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Dantes Inferno: An Animated Epic (2010) Review

Dante’s Inferno, a collaboration between EA Games and Film Roman, provides a new twist on the classic poem about a wayward visitor and the multiple layers of Hell. Utilizing an anthology-style of filmmaking similar to Batman: Gotham Knight and The Animatrix, there is a unique visual style that lends the production a sense of continuity. Enlisting renowned animation studios such as Production GI (Kill Bill) and Manglobe (Ergo Proxy), the artwork behind Dante’s Inferno is both fluid and unifying.

Utilizing six directors, the descending levels of Hell each possess a distinctive landscape indicative to the nature of eternal torment. Granted, with so many creative forces at work, Dante’s Inferno can initially appear muddled and confusing, but a closer inspection will uncover many subtle and cohesive allusions to one another. Complete with lush, nightmarish glory, this is a film that is best viewed, and feared, with the enhanced Blu Ray disc. With some bone-chilling but beautiful visuals, the viewer is lead down the path of eternal peril, alongside our hero Dante, who struggles to reconcile the demons inherent to his personal sins.

Despite being a cartoon, the story is darkly complex, and a bit too intense for the tender eyes of children. But for adults, it proves to be an engaging story, I mean it is a classic for a reason, and it never fails to have you rooting for the hero. In particular, the voice-over artists do a superb job, and with unexpectedly subtle performances by the likes of Mark Hamill, the journey unfolds with passion and vigor.

Dante’s Inferno is a great addition to any video library, especially if you have a love of anime or anthology style films. The plotline and animation are true feasts for the eyes, and with such diverse pool from which to draw, the rich series of visuals continually spiral down, down, down, into the icy depths of gothic anime Hell.

Frozen (2010) Review

Frozen (2010) Review

Sometimes in horror movies, simplicity is key. Case in point: writer/director Adam Green’s latest thriller Frozen. The film follows three main characters, trapped on a ski lift several hundred feet in the air with no hope of rescue. It’s one of those simple premises that everyone can identify with, and has always secretly been terrified by. Despite some minor setbacks involving awkward characterization, Frozen promises to be one of the tensest cinematic experiences of 2010. Not to mention that it has garnered a surprising amount of positive press following its premier at the Sundance Film Festival.

Emma Bell, Shawn Ashmore, and Kevin Zegers star as three college buddies escaping homework for a weekend on the slopes. The first 20 minutes is dedicated to establishing their personalities, and unfortunately some of the writing is on par with a cheesy 80s ski comedy. The character types are well worn – the arrogant alpha male, the skeptical girlfriend, the socially awkward stoner – and Green does little as a writer to distinguish his characters from the cast of Ski School.

Fortunately, Green traps them on the ski lift quickly, and at once the film transforms itself into a gut-wrenching survival horror with very few missteps. From the moment the three leads realize the severity of their predicament until the lone survivor – come on, there always has to be one – stumbles to safety, the director skillfully increases tension on an almost second-by-second basis.

Frozen (2010) Review 1
Frozen (2010) – Anchor Bay Films

The horror in Frozen doesn’t rely on genre clichés like a hulking masked killer. Instead, director Adam Green (Hatchet) exploits identifiable day-to-day fears. As wide shots of the lift provide an unnerving sense of vertigo, you can practically feel the cold itching up your spine. While the carefully produced make-up effects will leave you with phantom tingles of psychosomatic frost bite. The simplicity of the film is a refreshing change of pace from the current horror climate. In many ways, this is a suspenseful genre throwback.

Yes, there are more conventional thrills, like compound fractures and the nauseating peel of frozen skin, but this is really a movie where the devil is in the details. When a character loses a glove, leaving a hand open to the elements, it tops the dramatic impact of most grisly horror genre death scenes. Some sequences are almost unbearably suspenseful, and it’s nice to see a contemporary horror director using simple tricks of audience manipulation rather than the shock and awe tactics that define most current genre outings like Saw.

That being said, there are a few flaws sure to put off some viewers. The dialogue can be a little lame at times and the characters never cease to act on bad ideas. But these are minor quibbles in what is an otherwise expertly crafted survival horror flick.

If ski lifts ever made you uneasy before, you’ll never go on one after this. Plus it’s nice to have a “warm flesh stuck on cold metal” scene that tops the discomfort of the tongue sequence in A Christmas Story. Anyone frustrated with the current state of horror movies can start their reevaluation here. Well, as long as you skip the first 15 minutes, anyway.

Grown Up Movie Star Review

Grown Up Movie Star Review

As with most films about coming to terms with sexuality, Adrianna Maggs’ directorial debut Grown Up Movie Star is rooted in tragic failures of communication. Set within an inaccessible Newfoundland outport, the story begins with a one-sided conversation in a car. Ruby, the thirteen-year-old daughter of a “sham marriage” has just been informed that her mother is leaving the country to become a movie star.

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Cooper’s Camera Review

Christmas movies typically fall into one of two categories – There are the bright and bubbly classics designed to make families feel warm on the holidays, and there are the dark satires that expose the seedy underside of the hallmark holiday. Bob Clark’s beloved A Christmas Story falls into the former category, and provided Canada with a pleasant Christmas movie to be proud of. But on the flipside, Canada’s never had our version of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation or Bad Santa – that is, until now.

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Body (Corpo) Review

Body (Corpo) Review

The feature debut from Brazilian husband-and-wife duo Rossana Foglia and Rubens Rewald, Corpo follows a morose coroner, Artur (Leonardo Medeiros) in his quest to identify a female corpse. But this, however, is no ordinary body. Depicting ghastly signs of torture, this corpse was discovered alongside with hundreds of skeletons in a secret gravesite used by a former military dictatorship.

