be the equivalent sensations. Inevitably, anything that mutates into such a touchstone of global popular culture becomes blithely dismissed as kitsch and while "Star Wars" has spawned too-many asinine imitations, dubious digital "improvements", long-overdue prequels of debatable value (I find them redundant, but still decent flicks taken on their own terms)--and, oh yeah, that abominable 1978 Thanksgiving Special that nearly destroyed my childhood--I'm still in awe of that first entry's giddy invention, superb plotting and pacing, subversive message (what we have here is a pro-terrorism manifesto, but I'll leave that sort of thing to "Clerks"), and above all, 100% analog-driven heart and soul--which will shock the killjoys and the Cahier Du Cinema flunkies to admit was the main reason daydreamers like me lined up to see this damned thing again and again in the first place.

(Gotta say though, the climactic trench battle is still probably the greatest aerial combat sequence ever realized on film—garbage mattes and all.)

It's probably a little too tidy to suggest that I saw something of myself in farm boy Luke's longing to flee his oppressive homestead and travel the stars--if anything, I was much more taken with the mystical grace of Obi-Wan and the bemused bravado of wily Han Solo. Unfortunately, the version I'll be watching tonight has him not shooting Greedo first--I just couldn't bring myself to pony up the dough to buy the original theatrical version on DVD...after Super 8 and VHS (at least three times) and CED disc and Laserdisc (a $250 boxed set) and already one DVD boxed set, you've made enough money off of me, George...so adult Robert will wait for the Blu-Ray, or the 3D version you’ve apparently promised.

But next time, will you fix Carrie Fisher’s British accent?

24 May 2007

RIP Uncle Bobby

Bobby Ash, aka Canadian TV personality "Uncle Bobby", passed away this week at the age of 82 at his home in Elliot Lake, Ontario. Those of you "of a certain age" will know who I'm talking about--anyone born after the release of "Jaws" will probably shake their heads in disbelief and thank the living heavens that they were born into the age of Nintendo, Treehouse TV, and RCA's Capacitance Electronic Disc (okay, the last one's pushing it...).

"The Uncle Bobby Show" was produced at Toronto's CFTO Studios and had a good long run from 1964 to 1979. Ash, originally from the UK, presided over a crew of colourful regulars who included "Bimbo The Birthday Clown" (a puppet), Traffic Officer John (not a puppet), "The Ventriloquist" (he had a puppet), and the national icon Elmer The Safety Elephant. The show was later retitled "Uncle Bobby and Friends" and then syndicated as "Kid's Corner" once Ash retired to write childrens' books (he didn't make much money from the show--reportedly, he drove a school bus in Scarborough at the height of the show's popularity!).

It always seemed to me that Uncle Bobby hated kids (he nicknamed them "Bobbysoxers"), but by all accounts he adored them--even so, Macleans Magazine called him "avuncular without being condescending."

In the dark ages before cable TV, the Internet, and the glory that is Rockstar Games, "Uncle Bobby" was part of my regular Saturday morning diet, and most of my initial impressions of Toronto--where I now make my overpriced home--were formed by his show. Shot-on-film tours of a donut factory, a frolic in the playground, a trip to the zoo (likely Bowmanville)--typically shot in the worst part of "Farch" (Feb/March) where the city never looks more slush-sodden, grey-brown, and ugly.

I hadn't seen "Uncle Bobby" in a good long time until my senior year at York University, where I discovered that CHCH would begin its programming day with a double-shot of "Bobby" and the immortal "Hammy Hamster Show". I'd often harness the energy to stay up all night to re-experience my misspent childhood and then turn in, classes be damned, frightened for my future.

Here's a fun photo site compiled by a loyal fan from Buffalo, NY.

Pretty Sure It Isn't Paulo & Nikki's Biodex..

Ignore the naysayers, the "plausibles", the knee-jerks, and the basic jerks--"Lost" still rocks, as evidenced by last night's amazing season ender, where past, present, and (a possible) future collided, a major character bought the farm (although we were warned!), and our loyalties shifted with Ben and The Others for about the 499th time. And the reward for our loyalty? We've gotta wait almost another full year for the next season--but at least Abrams, Lindeloff, Cuse, and co. have been assured a proper ending by the network. Until then, here's a frame grab of the newspaper clipping that sent Future Jack on his suicidal bender--something to tide us over until "Lost" returns and Walt grows another six inches...

