Monday, June 20, 2011

The Butterfly Effect

The Butterfly Effect screens at the Toronto Underground Cinema on Friday, June 24th at 7:00pm as part of the DEFENDING THE INDEFENSIBLE series.

Come join us down at the Underground for yet another entry in our Defending the Indefensible series this Friday as two local film critics go head to head in a battle for cinematic supremacy in the name of charity while talking about films that have been forgotten, beaten on, and in many cases quite unjustly maligned.

This week's case study is the 2004 Ashton Kutcher film, The Butterfly Effect. The film, which was a box office success despite sitting unreleased on the shelves of New Line Cinema for close to three years, was trounced by critics upon its release (with a current rating of 30/100 on Metacritic), but has managed to find a cult audience in recent years, garnering a 7.8 rating on IMDB as well as leading to two (very dreadful) direct to DVD sequels. The Butterfly Effect, for all the arguments back and forth, has managed to gross over $100 million worldwide.

The film is the story of Evan (Kutcher) a smart young man who has repressed deeply troubling images and memories from his childhood. Evan begins to find ways to transmute these thoughts into a method of time travel that allows him to alter the past with often frightening results for those closest to him, including his longtime crush, Andrea (Amy Smart).

The evening, hosted by contributor Andrew Parker, will see critics from two of Toronto's biggest weeklies squaring off in a debate about the film's merit. In defense of the film, Adam Nayman from The Grid (as well as Metro, CinemaScope, and others) will explain how The Butterfly Effect is unlike any other time travel movie before or since. On the side of the critical world at large will be NOW Magazine's Norman Wilner, who will try to show that any film featuring a handless Ashton Kutcher is a terrible one.

But that is not all! There are several bonuses to this screening!

During the post film analysis, we will be taking a look at just how much an alternate ending can change the dynamic of a film. The original ending to The Butterfly Effect was a major hindrance to the film's release, and Norman Wilner will also argue that had they kept the original ending, the film would have been improved and possibly even passable.

Also, tickets for this screening will be reduced to a rate of $8 per person (instead of the normal $10). This month's charity is the Red Door Family Shelter, a homeless shelter working specifically with families. For more information on this wonderful cause, please visit

Also, before we leave you, we want to know what movies you guys would like to see local critics discuss. Give us your suggestions for what films you would like to see as part of Defending the Indefensible and we will do our best to make at least one of them happen.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Can't Stop the Serenity

This Saturday afternoon, the Toronto Underground Cinema is proud to be hosting an extremely fun charity event that manages to get bigger every year. Can't Stop the Serenity commences at 12:30pm Saturday, June 18th and is a fundraiser for Equality Now, an organization designed to protect the human rights of women around the world, and involves a screening of the cult Joss Whedon film Serenity, a spin off of the equally cult and unjustly cancelled television series Firefly. The event is organized by the Toronto Browncoats, named after the nickname for freedom fighters in the Firefly universe. They are a group of fans looking not only to spread the gospel of one of their favourite shows, but to raise money for worthwhile social rights issues.

The Toronto Underground Cinema recently spoke with event organizer and chairwoman Melanie Fischer about her love for the crew of the Serenity and what kind of fun to expect this weekend.

Toronto Underground Cinema: Could you give us a brief overview of what the Browncoats do and how they came about?

Melanie Fischer: The Browncoats themselves are basically fans of Firefly and Serenity and there's a local group in Toronto that has been getting together roughly once a month for several years. We have little shindigs and get-togethers. Then a group in the States decided to hold a screening of Serenity a year after its release on Joss Whedon's birthday, which was June 25th. All the proceeds go to Equality Now, which is one of Joss' charities of choice, which promotes equality for women around the world.

We have participated in this yearly event for six years now as part of the global effort called Can't Stop the Serenity, which has more that 50 cities around the world participating. It's all volunteer based. Some people have been on the committee for all six years to organize the event, some have been off and on. Either way it really is a year long event for us where some of us do promotion or organizing and trying to get donations. It starts right from where the last screening took place to get ready for next year.

