Weekly Toronto Flick Picks: Toronto After Dark opens, RiFF winners announced, a look ahead at things to come and more
Image: Housebound (2014)
The laughter starts when the lights go out
I don’t know if I have ever seen the Scotiabank Theatre on Richmond as jammed pack as I did last Thursday for Toronto After Dark’s opening night screening of Housebound. Once I got up that unnervingly long escalator in the lobby, with a model Klingon Bird of Prey hanging overhead, there were lines sprawled all over the place. The festival is now in its ninth year and has really planted itself in the genre community. The main cinema 1, which is a huge room, was chock-a-block with people. I was a little disheartened at the lack of costumed folk—they were there, to be sure, but probably in the one in ten range rather than a hearty sector of the crowd—but the screening atmosphere was quite lively.
Festival honcho Adam Lopez took the stage to introduce the bill for the rest of the festival, which goes until Friday. Some of the highlights have come and gone like the Sundance standout Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter, which features a young woman (Rinko Kikuchi) who sees a copy of the Coen Brother’s Fargo and goes in search of the loot buried in the ice at the end of the film. Nonetheless, tonight is sci-fi night, tomorrow is post-apocalyptic night, and Thursday has a documentary I can’t wait for called Why Horror? hosted by the Rue Morgue folks, so plenty to come.
As for Housebound (2014), Lopez played the flick up as one the programmers all unanimously loved and had to work hard to get access to because of pending distribution deal. The film came bundled with a recorded introduction by New Zealand director Gerard Johnstone describing the film as a spooky ‘black comedy.’
I liked the flick with several reservations. It starts out with a troubled young woman named Kylie (Morgana O’Reilly, doing her best Noomi Rapace in the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but nonetheless an excellent anchor for the film) involved in possibly the worst ATM robbery of all time, and probably the funniest bit in the whole film, which lands her back before the courts. She’s sentenced to eight months house arrest in the domicile of her mother (Rima Te Wiata who is hamming it up pretty consistently throughout as a harpy mom stereotype) at her oddly looming and isolated home. Yeah, it’s a haunted house movie, although the film has a number of twists and turns that make me wonder if it might not have worked just as well as a straight suspense flick rather than shoehorning in the gags, especially with O'Reilly’s strong performance. The jokey bits involving the mother or a security guard named Amos (Glen-Paul Waru) are about half-funny—when they spoof the horror genre they tend to work—and half-groan inducing. There’s a lot of bad jokes that aren't even worthy of a Chuck Lorre sitcom here. When all is said and done, the film overcomes a languid first half with a pretty raucous final third. Yeah, the plot has a few tanker sized holes, but not enough to sink the whole enterprise.
Apparently the flick is getting a Canadian release in theatres as Lopez revealed at the screening, so if this is your bag, keep a look out.
And the winners are…
We talked it up last week in this column, but here are a list of the winners for last week’s Reel Indie Film Festival that had its second run-through as part of Indie Week here in Toronto. As mentioned, the format was to engage audiences with music through visual representations in the cinema. You get a music video, a short, and then a feature doc. As such, there were prizes awarded for each of those categories. The jury consisted of 30 members, 10 for each category and there were eight films in competition in each of said categories.
Best Music Video
When the Time is Right (Such Small Creatures)
Directed by Travis Laidlaw (Canada)
Appears the band has not released the video yet so that it could be embedded here. Looks like the video is set to one of the tracks from their 2013 EP Falls. Check them out here.
Best Short Film
Directed by Michael Slavens (USA)
What Cheer? is a film that tries to visualize the isolation and numbness people go through while grieving. Richard Kind (he of Spin City and he who apparently had George Clooney as his best man—go figure) plays a man whose wife has recently passed away and all of a sudden a 20-piece brass band appears to follow him around, drowning out the world around him.
Best Feature Film
Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory
Directed by Michael Rossato-Bennett (USA)
I have heard mixed things about this documentary, but the premise is quite interesting. It covers the work of an activist group called Music & Memory, at odds with the problematic American health care system, trying to use the power of music to help aid in the preservation of memory and the warding off of diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
I happened upon this event and it sounds interesting enough to be worth the trip, especially for free admittance. The panel is discussing the relationship between film and cities, with a focus on Florence, and not surprisingly Toronto, in conjunction with the release of the Florence edition for World Film Locations series. The panel includes Alberto Zambenedetti and contributor Luca Somigli, Fiona Luck and Kevin Harrison The rise of the urban metropolis has always been seen as a concurrent force with the rise of cinema, whether you want to talk about silent flicks like Berlin: A Symphony of a Great City, Dziga Vertov’s experimental Man With A Movie Camera, the futurism of films like Metropolis or even Blade Runner. And Florence is gorgeous, so why not? Check it out tonight at 6:30 at the Istituto Italiano di Cultura.
Toronto Screengrab of the Week
So last week’s effort was the Adam Sandler debacle Billy Madison—a movie that everyone kind of likes but no one wants to go so far as to actually say it’s good, which it isn’t—that filmed scenes at Western Tech and Northern Secondary School here in the city. Sandler was back in Toronto all summer filming the upcoming Pixels.
This week takes us to a spot that’s no longer standing in the GTA but was the site of a thematically appropriate re-make given the time of year. As far as re-makes of great films go, this one ain’t half-bad, but it’s also not the original.