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CanFilm Five: I DECLARE WAR Director Jason Lapeyre

“CanFilm Five” is the Canuxploitation blog’s ongoing guest column, which brings together prominent filmmakers, bloggers, critics and programmers to discuss their most loved offbeat Canadian films.

Toronto-based Jason Lapeyre’s first feature, the gritty crime thriller COLD BLOODED (2012), won Best Canadian Film at Fantasia 2012. His second feature, co-directed with Robert Wilson, I DECLARE WAR (2012) was an official selection of the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival, won the Audience Award for Best Film at Fantastic Fest the same year, and was released theatrically by Drafthouse Films. He has also directed a documentary feature about mental illness called FACELESS, and produced the short film THE CAPTURED BIRD (2012(, which was executive produced by Guillermo del Toro. His films have played in over 75 film festivals around the world and won more than a dozen prizes. The Drafthouse DVD/Blu-ray of I DECLARE WAR was released November 12, 2013 and is available from drafthousefilms.com. His previous film, COLD BLOODED, is also now available in the U.S. and Canada on iTunes, in Redbox and streaming.

To celebrate the recent home video release of I DECLARE WAR (makes an excellent Christmas present!) we asked Jason to run down his five favourite Canadian films that aggressively ignore, abuse and otherwise cross the line of genre convention.

ScreenClipJason sez:

One of the most enjoyable things about making I DECLARE WAR was playing with the genre conventions of a war movie and bending them to the needs of a movie entirely cast with children. I always appreciate when filmmakers take a risk by pushing and pulling the conventions of a genre in the hopes of making a film a little more interesting or effective.  Most of the time it doesn’t work but, when it does, it can be incredible (see, for example, the entire career of the Coen brothers).

PIN (1988)

What if you made a horror movie where the antagonist was an inanimate object?  No, not a possessed inanimate object, like Chucky, I mean literally an inanimate object, like a really, really creepy, life-size anatomical doll?  That’s the premise of this late ‘80s horror movie, and it’s surprisingly effective.  It was a huge risk for the filmmakers to pin (heh heh) their hopes for the film’s effectiveness on a single prop, but they hit the jackpot when they either found or built “Pin” itself.  It really is a frightening and disturbing enough thing to build a whole horror movie around.  I had a phone meeting with an American distributor once who was obsessed with Canadian tax shelter movies, and when I told him that I had heard a rumour that the Pin doll itself was actually for sale, he almost crawled through the phone to demand where and when he could buy it.  It’s that awesome.  And, as a bonus, Terry O’Quinn is in this, which is reason enough to watch anything.

PAS DE DEUX (1968)

What if you made an animated film that wasn’t animated?  Or even stop motion?  Only a genuine master like Norman McLaren could pull something like this off, essentially inventing a new filmmaking technique to create what is, in my hyperbolic opinion, the greatest work of art ever made in this country.  This 13-minute short film (available to view for free, in full HD below and on the NFB website) involves two dancers performing a pas de deux set to intense, dramatic classical music.  But McLaren shoots them in black and white and lights them in harsh, monochromatic tones, so they look almost like graphite sketches (imaging Frank Miller’s SIN CITYbut ballet) and then uses an optical printing process to create multiples of the dancers, so each one becomes a flowing, impossibly elegant shape, sometimes dancing with themselves, sometimes becoming inconceivable geometric patterns.  The effect is breathtaking, and it’s not just a flashy technique, he really uses it to tell the story of the two characters more deeply.  This isn’t a filmmaker tweaking a genre in hopes of being more effective, this is a filmmaker balls-out trying something that’s never been done before, and it’s a grand slam.   Incredibly bold, something that can’t often be said about Canadian filmmaking.

Pas de deux by Norman McLaren, National Film Board of Canada

THE SILENT PARTNER (1979)

What if you made a crime film where the hero wasn’t a criminal, but wanted to be?  And where the villain was a sadistic transvestite?  Of the five films listed here today, this is the one that probably strays the least from its genre conventions, but it’s also probably my favourite.  It stars Elliott Gould and Christopher Plummer, was written by Curtis Hanson (who would go on to be an excellent genre director himself with L.A. CONFIDENTIAL and 8 MILE) and directed by Daryl Duke, and tells the story of a bank teller (Gould) who, realizing that he’s about to be held up, stashes fifty grand in a safe deposit box and blames it on the bank robber (Plummer).  Then the bank robber realizes he’s been ripped off and starts looking for the teller to get his money back.  It’s a really smart, really fun movie, from Gould and Plummer’s cat-and-mouse battle of wits to Plummer completely deranged character, who gets turned on by violence and dresses as a woman to commit robberies.  It also has some utterly reprehensible violence in it (always a plus), cameos from John Candy and Eugene Levy, and a score by Oscar Peterson.  And, as an extra bit of Cancon trivia, it was shot in the Eaton Centre in the very year that it opened, in all its mid-70s architectural glory.

