Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Review: Rat Film

Rat Film is a documentary about rats and the people involved with them in the City of Baltimore, Maryland. Maybe? It's probably best to refer to the film's official synopsis:

Across walls, fences, and alleys, rats not only expose our boundaries of separation but make homes in them. "Rat Film" is a feature-length documentary that uses the rat—as well as the humans that love them, live with them, and kill them--to explore the history of Baltimore. "There's never been a rat problem in Baltimore, it's always been a people problem".
There were many times throughout the film when I wondered just what was going on, as it also touches on a weird 3D game/map, systemic racism and segregation ("Isn’t it nice to think that when it rains, the whole city gets wet?”), and different elements of crime scene investigations. But it’s somehow all this and more and still compelling, gross (I felt physically ill at one point - the highest praise you can give to art?), surreal, insightful, existential, and weird. It’s like filmmaker Theo Anthony set out to make a documentary about rats and ended up deftly covering a lot more. The film doesn't suffer because of this. If anything, the film's disjointed plot is a big appeal.


The most interesting part of Rat Film for me was seeing different rat catchers (and lovers) from different walks of life and how they relate with the rodents. One character - a rat specialist with the City of Baltimore - was particularly insightful, pondering for the film about life, God, and the afterlife. And rats, of course.

4 Out Of 5 Stars

Rat Film is playing at Sun-Ray Cinema as part of their Sleeping Giant Fest. The documentary screens on Friday, March 31 at 5:00 p.m. and on Sunday, April 2 at 5:25 p.m.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Review: The Void

A man and a woman burst out of a dark house in the middle of the night, with two attackers hot on their trail. The man survives, but the woman isn’t so lucky. She meets a grisly end, and a hooded figure - looking like a KKK member with a triangle sewn over his face - watches from the shadows as the assailants set off after the man. The Void goes on to follow Daniel Carter, (Aaron Poole) a police officer who takes the survivor to an on-the-verge-of-closing-due-to-fire-damage hospital. Once there, Carter must deal with insanity, murder, cultists (the hooded figure has quite a few friends), and otherworldly monsters.

Screen Media Films

The stylish and Lovecraftian The Void seems like someone put the films of John Carpenter and Clive Barker in a blender and then tried to strangle you with the power cord (in a good way). You’ll sense elements of Carpenter’s The Thing and Prince of Darkness and Barker’s Hellraiser (I think there’s a scene late in The Void that’s a direct homage to a bit in this film) and Lord of Illusions. A good story unfolds in The Void as well, something that can get lost in a movie like this in favor of zaniness for the sake of zaniness. In fact, there’s prequel-levels of backstory hinted at in the film, something lesser films wouldn't make time for.

But don’t get me wrong, there is definitely zaniness. There's a great atmosphere, thanks to the nearly abandoned hospital and the creepy woods surrounding it. There’s plenty of weird, bloody, and spacey visions to be had, and there’s some great creature effects on display. The Void boasts some very unique horror and gross-out images that are guaranteed to stay with you after the film ends. Writers/directors Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski have extensive backgrounds in art and makeup, so it’s no surprise the visuals here are great. I also noticed some stellar sound design happening - creatures sound both like monsters from another world AND the poor folks they’ve sprouted from. And the third act features the film’s hospital setting sounding more like our heroes are on a creaking ship that’s about to sink into the mouth of hell.

Screen Media Films

Every actor in the film is solid, with Poole standing out particularly as a man in completely over his head as reality turns on him. Kenneth Welsh also shines as a doctor and leader of the hospital's skeleton crew. If I can fault the film for anything, a specific theme of loss may have been used so much that it somehow gets confusing. But the movie more than makes up for this with its visuals and atmosphere.

4 Out Of 5 Stars

The Void is playing at Sun-Ray Cinema as part of their Sleeping Giant Fest. The film screens at 9:10 p.m. on Friday, March 31 and 9:40 p.m. on Saturday, April 1.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Favorite Scene Friday! King Kong: Grab the Raid

Kong: Skull Island, one of my most anticipated movies of the year, is released in cinemas today, so it seems like the right time to discuss another movie that featured the enormous ape, 2005's King Kong directed by Peter Jackson. It's a film I've discussed before when looking at our favourite fight scenes, because seriously, show me a better fight sequence than one between a 25ft tall gorilla and three giant T-Rex-like dinosaurs, but I'm here today to talk about another sequence from the film that has a completely different tone, but one that I love almost as much.

King Kong poster by Matt Ferguson
This scene takes place after our group of seamen and film-makers, in search of the kidnapped Ann (Naomi Watts), have been unceremoniously thrown from a log bridge down into a dark, rocky crevice. The meagre survivors - including writer Jack (Adrien Brody), director Carl (Jack Black), ship's cook Lumpy (Andy Serkis) and cabin boy Jimmy (Jamie Bell) - awaken to find themselves at their lowest point - literally - as they're surrounded by the corpses of their friends, and are soon to be feasted upon by an array of vile and horrific beasties.

It's fair to say that I'm not a horror fan. In fact, I often say so myself. So it puzzles me as to why one of my favourite scenes from this film is easily the most horror-like. I think it might be the nature of the horror, essentially being effects-driven creature-feature, meaning I can appreciate the design of the beasts attempting to devour our heroes, as well as the skill required to render them onscreen.

There's no question as to the most inventive and horrendous of these, and which character undergoes the most traumatising departure because of them, that of the giant penis-teeth slugs and their limb-by-limb consumption of Lumpy. When the first of these bulbous, nightmare-inducing death worms rears up and flails out the sniffing, probing mouth like the creature from Alien, it's downright terrifying. What is that thing? What is it going to do? WHY DOES IT EXIST? Lumpy sticks with his absolutely spot-on first urge - punch it in the closest thing it has to a face - and continues to do so until one starts to creep up his leg, then an arm, and finally his head. The way his scream becomes muffled as the ring of pulsating teeth consume his mouth makes me shudder, and his impotent thrashing of the machete as more of the creatures swarm in, poking and gauging at him truly removes any kind of dignity he had left. There's a chance I won't be sleeping tonight.

This really is the scene where our protagonists have lost everything. Not only are many of them dead and they're stuck at the bottom of what might very well be the gateway to Hell, but Carl's film, the one thing he's been fighting for this whole time, lies unspooled and ruined in the sunlight. Up until this point he has been a driven and single-minded presence, aiming above all else to bring the film canisters home, but the moment that is no longer a possibility he becomes a whirling dervish of fury, the only survivor to take on the hordes of beasts single-handed. Whilst Jimmy miraculously saves Jack from a swarm of bugs the size of cats without actually shooting Jack himself, Carl is kicking thorax and taking names as he dispatches anything and everything that dares approach.

How the scene ends is a little bit too convenient, but it allows for the great Bruce Baxter (played by the equally great Kyle Chandler) to swing in on a vine, gun blazing, in an attempt to redeem himself for earlier cowardice, and that surely must be a great thing, regardless of how super-imposed he looks against the background.

What's your favorite moment from a King Kong film?