And check out this Salon article someone who "gets" it:

"I am equally unsympathetic to the complaint that the show's plot -- proudly loopy since the first episode -- has become too byzantine. This is like complaining that "Bleak House" is too long, or "Scarface" too violent. The creators of "Lost" are consciously, and comically, taking the conspiracy genre to an absurd extreme."

Check out the whole article here.

22 May 2007

"Rituals": The 30th Anniversary Screening

In honour of the 30th anniversary of the too little-seen Canadian thriller Rituals, Rue Morgue Magazine hosted a special screening at The Bloor Cinema featuring a 35mm print courtesy of the film's co-star and producer, journeyman actor-director and genre vet Lawrence Dane. Although unfairly labeled (and, initially, dismissed) as "The Canadian Deliverance", this alternately harrowing and meditative 1977 entry into the Me-decade’s “rural horror” subgenre (spawned by the seminal American classics The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes, and yes, John Boorman’s more prestigious iconic drama) is miles above the standard tax-sheltered spawned, Hollywood North wannabee. To my surprise (and relief, since I was a fan of the film as a kid and have often sung its praises), it's aged remarkably well, not that the print itself was any indication (while cleaned up by Deluxe, it looked and sounded like it was put through Robert Rodriguez' Grindhouse process...more than once...).

After enduring the unfortunate warm-up act--something called "Cloven Path Ministries"—a modest crowd were warmly greeted by Dane who announced that additional members of the cast and crew were present and would be available for a post-screening Q&A.

And then the film: After some disarmingly pastoral credits, we meet five doctors, all Korean War vets, who have rendezvoused in Northern Ontario for some pre-Iron John male-bonding. They’re flown to a remote location the natives call The Cauldron of the Moon. Magical or not, it’s definitely remote ("225 miles from the nearest cathouse- that river is in the middle of the cauldron and the cauldron is in the middle of nowhere") and accessible only by air. The first night’s campfire brings personal demons into the light: Harry (Hal Holbrook) and Mitzi (Dane) are haunted by unspecified compromises to medical ethics during their careers which have driven them to booze and self-loathing as they approach middle-age. Martin (Robin Gammell) is recovering from a nervous breakdown and a series of failed homosexual relationships. Fortunately, his brother DJ (Gary Reineke) and the quiet Abel (Ken James) are better grounded and bring some much-needed levity to what is to be another annual week-long adventure.

The men awake in the morning to find that their boots have been stolen. DJ is furious that the others didn’t plan for such emergencies and volunteers to venture alone up river to a hydroelectric station to call for pick-up. Those remaining become aware that they’re being watched by someone, who taunts them with a severed deer head, then ups the ante by tossing a beehive into their path, causing Abel to trip and drown. Following DJ’s path, the trio attempts to cross a shallow river, only to find it lined with animal traps. Martin’s leg is nearly severed and he soon sinks into shock. Mitzi insists that he be left behind for later rescue, but Harry won’t have it. They “float” him down the river by on a makeshift stretcher, overcoming rapids, hunger, and exhaustion. Their mental states deteriorate with Mitzi growing more bitter and paranoid and Harry oblivious to the elements and obsessed with saving Martin’s life at any cost. When the men make camp on a barren wasteland ravage by fire, they wake up to find their tormenter has mounted Abel’s head on a stick. A military x-ray has been left for them. (“What butcher did this?” Harry wonders aloud). A war medal has been left on Martin’s chest.

Hope vanishes when they come upon a derelict hydroelectric station, which has been abandoned for some time. They’ve been left another cruel tableau: a ravaged DJ nailed to a chair but amazingly, alive—barely. Harry chokes him to death in what he feels is an act of “mercy”, which horrifies Mitzi. Harry abandons Martin and begins to add up the evidence: x-rays, service medals, army discharge documents…could Martin be right? Is this some ludicrously extreme moral test?