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THE DEVIL AT YOUR HEELS (1981)

What if you made a totally straight-faced, NFB-style documentary about a completely insane, oafish daredevil stuntman?  This criminally underappreciated film (available for streaming in its entirety below) is a standout work of documentary filmmaking in a country that punches waaaay above its weight when it comes to that genre.  It’s about Ken Carter, a Canadian who claims to be the world’s greatest stuntman, and to prove to everyone that he’s a better stuntman than Evel Knieval, he decides to jump a rocket car across the St. Lawrence seaway at a point where it’s one mile wide.  And land in a field of poppies.  That’s his plan.  The whole world hears about this lunatic and ABC Wide World of Sports sends a news crew to film the preparations, along with Knieval himself to inspect the jump.  Knieval takes one look at the setup and tells Carter he’s insane, and that he’ll be killed if he attempts it.  But does Ken Carter back down?  HELL NO.  It would have been so easy to make this film as wild and unhinged as its subject matter, but what’s so great about it is the incredibly dry, detached narration and typically Canadian sardonic humour and sarcasm used to tell the story.  A risky choice that pays off enormously:  the net result is hilarious, like an SCTV sketch about CBS’ 60 Minutes played out to feature-length.  I can’t recommend this enough.

The Devil at Your Heels by Robert Fortier, National Film Board of Canada

THINGS (1989)

What if aliens from another planet, who had never had any contact with human beings before, decided to make a horror movie about human beings, engaging in normal human behaviour?  Well, if that happened, then the result would probably be more coherent and recognizable as a movie than THINGS.  Ah, THINGS.  What can you say?  This one isn’t so much a case of a filmmaker bending the rules of a genre – it’s more like a filmmaker operating so far outside even the most basic rules of the medium that the end result is something genuinely unique.  Which is so rare, and so special, as to almost be commendable.  I was actually introduced to this film when Paul Corupe, Canuxploitation.com’s mastermind, asked me to film his interview for the DVD re-release of the film.  I was rewarded with a copy of the finished product, and happily sat down to watch it.  Jesus God.  Vaguely resembling a horror movie, the film is shot on 8mm, the sound is entirely dubbed in post, and…without literally describing to you the content of every shot of the film, I’m not sure I have the power as a writer to convey what this movie is “about”.  THINGS challenges the very concept of “aboutness”, shattering the very underpinnings of narrative cinema – not intentionally, mind you, like a Harmony Korine or a Peter Greenaway, but more accidentally, like a drunken hoser backing into a Ming vase at a house party.  One simply has to bear witness to THINGS in order to call themselves a Canadian film completist, endure it until you get your badge of glory when that infamous title card comes up at the end: “You Have Just Experienced…THINGS.”

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CanFilm Five: MY FAIR ZOMBIE Director Brett Kelly

“CanFilm Five” is the Canuxploitation blog’s ongoing guest column, which brings together prominent filmmakers, bloggers, critics and programmers to discuss their most loved offbeat Canadian films.

ScreenClipOttawa director Brett Kelly has directed over 20 features, an almost unprecedented output for a Canadian filmmaker. Compared to none other than Roger Corman, he has also been called “Canada’s Duke of Doom” (Penny Blood Magazine) and “Canada’s Baron of Blood” (CBC Radio) for his horror films, but Brett has touched on almost all genres, from science fiction/fantasy and westerns and, most notably, comedies.  His films including MY DEAD GIRLFRIENDPREY FOR THE BEAST, SHE-REX, often display a wicked sense of humour, and his latest horror-comedy crossbreed MY FAIR ZOMBIE just might be his funniest work yet.

In advance of the Toronto premiere of MY FAIR ZOMBIE on December 4, 2013 at the Revue Cinema we asked Brett to run down his five funniest hosers in Canadian comedy films.

Brett sez:

The husband in THE BIG SNIT
A NFB animated short that always makes me laugh. A precursor to shows like THE SIMPSONS, this Canadian short film has the strangest married couple ever depicted in Northern cinema (in my opinion). The husband is a clueless weirdo who is addicted to sawing furniture and inadvertently torturing the cat. Every time you watch it, you will notice new gags courtesy of a detail heavy background. Priceless!