In the end, it culminates in a day long event where you get to see the movie on the big screen in a theatre filled with fellow fans. There is also a live cash auction where we have all sorts of unique, one of a kind, homemade items from local craftspeople that you can't get anywhere else. We also have merchandise for sale, T-shirts and things like that which you can't get anywhere else. All the proceeds from those sales also go to Equality Now. Over the last five years, I think we have raised about $27,000 and this year we are hoping to cross the $30,000 mark. Worldwide the Browncoats have raised over $550,000. It's pretty significant.

TUC: Do you remember how you personally came to be such a huge fan of both Firefly and Serenity?

MF: I actually came late to the fandom. I hadn't seen the series when it aired on television and then I was at an event with friends when Serenity was released in theatres in September and everyone was talking about it nonstop. I thought this sounded incredible. I had to see what it was all about. But I had heard some rumours about some character deaths in the movie so I wanted to see the series first. I wanted to be invested in the characters so it would have the proper impact when I saw the movie. So we borrowed the DVDs from some friends, my husband and I, and we watched them in about three days and we were literally hooked from the first episode. Then we went and saw the movie and then I had to look online and find anything and everything I could read about Firefly and I found the Canadian Browncoats and the local chapter here in Toronto and the rest is history!

TUC: What do you think it is about Firefly that resonates with so many people?

MF: I think there are elements that everyone can identify with somewhat. You have this ensemble cast and they all embody different things. Somewhere in there is something that people can see that will identify with them. People seem to be really drawn to that classic and eternal underdog story. We're all trying to get ahead and deal with life's tribulations, and here's a group of people trying to do the same thing. We're all in this together and sometimes it's a struggle to get along, so it kind of touches a note.

Doors open at 12:30pm. The film starts at 1:15pm. Tickets are $12 in advance or $15 at the door. Advance tickets and more information can be found at

Monday, June 13, 2011

NXNE at the Underground

The North by Northeast (NXNE) music and film festival really doesn't get into full swing until Wednesday, June 15th, but we start screening films at the Toronto Underground Cinema starting TONIGHT (Monday, June 13th). Here is our line-up and schedule of films for this week's films which showcase everything from pop to punk to metal to hip-hop and beyond.

Individual screening passes are $10, but film festival wristbands passes are also available for the tremendously low rate of $25 and will get you into screenings not only at our theatre, but also to those over at the NFB Mediatheque (150 John Street). Wristbands for both the film festival and for musical events can be purchased at our theatre during normal business hours and doors will open 30 minutes prior to the first screening of the day. For more information, please visit

Monday, June 13th

7:00pm Shakespeare Was a Big George Jones Fan: "Cowboy" Jack Clement's Home Movies - A doc about Nashville's maverick songwriter and producer. "Cowboy" Jack Clement - includes footage of Johnny Cash and Bono.

9:00pm The Last Pogo (short) - Documentary surrounding the last punk rock show to ever take place at Toronto's Horeseshoe Tavern.

Showing with

Kurt Cobain: About a Son - A look back at the life of Kurt Cobain through unused audio interviews courtesy of music writer Michael Azerrad.

Tuesday, June 14th

7:00pm Jandek on Corwood - Documentary about a reclusive Texas musician that "makes J.D. Salinger look like Britney Spears."

9:00pm The Disposable Film Festival - A competitive collection of shorts from all over the world showcasing the latest in film technology and DIY ethics.

Wednesday, June 15th

6:30pm Hori Smoku Sailor Jerry: The Life and Times of Norman K. Collins - A look at influential tattoo artist Sailor Jerry from those who knew him best.

8:30pm Mutual Appreciation - A comedy about musicians in New York trying to make it while learning about themselves.

Thursday, June 16th

2:00pm Noise and Resistance: Voices from the DIY Underground - An inspiring look at Europe's DIY scene with some of the best punk rock heard in years.