Harry hides out in a filthy cabin, and finds the stolen boots under the bed. A shambling hermit (Jack Creley) enters and during the struggle slashes Harry’s leg. Harry finds that he’s not only old and feeble but blind and clearly not their stalker. “Jesse” confesses that it’s his brother “Matthew” who’s been following them (“I tried to stop him…I tried. It's not safe for you here. My brother's not the same as us anymore...”). Harry uncovers some more personal items and concocts a history: Matthew Crowley is a WW2 veteran who was injured during the Pacific campaign war and subjected to a botched operation that left him physically and psychologically scarred and hateful of the medical profession.

Mitzi calls out from the woods. He’s been strung up from a tree and pleads for Harry’s help. But Harry struggles with his hemorrhaging leg wound, which he improvises to cauterize with gunpowder. Buying time for Mitzi and his makeshift procedure by attempting to bargain with Matthew, he’s able to stop the blood flow, but unable to save his friend. Matthew sets him on fire, and then moves towards the cabin for his final kill. Unmoved by Matthew’s pitiful disfigurement, Harry coldly blows him away with the shotgun. He eventually makes it to country highway where he sits to face dawn and an uncertain future.

After such a bleak and nihilistic film, the evening took on an unexpectedly sweet, familial flavour as Dane was joined onstage by screenwriter Ian Sutherland, co-star Ken James, production designer Karen Bromley, the actress briefly glimpsed as the waitress in the opening scene (the film's only female role other than the inflatable love doll), and director Peter Carter's wife. Regrettably, UK-born Carter died many years ago at the age of 48, shortly after the release of High Point (co-written by Sutherland), in which stuntman Dar Robinson famously parachuted off the CN Tower. Carter's most acclaimed film was CanCon classic The Rowdyman with Gordon Pinsent (which Dane also produced).

Dane discussed the genesis of the project: he received Sutherland's script through a producer who was a mutual friend. At first, no one was interested in financing the property in the least, least of all Telefilm Canada ("Let's face it" he said "They don't know what the f*ck they're doing!"). Dane set up the approx. $600,000 budget and after an aborted first attempt, the film was shot (with what Dane admits was more of a "completion agreement" than a completion bond) in Lake Superior’s Batchawana Bay in Northern Ontario's Sault Ste. Marie (where the film would later debut at the Soo’s Algoma Theatre).

Dane was originally set to play the lead, but when the financiers insisted on a "name" in the cast, Dane took on the supporting role of Mitzy. Hal Holbrook was cast and being a native Californian, was enchanted by the bugs and the exotic terrain. By all accounts he was friendly, but professional and a tad “remote”.

As well, Rick Baker was to due the makeup effects but was unavailable by the film relaunched. So Carl Fullerton, a Baker protégé, took over latex duties—Fullerton would go on to become one of Hollywood’s most in-demand makeup artists with credits including the Goodfellas, FX, The Silence Of The Lambs, and appropriately, the Friday The 13th sequels.

Dane admitted he hadn’t seen the film in ages and was impressed by vivid characterizations and subtle, atypical (for the genre) score by Hagood Hardy (who scored a top 10 Canadian hit with his piano instrumental "The Homecoming"), and the surrealistic vistas that were often ready-made by nature for the capable lens of DOP Rene Verzier.

On the latter subject, Dane confirmed the lab ruined some of the negative, resulting in the poor print quality in the night time scenes, esp. the climactic sequence in Jesse's cabin. Dramatically, he felt still works (ditto that), heightening the suspense and the sense of the unknown. Dane admitted that today's technology could probably help fix some of the image problems, but the rights are a mess, which is why Rituals is still not available on DVD, nor will be any time soon. He believes “a distributor in the US” owns the film right now, but for some reason, is just sitting on the property, despite raves from Stephen King (who spoke fondly of it in his "Danse Macabre") and remake interest from Sasha Stallone (yes, Sly’s son—Dane jokingly offered to play the pilot). So for now, Rituals is available only as a rare TV offering (usually cut, but Canada’s “Scream” channel’s print is intact), or as a European import DVD where it's known by its unfortunate U.S. re-release title The Creeper.

