Fantasia Festival 2017: Dead Shack (2017)

Dead Shack (2017)

Dead Shack

Director: Peter Ricq

Cast: Lizzie Boys, , Lauren Holly, Matthew Nelson-Mahood, Gabriel LaBelle, Donovan Stinson, Valerie Tian

While staying at a run-down cabin in the woods during the weekend, three children must save their parents from the neighbor who intends to feed them to her un-dead family. – IMDB

Described as The Goonies meets Night of the Living Dead, Dead Shack comes as a fun zombie romp with a  young cast fighting to save their drunk father on a camping trip when they accidentally discover their neighbor and her undead family. This femme fatale next door does everything to make sure to keep her family safe and fed. With a runtime of 85 minutes, Dead Shack knows how to pace its movie to be fast and filled with moments of tension, comedy and action.

The young cast here creates a nice balance in characters. Matthew Nelson-Mahood playing the son’s best friend, Jason who is socially awkward as he tries to impress his best friend’s sister, Summer (played by Lizzie Boys) every chance that he has. He captures the role very well and in turn, with his awkwardness, brings in quite a bit of comedic relief along with the banter in moments of panic with the young trio. The three here create a balance of intelligence, common sense and spontaneous reflex and this leads them to really pull up a lot of strength and courage. Its also impressive to see that the story quickly shifts these teens, particularly Jason that starts the movie being told to toughen up and quickly does.

While the young cast is the focus here, the rest of the characters are well-used also. The father, played by Donovan Stinson is the most hilarious part of this movie. He starts off the movie with a lot of funny moments. However, even the supporting roles are there in their oddly disposable way but still have their value, mostly for comedy as well. Its realizes how to capture the humor in spite of the horror tension they want to create here. It also helps make the teens more useful and responsible than their parents.

The setting of the movie is in the middle of nowhere however fits perfectly. While Dead Shack feels like it is riddled with cliches, it uses them to their advantage whether by making some smart comeback in the dialogue or turning it into a comedic moment or adding some common sense that most horror movies don’t have. The music builds the moments really well also whether it is to create tension or the soundtrack that compliments some of the scenes. Along with some clever camera work capturing close-ups and angles, it works wonders for Dead Shack as a whole.

It is a shame that it feels that the enemy is largely underused. While it works because it helps create tension as to wondering when the undead or the Blonde will show up. This movie is definitely more a comedy in a horror setting. While there are more undead as the movie moves along and it never feels like we’re really invested into any of the characters, it still finds a way to make this into a fun romp that surprisingly works really well.

Opinion Battles Round 14 Favourite Tom Hanks Role

Round 14 is here!
Well, its been around for a while. It just slipped past me between all the event coverage. Regardless, this time we’re looking at our Favorite Tom Hanks Role.
I’m going to confess that Tom Hanks is a great actor and I remember him being fantastic but I can never pinpoint anything other than Cast Away and voice for Toy Story. I felt like I was cheating by choosing Tom Hanks but apparently, I’m not alone in the love and appreciation for his role in a great Pixar animated film.

What is your favorite Tom Hanks role? Which of these choices do you agree with? Remember to drop a vote!

Movie Reviews 101

Opinion Battles Round 14

Favourite Tom Hanks Role

Tom Hanks is one of the iconic actors of the modern era, two Oscar wins to his name as well as coming off as one of the nicest men in Hollywood. He has grown up too soon, fallen in love with Meg Ryan three times, gone into space, been left on an island and even saved a plane for of people after saving Matt Damon. The question is what the role we enjoy watching the most from him.

If you want to join the next round of Opinion Battles we will be take on Favourite Christopher Nolan Movie, to enter email your choice to moviereviews101@yahoo.co.ukby Saturday 21st July 2017.

Darren – Movie Reviews 101

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Book Review: Gemina (The Illuminae Files 02) by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Let’s take a break from Fantasia Festival madness and get  a book review in! You may  not need it, but I absolutely do! 😉

Gemina is the sequel of Illuminae, the first book of The Illuminae Files (as you can see in the cover below). I read Illuminae earlier this year and totally loved it. If you want to know why, you can read all about it in my review HERE.