Pee Wee in PORKY’S
Pee Wee was a dude that I’m sure many guys like me sympathized with as we watched the movie on First Choice/Superchannel. He just couldn’t seem to catch a break with the ladies. Of course, being an impressionable young lad and seeing naked boobies on screen for the first time must have left some mark on my brain matter. I didn’t even realize this film was Canadian for years. I’m not a fan of the sequels though–some things are better left alone.

Bob and Doug McKenzie in STRANGE BREW
These guys clearly count for two of the top five. When SCTV made these characters to fulfill Cancon, they couldn’t have known what pandemonium was to follow; The record (remember records?) that my friends and I knew and possibly still know off by heart, the sketches on TV and of course the movie! Who could forget the STAR WARS-style hockey, Hosehead the dog and Mel Blanc as the voice of the McKenzie’s father. Canuck gold!

Jack in BREAKING ALL THE RULES
Another flick from the First Choice/Superchanel days! This one might be a little obscure, but I remember wishing I was Carl Marotte’s character, Jack, because he got to smooch with the cute girl with the punk hair style while hanging around an amusement park! Ahh the ’80s–the innocence will never return, what a shame!

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CanFilm Five: Speculative Poster Curator Dave Alexander

“CanFilm Five” is the Canuxploitation blog’s ongoing guest column, which brings together prominent filmmakers, bloggers, critics and programmers to discuss their most loved offbeat Canadian films.

Debuting last year at Fantasia, the speculative Canadian poster exhibit If They Came From Within is set to hit Toronto on August 7, 2013 from 7-11pm at Steam Whistle Brewing (255 Bremner Blvd) where it will remain on display for all of August. This unique show, sponsored by Canuxploitation.com, brings together some of Canada’s best known filmmakers and movie art designers to imagine an alternative history where horror, sci-fi and exploitation dominated the Great White North’s film industry, as imagined by Jason Eisener, Vincenzo Natali, Astron-6, George Mihalka, and Jen and Sylvia Soska, among many others. These not-quite-real movies have been brought to some semblance of reality via more that 20 movie posters, associated synopses, imaginary soundtracks and even supposed props (we talked to one of the poster artists last year)

MRM_6506The show was arranged and curator by none other than Rue Morgue magazine Editor-in-Chief Dave Alexander. In addition to being an occasional contributor to this site (and–full disclosure–a personal friend for many years), Dave has been on the forefront of helping the recent boom in Canadian genre films reach an audience, and this latest project is an extension of that. Originally hailing from Edmonton, Dave has written freelance for various newspapers and magazines across North America, made award-winning short films programs, and currently programs Rue Morgue’s CineMacabre movie nights at TIFF Bell Lightbox, among other creepy and cool accomplishments.

In anticipation of the show’s opening night party, for which some artists and filmmakers will be in attendance, we asked Dave to offer up his top five posters for Canadian genre films that actually do exist. In the meantime, RSVP to the event and check out their Facebook page for the latest updates.

Black Christmas vert

1. BLACK CHRISTMAS, A.K.A. Silent Night, Evil Night (insert)
This rare insert for Black Christmas not only boasts incredibly striking artwork — I just love the bizarre conceptual image of a naked woman trapped inside a Christmas ornament — it sports the now-lesser-known American title that was used at the time: Silent Night, Evil Night. (I also have a full-size 27″ x 41″ poster for the film that had the “Black Christmas” title glued over top of “Silent Night, Evil Night.”) Here, if you look closely, you can see that the victim is bleeding from the mouth! Sex, death and Christmas brought together with a wonderfully lurid red. Just look at that dripping font – it’s like candy to a genre poster collector. The bonus is that this one carries over the black and white cartoon image of the police running into the house with the Christmas tree out front. It looks like it should be on the ad for a kid’s film and just makes the whole thing that much weirder and more wonderful. Black Christmas, along with My Bloody Valentine inspired the faux film for the show called Stubbies, about a killer in a duct-taped balaclava hacking off the limbs of a bunch of partying kids who foolishly break into a abandoned brewery to party. I did the synopsis and Gary Pullin designed a poster for it which will premiere in the Toronto version of If They Came From Within: An Alternative History of Canadian Horror.

Curtains

2. CURTAINS (one-sheet)
This one was a gift from none other than Canuxploitation editor Paul Corupe, and I included it, not only because I love the film, but because it’s creepy as hell. One guesses that the artist was given a pic of the creepy doll, which is barely in the film (though in one of the most unnerving scenes) and the old hag mask, and was told that the title is Curtains and a bunch of women are murdered. The result is a literal curtains formed from the mouth of the hag, that frame a doll in the most vaginal way possible. And don’t forget that the colour purple is often said to represent sexual frustration! With the line (under that wonderful title font) that reads “…the ultimate nightmare,” this is one of the most Freudian movie posters ever made. You could write a Film Studies paper about it. I just like that it kinda freaks people out.