The film did “well” as far as Dane could remember, with critics non-too-surprisingly panning it because of its genre. Siskel And Ebert labeled it their "dog of the week" on their early PBS series—in the midst of their campaign throughout the 80s decade to vilify horror as an insidious artistic and social menace (interesting that for all of the duo's hue and cry over horror's inherent "misogyny", Rituals victims are all men).

Screenwriter Sutherland insisted that his script was inspired not by Deliverance, but by a two week canoe/camping trip he took through Northern Ontario with a friend--"which can change you a lot". He thought of using doctors as his characters because he felt they were amongst "the most civilized" type of person, given their enormous responsibilities, and it would be dramatic to see them driven to their basest survivalist instincts. Originally, his characters were intended to be much younger, but he had to rewrite very little of the dialogue for the middle-aged cast.

He was applauded for including an openly-gay character in a genre effort, and for its non-exploitive inclusion, other than through a casual line of dialogue by sympathetic Marty he laments on his life and drinks a little too much during their first evening around the campfire. Unlike Deliverance with its up-front fear of homosexual rape, here the male friends are unfazed by their friend’s lifestyle, which must’ve been a pretty daring thing in a pre-Will And Grace 1977 (much like the lead actor of Night Of The Living Dead being black but otherwise colourless in his character function—just another reason why I’ve long defended the unprestigious and woefully misunderstood horror genre as the most progressive in film).

Sutherland recalled that he and then-art director Bromley researched WW2 veterans who were tortured and imprisoned in Hong Kong. As the night went on and the drinks flowed, the vets became more candid about their horrifying ordeals, often making blackly humorous jokes. That being said, he never meant the film as any type of allegory or statement about war or the treatment of veterans. It was shot shortly after the end of Vietnam, and references WW2 and some of the doctors are Korean war vets, but he wishes he could take credit for any "message" people have read into it.

Sutherland set the story in Sault Ste. Marie because he knew the terrain (he’d originally planned to use the Algoma train to get the men into the Cauldron).

Ken James admitted the shoot was "dangerous" and that some of what was onscreen was real (like the initial scene where the men ineptly navigate crossing the river). Carter encouraged improvisation to establish the rapport between the characters.

What stuck in his memory most was the bee scene: the bees themselves were docile and largely harmless, until you bothered them. So the more the actors scuttled and waved their arm, the more aggressive the insects became. Most of the cast, James joked, spent the shoot with swollen fingers from the stings.

As well, his wife was shaken when came upon his fake head casts made that Fullerton would literally “bake” on location. He was claustrophobic, and didn't enjoy the casting process.

Seeing the film as an adult (my first time in about 25 years), I was impressed by its mature tone and Carter’s mastery of day lit terror, with violence set pieces modestly employed but always disturbing and excruciatingly personal, elevating the production above the level of “Jason from Sault St. Marie”. While the shadow of Deliverence looms large over any thriller about guys lost in the woods, Rituals has a sustained, melancholic grace that anticipates Peter Weir’s elegiac Picnic At Hanging Rock and Gus Van Sant’s existential, absurdist Gerry. And perhaps other than the Claude Jutra adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing, it’s a rare Canadian film that embodies what Northrop Frye termed “The Garrison Mentality” of Canadian literature that expresses fear of the landscape and hostile "others" (here, a single homicidal individual). Highfalutin’ aside, it’s a damned good crackerjack thriller--one of the finest made anywhere, anytime.

Rue Morgue’s next screening will be held June 21, and it’s another tip of the mortician’s hat to CanCon terror: the late Bob Clark's Deathdream, a Vietnam-era allegory inspired by Jacob’s “The Monkey’s Paw”—don’t miss it!

21 May 2007

"The Joker" Revealed?

Could this really be the first look at Heath Ledger's "Joker" from Christopher Nolan's in-production "The Dark Knight"? The "Harvey Dent" page set up by Warner Bros. slowly erodes from a defaced Aaron Eckhart into this image--and as a longtime "Bat"-fanatic (go ahead, challenge me) I'm lovin' this take...sorta John Wayne Gacy meets Francis Bacon by way of Kelly Jones...