4:00pm Violent Days - A French tale of rockabilly, beer, and violence in 1950s Paris. (Preceded by Bitter Grasses, a music video from Karyn Ellis)

6:00pm High on Hope - The story of the rise of dance and house music in 1980s England. (Preceded by the short Buskers)

8:00pm J.X. Williams' Cabinet of Curiosities - This film serves as the Gala Presentation of the NXNE festival, focusing on the life and work of punk rock video director and 70s icon J.X. Williams.

Friday, June 17th

12:00pm Bloodied But Unbowed - A look at the first ever punk rock scene in Vancouver (Preceded by the short Dive and Dimunition: A Punk Rock Story)

2:00pm Ivory Tower - A film from Puppetmastaz emcee Adam Traynor and Canadian rapper Gonzales starring Peaches and Feist. (Preceded by the short City and Colour: In the Studio and We Don't Want Your Body, a music video from Stars)

4:00pm Journey of a Dream - A documentary about a Tibetan refugee who finds strength and inspiration through heavy metal.

6:00pm The Rise and Fall of Sensational - The true story of the talented, yet still obscure, emcee Sensational. (Preceded by a series of music videos from Amir George)

8:00pm Color Me Obsessed: A Film About the Replacements - An in depth look at one of the most beloved bands of all time.

Saturday, June 18th

5:30pm Better Than Something: Jay Retard - A portrait of the late punk singer songwriter Jay Retard filmed just months before his death.

7:15pm Road Dogs - A look at three goth and metal bands making their way through the United States and freaking people out along the way (both intentionally and unintentionally). (Preceded by Lovely Bloodflow, a music video from Baths)

8:45pm Player Hating: A Love Story - A film about the healing power of hip-hop told through the eyes of emcee Half-a-Mill while living in the projects of Albany, NY. (Preceded by the short Hip Hop Mom).

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Norman Wilner on Jaws

Jaws screens at the Toronto Underground Cinema on Thursday, June 9th at 7:00pm and Sunday, June 12th at 9:30pm.

Norman Wilner is a local film critic that has been involved in the film scene for years. Norman has previously worked for The Star and Metro and currently can be found writing for Now, MSN Canada, and on his own website. He has a love for film that could most easily be described as boundless even when it comes to talking about a movie that he doesn't really care for all that much. People who have attended our Defending the Indefensible screening of Freddy Got Fingered can attest to that, and audiences will get a chance to see Norman square off against The Grid and Cinemascope writer Adam Nayman on Friday, June 24th for The Butterfly Effect. Norman has also crafted credible defences for Alien Resurrection, MacGruber, and Observe and Report.

Unlike the films he has merely defended or attacked at the Underground, Jaws holds a special place in his heart as one of his all time favourite films. This past fall when Jaws was named as part of the TIFF Essential 100, Norman was honoured to present the film as it was meant to be seen on the big screen.

Jaws comes to the Underground this weekend not only as part of a weekend with other animal attack films (Grizzly screens as part of the Exploitation Alley series Thursday at 9:30 and the Mexican Jaws rip-off Tintorera screens Sunday at 7), but also as a kick off to the summer movie season as Jaws is often credited with being the first ever summer blockbuster. The Underground recently talked with Norman about his own personal memories of Jaws and why the film still captivates audiences to this day.

Toronto Underground Cinema: Do you remember the first time you saw Jaws and what it was like?

Norman Wilner: I do, in fact, my dad taped the movie. I think it was back from the ABC airing because he had cut out all the commercials back in the day when you had to actually sit there with the remote control and press pause. This was on Beta, so this was, like, '79 or '80. I was 12 and I didn't actually get to see it in a theatre until I was in my 20s in around '95.

I actually saw it in the worst way imaginable because my parents had decided that the first hour or so of the film would be too intense. I don't think I was that impressionable, but maybe I was. For the first 15 or 20 times I saw it, I was only seeing a one hour and ten minute version of it. I remember you had to start the tape from 675 on the counter on the VCR and it starts with the shot of The Orca leaving shot through the shark's jaws that are hanging in Quint's hut. It was a perfect opening because that was the second half of the movie. It's where the movie stops being about the domestic and municipal drama and becomes about the adventure and all the rest gets left behind. Then when I talked them into letting me watch the whole thing, I must have watched it another dozen times.

