Detective Dee And The Mystery Of The Phantom Flame

a.k.a. Di Renjie
2010    Runtime: 124′  Director: Tsui Hark
Writers: Chen Kuo-Fu, Chang Chia-Lu  Cinematography: Parkie Chan Chor-Keung, Chan Chi-Ying
Music: Peter Kam Pau-Tat   Cast:
Andy Lau Tak-Wah, Li Bing-Bing, Tony Leung Ka-Fai, Deng Chao,
Carina Lau Ka-Ling, Richard Ng Yiu-Hon, Teddy Robin Kwan

China in the 7th Century, during the Tang Dynasty. To commemorate her crowning as the first (and, unfortunately, last) Empress of China, Wu Zetian (Carina Lau) has commissioned the building of an unpleasantly gigantic statue of the Buddha pretty much next to her palace grounds. Her rather dictatorial policies have left the Empress with a lot of enemies, so it doesn’t come as much of a surprise when trouble hits her construction project.

Two of the people responsible for the building of the Godzilla-large statue are killed. More surprising than the fact of their death is the way the men die – spontaneous combustion. The deaths may very well have been caused by the victims’ moving of some magical pieces of script hanging inside of the statue, but the Empress is only prone to superstition when it suits her, and stays sceptical. After her chief chaplain (as the not exactly trustworthy subtitles call him) visits her in form of a talking deer and mutters an imprecise prophecy, the Empress decides that the stars ask her to put the mystery into the hands of Judge Dee (Andy Lau).

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The Troll Hunter

a.k.a.: Trolljegeren
2010   Company: Filmkameratene A/S   Runtime: 99′
Director: André Øvredal   Writer: André Øvredal   Cinematography: Hallvard Bræin
Music: Alan Wilson   Cast: Otto Jespersen, Glenn Erland Tosterud, Johanna Mørck, Tomas Alf Larsen,
Urmila Berg-Domaas, Hans Morten Hansen, Robert Stoltenberg, Knut Nærum, Erik Bech,
Inge Erik Henjesand, Tom Jørgensen, Benedicte Aubert Ringnes, Magne Skjævesland
Coming to US theatres (June 2011) and on demand (May 2011) through Magnet Releasing.
Currently available on Region B Blu-ray and Region 2 DVD in Norway:

There are plenty who would say that the found footage genre has worn out its welcome over the course of the past decade, and I’m in no position to argue otherwise.  Much of the effectiveness of the format relies on its inherent verisimilitude, but after all of the shaky-cam horrors of the past few years (Cloverfield, Paranormal Activity 1 and 2, REC 1 and 2, Quarantine, and Diary of the Dead, to name a few) there’s little denying that the format has become just as transparent as any other.  The Troll Hunter may not do much to change that fact, but that doesn’t mean this comparatively light-hearted Norwegian monster romp isn’t a whole lot of fun.

The Troll Hunter owes at least a small debt to 1999’s The Blair Witch Project, the found footage blockbuster that, while far from the first, served as the catalyst for the current trend.  Both films find a group of aspiring college documentarians investigating an aspect of local folklore and feature plenty of footage of those same documentarians running from unseen somethings in the woods.  The Troll Hunter improves upon the Blair Witch formula through superior dramatics (which rest almost entirely on the shoulders of controversial comedian Otto Jespersen, who plays the title role) and a desire to entertain its audience with more than just a succession of cheap scares.  Of course The Troll Hunter also has trolls, and what’s more, it isn’t afraid to use them.

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Year: 2010    Runtime: 85′   Director: Josh Reed
Writer: Josh Reed, Nigel Christensen  Cinematography: John Biggins  Music: Rob Gibson
Cast: Zoe Tuckwell-Smith, Will Traval, Krew Boylan, Lindsay Farris, Rebekah Foord, Damien Freeleagus

Warning: there will be an especially egregious spoiler for one of the movie’s “surprises” in the second to last paragraph, but there are things late in the movie too ridiculous/awesome/tasteless not to mention.

