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CanFilm Five: Lost Dominion CanCult Programmer Paul Gordon

“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.

One of the founders of Ottawa’s Lost Dominion Screening Collective, Paul Gordon (who we interviewed last year) is dedicated to bringing forgotten,  rarely-shown Canadian classics back to the big screen. A former projectionist at the Mayfair Theatre, Paul has helped put together three seasons of the Canadian Cult Revue, an ongoing series dedicated to the very same films we focus on at Canuxploitation. So far, this season of  the Canadian Cult Revue has featured Budge Crawley’s AMANITA PESTILENS and EDDIE THE SLEEPWALKING CANNIBAL. Next up is the early Canadian melodrama BACK TO GOD’S COUNTRY on December 11 with later screenings coming up of the classic kiddie matinee MYSTERY OF THE MILLION DOLLAR HOCKEY PUCK and BIG MEAT EATER.

For this edition of CanFilm Five, Paul looks at the five greatest Canadian films considered Missing In Action.

AMANITA PESTILENS, 1962
Directed by René Bonnière

This unusually compelling film is about one man’s obsession with creating “the perfect lawn.” Jacques Labrecque stars as champion lawn-grower Henri Martin, a man who struggles to balance the needs of his family with his own ambitions for horticultural achievement as he wages war against the insurgent mushrooms that threaten his immaculately manicured domain. The film manages the unusual feat of being both funny and suspenseful at the same time, treading a fine line of ominous hilarity perfectly conveyed by Labrecque. It feels somewhat as though Spanish surrealist master Luis Bunuel had wandered into the Montreal of the early 1960s and managed to tap into the cultural zeitgeist of discontent and change bubbling just under the surface of polite society.

Shot on location in Montreal and close to Ottawa at Harrington Lake in 1962 by director René Bonnière, AMANITA PESTILENS was the first fictional feature film produced by legendary Ottawa filmmaker F.R. “Budge” Crawley. It was also the first Canadian feature film produced in colour, and stands as the cinematic debut of Canadian acting queen Genevieve Bujold, who, in her role as rebellious daughter Sophie Martin, displays enough raw cinematic charisma to suggest that she was born for the movie screen.

The production has the added bonus of having captured images of La Belle Province at a time of great physical and social transformation. It contains numerous visual delights, including early 1960s fashion, wonderful old Montreal streetscapes, and the sight of shockingly new-looking highway interchanges. Special mention should go to Ottawa-based composer Larry Crossley for writing an excellent score, incorporating jazz, folk, and orchestral music, helping the film take on the scope of a much larger production.

Unfortunately, AMANITA PESTILENS never received a wide release. Festival screenings and the occasional TV appearance served to spread the legend, but the film has essentially been vault-bound for 50 years. We are proud to bring it back to the big screen, before it returns to dormancy like a mushroom spore waiting to re-emerge – hopefully sooner than the year 2062! Our screening is Nov. 27th at the Bytowne cinema in Ottawa. Film elements exists at Library and Archives Canada, including Interneg and optical neg so someday maybe a proper DVD or Blu-ray will be produced, currently this film is M.I.A.

CARRY ON, SERGEANT!, PA-202246001

CARRY ON, SERGEANT!, 1928
Directed by Bruce Bairnsfather

CARRY ON, SERGEANT! was shot at Trenton Studios in Ontario and in the surrounding countryside by British Director Bruce Bairnsfather, with legendary Canadian filmmaker Gordon Sparling working as his assistant director. With a budget of $500,000, it was the biggest-budget film produced in Canada up to that time. Much of that budget went to recreating WWI-era France, with sprawling sets and battlefield scenes featuring hundreds of extras.

The story follows a group of workers from Hamilton who join the army to fight in WWI, and the travails and temptations that befall them during the war. The film has excellent production values and presents a drama that may feel surprisingly modern to today’s audiences. Bairnsfather’s insistence on portraying the soldiers as flawed human beings resulted in some criticism from those who expected a straightforward glorification of Canada’s war effort. The main character has an affair with a French bar maid and dies on the battlefield. The veterans of the Great War were not impressed; in fact the whole subplot of the affair was edited out of the later version of the film.