Gemina
(The Illuminae Files 02)
by: Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Gemina

When an elite BeiTech strike team invades the station, Hanna and Nik are thrown together to defend their home. But alien predators are picking off the station residents one by one, and a malfunction in the station’s wormhole means the space-time continuum might be ripped in two before dinner. Soon Hanna and Nik aren’t just fighting for their own survival; the fate of everyone on the Hypatia—and possibly the known universe—is in their hands. – Goodreads

Gemina is an exhilarating ride. A fantastically amazing one. This author duo has truly created a writing style that works truly remarkably. Presenting the story through dossiers and recordings are amazing. In fact, I remembered talking at the end of the review of the first book.avoit how it was hard to make that one into a movie and I was honestly disappointed in that choice. On the contrary, Gemina is so descriptive making everything so vivid that while it will be hard to live up to the images of everyone, with the right director, this one could be a fun ride. It might be because it embraces Die Hard set in a dystopian future in space and adds in am an Alien theme with their creatures. The idea is that they can take the first book to have enough success to get this one made also. I’m a little more excited about the idea.

What works for both of these books is how they choose to lay it out. The different recordings and files give you juat enough to understand what is going on but also leaves gaps and blindspots as to what is going on behind the scene and that creates mystery. Continuing after the first book, this hops onto another space carrier and with new characters, however having still managing to comnect to the characters in the first book. That is important as it gives a continuity to the story. It makes the readers care about this world because the new pair of characters are every bit as intriguing to read as they come to life also, two very different people from the first but still with equally intriguing stories that make them survivors but also human. Hanna and Nik are two acquaintances wrapped up in a lot of stereotypes and prejudices towards each other and grow to see each other more.

Its amazing how the Illuminae Files series has embodied so much. Other than the characters, it definitely feels like there is a lot of unanswered questions. The virus in part one, the creatures in part two, the secret agenda from Beitech: the main question at the end is a lot of why’s. Hopefully we will get the answers soon to pull everything together in the third book.

Overall, I love Gemina. There’s so many great things about it that makes it incredible. Not quite as mindblowing as Illuminae however still very awesome.

Fantasia Festival 2017: Origami (2017)

Origami (2017)

Origami

Director: Patrick Demers

Cast: Francois Demers, Milton Tanaka, Normand D’Amour, Alexa-Jeanne Dubé

During one of his many Asian adventures, David, a visual artist who specializes in Japanese art, encounters a mysterious man who makes him discover his latent gift for time travel. – Fantasia Festival

As an extension of the Fantasia event, Les Fantastiques Week-ends du Cinéma Québecois comes the world premiere of Origami by French-Canadian director, Patrick Demers. Before the movie starts, Demers who is present advises the crowd that the least we know about the film the better. He hopes that the audience will fall into the main character’s shoes and wishes everyone happy travels. Upon finishing Origami, we definitely feel the same way hence, we will not only avoid all spoilers but this review will be completely on various technical aspects and stay far away from the story itself. The only thing in regards of the story is that Origami is an absolute treat as both a time travel movie and a dramatic thriller.  The story is intriguing.  It will make the audience ask question after question as we willingly and patiently wait for the answers at the end, without knowing if there really will be one. The best of movies will still motivate you to try to figure it out while waiting, letting the story take us on their journey and Origami achieves that.

Right from the start of Origami, the sound design and atmosphere is already set for a world full of mystery. The tones and the lights are done well. It uses its cinematography cleverly of both capturing an entire scene and zooming in to capture emotion. The score itself is subtle in parts, dropping out in important parts to create the right mood while in other parts, looming and building in the background. The sound also is what creates the time travel transition as well as the visual of it all. What time travel movies mostly have issues with is how to set a believable time travel concept that works. Origami keeps what we know, reinforces that by adding in a simple description and lets us learn about time travel as its main character, David (Francois Arnaud) explores it as well.

