Category Archives: Canada

Scanners (1981)

Director: David Cronenberg

According to Wikipedia this was Cronenberg’s biggest commercial hit to this point in his career, returned something like $15m on a $3m budget which was fair business… seems also to have been his most straightforward film so far too (though I can’t judge that as I’ve not seen much of his earlier work, just his first two short features and Fast Company, which is… unrepresentative). One thing that is hard to deny, though, is that the film is, rightly or wrongly, known for that one scene, and that one understandably infamous special effect. What surprised me when I first saw the film a few years ago, though, was, well, how not a horror film it otherwise was until you get to the climactic showdown… if anything, Scanners is really more of a conspiracy thriller with a SF undercurrent, involving telepaths created as a side-effect of a pregnancy drug; ConSec, a company dealing in weapons and security, is using these scanners for its own purposes, and finds itself opposed by a rogue scanner (Michael Ironside) basically out to rule the world with the “scanner underground” he’s creating, leading ConSec to send out their last scanner (Stephen Lack) to stop him. Except Lack’s good guy is more like Ironside’s bad guy than he realises… Ironside is fine as Revok, and I just wish the film had used him a little bit more than it did; Lack is more problematic as Vale, because he is, well, kind of lacking. Apparently he is and was better known as an artist than as an artiste; either way he doesn’t exactly bring much in the way of screen presence, does he… I wouldn’t be as harsh as the IMDB commenter suggesting he should’ve got a Razzie for his work, but equally I’m not sure I side with his defenders saying Vale was supposed to be a flat character; it’s a thin line between flat character and just flat acting and I think Lack lands on the wrong side more often than not. He’s a weak link in a film that was already kind of ordinary, and which I think wouldn’t be particularly remembered if it weren’t kind of overshadowed by the exploding head business that the rest of the film doesn’t quite live up to…

Heavy Metal (1981)

Director: Gerald Potterton (and various others)

Well, FINALLY I know who voices so many of the 80s horror trailers in the Drive-In Delirium series, i.e. Percy Rodriguez, the voice of the Loc-Nar in this film… for some reason he’s uncredited in the film itself but he’s listed on Wikipedia; I thought the voice sounded kind of familiar, and lo, his Wiki page does indeed list a few of those very trailers… Another name missing from the credits is that of Jean Giraud, which is a bit rude, given that he only helped create the magazine (Métal Hurlant) that became Heavy Metal in the US and eventually birthed this film, and given also that one of his stories inspired one of the stories in it as well… Anyway, Heavy Metal the film is made up of various stories from Heavy Metal the magazine, all revolving in some way or other around a green orb called the Loc-Nar (voiced by Rodriguez), all glued together with a frame story in such a way that it all makes not a lot of sense; the various stories were handled by various sequence directors and various animation houses, so there’s a certain degree of diversity that kind of undermines the coherence a bit further (although a fair amount of the animation in the film was done by rotoscoping, so the whole thing does have a faintly Ralph Bakshi feel to it). Heavy Metal was unavailable for years thanks to music rights issues, and the soundtrack is probably the most interesting thing about it, not just Elmer Bernstein’s orchestral score (with ondes martenot!) but the many and varied rock/new wave numbers too. A somewhat vexing experience to watch, though; quite apart from having problems with the humdrum storytelling, Heavy Metal just struck me as rooted in its very particular time and place, when the idea of comics (and animation) being pitched at adults and able to encompass this sort of overt sex and violence and all that was still fairly new, and I’m not sure it’s worn too well over the years since then… impressive enough to look at but a bit tiresome to actually watch.

Anvil: The Story of Anvil (2008)

Isn’t that just one of the best titles for a film ever? Something about it seems so right for a film about an 80s heavy metal band. I’m actually faintly ashamed now to admit that, before I first heard of this film, I’d never actually heard of Anvil. Which really perplexes me, cos the film clearly shows that there is great and genuine love for them among those who have. Who were these people that bands like Metallica and Anthrax and Slayer aspired to be and why had I never heard of them? Most likely answer: astounding bad luck. While the kids they inspired joined major labels and sold millions of records and all that, Anvil, well, didn’t. We first see them playing to thousand of people at a Japanese festival in 1984, then 20 years later vocalist “Lips” is delivering food to catering companies. And yet, whatever went wrong, he and drummer Robb Reiner (obviously not to be confused with the director of This Is Spinal Tap, that other great metal documentary) have faith in themselves and each other. They vowed to pursue the dream, and damned if they’re going to give up just because they’re long past the age where most other bands who’d never made it would’ve quit. That faith sees them through some remarkable shit, from a debacle of a European tour to the difficulties of funding their new album and then recording it without, you know, imploding… to say nothing of how they’ll actually get it out there. It’s a genuinely remarkable tale, told by someone who knew them well back in the day (director Sacha Gervasi having been their roadie in the 80s), and there’s real emotional heft to it, without the gormlessness the subject could’ve entailed; when something does finally go right for them at the film’s end, they’ve earned it. That’s how it differs from Some Kind of Monster (apart from it being half as long as the Metallica film; this is comparatively fat-free and low on self-indulgence): unlike that film, this one is about people who you actually want to see succeed.