Artur’s obsession with identifying the corpse leads him to discover that she is a left-wing theatre artist. Like many other political dissidents, this radical actress was arrested, interrogated, and removed from public records. Though it appears that her remains are only a few days old, Artur is quick to dismiss this notion, instead opting to believe that she has somehow been preserved for several decades.

Yet when he contacts her family, he is confronted by Fernanda (Rejane Arruda), a capricious young woman who claims that she is the artist’s daughter, and that her mother is still very much alive. Refusing to believe that this is mere coincidence, Artur digs deeper, and the search for answers only serves to distort the boundaries between appearance and reality.

Despite its intriguing premise, Corpo isn’t a particularly exciting or thought-provoking film. What’s worse, its potential is completely derailed by a frightfully poor translation of Portuguese into English subtitles. As a result, scenes riddled with stylistic subtext are rendered moot, leaving the English-speaking audience grasping for relevance.

From here, things grow progressively more complicated – and more tenuous – as Foglia and Rewald ditch traditional narrative techniques by placing elliptical flashbacks intended to fill in the story’s numerous gaps. Unfortunately, this brings about more questions than answers, and adds to further layers of bewilderment to the tale.

Indeed, the film deals with substantial philosophic and political issues, especially with regard to the military occupation of the 60s and 70s. Despite the historically relevance, these events tend to foster more confusion than symbolism, and could have easily been written out of the script.

That’s not to say there isn’t a bit of life left in Corpo.  

Medeiros gives a strong performance as he plays the gloomily competent coroner in search of truth. In his defense, Medeiros does elevate the quality of this film, but through no fault of his own fails to match the success of his other roles in O Veneno da Madrugada and Cabra Cega. That being said, we come to know Artur as a master of his craft, gracefully performing an autopsy on a young man as an artist works away at his canvas who is a suitable and likeable protagonist.

The make-up and special effects team deserve to be commended for achieving frightfully brilliant cadavers. Fans of CSI and morbid curiosity will be delighted to know the realism is certainly present in all its horrific splendour, so much so, you could taste the putrefying flesh as if you too were hunched over the slab with Artur.

But sadly, those looking to feast on a sumptuously innovative, complex psychological thriller are heartily advised to look elsewhere – there’s just a bite of banality here.

The White Ribbon (2009) Review

The White Ribbon (2009) Review

There’s a mystery afoot in Michael Haneke’s stark and downbeat new thriller. The White Ribbon has already collected a mantel’s-worth of awards, beginning with the Palm d’Or at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, and more recently, a Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film. In early February, The White Ribbon was nominated for two Oscars – Best Cinematography and Best Foreign Language Film – where it is the odds-on favourite to win the latter.

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The Trotsky (2009) Review

The Trotsky (2009) Review

The Trotsky is a movie that desperately wants to be a cult hit. Sure, it is definitely a bizarre comedy, but not one that is destined for cult status. It’s simply trying too hard to be strange rather than simply being the result of a unique vision of a filmmaker. The movie is still a decent comedy and not without its charms. Just don’t expect it to have much of a shelf life. 

Former Popular Mechanics for Kids host and current Club Apatow member Jay Baruchel stars as a misfit teen named Leon Bronstein. For reasons best known to himself, Leon has decided that he is the reincarnation of socialist leader Leon Trotsky. The opening scenes see him struggling to organize a failed strike for worker’s rights at his father’s company. As punishment, he finds himself placed in a public school where he immediately antagonizes the principal (Colm Feore) and joins the student union with dreams of revolution.

Of course, high school kids don’t care enough to form any sort of revolution. At least they don’t without a delusional teen brave enough to spur them on, right? Right?

The plot is predictable but reasonably satisfying. The message about teenage apathy is apt, even if a strong high school satire could have been made on that subject without all the socialist baggage. In the end, the movie is dragged down by its main conceit. There are strong performances across the board, Jacob Tierney directs with confidence, and the script has a handful of decent laughs. Unfortunately the central Leon Trotsky conceit feels like a forced attempt at making what is essentially a light comedy seem political and intelligent. It also doesn’t help that the entire project has been fashioned on Rushmore, but with Max Fisher as Trotsky. The deadpan humor, verbose dialogue, widescreen cinematography, and musical montages in The Trotsky come lifted from Wes Anderson wholesale, which can be more than a little distracting.

Fortunately the actors keep things interesting. Bauchel works his geeky charm for all it’s worth. Feore clearly has fun mugging his way through the villain role. Up-and-coming comedic actor Ricky Mabe (Zack And Miri Make A Porno) steals some scenes as the apathetic student union leader, and Robert Altman regular Michael Murphy lends the film some big screen legitimacy as a pothead lawyer. With this being a Montréal based production, director Jacob Tierney even sneaks in some cameo roles for the stars of last year’s hysterical Canuk comedy Who Is KK Downey (a movie with a legitimate shot at cult status) and their presence is welcome in any Canadian film. Strong acting keeps the movie afloat, but just barely.

The Trotsky is a cute idea for a movie and it never really ascends beyond that. True, it’s smart and silly, but bares resemblance to too many better subversive high school comedies to ever stand on its own. The movie won’t become the cult hit the filmmakers clearly set out to make simply because there’s nothing memorable enough about the project to inspire devotion from a loyal fanbase. This is no cinematic revolution.