16 May 2007

"Pan's Labyrinth" & "The Fountain" Now On DVD

The two finest films of 2006 (in my humble opinion, and you know I know what I'm talkin' about) were released on DVD yesterday, so now you have no excuse for not having your senses dazzled, your emotions stirred, and your intellect stimulated (yes, Virginia, they are not mutually exclusive...) by two of today's most ambitious and versatile young directors.

I reviewed the North American debuts of Guillermo Del Toro's "Pan's Labyrinth" and Darren Aronosfky's "The Fountain" at last fall's Toronto International Film Festival--click on either title to read my thoughts. So get renting already (better yet, buy 'em--they're worth revisiting again and again...)

15 May 2007

Farewell "Smokey": 1993-2007

A day after the two-year anniversary of the death of our tortie Molly, sad news arrives from home. "Smokey", my grandmother's cat, is gone. He'd not been his usual bratty self these past few weeks and despite a recent pep-up in behavior, he was diagnosed with a stomach tumour and immediately had to be put down today (I've always hated that expression, but what else do you say?).

Smokey was named by my cousin Ashton for his grey-black coat, and he was very much a boy cat in his early years, disappearing for days and re-appearing on my grandmother's doorstep with a chomp out of his ear after god-knows-what-happened. As he grew older, he became less of a wanderer, and was quite the manipulative show-off. I'll miss his head-butts as he cried out for milk, his frantic digging for his toys (his favorite was a stuffed bumble-bee) whenever guests were around (my grandmother says he rarely played with them when it was just the two of them), and his adorable non-meow, which sounded like a melodic croak.

I'm sure my grandmother is very lonely tonight, having had a wonderful companion for 13 years. I'll miss Smokey, too, and visits home won't be the same--it's such a sad thing that our pets don't last as long as we do, and even sadder when they don't get to live out all of those years to the end...

14 May 2007

05/14: A Sad Day...

This is Molly, who we lost two years ago on this day to a rare form of feline cancer that she cruelly acquired even though she remained an indoor cat for the entirety of her life for which there was no shortage of love and the very best of things from food to health care. So today, we'd like to celebrate the beginning of her too-short time with us--this frame grab is from when she was only six months old and mere days into enjoying her exciting life outside the Etobicoke Animal Shelter.

12 May 2007

Amazon Don't Know Diddly...

Thought I'd share the latest crap "recommendation" from the insidious intelli-bot at Amazon.com, which allegedly analyzes my searches and purchases and tries to match me up with merchandise that will compliment what it perceives as my "tastes".

Because it caught me looking at Frank Miller's "Sin City" hardcover collection (although I've already got the paperback compilations and good many of the original single issues), Amazo-Droid figure I'd be interested in something called "Hanami: International Love Story" and sent me an email chock full of exclamation marks.

Here's a bit from the plot synopsis:

Seventeen-year-old Joonho Suk just had the best day of his life. He finally got the guts to ask out his big crush, Sae-un, and she said yes!! But after floating home on cloud nine, he found... his family packing up to move to Seoul?! Now tossed into a big new city, lovesick for the girl still in Suwon, Joonho runs into weird characters at every turn. First there's the young girl who speaks a strange language and has enormous strength, then a wayward cat causes another - Hanami - to wipe out on her bike!

Yeah, good thinkin', Amazon--a perfect suggestion. Wonder what it would recommend if I were to order the latest "Archie And Jughead" compilation--"Pier Paolo Pasolini's "Salo"? (and wouldn't Josh Hartnett and Carla Gugino be perfect as Joonho Suk and Sae-un in the Robert Rodriguez "Hanami" big-screen adaptation...?)

Here Comes The Knight...

Woo-hoo! It's coming....

11 May 2007

BBC And Rolling Stone Announce "Worst Lyrics": Loverboy Snubbed Again

This is only passably amusing--moreso if you've never heard of Steve Allen or caught David Letterman's "Stagehand Theatre". Rolling Stone, Jann Wenner's famed music journal that these days spends most of its creaking editorial half-life reminding us of how important it once was (and indeed, once, it was), has posted a video of staffer Brian Studley reading what-they-regard as the worst lyrics of all time: Shania Twain's "Honey, I'm Home", Led Zeppelin's "The Immigrant Song", Sisqo's "The Thong Song", and Soundgarden's "Spoonman", to name but a few. A recent BBC poll, which awarded the dubious honour to U2, Human League, Duran Duran, and Black Sabbath (among others), inspired RS's response.