Produced as a silent film just as theatres were transitioning to sound, it had only a brief run at the box office before it was removed from circulation in January 1929. It fell into obscurity for many years before Gordon Sparling donated a print to Library and Archives Canada, resulting in a complete restoration of the film, but there has never been a DVD release for the general public. The Lost Dominion Screening Collective is currently working on a DVD release for early next year with a new musical score. Currently this film is M.I.A.

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CanFilm Five: Horror Writer and Playwright Alexandra West

“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.

Alexandra West is a freelance horror journalist who lives, works and survives in Toronto. Her work has appeared in the Toronto Star, Rue Morgue and Post City Magazine among others. She is a regular contributor at Famous Monsters of Filmland and you can find more of her horror ramblings and reviews at her blog, Scare Tactic. Aside from her work in horror criticism, Alexandra’s play, FINAL GIRL, is running in Montreal from October 26 to 28th at 11pm.

Taking place at Freestanding Room (3rd floor at 4324 Boulevard Saint-Laurent), FINAL GIRL stems from West’ theatre background and her love of horror. The play uses a slasher film structure to explore the nature of the killers and victims within your typical slice-and-dice film. Using Carol Clover’s writing in Men, Women and Chainsaws as framework and with a childhood spent watching the best horror films Rogers Video would rent to a minor, FINAL GIRL is an intimate look at a beloved genre that’s fun for the whole family, if the family is all over 18 and doesn’t mind some graphic language.

For this seasonally appropriate edition of CanFilm Five, Alexandra takes a look at the five awesomest women in Canadian horror.

Sarah, MY BLOODY VALENTINE (1981)
From one of the best slashers ever made, Sarah is one cool cucumber. When she and her friends get trapped in a mine during the Valentine’s Day dance with a killer on the loose she is the only one to keep it together and think logically about getting out of there with losing her head, unlike some other people. When you watch more than your fair share of slasher movies involving teenagers doing silly things, it’s so refreshing to see an adult woman, in peril, but keeping it together that it’s hard to go back to over-the-top silliness. She is my slasher role model.

Nola, THE BROOD (1979)
Nola may be a contentious choice, as critic Robin Wood called THE BROOD a reactionary film that shone a negative light on the womens’ liberation movement, but for me it draws attention to furious nature that repression breeds. Nola is both a mother trying to save herself and a dangerous force of nature that attacks all those that would stand in her way. She is the lady version of the Queen Alien and just as bad ass.

Ginny, HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME (1981)
Being popular is hard. It’s even harder when there’s a killer on the loose.  Melissa Sue Anderson (yup, the daughter from LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRARIE) is fantastic as Ginny, our Final Girl in this ’80s-tastic slasher, but she’s all the more impressive against the winding plot that would give John Grisham a headache. HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME plays out like the best surprise party ever because the ending is such a kicker, and Ginny and is the perfect vessel to discover this horror gem.

Barb, BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974)
Canadians make the best slashers, if evidenced only by this list. Forget affecting, subdued, Egoyan-esque dramas– Canadians defined, broke and remade the slasher genre starting with this classic. BLACK CHRISTMAS is my favourite slasher. It’s creepy, funny and unforgettable. Seriously, I haven’t been able to look at a dry cleaning bag without seeing an instrument for my imminent destruction since I fist saw this movie. For all of the wonder that this film gives me, Barb may be my favourite part. While she’s no Final Girl, she’s one of the most entertaining characters in horror and every time I watch BLACK CHRISTMAS I’ll root for her ’til the end.

Brigitte, GINGER SNAPS (2000)
I love an awesome good girl. And Brigitte is not only an awesome good girl, but an awesome sister. While she fights to save her sister Ginger from turning into a werewolf, she also has to define herself against Ginger’s evolution. Brigitte is an excellent rendering of a young woman trying to find herself and break away from a toxic relationship. It’s a remarkably identifiable movie for any young woman, not just the hairy ones.

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CanFilm Five: Black Museum Curator Andrea Subissati

“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.

