As promised, here are reviews for the first few days of films I saw at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival. I'll post the remainder of the film reviews tomorrow.
Thursday, October 20
Friday, October 21
The sound problems in the cinema were worse this night. I`d forgotten earplugs and so my ears were ringing and I couldn't hear people talking after the first film. When I left the second film, my hearing was a bit worse: when I heard loud noises it felt like someone was driving a spike through my eardrums. It was very painful. In addition to being afraid of damaging my hearing, the sound issues were making it difficult for me to enjoy the shows.
When I got back to the hotel, I contacted the film festival organization through their website and also emailed them via a contact email I found there about the sound. I figured I wasn't the only person affected and that if they didn't know how bad it was, they didn't have any motive to fix it.
I don't know if it was the sound problems in the theatre or what, but the actors appeared to have been cast based on how well they used their breathing to convey emotion. I can see the auditions now: "Give me anguished! Now enraged... ok, now anguished AND enraged!" This was a little distracting, as I'm sure you can imagine.
This film is kind of a zombie Western that is divided up into seven or eight chapters with title cards. A man comes home from an unthinkable Civil War in which zombies were involved only for his wife to be attacked and bitten by the zombies. After being forced to kill her, he begins the search for his son. He meets up with other people and he eventually discovers the source of the outbreak.
Mixed in with the story is beautiful animation showing past events for each character. The story is unique and original and could have made a fantastic movie if there weren't seven or eight chapters and it wasn't 114 minutes long. There are many, many, many flat, boring, walking-through-the-woods shots that add little or nothing to the story and end up slowing down the overall pace.
The cinematography was interesting, with lots of unusual and (some might say) pointless crane shots. The entire film was shot in Southern Ontario and was supposed to represent Tennessee or Virginia. Unfortunately, the distinctive Southern Ontario geology and flora do not appear in those southern states, so every time I saw something recognizably Canadian, I was taken out of the movie experience. There was also something just a bit "off" about the costuming. For example, the wife was wearing a hoop skirt in the bush. Just because the film was set in the 1870s doesn't mean that all - or even most - frontier women wore hoop skirts.
I don't recommend this movie. If it were edited to remove about one third of it and to reduce the number of chapters to, say, three, it would have potential. As it is, it's too long and unevenly paced to be enjoyable.
This was one of those low-budget, B-movie horrors about a serial killer (The Fuchman), who sodomizes and then brutally kills fathers, and the three people band together to kill him. There is a ton of gore in this movie and scenes that many men had difficulty watching. Seriously.
Because it is a campy movie, my expectations are low and they were met. The acting was ok but not great; the story was believable enough, and the direction, music, and cinematography were passable. The only problem I had with this movie is that it should have ended when The Fuchman was killed, as the quarter or third of the movie that happened after that was stupid, silly, and unnecessary, even for a B-movie.
I wouldn't watch this film again and I wouldn't recommend paying for it, but if you're ok with a LOT of gore in campy movies and don't mind if the movie takes a ridiculous turn, then you might enjoy watching this movie for free.
Saturday, October 22
Happily, the event organizer forwarded my email shortly after I'd sent it to several event manager people and asked them to investigate the sound problem. They were able to change things so that the sound was more balanced and less loud. Although I'd brought earplugs, I didn't need to wear them most of the time. Ian did wear his occasionally during Redline and some other movies. I was thrilled that they'd taken my email seriously and that they were able to adjust the sound and speakers to solve the problem. I'm impressed at how quickly they responded to the problem.
Shorts After Dark
I missed this one as I was driving to and from Kitchener to pick up Ian.
I loved this hand-animated Japanese film about an inter-galactic motor race. In it, people from different planets race against each other in different qualifying races, each with the goal of competing in the big race - the REDLINE. The prize is huge, the publicity is huger, and everyone involved wants to win. Of course there are a couple of subplots that make the race more complicated than it first appears.
The story is fairly simple and believable enough within the universe it creates to be enjoyable. It's a racing film and there's lots of racing with heart-pumping music and fantastic motion so the viewer feels present at these events. Everything, from the story to the animation to the music, works together in this film to create an experience that allows the viewer to immerse his- or herself into it.
Although this film was sub-titled, we wished that it was dubbed because the time taken to read the subtitles meant that we couldn't appreciate all of the animation. This is one film that we're gong to want to purchase so that we can re-watch it. I highly recommend it if you're at all interested in Japanese animation or racing.