Then I spent the 80s waiting out the terrible, terrible, terrible pan and scan transfers until the letterbox version became available in '92 on laserdisc, and I had to wait until the Toronto Star strike was settled to get back in the building and even get the fucking package which had arrived weeks earlier. (laughs) It was an absolute nightmare for me to wait for it because I had never seen it in widescreen before that point. I had composed the frames in my head because I had watched it in pan and scan dozens of times. I have honestly lost count of how many times I have seen it. I know I have seen it 5 or 6 times theatrically.

TUC: Jaws is a film that usually comes up whenever someone makes up one of their 100 best films lists. What do you think it is about Jaws that makes it so iconic and scary to this day?

NW: I think the reason why it was the first ever summer blockbuster is the reason why it works. It's the absolute mercilessness of the film. It's primal.

When I introduced it last year at the Lightbox as part of the Essential Cinema series, the only line I knew I was going to say going in was that it's the greatest accident in the history of cinema. Had the shark actually worked it would have just been like Grizzly or Prophecy or any number of creature or monster movies from the 70s. There were a lot of those that were terrible and forgotten because it's a guy in a suit or a rubber monster like It Came from the Darkness and things like that.

Jaws didn't work. Bruce the Shark didn't work, and Spielberg had to radically rework the film on the fly. I once interviewed Richard Dreyfuss and he told me this great story about going down to the set and he was walking down the beach in fall and winter on Martha's Vineyard and in the three block walk from the bed and breakfast where the actors were staying to the Amity set, every few feet he would walk past someone with a walkie talkie and he would just hear people in a panic saying that the shark wasn't working. And he would get to the set and wonder what they were going to shoot and sometimes they had no idea. They found a way to make pieces of the shark seem convincing. You see the fin, you see the tail, you see the flanks at one point, but because we never really get a good look at it, the entire ocean ends up becoming the real monster.

It's shot so beautifully to keep the water line in frame, and you are always aware where people are in relation to the water, and it creates this sense of malice, panic, and terror even when there is nothing to be afraid of. The shot of the kids in the boat in the first half is wrought with horror because we have just seen Brody looking at pictures of shark attacks. And that's the other thing, too, that the film creates characters that we can invest in as a moviegoing audience. We are safe in the dark, all of us millions of people removed from being near the water, there is no real threat to us that the shark is going to jump up and get us. But then you have Brody who is afraid of water and he is our surrogate, so we have to sit there and squirm with him. We're afraid for him.

The best moment I ever had at a live screening was watching it with about two or three hundred people at the Uptown at a midnight screening and there's that moment in the third act where Hooper's foot slips on the gunwale as he's running across the side of the boat and it just goes "squeak!" and his foot goes out over the water and everybody gasped. They sucked in their breath and this was 20 years after it came out and almost everyone in there knew that he was going to be fine, and yet you're in the moment and you feel it so profoundly that the water is going to get him because that's where the shark is. By that point you have a sense of the scale of the shark and it's bigger than the boat. It's going to do bad things to you. If you go in the water, it's going to win. It's a brilliant use of landscape and location.

It's part of this incredible, intuitive cinema that Speilberg has kind of mastered now. What he does in War of the Worlds is very similar with this sense of a threat that you can't fully comprehend. By making it aliens, it kind of detaches it, but with Jaws, it's just a fish. It's going to be a bigger, meaner, nastier fish than you've ever encountered, but that's all it is. That's terrifying on a scale that CG monster and rubber aliens aren't. You can detach yourself from the idea that the maniac with the butcher knife is coming for you because you shoot him once and he slows or falls down; none of this stuff is really happening. But Jaws is something that in our lizard brains got us to get out of the water for some reason.

TUC: Jaws started a new wave of animal attack films. What is an example of another good animal attack film and what are your feelings on the Jaws sequels?