Along with Canuxploitation.com founder Paul Corupe,  Andrea “ Lady Hellbat” Subissati is a curator for The Black Museum, a limited engagement of horror lectures and screenings based out of Toronto’s Projection Booth East theatre. Taking place throughout the fall, this event offers the chance for horror professionals of all kinds to share their experience, knowledge and love of the genre in a casual and interactive atmosphere.

Andrea is also a sociologist and writer on cultural studies and the horror film genre. In 2010, her first book on the social impact of zombie cinema was published under the title When There’s No More Room In Hell: The Sociology of the Living Dead. The book has been reviewed in Rue Morgue and Fangoria magazines, and Lady Hellbat has become a voice in horror journalism thanks to her well-received guest spots on the Rue Morgue podcast. She has also appeared on Lianne Spiderbaby‘s Fright Bytes webcast series, as featured on the Fangoria site.

In preparation for her  upcoming Black Museum lecture, “Unearthed: A Cultural History of the Zombie,” (get tickets now!) Andrea offers something a little different from our usual CanFilm Five lists — the top five reasons Toronto is a great place to live for horror fans.

Filming destination
Toronto is now home to horror royalty George A. Romero, and sightings of genre directors Eli Roth, Paul WS Anderson and Guillermo Del Toro are not uncommon. In fact, Mr. Del Toro has such a soft spot for the big smoke that he treated the city to a four-course master class on a selection of Hitchcock films last year and he even hinted that he’d love to do it again. Lucky us!

The Toronto Zombie Walk
Toronto did it first, and 2012 marks the TZW’s 10th anniversary. With special guests John A. Russo and Russ Streiner in attendance, this year’s march of the undead is sure to be the biggest and the best one yet.

Rue Morgue Magazine
The home office of the most established and respected genre publication is located in the West end of the city. Formerly a funeral home, the office kept the chapel to use as a screening room and the whole place is so cool they should really charge admission for tours… but they do it for free. Another perk of Rue Morgue being in the ‘hood is Cinemacabre (the Rue’s monthly horror screenings) and the best Halloween party around.

Toronto After Dark Film Festival
TAD is only seven years old but you wouldn’t know it to see the lineups encircling local cinemas every October. What started as four days of screenings has since expanded to “Nine Nights of Cinematic Mayhem”, where the indie and international horror, sci-fi and cult films receive red carpet treatment, with an added emphasis on integrating the local horror community. Great movies, guaranteed.

The Black Museum
OK, so we’re not as big as Rue Morgue or TAD (yet) and, if you’ve been paying close attention, maybe the writer of this list is a wee bit biased. But you’ve got to admit, The Black Museum is a worthy addition to the pantheon of horror events and institutions listed above. For the price of a night at the movies, Black Museum guests take a tour into the blood and guts of movies with courses led by some of the biggest names in the biz.

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CanFilm Five: Author and Canadian Film and TV Critic D.K. Latta — Part 2

“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.

The Masked Movie Critic, otherwise known as D.K. Latta (or is that the other way around?) is a sometimes writer of science fiction and of non-fiction, and a self appointed (and strangely self-important) commentator about, and opiner on, Canadian film & TV and has been for years. His website The Great Canadian Guide to the Movies (& TV) contains capsule reviews of literally thousands of Canadian movies and TV series and, when it started in the late 1990s, boasted it was the most extensive English-language Canadian site of its kind on or off the web. Not that there was a lot of competition for that particular bragging right. It’s probably less so now but, hey, he still likes it. It is also associated with his blog — Pulp and Dagger Blog — which is intended to cover a broader range of movie, TV and pop cultural topics, and does…but still tends to focus a lot on Canadian films and TV.

D.K. contributed two excellent lists–this earlier one on Canadian modes of movie mayhem  and this one on everyone’s favourite Canadian character actor, Michael Ironside!

Michael Ironside has become one of Canada’s most enduring exports. And has attained that singular distinction of arguably being a “cult” actor. Sure, any actor would love to be a matinee idol or to have a few Oscars under his belt. But the “cult” actor is, in his way, perhaps a more stalwart figure — a recognizable face to some, a vaguely recognized name to others…and an icon to many. He may not always appear in the best movies — indeed, “cult” actors are often usually described as being better than their material — and often in genre films of sci-fi, action and horror. But that’s kind of their appeal: their lack of pretension. They come. They do their job. And we love ‘em for it. And if you can tap into that vein successfully, you can look forward to a long career. Ironside himself once commented that in an industry where most actors were unemployed, most of the time…he’s worked steadily for years. Wonder if Ryan Reynolds or Ryan Gosling will be able to say the same a few decades down the line?

