Monday, July 18, 2011

Fright Night

Fright Night screens FOR FREE as part of Rue Morgue's Cinemacabre at the Toronto Underground Cinema on Thursday, July 21st at 9:30pm.

Hot on the heels of the upcoming Disney and Dreamworks remake (from Lars and the Real Girl director Craig Gillespie), Rue Morgue brings their Cinemacabre movie series to the Toronto Underground Cinema with a free screening of the 1985 horror classic, Fright Night.

Charlie Brewster (William Ragsdale) has a very big problem. He has proof that his new next door neighbour, Jerry Dandridge (Chris Sarandon) is a vampire. Naturally, no one will believe the horror movie obsessed Charlie at first. Charlie tries to enlist the help of his girlfriend (Amanda Bearse) and his best friend "Evil" Ed (Stephen Geoffreys), who are skeptical, but genuinely want to help. Charlie also looks to a former Hammer-style film actor named Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowell) who was once famous for tracking down creatures of the night on screen. Jerry would willing leave young Charlie alone if he would just stay out of his business, but eventually Charlie grows to know too much and Jerry begins an all out assault on his friends and family. In the end it is up to Charlie and the disgraced actor to save the suburbs from a horrible terror.

Fright Night is undoubtedly one of the best horror films of the 1980s and in many ways was ahead of its time. Writer and director Tom Holland has not only a great visual eye (this movie is gorgeous to look at), but a real knack for self reflexivity that doesn't beat the audience into submission with sly references or half baked nods to films from the past. It bears its love of Rear Window and the Universal horror films of the 30s and 40s on its sleeve, but it never actively tries to recreate those films word for word. It balances the funny and the brutal quite well. While there is quite a bit of humour in the film, it also goes in some pretty unexpected places. The stakes get raised in the film at almost every turn and in many cases without any warning, especially in the second half of the film which includes the final battle between Charlie and Jerry that lasts almost a full thirty minutes without ever getting old, tiresome, or repetitive.

The performances are also great across the board. Bearse is suitably low key and mousy and Geoffreys is over the top and crazed. Sarandon is the perfect vampire blend of sexy and scary, and possibly worst of all he actually looks the part of the neighbour you want to be friends wth but you can never quite be sure about. Ragsdale is pleasingly heroic and he never backs down from a fight, making him one of the toughest nerds in film history. The film really belongs to McDowell who doesn't so much play a withering wimp as a placating blowhard who would totally be in love with himself if he wasn't so busy lamenting his lost fame. Fright Night is an often overlooked piece of 1980s film history, but it is well worth the time if you haven't seen it. And for free (and on very rare 35mm) you just can't beat the price.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Defending the Indefensible: Equilibrium and Ghostbusters 2

Defending the Indefensible: Equilibrium and Ghostbusters II happens on Thursday, July 28th at Toronto Underground Cinema. Equilibrium at 7:00pm. Ghostbusters II at 9:30pm. Single film: $10, Double Bill $15. Proceeds to benefit Sick Kids Hospital.

This month our Defending the Indefensible series, where local film critic square off in a cinematic death match, focuses on a special kind of "indefensible" film. Equilibrium and Ghostbusters II are two films that have many vocal supporters who think that both films can be seen as modern classics rather than the box office bombs or disappointments that they were seen as on first glance. These films are actually so well liked that the defenders of these films seemingly have no desire to acknowledge that anyone could ever possibly dislike these films. In truth, both films are by definition critically indefensible and have numerous vocal detractors.

Equilibrium, from writer director Kurt Wimmer (also responsible for Ultraviolet and the screenplay for Law Abiding Citizen), was a film that was largely overlooked at the box office and never actually made a profit upon release. The film, starring a pre-Batman Christain Bale, Taye Diggs, and Emily Watson, was a cross between a heady science fiction film set in a dystopian fascist state (with heavy nods to 1984 and Brave New World) and a Matrix-style action film that introduced a new form of martial arts fighting known as "Gunkata". The film was barely distributed in the United States after sitting on the shelves at Miramax/Dimension for several years without release. It was only screened on just over 200 screens worldwide and never theatrically in Canada. Critics upon the film's release were largely negative upon the release of the film (currently standing at an abysmal 33% on Rotten Tomatoes). The film became more of a success overseas in Europe and on home video where it has amassed quite a cult following.

Ghostbusters II is a lot more well known and a bit of a special case. Released in the summer of 1989, Ghostbusters II became the first ever film to earn over $100 million at the box office and still be considered a disappointment. Upon the film's release, many film critics took the film to task for being a lazy retread of the original and not having as much originality and wit as its predecessor. But for all the people who speak ill of this sequel, just as many praise it for being just as funny as the original film and they don't seem to care that they are watching essentially the same film played out in only a slightly different variation. A lengthy history of the production and comments from both sides of this argument can be found here.

The big question on this night will be if these films are truly indefensible on a critical level and if the audience will change their minds when presented with both side of the argument. As always, two critics will square off head-to-head to introduce the films and debate them with the audience following the screening.

For Equilibrium, the Toronto Underground Cinema resident blogger (who has been writing all of this in the third person in a bid to remain impartial) and writer for Criticize This! Andrew Parker will be explaining how nothing about the film works, it makes no sense, and the action is incredibly stupid. Sasha James, head writer and editor for The Final Girl Project will be the person who will attempt to explain why sometimes just making a good looking and fun action film can be better than high art.

For Ghostbusters II, blogger, filmmaker, podcaster, and One Minute Film Festival creator Matt Brown, will explain why this sequel is a heartless cash grab and how it was the first film to ever prove to him as a child that movies could actually suck and how it started him on his path of disillusionment. For the defence, Torontoist and Cinema Scope will explain how just being funny isn't a crime and why sometimes nostalgia for a film can be better than looking for a deeper meaning.

As always, proceeds from the screenings will be benefiting charities and this month we are proud to welcome returning charity Sick Kids to the Defending the Indefensible series. There will be prizes, trivia, and as always, your chance to put film critics on the spot to defend your favourite films. Come on out and support some great movies. Or boo them. Or whatever. Just come see them and help us support a great cause.