Suck (2009)

Why yes, the blog has been neglected for a couple of weeks, thanks for noticing. Unfortunately there’s been another ludicrously time-consuming project demanding I work at it properly rather than just do it in bits every now and then, so film-watching’s fallen by the wayside as a result… until last night. Frankly I wasn’t actually in a film-watching mood, I was at a friend’s place to do other stuff and I had this thing foisted upon me much against my will; and when I was told it was a comedy about vampires featuring Malcolm McDowell, Alice Cooper and Iggy Pop that had more or less gone straight to video, my expectations were not high. Suck had an uphill battle on its hands with me, and it’s much to the film’s credit that by the end I was totally won over by it. It’s the story of a rather hapless indie rock band ironically named The Winners, who are pretty much dying on their feet, abandoned by their manager and struggling to make inroads… until the female bass player becomes a vampire and the band’s profile suddenly lifts, despite the attendant complications of having to dispose of the bodies. The advertising obviously highlights all the big name guest stars rather than the lesser lights in the actual lead roles, which is understandable but a bit sad cos they’re all quite good at what they do (particularly Chris Ratz’ unfortunate roadie/Renfield); but it is the bigger names that’ll draw people. McDowell is good as Eddie van Helsing (ha!), the vampire hunter who fears the dark; Alice Cooper is, well, Alice Cooper; Iggy is strangely menacing and menacingly strange; I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t recognise Henry Rollins as the loathsome DJ (amazing what difference a wig makes); and casting *Moby* of all people as Beef, the lead singer of a band whose schtick involves the audience pelting them with raw bloody meat, was genuinely inspired. Suck is a small film with enough sense not to get ambitious beyond its means; while the parallel it wants to draw between vampirism and drug addiction is a bit obvious and occasionally laboured, on the whole the film has a well-done easy charm that made it a winner for me. If it hadn’t been foisted on me like that, I likely would’ve bypassed it and missed something good. Needless to say it shouldn’t be confused with Vampires Suck

My Winnipeg (2007)

Hockey politics, a Nazi invasion of Canada, sleepwalking, strange municipal laws, seances, B-grade melodrama reenactments of childhood events that may not have happened performed by actors including one who the narrator claims is really his mother, frozen horses, a daily soap opera whose action over the 50 years  it’s been on has consisted entirely of a man threatening to jump off a building ledge… it’s Guy Maddin’s “docufantasia” My Winnipeg, and it could be described as strange to say the least. My experience of Maddin has hitherto been limited to seeing The Saddest Music in the World (which I recall being kind of befuddled by) and reading more about his fascination with silent cinema and his attempts to try and recreate that style in his own films, fondness for what his IMDB bio calls “lo-fi” techniques like Super 8, that sort of thing, and I knew he had some sort of reputation as an interesting artist among your hardcore cinephile crowd. As such, though I wasn’t exactly overwhelmed by the other film, when I found My Winnipeg at the library I thought I should check it out, maybe see if I liked it better, which I probably didn’t. The narrative thread, if you can call it that, concerns “Maddin” trying to escape Winnipeg, the town he’s spent his whole life in, while trying to erect a somewhat absurdist myth about the place. This is done in somewhat fussy style, involving an assortment of period newsreel footage, reenactments, backprojected slides, and Maddin’s own narration (which he sometimes performs live at showings of the film), itself a curious mix of portentous semi-poetry, seemingly genuine anger, and so forth. It’s not uninteresting but something about it never entirely clicked with me so that it never seemed more than mildly amusing, the surrealism felt forced, and even at just 80 minutes it seemed to wear out its welcome well before the end.

Edge Codes (2004)

This was an interesting Canadian documentary on the noble art of film editing. Personally I’ve always felt that editing—in terms of selectivity of material—was the real secret to documentary, and to that extent this film is decidedly problematic. Perhaps ironically, the film is arguably over-edited, and its tendency to get the captions identifying its film excerpts wrong (misdating, misspelling people’s names, even getting at least one title wrong), but the speed with which it moves across its material makes it a bit hard to fully absorb. It’s not really a film for neophytes; if you don’t already have some idea of what editing involves, this won’t exactly teach you the basics (does it even fully explain the principles of continuity editing? I don’t think it did). But it’s still interesting, the excerpts are wide-ranging and often unexpected (I was delighted to see the mythical Kuleshov experiment with the Ivan Mozzhukin close-up, which I thought was lost if it had ever existed to begin with), and it finds room for an unfortunately brief consideration of some ideological implications of the art. Showed on ABC2 tonight which means it will likely show on ABC1 next Sunday afternoon; if so, I may watch it again then.

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