But Ironside’s roles have often been dictated by his distinctive presence and demeanour. It’s not that he has a face only a mother could love — it’s not like he’s ugly or anything — merely that he has a face only a mother wouldn’t be very, very scared of. And with a growling voice and the perfect surname to go with it! And so whether playing heroes or villains, Ironside is usually cast as the tough guy: the murderous killer, or the gruff anti-hero. But there’s more to his career than that! So let’s look at some of Michael Ironside’s more unusual roles.

SCANNERS (1983)
Okay, yeah, this is very much what you’d expect from him. But as probably his first major role, the one that put him on the cinematic map, it’s worth starting with. Ironside had already paid his dues in Canadian film with TV guest spots, and movie bit parts, and grunt work (on the movie NOTHING PERSONAL, he had a bit part as a motorcycle cop…and behind the scenes was, according to him, doing the laundry of the film’s star, Donald Sutherland!) by the time he was cast as the telepathic villain in David Cronenberg’s gory milestone — the movie that, arguably, helped take Cronenberg out of the ghetto of cult fandom and into the mainstream.

But now let’s consider some of his atypical roles:

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CanFilm Five: Author and Canadian Film and TV Critic D.K. Latta — Part 1

“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.

The Masked Movie Critic, otherwise known as D.K. Latta (or is that the other way around?) is a sometimes writer of science fiction and of non-fiction, and a self appointed (and strangely self-important) commentator about, and opiner on, Canadian film & TV and has been for years. His website The Great Canadian Guide to the Movies (& TV) contains capsule reviews of literally thousands of Canadian movies and TV series and, when it started in the late 1990s, boasted it was the most extensive English-language Canadian site of its kind on or off the web. Not that there was a lot of competition for that particular bragging right. It’s probably less so now but, hey, he still likes it. It is also associated with his blog — Pulp and Dagger Blog — which is intended to cover a broader range of movie, TV and pop cultural topics, and does…but still tends to focus a lot on Canadian films and TV.

D.K. contributed two excellent lists–this one, and a second one we will be posting shortly. D.K. sez:

Instead of focusing on a best or greatest movie Top 5 list, I thought maybe I’d connect some films — some good, some bad, some indifferent — by their very Canadian modes of mayhem. Yes, Canada may be the land of “Peace, Order and Good Government” but sometimes it has provided a forum for some singularly Canadian forms of murder…or at least, wilful violence. Since it’s a top 5, I’ve had to make choices, just narrowly excluding GINA and its grisly snowplough death, or the creepy wendigo in GHOSTKEEPER. And I’m sure BON COP, BAD COP could fill up half this list by itself. Which brings us to:

TEKWAR (1994)
William Shatner, in collaboration with Ron Goulart, wrote a series of TEKWAR sci-fi novels that were turned into four TV movies, and then became a short-lived TV series. The novels and the TV series were explicitly set in a future United States but, interestingly, in the TV movies it’s a more ambiguous North American setting. In the first — and the best — of the movies, called simply TEKWAR, a future-era private eye (played by Greg Evigan) investigates a missing scientist’s disappearance. In one scene, the villains fear he’s getting too close to the trail and send a killer android after him — a hockey player android that attacks him at a skating rink.

SHADOW OF THE WOLF (1992)
In this film, Lou Diamond Phillips and Jennifer Tilly play a couple of star crossed1930s era Inuit lovers on the run from both their tribe and the white man. An attempt at a big budget spectacle of the kind Canada rarely tries anymore (and maybe this film’s poor box office partly led to that) in one memorable scene their igloo is attacked by a ravenous…polar bear! (“Crunchy on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside,” as a polar bear described igloos in an old Far Side comic strip). Not the easiest beasties to train, nor much call for them in movies set a little farther south, polar bear attack isn’t exactly one of Hollywood’s more common cliches!

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