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CanFilm Five: Twisted Twins Filmmakers Jen and Sylvia Soska

“CanFilm Five” is the Canuxploitation blog’s ongoing guest column, which brings together prominent filmmakers, bloggers, critics and programmers to discuss their most loved offbeat Canadian films.

Jen and Sylvia Soska–perhaps better known as the Twisted Twins–burst on the Vancouver horror film scene with 2009’s DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK. Made under the Twisted Twins Productions banner, the twins wrote, directed, produced, starred in, and performed the stunts for the film. Since then, Jen and Sylvia have continued to establish themselves, alongside fellow Canuck filmmakers Jason Eisener and Astron-6 as the new face of Canadian genre film. A hit on the festival circuit, their latest production, AMERICAN MARY (2012), stars Katharine Isabelle (GINGER SNAPS) as a cash-strapped medical student who gets involved in the shady world of underground surgery.

soska_sistersTo celebrate the release of AMERICAN MARY on DVD and Blu-ray today, we asked Jen and Sylvia to offer up their top five Canadian horror films that every self-respecting horror fan must see.

MANBORG
Directed by Steve Kostanski

Allow us to introduce you to MANBORG. You are welcome in advance. If you haven’t heard of Astron-6, welcome out of your cave. This group of purely Canadian filmmakers–Adam Brooks, Jeremy Gillespie, Matt Kennedy, Connor Sweeney, and Steven Kostanski–take indie film to a whole other level and are living proof that Canada doesn’t just make sad indie dramas that take place in the farmland of the Prairies about incest and alcoholism (although that WOULD make a crazy ass Astron-6 film). MANBORG is indie filmmaking at it’s finest, a perfect shout out to classic ’80s sci-fi/horror. If you can’t fall in love with MANBORG, we feel for you–it’s non-stop LOLs all the way through. Horror fans will dig the originality and retro style while aspiring filmmakers will be in awe of how far these guys make their budget stretch. Astron-6 is a Canadian national treasure.

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PONTYPOOL
Directed by Bruce McDonald

When we were growing up, there were so many cool original monsters and ideas. Now, everything just seems to be a tired remake. The same old crap films with zombies, werewolves, and vamps keep getting pumped out by directors who claim they’ve got some epic original take, but what this usually means is that this time around the zombie (much like its werewolf and vampire brethren), just wants to score with highschool girls. ICK. Enter PONTYPOOL. A truly terrifying, genius, and…. wait for it… original take on zombies. I won’t say much more, but look for a healthy serving of thoughtful story telling, incredible plot development, and terror. What? A horror movie with a gripping story? Yes, boys and grrls, they actually DO exist. And a little birdie may have told me there may be a sequel to this amazing slice of brilliance. Outstanding performances across the board with an undeniable WAR OF THE WORLDS feel.

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GRAVE ENCOUNTERS
Directed by Colin Minihan and Stuart Ortiz

Let us start by saying we HATE found-footage films. They’re so often poorly done and we spend the whole time screaming at the TV, asking no one in particular, “Is that something? Is something happening??” It’s undoubtedly a stylistic decision, but more often than not it’s also a cheap choice and an excuse to cover mistakes and weak story telling. Ever wonder what it would be like to watch a found-footage film where something ACTUALLY happens? How about one that doesn’t use all the sad, same tricks of found-footage flicks and is truly scary and not just in the “this-camera-is-so-shaky-I’m-gonna-be-sick” kind of way? May I introduce you to the Vicious Brothers, Colin Minihan and Stuart Ortiz. We had no hopes for this film going in and were blown away by what we saw. We started as true doubters and walked away fangirls. We won’t give away too much of the plot, but it’s shot in Vancouver at what is believed to actually be a haunted asylum. We’ve been there and it still scared us shitless.

GINGER SNAPS, 2000
Directed by John Fawcett

Not enough of you have seen this film. Make time for this brilliant werewolf movie that brought us all our much loved horror icon, Katharine Isabelle. GINGER SNAPS is smart, sexy, and so relevant–maybe even more so today than it was when it was released. I’ve heard the TWILIGHT seriescalled “female horror,” but that just disgusts and insults us on just about every level. GINGER SNAPS is about empowerment, family and change. It’s about the relationship between two sisters who are outsiders and 100% cool with it. Okay, it might be speaking directly to us, but the similarities it draws between teenage angst and, um, changes, with lycanthropy is clever, hilarious, and just plain awesome. The performances of Katharine Isabelle and Emily Perkins as Bridgette and Ginger Fitzgerald are nothing short of jaw-dropping and heartfelt. GINGER SNAPS is a MUST watch and must own movie.