The usual bunch of young ones travels into the depth of the Australian Outback to see and photograph some twelve-thousand year old wall paintings nobody has seen since an ancestor of Anja (Zoe Tuckwell-Smith) was at the place. The paintings are supposed to pave Anja’s friend’s Dace’s (Will Traval) way to a doctorate, but, this being a horror film and all, obviously are only steps on the road to…doom.

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Hair of the Beast

a.k.a.: Le Poil De La Bête
2010    Runtime: 92′   Director: Philippe Gagnon
Writer: Pierre Daudelin, Stephane J. Bureau  Cinematography: Steve Asselin  Music: Martin Roy, Alexis Le May
Cast: Guillaume Lemay-Thivierge, Viviane Audet, Gilles Renaud, Patrice Robitaille, Antoine Bertrand

Nouvelle France, 1665. The charming, if unwashed, rogue and professional seducer of women Joseph Cote (Guillaume Lemay-Thivierge), has worked his charm on the wrong girl this time, and has been sentenced to be hanged. Using his mildly impressive wit, Joseph manages to escape from his jail cell and flees into the barely settled lands outside of Quebec. On his way, he finds the rather shredded corpse of a Jesuit priest, and decides to take what’s left of the dead man’s clothes and belongings; surely, as a priest he will have a much easier life getting around. In his new priestly persona, Joseph is soon enough attacked by something large, fast and hairy that knocks him out. He is rescued by a farmer who takes him into the small settlement he’s living in – and by “small”, I really mean small. Two large-ish huts, one church and a slightly better built house for the noble owner of these lands – who is off in Quebec right now acquiring potential brides for his sons and servants – a walk through the woods away, are all the place has to offer.

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Tommy Wiseau: In the Flesh Pt. 2

I’ll keep this short, and get right to the good stuff.  For the past couple of months the top search term leading people to this site has been consistent – Tommy Wiseau.  The reason?  A minor article I published announcing the cult writer / director / producer / actor’s November 19th visit to the Twin Cities, an event already four months old but that is, never-the-less, still netting me all kinds of traffic.

I had intended to write an article all about that visit, as I was in attendance, but it never came to pass.  Still, it seems such a shame to waste the pictures that I and my friends took of the event.  So here they are – Wtf-Film’s minor photographic record of The Room at the Uptown Theatre on November 19th, 2010, and of Tommy Wiseau in the flesh.  You’re welcome. Continue reading

Whistle and I’ll Come to You

Year: 2010   Runtime: 54′   Director: Andy DeEmmony
Writer: Neil Cross   Music: Norwell & Green   Cinematography: Rob Hardy
Cast: John Hurt, Gemma Jones, Lesley Sharp, Sophie Thompson

Retired astronomer James Parkin (John Hurt) has been taking care of his wife Alice (Gemma Jones), who is suffering from some form of senile dementia, for a few years now, but, because of his own age, has to put her into a nursing home.

In an attempt to distract himself from the resulting sadness, and his feeling of having already lost his wife and their love to the ravages of age while they are both still alive, Parkin goes on vacation in an old hotel somewhere on the coast. While going walking along the coastline (or “rambling”, as he prefers to call it), Parkin finds a ring with a Latin inscription translated as “Who is this who is coming?” buried in the sand. He takes the ring with him. From this moment on, Parkin is haunted by something that he might or might not have carried around with himself all along. On the beach, a fearful, shrouded shape that fills Parkin with inexplicable terror is following him; in his hotel, his sleep is disturbed by scratching noises and nightmares that soon enough turn into someone or something banging on his door. As a scientist, Parkin is sceptical of all supernatural explanations, but his fear tells him something different.