Most rap, heavy metal, and country entries follow tried n' true formulas and are thus easy targets--truly inane songwriting--the kind that leaves you shaking your head back and forth like Wile E. Coyote when he falls off a cliff--has to be operatic, overreaching, alternately maddeningly pretentious and hopelessly desperate to truly qualify for bad. Boy, do these BBC and Rolling Stone folks have short memories-- how could they have possibly passed up "Brandy" by Looking Glass? "I Write The Songs" by Barry Manilow? "Don't Cry Out Loud" by Melissa Manchester? "Horse With No Name" by America? "Glory Of Love" by Peter Cetera? "I Would Do Anything For Love" by Meatloaf?

Here's my reigning champ. And it's Canadian, too, just to show what a patriot I can be. The writer is a certain Robert "Mutt" Lange (hey, Shania's husband). The band: Loverboy (aka The Scourge Of My Generation). The lyrics...as follows (and no, I don't mean this in that Chuck Klosterman half-ironic/half-sincere kinda way--this abomination truly sucks):

I'm not man or machine
I'm just something in between(Whoa-oa-whoa-oh-whoa)
I'm all love, a dynamo
So push the button and let me go (Whoa-oa-whoa-oh-whoa)
You want me to come alive
Just flick the switch into overdrive
You and me can let it be Ready-Aim-Fire Touch that dial -
Turn me on Start me like a motor, make me run
Lovin' every minute of it Lovin' every minute of it
Turn that dial all the way Shoot me like a rocket into space
Lovin' every minute of it Lovin' every minute of it Lovin' every minute of it
C'mon I got fun, you want some I'm ever ready, Dr. Love(Whoa-oa-whoa-oh-whoa)
I'm antenna, aerialI'm tunin' in I'm outta control(Whoa-oa-whoa-oh-whoa)
You got love, you got a deal
You wanna drive then take the wheel
You and me can let it be Ready-Aim-Fire Touch that dial -
Turn me on Start me like a motor, make me run

Oh good Christ, that's enough already....

07 May 2007

"Lost" To Officially Wrap in 2010

It's a depressing thing to realize that everyone else is into your favorite TV show (or movie, or book, or musician) for the exact opposite reason you are: I tuned in for Losts 2-hour premiere in the fall of 2004 because I was a fan of J.J. Abram's Alias (albeit a late-comer who didn't get into the series until its third season). I was immediately taken by the character-oriented direction and enigmatic conceit: clearly Abrams and his co-writers/producers were students of everything from Kurt Vonnegut to Philip K. Dick to Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow to Stephen King's The Stand and The Mist to Vertigo Comics (and DC's The Flash to eagle-eyed viewers).

Like a long-running comic book serial (popular comics writer Jeph Loeb is one of the story editors, and this season saw the hiring of Brian K. Vaughan, whose Pride Of Baghdad you really should read), Lost was conceived as a series of small story arcs and one-shots set against a broader back story that may or may not ever be resolved, and I didn't care--I was intrigued and enchanted by its loopy and often confounding developments ala The Prisoner (years of loyal David Lynch viewing helps, too) and was more than content to ping-pong weekly on my own "explanation" over each successive episode.

But by the end of the second season, to my surprise and regret, I found out that the "Losties" who so passionately argued about each episode's every twist-and-turn of its narrative mobius loop were starting to whine about closure. They wanted explanations. They were more concerned over whether Kate was going to choose Sawyer or Jack--in other words, they wanted a regular show. The producers were aware of the hue and cry from the message boards and in one interview, Damon Lindelof confessed candidly that he found it hard to go to work each day and spend 8 hours writing a show that "everyone hates". And now I know why Charlie Sheen is the highest paid male actor on television...