NW: The only other animal attack film I am really even thinking about now is Open Water, which is not about the animals, and that's really the key to these type of films. Just as Jaws isn't about the shark, Open Water is more about dread than it is about the attacking and direct horror. And I have a soft spot for Deep Blue Sea because it's just so stupid. Super intelligent sharks and LL Cool J running around. It's inane, and I don't think Renny Harlin knew it was fun, but it is a lot of fun. It was a great experience.

Beyond shark films, Cujo is a pretty intense film that works on the same level as Jaws in many ways. It definitely uses space in the same way. There's that moment where the dog rears up in the rearview mirror of the car and you have shots of it through the window, and it's so terrifying that you can't look at the screen. Something could be looming at any second. It's a very claustrophobic movie that uses confinement well and in a way that not many movies would dare to. Today it's kind of a gimmick to have people in one room the whole time, but at the time these were much higher stakes when it came to being trapped, being hot, and being without anything that could save you. You can see things that could save your life, but they aren't within reach and you can't get to them without having this monster rip your face off. The car in Cujo is basically The Orca in Jaws.

One of the other things that was great about Jaws is how you have Quint who has a death wish and Brody who has anything but that. You have Quint and Hooper who both want to touch the shark for different reasons and Brody who would rather be anywhere than on a boat with these maniacs. It's a beautiful dynamic and I don't think movies have really been able to do that since because they took away the thrill of the actual attack. You look at Jaws 2, which is just a disastrous misunderstanding of what made the first film work. Then 3 and 4 barely even merit consideration as sequels because they are just awful.

It's sort of a weird comparison, but Jaws has the same approach to screenwriting that Pixar has in many ways. It focuses everything in character. Brody is driven by responsibility, then guilt, then fear, then more guilt, and he assumes the mantle of hero because there is literally no one left. That's the ordinary guy, that's the audience surrogate and everything he does is about protecting his family and his town and ultimately just to save himself, but it is still this rousing and incredible moment. It's such a great, subtle arc that people should be copying that instead. You know, extraordinary situations that breed extraordinary people. But instead we end up with shortcuts to spectacle and whatever effect is available that week.

When Jaws came out, there was a run on nature movies. When Terminator 2 came out, there was a run on morphing effects. The morphing effect thing almost works better because you can use it and plug it into something else as a tool. A shark is a tool in the same way, but because no one wanted to make that same movie or wanted to make a knock off shark movie, they just made hollow films about animal attacks. What they missed is that we don't care about the animal. I hate to admit it, but Dino De Laurentiis was right when he said that no one cried when Jaws died. That's because it was always about Brody living.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Trailer Trash and Tintorera: A Talk With Dion Conflict

Dion Conflict's Trailer Trash screens on Friday, June 10th at 9:30pm. Tintorere screens on Sunday, June 12th at 7:00pm.

Dion Conflict is a bit of a fixture on the Toronto film scene. The man behind the wildly successful Shock and Awe all night film festivals and the Hunka Junk DVD series made up of found footage returns this weekend to the Toronto Underground Cinema for two special events. Conflict, who is the proprietor of one of the largest collections of 16 and 35mm film prints in Canada, joins us first on Friday night for his popular Trailer Trash series, a nonstop (until it does stop, of course) program of classic trailers from the past 40 years assembled like a madman's mixtape. On Sunday, in the middle of an "animals gone wild" feature weekend at the Underground that also includes Jaws (Thursday at 7:00pm and Sunday at 9:30pm) and the William Girdler classic Grizzly (Thursday at 9:30pm as part of our Exploitation Alley series), Conflict brings the little known Mexican Jaws knock-off-slash-borederline-porno Tintorera. Conflict sat down to talk about both events and shares some of his favourite trailers from Trailer Trash and some of his favourite Jaws knock offs.

Toronto Underground Cinema: Can you give us an overview of what Trailer Trash is all about?