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The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec

Year: 2010   Runtime: 107′   Director: Luc Besson
Writer: Luc Besson   Music: Eric Serra   Cinematography: Thierry Arbogast
Cast: Louise Bourgoin, Jacky Nercessian, Mathieu Amalric,
Gilles Lelouche, Philippe Nahon, Jean-Paul Rouve

Journalist and adventurer Adele Blanc-Sec (Louise Bourgoin) is adventuring in Egypt. The young woman is attempting to steal the mummy of Patmosis, the personal physician of Ramses II. Adele’s not in it for money or fame, though. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Adele is trying to acquire Patmosis so that her friend, the elderly – and nutty – professor Esperandieu (Jacky Nercessian) can revive the dead guy with his enormous mind powers. The newly alive Patmosis, or so Adele hopes, will then use the superior medical knowledge of the ancient Egyptians to cure her sister, who has been lying in a waking coma ever since a very unfortunate tennis/hatpin accident (for which Adele feels guilty) five years ago. Acquiring the mummy needs all of Adele’s (also quite enormous) powers of sarcasm and adventuring, but evading a nasty French government agent and gaining possession of the dead doctor is only the beginning of what the young writer will have to do to save her sister.

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A Serbian Film

Year: 2010   Company: Contra Film   Runtime: 104′
Director: Srdjan Spasojevic   Writers: Srdjan Spasojevic, Aleksandar Radivojevic
Cinematography: Nemanja Jovanov   Music: Sky Wikluh
Cast: Srdjan Todorovic, Sergej Trifunovic, Jelena Gavrilovic, Katarina Zutic,
Slobodan Bestic, Ana Sakic, Lena Bogdanovic, Luka Mijatovic, Andjela Nenadovic

Angry, nihilistic and repulsive in more or less equal measure, Srdjan Spasojevic’s A Serbian Film has followed a cultural trend not unlike the recent horror bust The Human Centipede, and become notorious online before most have even had a chance to see it.  The big difference between the two is that A Serbian Film delivers the gruesome goods, a compendium of some of the most vile horror concepts in recent exploitation history, though whether that’s for better or for worse is up for debate.

I must confess – I had absolutely no intention of reviewing this one after I finished screening it on Friday, and it’s taken a weekend worth of thought to change my mind on that particular front.  At the time I had no idea of how to discuss what I had seen, a parade of grotesque sexual violence that was brutal in its extremity yet near comic in its absurdity.  Rather than being put off by the whole affair I found myself mostly confused, unsure of what I should be feeling about a film that so unapologetically, even carelessly, careens through such topics as incest and child rape.  One thing was for sure – I wasn’t entertained.

Then again, entertainment is the one thing I’m positive A Serbian Film doesn’t set out to be.

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Piranha 3D

film rating:
company: Dimension Films
and The Weinstein Company
year: 2010
runtime: 88′
director: Alexandre Aja
cast: Elisabeth Shue, Steven R. McQueen,
Jessica Szohr, Ving Rhames,
Jerry O’Connell, Richard Dreyfuss,
Christopher Lloyd, Eli Roth
writers: Pete Goldfinger
and Josh Stolberg
cinematography: John R. Leonetti
music: Michael Wandmacher
Out in wide release now

Plot: Spring break festivities at a lakeside resort come to a relentlessly bloody end after a species of piranha thought extinct for millions of years unexpectedly resurfaces.

It’s worth repeating before going too much into things that I’m a huge fan of the original Piranha, the Joe Dante-directed John Sayles-penned Roger Corman-produced cult classic that took drive-in audiences by storm in the summer of 1978. After a dreadful official sequel produced by Ovidio G. Assontis and a limp mid-90s Corman remake, I was necessarily underwhelmed when news of yet another retread came across the wire. But contemporary cult powerhouses Dimension Films and the Weinstein Company have done more than just repeat that tired history, they’ve set out to unleash an indelible exploitation experience for the ages. I plunked down a hard-earned $13 and saw their film last night in all the gimmicky glory RealD stereoscopic projection has to offer and have to confess – it was one hell of a show.

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