While Origami has various characters, it is very much a one man talent show for Francois Arnaud, who plays the main character, David Marceau. A quick look at Francois Arnaud’s filmography and you can spot some familiar titles from TV series Borgias and Blindspot. A key element of this sci-fi thriller goes into finding a great balance of how to present this character and in short, he nails it. He creates the right emotions and feels human. We learn about him during the movie, just enough to connect with the character. Here is where we talk about the other characters’ being one dimensional. They only are there to serve a particular purpose, be it to explain time travel to David or being a parent role, for quick examples. This is where Origami falls short as some scenes automatically become dispensable and even pointless, creating a slight drag, making the parts with David the only ones that cause intrigue and mystery.

Origami is not perfect but it is a rare appearance in the French-Canadian landscape as it dives into the sci-fi territory exploring the realms of time travel. Francois Arnaud delivers a strong performance and the story makes us question and piece together the plot along the way to keep it intriguing. It pulls a few stops that achieved its purpose. While the plot drags a little in the centre stemming from characters that aren’t fleshed out enough, the main character’s journey is still well worth a visit.

**A note here that I am very easily convinced with time travel movies. This one has been one of the few movies to surprise me in the near future with its plot reveals so I’m incredibly happy to have seen it. While there are French-Canadian movies that I enjoy, they have a very dreary air over them, usually taking the most grim takes on events. While this one tiptoes a little in that area, it manages for the most part to create something a little different. For its all its efforts, I appreciated and enjoyed it.**

Fantasia Festival 2017: Free and Easy (2016)

Free and Easy (2016)
Director: Jun Geng

Director: Baohe Xue, Benbin Gu, Gang Xu, Liguo Yuan, Xun Zhang, Xuxu Wang, Zhiyong Zhang

When a traveling soap salesman arrives in a desolate Chinese town, a crime occurs, and sets the strange residents against each other with tragicomic results. –IMDB

A peddling monk, a soap salesman, a reforestation ranger: What do these three characters have in common? Add in a God-loving man who is seeking for his disappeared mother, a jack of all trades kung fu instructor and a tough landlady. Throw together two cops who really seem to be both careless and clueless and this creates the mix of a 99 minutes Chinese movie set in desolate area in Northeast China. Free and Easy is an odd piece altogether. Is it trying to be comedic with its dry  humor? Or is it a societal statement about the world we live in pushing those into paths they don’t really choose no matter how good or bad they are? Perhaps, its a crime story when one of the characters die. Just like the story its telling, maybe the genre also steps somewhere in a grey area.

Free and Easy is however an interesting piece of cinema to talk about. With so many characters on screen, we mostly focus on the soap salesman and the monk at the beginning. The cops are the other end of the spectrum as they truly feel useless in their positions or simply bored. They talk constantly about things they probably shouldn’t and then they also take antibiotics like its candy. Not the authorities that we’d imagine them to be. In a community like this one, desolate and forgotten, even the cops are useless, it is a statement on how everyone has their own way to fend for themselves and survive day to day. They are thrown into circumstances that we eventually realize aren’t quite them however, it is all a sense of digging out that part of them that they need to live. The soap salesman and monk eventually have some insightful conversations throughout the movie that truly point us into knowing them more. Just as the reforestation ranger obsesses over who cut down his trees and we start seeing his mellow character go through a myriad of reactions to the situation. However, with the amount of characters here, the focus moves quickly through them. Their personalities, their facades, their conversations, their tricks all come together as what defines this world because we never know any of them well enough to know their history or even their story. We only know what they are now and those few days in this desolate area.

While, Free and Easy slowly progresses its story and it feels disjointed throughout the majority of it and there isn’t really a character to bond with, one of the best aspects is its landscape and cinematography. The way that the director composes their shots, capturing the wide angles and pulled out space. It truly expands on the desolate and emptiness in this area. Perhaps, it also is done to create a parallel for these characters who each have their own issues and all don’t seem to keen about what life they are in now. No one truly seems happy. However, the scenes here truly capture so much atmosphere and is structured carefully to capture exactly what it wants and hides some of the details off screen. One of the best scenes do go to one of the cops confronting four of the characters as they keep moving on and off screen.