(I think Ben said it best last week when he told Locke "the box is a metaphor!" ...are you listening, viewers?...)_

Thankfully, Lost has been guaranteed its run and won't be subjected to the gutting that was inflicted on Alias in its fourth season to make it more "appealing" to the masses at the expense of its dense and perfectly nuanced internal mythology. The show's creators have been granted their wish: producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse have signed new multi-year deals with ABC to continue the series until its conclusion, which is now officially pegged for the 2009-2010 season. And fans--those few of us left who have stuck with the show and will presumably continue to do so until the wrap--won't have to endure those gawd-awful delays anymore either: instead of two standard seasons consisting of 24 episodes, we'll get three seasons of 16 episodes--uninterrupted ala 24 (no firm air dates have been set).

I'm just glad to hear that having invested so much time in the series that it won't be unceremoniously sh*t-canned due to the hysteria over lower-ratings. You can read the complete story at today's Variety.

04 May 2007

Jim O'Connell: 1958-2007

We lost a great one yesterday: Jim O'Connell, a veteran journalist, respected news anchor, and much-beloved coworker to those of us at BNN who are only now starting to absorb the terrible news of his passing at the too-young age of 48. This was a man who ran marathons in Antarctica...how many of us could do that?

Jim worked throughout the '80s and '90s for CTV News, reporting out of Ottawa, Winnipeg, Toronto and internationally in Washington, London, and the Middle East. He was also correspondent for CTV's "W-Five".

He didn't want a fuss, reportedly, so I'll point you to the details here. My sincere condolences to his family and friends and I must say my weekdays won't be the same without him, as he and I were there on launch day waaay back in September of 1999 and often shared the odd quip about our Ottawa Valley days. His all-too-rare qualities--integrity and professionalism at all costs, but tempered with a serene perspective on life and career and a wry sense of humour--have certainly touched us all...

03 May 2007

Stephen King's Return To Toronto

Stephen King is coming to the GTA this June as part of "Booked!", a new authors festival that runs concurrently with the "Luminato Festival Of Arts And Creativity" "and "BookExpo Canada", where he'll receive a lifetime achievement award from the Canadian Booksellers Association.

Incredibly, it's his first "official" appearance, although early in his career he made appearances on MuchMusic and hung out for an afternoon at the classic rock station Q-107. He was also seen at this past year's Giller Prize festivities, where he kept a low profile despite a brouhaha over the presence of some of his novels on display. He also hung out on the set of "Storm Of The Century", his miniseries shot in Toronto and nearby Oshawa, Ont.

Literary snobs and anti-populist phonies will no doubt will have a field day bemoaning his presence at the fest, but those who truly love reading and appreciate great storytelling in all its forms will know that King has won more than his fair share of prestigious awards, has been published in The New Yorker more than once, and is a major philanthropist and supporter of the literary scene who devotes much of his semi-regular Entertainment Weekly column to promoting up-and-coming writers (and those of you who insist on dissing his work should do yourself a favour and read his short stories "The Reach" and "Everything That You Love Will Be Carried Away"...now...)

This truly special appearance will be hosted at the John Bassett Theatre (in the Metro Convention Centre) on Friday, June 8 at 7:30 pm. The press release promises an on-stage interview with a "surprise" celebrity guest (wouldn't it be great if King and local boy David Cronenberg hashed it out over his controversial adaptation of "The Dead Zone" ,which was shot in Niagara-On-The-Lake, doubling for "Castle Rock", Maine).

I scored my tickets earlier this evening (a reasonable $25 each)--amazingly, the event wasn't sold out. But that might be because the website provided in The Globe And Mail and on various online sites today is incorrect: make sure you go to www.bookedbetweenthecovers.ca, and not "dot-com" as initially listed.

The Rolling Kindergarten Revue

To some, he's the voice of a generation. To others, he's the guy who can't sing in the "We Are The World" video. And apparently, the new Pope's not too fond of him either.

To a new generation of young anklebiters, he's "the weird man who keeps coming to class to sing scary songs on his guitar".