Dion Conflict: Well, the history of that one is kind of interesting because the one thing I have always wanted to do is to try different things. Back in the 1980s there were these videos that were released that were just movie trailer compilations. Those are coming back in style now with DVD and special features and all that. I have collected a fair amount of 35mm movie trailers. At one point around, like, early last decade, I thought to put on this festival of movie trailers and just run that.

Trailer Trash basically follows the growth of the movie trailer. By mixing new ones and old ones and different genres you can definitely see a difference in the selling of the movie.

The one thing that I think you will see is that a lot of the 1970s stuff is a Ron Popeil type pitch. A real hard sell "you've gotta see this movie" kind of thing. Before that there was a lot more text on the screen like "starring the screen sensation" or "starring the lovely." Then you see past, like, the 80s and you always have this Moviefone style narration that was. like, "They were on a mission..." and then you witness in the past couple of decades the use of pop songs and retro tracks as a sort of backing track to the trailer. But I always liked the hard sell better. That's what works best for me, but to sell a movie like that without giving anything away, that's an art form.

Lots of times the trailers are a lot more interesting than the main feature. When I had been doing screenings before when I worked for Festival Cinemas I had no shame in how I linked trailers together. I would follow a Jessica Simpson flick with something like Mandingo. I remember I pitched the idea to them and they said it was a really awesome idea. There was one blogger who had said that I was the overlord of flea market cinema. I loved that and I thought that was great.

The first time we did it, it played really well because it was this mix of old and new. Just a lot of fun. It was like waiting for a movie that was never going to come so you just sit transfixed by these trailers. I think that people just want to be entertained by it, you know? The last time we ran this in Montreal people were taking notes to remember what movies they wanted to see.

TUC: Just to give everyone an idea of how big your film collection is, would you mind talking about it?

DC: It's stored in two different countries. A great portion of it is down South, which is kind of where it needs to be if I want to transfer it for home video, and I have three film vaults full of things I have collected since I was 16. All of the trailers I show come from my archive and I have gotten them from all over the globe. A lot of the things I have are things where there aren't very many left. Like when we showed Ed Wood's last film, The Snow Bunnies, at the Underground. That is maybe the only print at all in Canada and probably one of the only uncut prints of that film left in the world, if there are even any left.

3 of the best Trailer Trash trailers picked by Dion Conflict:

1. Hardbodies - "I programed this trailer once before some skin flick we were showing a while ago and the audience loved it so much they actually applauded. The trailer is amazing, but it is a great example of a trailer being so much better than the movie. The movie is terrible!"

2. Times Square - "I really like the feel of this one. It has a great vibe to it."

3. Hard to Hold - "Rick Springfield, ha! I have tried for so long to get a print of this movie, but I have always been turned down. Once, someone I had working with me even got in touch with Universal and they flat out said no."

TUC: Let's switch gears for a minute and talk about the other movie you are bringing to the Underground this weekend, which is Tintorera. What's that all about?

DC: Sometimes there's films that I have presented that I thought the audience would beat the shit out of me for bringing it in, but the funny thing is that every time we have run Tintorera people seem to hate it and love it at the same time. The best way to describe it is as American Gigolo or Emanuelle meets Jaws. It's a shark film and sexual freedom all rolled up in one.

I remember I was introduced to Tintorera first when I was a kid. I was such a video junkie and I remember going to Bandito Video in Whitby, which I always thought had this amazing selection, and they had this movie there and I saw that it had a shark on the cover of it, which was good enough for me. I didn't have any clue what it was and only when I was on my way home with it did I even question why I had gotten it in the first place.

It's basically a Mexican flick with a little bit of UK financing. The Mexican version is much longer than this one is. The Mexican version is over two hours long. But it's got Susan St. George, Fiona Lewis, Andres Garcia, and Hugo Stiglitz. Right after I see it, I want to see it again, which is funny because of all the films that I have run, this one has been played multiple times around the Toronto area. There's a weird kind of magnetic attraction to the flick. It's got real sharks, both live and dead, and lots of nudity. Not bad for a print I found stashed under a set of stairs in a Santa Barbara, California editing room.