No film festival would be complete without a buddy road-trip film, and this was that film. Our protagonist "wakes" from being dead to discover that the dead have risen and are eating people. He's not so hungry for human flesh and just wants to find his girlfriend. He teams up with another thinking, speaking, non-flesh-eating zombie, a "regular" zombie, and some guy to drive across the country. Along the way, they're chased by people who are trying to clean up the zombie outbreak.
The story, cinematography, editing, and music are well done and they all work together to create a fun road trip movie without too much gore involved. The worst thing about this movie is that some of the acting (or maybe it's the script for those characters?) is really bad. It would be better if all those characters were written and acted as well as all the other characters or if every single character was written and acted that badly. As it was, the pacing and feel of the movie changed every time those characters were on-screen.
If it weren't for those particular actors and actresses and their lines, this would be a truly hilarious movie that pretty much everyone who likes funny zombie movies would enjoy. As it is, it's a pretty good movie that most people will still enjoy and I do recommend it if you're looking for some laughs.
War of the Dead
This film about Allied soldiers battling Axis zombies created by Nazi experimentation is better than I expected it would be. Since the director in the introduction and Q&A made it clear that he'd just wanted to finish this film and that he didn't think it was that good, I wasn't expecting much.
I was surprised that most of the film was fairly solid. The sets, costumes, makeup, and music were all very well done and worked together to create a cohesive, creepy atmosphere. Most of the characters and their actions also made sense in the context of the film. The only places where the film fell short were some plot points and parts of the script that didn't flow so well. I didn't even think about most of those problems until I walked out.
I wouldn't see this film again but if you are interested in Nazis and zombies and don't mind some plot issues, this film is for you.
Sunday, October 23
Some Guy Who Kills People
We loved this film. In it, a man who has recently returned from a mental institution stalks and kills the people who tormented him and drove him crazy all while maintaining a relationship with his mom, his mom's boyfriend the town sheriff, and his newly-discovered daughter. This is one of my favourite films of the fest because it had drama, comedy, and a reasonable plot. The script was well-written and well-acted and the production was definitely high-quality. There isn't too much gore in this film and the killings are done off-camera, for the most part, making this film more accessible to a mainstream crowd. I highly recommend this one.
I'd really looked forward to seeing this film and I wasn't disappointed. It follows an astronaut up in the international space station for the first time in decades who is abandoned there as everyone on earth dies. As he rambles around the station he finds a diary of a man sent from the civil war front to witness something unusual. The film opens with and returns to this traveler's adventure as the astronaut's story is being told.
There are pats of this film didn't like, such as the interviews with the people about connections and relationships. The film is about relationships and how important being connected to other people is to each of us and it shows this by providing the lonely counterpoint of the astronaut to the story. The interviews kind of "hit the viewer on the head" with the point of the film and it simply isn't necessary.
This small fault aside, I loved this film. There was really only the one main actor throughout and he was able to carry this film and keep it interesting. It helped that the film was beautifully made and scored and that the pacing and imagery and actor worked together to create a moving work of art that also happened to tell a great story. Most astonishing is that the film was made in the director's parent's ranch backyard and the director built all of the sets - including that amazing replica of the International Space Station (ISS) - himself over a couple of years using materials from home-building stores.
This film felt like a good independent film from a major director who was doing a side project for fun because it appears to have been professionally made with a huge budget. In fact, the director has done mostly shorts and it was made for almost no money. The main porthole on the ISS, for example, was a washing-machine door over a 42" screen showing the planet Earth.
Contributing to the professional look and feel of the film as well as its atmosphere was the haunting score by Angels & Airwaves. Some people were put off by the fact that Angels & Airwaves and this film are kind of side projects by Tom DeLonge of Blink-182 but there's no Blink 182 in any part of this film.
If you don't mind slow but not boring pacing and love beautiful imagery, great acting, and a compelling story that stays with you, this film is for you. I highly recommend it.
The Theatre Bizarre
I skipped the films this evening as I was very tired and I figured that I would be better off resting than staying out late watching the movies. Apparently this one was a bunch of shorts that worked together around a particular theme. While it sounded interesting, the trailers didn't compel me to stay and watch. If I hadn't been so tired I'd have watched it.
I skipped this film, too. Again, if I wasn't so tired I'd have stayed to watch it. However, I was so tired and the subject of the film - a vampire comes to terms with his new life - wasn't all that interesting. In retrospect, I probably would have enjoyed this film although the rest did me some good.