Honestly, there isn’t a lot to say concretely about Free and Easy. The story needs a little more work particularly for the pace they are going at. The sound design is nice and the cinematography captures so much of the atmosphere and the area despite it being desolate and empty. The characters are plentiful but never fleshed out. The dry humor definitely is there however, it never seemed to work enough although humor is rather subjective. Free and Easy is a statement piece about society, at least from the first watch, it definitely seems to be leaning the most in that direction. Its a lot of reading between the lines and listening to the dialogue and conversations. Its a movie for those that enjoy dry humor, slow-paced and reading between the lines.

Personally, this doesn’t feel like a movie that I was meant to like. I do think for its vagueness in many of the issues, it makes it more thought provoking to figure out what they are trying to say. What message is it all about? I’m honestly kind of in between with this one.

Fantasia Festival 2017: Vampire Cleanup Department (2017)

Vampire Cleanup Department (2017)

vampire cleanup department

Director: Pak-Wing Yan, Sin-Hang Chiu

Cast: Babyjohn Choi, Min-Chen Lin, Richard Ng, Siu-ho Chin, Susan Shaw

Tim Cheung joins the Vampire Cleanup Department which is a secret task force for dealing Chinese vampire Goeng Si. He is instructed by his uncle Chau and he saves a female Goeng Si, Summer from her evil lord Goeng Si who buried alive her. – IMDB

For those familiar with the Mr. Vampire series decades ago and their introduction to the hopping Chinese vampires, the recent years has seen a resurgence to seemingly revive or perhaps catch Hong Kong’s own wave of the vampire popularity. In 2013, Rigor Mortis saw the debut directing work of Juno Mak get the cast of the originals and create a serious horror full of gore and symbolism. However, Vampire Cleanup Department this year aims to do the same thing but uses more of the horror action comedy angle, in turns more in vein with the original series while still taking the familiar actors. It feels like a true revival or remaster or perhaps modernized reboot of this Chinese cult favorite and not only appeal to the fans of the franchise but also grab a new generation and educate them about these hopping vampires. Screened in Cantonese, the English subtitles were done well enough to still carry the humor it wanted for the most part. We always like to make sure that the jokes will still carry well to an international audience.

Vampire Cleanup Department does many things right. It is hard to say that anymore in terms of comedy or horror. Two things the Hong Kong industry in general seems to have hit a snag as it settles for ineffective and trope-y horror or dumb and nonsensical humor. However, this movie is littered with clever jokes and puns and most of all, actors that deliver them seamlessly and perfectly. It also uses the CGI that they have access to in order to make these vampires and other action/horror effects feel more authentic and less campy. Its a re-skin and one that is done tastefully. For those who were too young when this released or never quite had access to it before or simply the new generation, Vampire Cleanup Department never forgets to educate its audience as it educates and trains its long awaited new blood. Using this story line works in this situation because we as the audience will also learn about how hopping vampires came to be, how to get rid of them as well as how this secret department originated as a new vengeful vampire is unleashed into the city accidentally.

Another great aspect of Vampire Cleanup Department is its veteran actors. Siu-ho Chin and Richard Ng are the main characters in this as they take a supporting role that links to the past. They are fun and entertaining. Siu-ho Chin contributes to a lot of the action as he is the younger of the original crew. Richard Ng brings a lot of the humor. Its truly hard to not feel nostalgic when watching them on screen as they have both been part of memorable films aside from the Mr. Vampire movies. They are the anchor of this film and despite the younger actors seeming to be a focus of the film. The scenes they are in keep the movie grounded as their opposite personalities in their characters also create a nice friction.