The New York Post reports that Bob Dylan has been hanging out at his grandson's school in the LA 'burbs--"just for fun"--but the kiddies are underwhelmed by the presence of this musical legend. "Scary songs"? Just what the hell is he playing for them? All eleven interminable minutes of "Joey", his ode to Joseph Gallo of the Colombo crime family?
"He did ten years in Attica/Reading Nietzsche and Wilhelm Reich/They threw him in the hole one time for tryin' to stop a strike...." Okay kids, you join in!
Read all about it here, courtesy of Fark.

02 May 2007

"Rituals" Screens At The Bloor

In the early days of Global Television, the then-fledging network had very little programming and tended to play the same movies over and over again, most of them Canadian-produced, which meant one thing to impressionable young minds: harsh language, nudity, violence, and downbeat endings (and given the state of the homegrown industry at the time, a particular photographic style in which the image seemed to have been printed on old army blankets and the sound was always on the verge of going out-of-sync). "Black Christmas" screened every yuletide season, and if you stayed up to 11 on a Saturday night you could catch everything from "The Pyx" to the ultra-naughty "In Praise Of Older Women".

But my favorite was "Rituals", which is essentially the hoser "Deliverance". Released in 1978 (although produced almost two years earlier), this brisk, lean n' mean shocker was directed by Peter Carter (who secured his place in Canadian film and television history by directing episodes of the series "Wojeck" and the feature "The Rowdyman"--the tax-shelter trucker comedy "High-Ballin" with Peter Fonda and Jerry Reed notsomuch...) from Ian Sutherland's screenplay. Shot in Northern Ontario's Batachawana Bay (near Sault Ste. Marie), the scenario finds five middle-aged doctors out on a weekend retreat who find themselves terrorized by a faceless maniac whose initial pranks turn deadly (remember that is a good couple of years before the "Friday The 13th" series and the 80s slasher boom--although gore hounds will likely be disappointed with its character-oriented screenplay and the lack of explicit bloodshed, although there are a few doozy moments). True to form of other films of the era, "Rituals" headlined an American star, in this case, Hal "Mark Twain Tonight" Holbrook, who dug Canada enough to return to shoot "The Kidnapping Of The President" opposite William Shatner.

The fact that someone made a cool thriller right in my own province inspired my own ill-fated attempt a horror feature when I hatched my Grade 11 epic "Blood Hunt" (don't look for it on the IMDB--the reels are sitting in my fridge), in which a quartet of high-school drama club actors playing adults (myself included, when one of my cast bailed without notice) go into the woods with rifles and machetes (the latter easily purchased at K-Mart) for no apparent reason other than to encounter some hungry zombies, presumably spawned by the toxins from a local paper mill (a plot point I ripped off from John Frankenheimer's "Prophecy", although in his film the pollutants created a mutant bear). I stole the (ironic) use of the children's song "The Teddy Bears' Picnic" from the "Rituals" trailer...and the truth is, my Super-8 cinematography didn't look much worse...

To my eventual surprise (and delight), "Rituals" proved to have quite the cult following in the U.S., awarded hefty praise from Stephen King in his non-fiction treatise on horror "Danse Macabre", and just a few years ago, a good American friend of mine was so thrilled when I provided him with a bad VHS dub that you'd think I'd unearthed a lost Dead Sea scroll.

Well, if you're GTA bound you can finally see it for yourself, as the fine folks at Rue Morgue magazine are hosting a rare theatrical screening this month, featuring a 35mm print provided by the film's co-star (and co-producer) Lawrence Dane, who will also be in attendance for an intro and post-screening Q&A! Dane's a great actor (Genie-nominated)--one of those "oh that guy" Canadian journeymen performers who's appeared in everything from features like "Scanners", "Happy Birthday To Me" and "Bear Island" to commercials (Colour Your World) and tons of series work including "Stargate SG-1" and "Queer As Folk", CanCon classics like "The Littlest Hobo" and "E.N.G.", and and vintage stuff like "Mission: Impossible" and "The FBI".

(only the brave in attendance will mention that Dane also co-wrote and directed the unfortunate Canadian answer to "Flashdance": "Heavenly Bodies", featuring Cynthia Dale)

"Rituals" screens Thursday, May 17th at 9:30 PM at The Bloor Cinema. Don't miss it.