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DEAD RINGERS, 1988
Directed by David Cronenberg

Yup, well, it’s our list. We can pick whatever we like, but just tell us you couldn’t feel this one coming. David Cronenberg and his work has paved the way for so many Canadian artists and that goes times a million for horror filmmakers. In this day of sequels and remakes, David Cronenberg and his work have always shown us the beauty of originality and WTF moments and storytelling. We went in with doub wWhen we first watched this film about identical twin gynecologists Beverly and Elliot Mantle, played with seamless brilliance by heavy weight actor extraordinaire Jeremy Irons. Being identical twins ourselves, we couldn’t believe that one actor could hope to convincingly play twins nor could a non-twin director have any insight to the relationship between twins. We’ve never been more wrong. This film is haunting and will stay with you long after it’s over. It’s unsettling, heartfelt, strange, and mesmerizing all at the same time. You really ought to invest in seeing everything that David Cronenberg has ever touched, but this makes a pitch-perfect start to feasting on the fiendish works on this phenomenal Canadian.

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CanFilm Five: 3-D Film Expert Jason Pichonsky

“CanFilm Five” is the Canuxploitation blog’s ongoing guest column, which brings together prominent filmmakers, bloggers, critics and programmers to discuss their most loved offbeat Canadian films.

Jason Pichonsky has been interested in 3-D images ever since his first ViewMaster, but it wasn’t until his rediscovery of 3-D movies back in 2000 that he became fanatical about the subject. His blog, depthsploitation.com, was set up to share some of his thoughts on 3-D, focusing on films made during it’s most exploitive yet leanest years (1960-1990). He continues to research this era with plans to turn his findings into a book, appropriately entitled Depthsploitation. Jason is also a frequent Rue Morgue magazine contributor and filmmaker based in Toronto. He’s even made a zombie film well before it was fashionable–8 ½ Short Films About Zombies to be precise. Jason sez:

jason_pichonskyFinding five Canadian films to collect under the banner of “depthsploitation” (3-D exploitation flicks) is no easy task. Prior to the current wave of 3-D, Canada’s contribution to three-dimensional filmmaking is meager, but in no way insignificant. With a little creative license, here are five Canadian “depthsploitation” films that that exploit the gimmick of 3-D and are well worth seeking out. Although this list begins and ends with the National Film Board of Canada, every film here has ties to the NFB.

NOW IS THE TIME (TO PUT ON YOUR GLASSES), 1951
Commissioned by the British Film Institute for The Festival of Britain in 1950, NOW IS THE TIME is the first in a pair of animated short films produced by the NFB, showcasing the animation of Norman McLaren. To achieve the 3-D effect, McLaren abandoned his beloved camera-less animation technique (in which he would draw directly on the 35mm strip) and instead relied on cutout drawings suspended in front of a black background to create planes of depth. Although the clouds in the film’s opening are flat and two-dimensional, they appear to drift out from behind the screen and into the audience. Traditional cell animation, drawn for each eye, added an extra layer to the film. NOW IS THE TIME also employed an experimental stereo music score draw directly onto the celluloid optical soundtrack space to create its sound.

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AROUND AND AROUND (1951)
Okay so I’m clearly cheating already. AROUND AND AROUND is the second of the short animations produced by McLaren for the BFI. But, not one to repeat himself, McLaren employed different techniques to achieve his 3-D images. Using an optical printer, McLaren panned flat animated images to create left and right stereo-paired images. He also experimented with oscilloscope patterns, frame staggering the patterns’ horizontal motions in the optical printer to create the 3-D (with this highly technical task he was aided by cameraman Chester Beachell). This time around, the soundtrack featured a more traditional score provided by NFB composer Louis Applebaum.

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McLaren’s animated films screened via dual projection (a projector for each eye) in a specially conceived Telecinema, built for the exhibition as an experimental pairing of television broadcasting and cinema. Additionally, three live action films, A SOLID EXPLANATION, ROYAL RIVER and THE BLACK SWAN, were also screened in 3-D. These films were produced by the Brits under the supervision of Raymond Spottiswood who, together with his brother Nigel, quite literally wrote “the book” on 3-D moviemaking. Published in 1953 under the less then sensational title, The Theory of Stereoscopic Transmission and its Application to the Motion Picture, the Spottiswoods dedicated their manuscript to McLaren.

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