The one downfall of this flick truly goes to the young romance, Tim and Summer, played respectively by Babyjohn Choi and Min-Chen Lin. This factor is less to do with their performance but more with the more than familiar romance. Its sappy and redundant. In fact, the humor elements added into their budding romance makes it fun and cute however never lets us feel too invested either, at least not enough to feel emotional about their outcome. Sadly, the romance does take up a decent portion of the movie. While still successfully entertaining us for the most parts, it falls short from what the rest of the movie creates and could of been done a little more concisely.

Vampire Cleanup Department is a treat. Despite its rinse and repeat romance that doesn’t have the connection with the audience it is meant to have, everything else is done very well. It creates a beautiful balance of action, comedy and horror. It revives and reboots this Geong Si, aka hopping vampires, from the late 80s to 90s from the Mr. Vampire series. It also brings in some new blood to possibly (and hopefully) continue the franchise in a modern way. This film has found a way to keep itself self-contained while remembering to honor its predecessors by creating a link of the world the earlier movies created. It brings back the atmosphere those movies had while giving it a fresh look successfully.

Fantasia 2017: Tilt (2017)

Tilt (2017)

Tilt poster

Director & co-writer: Kasra Farahani

Cast: Joseph Cross, Alexia Rasmussen, Jessy Hodges, Kelvin Yu

An unemployed documentary filmmaker’s behavior becomes increasingly erratic in the months after his wife becomes pregnant. – IMDB

A mind’s control over a chaos. Tilt is a movie about exactly that. Also, it stems from possibly the main character, Joe’s first documentary called Tilt and its tagline about control and chaos and skill in regards to pinball which could easily be carried forward to how we watch him slowly spiral towards his urge of becoming someone that he doesn’t recognize. The best way to describe Tilt would be a slow-burn character study of a person who slowly changes as perhaps their subconscious desires take a path they try to resist.

Tilt is an interesting one. We love horror thrillers and slow-burn movies and honestly, those types of movies are possibly the hardest to get right. Tilt does a decent job at setting up the stage. The technicalities from sound design to production set to the cast were done very well. It was captivating in parts and intriguing in others. Tilt’s first and third act were all of these things, wrapped up in a lot of questions and slowly gives the audience pieces to put together and wonder whether our main character Joe, played by Joseph Cross, will eventually spiral to. Where the film may fall a little short is in the incredibly dragged out second act that we can understand the purpose of watching our character, his observations and his resistance come into full force however, it also was a grinding experience to get through falling into the tedious territory for a few brief moments. What does redeem this movie is the unknown and the unsaid. Things happen and we can only wonder and link and imagine some, (at times) disturbing ideas.

It is hard to do a film like Tilt where it combines the thriller genre with a character study. For all its intrigued and ideas executed well most of the time, perhaps one of the harder things to invest into would be the characters themselves. The cast did incredibly well with how these characters are scripted, particularly our main couple, Joe and Joanne. We see the stress and the sacrifices and the tears that the pregnancy and upcoming addition to their family has caused. Perhaps this is what causes these issues to arise subtly in Joe’s personality as he spends many hours by himself.  However, as impressive as Joseph Cross and Alexia Rasmussen portrayed their characters, it is hard to be rooting for any one of them in particular. Perhaps that isn’t the point because it does feel like these characters were created to not truly be likable as they struggle with this new stress that has entered their lives as they have to face a new reality.

With that said, Tilt does a lot of technical aspects right. The scenes, moods, atmosphere are done incredibly well. They help create that sense of fear and dread as well as danger and intrigue. The script itself tells just enough to make us wonder and link things but never truly know if our guess is correct or not. That is what makes a thriller fun as the finale pulls together masterfully. It has some disturbing scenes and ideas and all this is thanks to a great performance by Joseph Cross. However, the downfall of this film lies in characters we can’t seem to get behind and that make sit harder to truly feel invested into their outcome and also a second act that could’ve been perhaps executed a little better in various parts. Not a perfect thriller, however one that executes many things well enough to deserve a watch.