MIFF 2014 Review: Oculus (2014) — The Evil Antique That Doesn’t Deliver in Horror Fizzer

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The psychological horror film Oculus tells two parallel stories: The first is set in 2002, where a family move into a new house with new furnishings; including an ornate, antique mirror. Slowly the demonic mirror starts to take a mental toll on the parents (Rory Cochrane and Katee Sackhoff), leading to the deaths of both, with the 10-year old Tim accused of the heinous murders. 11 years later, Tim (Brenton Thwaites) is released from psychiatric care, convinced that the mirror played no part in what happened to his parents. Little does he know that his older sister Kaylie (Karen Gillan) has spent the past decade researching the mirror, waiting for her brother’s return so that she can finally destroy it and redeem her family’s legacy.

"I need the optometrist, first thing in the morning."

“I need the optometrist, first thing in the morning.”

Oculus is based on the 2006 short film Oculus: Chapter 3 – The Man With the Plan, which is also the brainchild of writer/director Mike Flanagan. I haven’t seen the short, but I can only imagine that the premise of Oculus works so much better as a short than a feature. The movie isn’t bad, it just doesn’t have enough substance, scares, or relatable characters. I found all the 2002 scenes to be better than the 2013 ones; the 2002 storyline has a solid structure and some genuinely gruesome moments, but when the plot switches to 2013, I feel that the tone becomes almost farcical. Because the two stories are being told simultaneously, whenever I start to feel an attachment to the 2002 plot, we cut back to 2013, which drops whatever tension was developed the prior tale.

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MIFF 2014 Review: Life After Beth (2014) — Disappointing Zom-Com That Lacks Bite

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Life After Beth opens with Zach (Dane DeHaan) mourning the recent death of his girlfriend Beth (Aubrey Plaza). He takes solace in the companionship of Beth’s parents (John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon), until they suddenly break contact with the confused Zach. While desperately attempting to re-ignite contact, he realises that Beth has mysteriously reappeared and her parents have been hiding her. Zach takes this opportunity to re-establish their romantic relationship, but over time the resurrected Beth begins to grow increasingly aggressive and unpredictable, and a level of physical decomposition begins to set in. But Zach soon realises that his zombie girlfriend is not alone as more and more of the undead begin to appear in town.

Somebody's cranky...

Somebody’s cranky…

From first-time writer/director Jeff Baena, Life After Beth suffers from a lack of inspiration. It fails as a zombie film, it fails as a comedy, and it fails as a relationship film; but it’s not terrible — it’s just unbelievably mediocre. After the gimmick of ‘zombie girlfriend’ is played out after the first 30 minutes, the movie plods along without any major developments until it ultimately fizzles out at the climax. It’s an idea that would have worked in a smaller time-frame, but the feature-length hurts it.

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MIFF 2014 Review: The One I Love (2014) — The High-Concept Brain Pretzel That is Best Left to Discover

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The One I Love is the directorial debut of Charlie McDowell, from a script by Justin Lader. Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss star as a couple in a relationship crisis. They begin the film with marriage counsellor Ted Danson, who suggests a weekend at a secluded resort to try to mend their broken connection. Once at the resort, they encounter a strange occurrence that shakes their marriage to the core, but is there more than meets the eye?

This will be hard to discuss, because if I were to describe the film in any detail it will be a major spoiler for what can be considered the film’s twist. I strongly feel that going into this film with a blank canvas and no prior knowledge will enhance the experience considerably. Prepare to read one of my shortest, vaguest reviews ever!

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MIFF 2014 Review: Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon (2013) — Mike Myers Presents Talent Agent, Womaniser, Buddhist.

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Shep Gordon is a Hollywood icon, he’s just one you’ve never heard of. The manager of an eclectic range of musicians and actors such as Alice Cooper, Anne Murray, and Groucho Marx, Gordon is the focus of Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon, the directorial debut of Mike Myers (Austin Powers, Shrek).

The cute couple.

The cute couple.

Gordon has lived a crazy, whirlwind life: a young man who happened to break into the music industry by a happenstance encounter with Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. This encounter led to a meeting with the band Alice Cooper, with the struggling musicians instantly taking him on as their manager. Through savvy business sense and networking, Gordon took Alice Cooper from obscurity to the shock-rockers that the music world was craving. His success with Cooper led to successful partnerships with a wide range of acts such as Luther Vandross, Blondie, and Teddy Pendergrass. Gordon will also go on to create one of the first independent film studios, and is also credited with creating the ‘celebrity chef’ concept, which is now a billion dollar industry.
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MIFF 2014 Review: Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films (2014) — A Schlock-Till-You-Drop Insight Into One of the Great Bad Studios

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Director Mark Hartley has a terrific track record producing documentaries about sub-genres of cult cinema; his first, Not Quite Hollywood, was a fascinating look at the low-budget Australian New Wave films (“Ozploitation”) of the 70’s and 80’s, and that was followed up by Machete Maidens Unleashed!, a look at exploitation films coming out of the Philippines in the 70’s and 80’s. He makes it a trilogy of cult film documentaries with Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films, which focuses on the films produced by Israeli cousins Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, together putting together the Cannon Films production company — a production company famous for their cheap, but cult-favourite exploitation films.

A symbol of excellence.

A symbol of excellence.

Cannon was known for churning out low-budget films at a rapid rate, with a distinct company ethos of quantity over quality. Although universally panned by critics, Golan-Globus stayed in business throughout the 80’s through savvy marketing and by taking advantage of the booming home video market. They produced a large number of popular genre films featuring action (Chuck Norris films Invasion USA and Delta Force), science fiction (Lifeforce, Invaders From Mars), and sequels to pre-existing films (Death Wish, Texas Chainsaw Massacre). They also produced many horror, dance (the titular Electric Boogaloo), and adventure movies. If anything was in the popular zeitgeist of the moment, Cannon was sure to take advantage of it, at minimal cost.

To attain legitimacy, Cannon then began to partake in risky bookkeeping; financing films off the profits of the previous release, which was a haphazard process and ultimately led to them biting off more than they could chew. Those larger risks involved enticing Hollywood stars with larger payouts, with the hope of a larger financial reward for the bigger outlay of production costs. This never came to be; failed, expensive productions such as Sylvester Stallone’s arm-wrestling ‘epic’ Over The Top, Masters of the Universe, and Superman IV (allowing Christopher Reeve creative freedom to return to his iconic role was another mistake), led to Cannon straying from their low-budget business model and would be the eventual death of the company.

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MIFF 2013 Review: Drinking Buddies (2013) — A Loosely Scripted but Massively Charming Bender

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Independent darling and micro-budget director extraordinaire Joe Swanberg has been a busy guy: he has over a dozen directing credits to his name in the past ten years, not to mention a large number of acting appearances and producing credits. A pioneer of the “mumblecore” movement has certainly been churning out the features, which have honestly not made any major waves outside of the festival circuit. The romantic comedy Drinking Buddies may be his mainstream breakthrough picture; a slightly higher budget has brought with it a more recognisable cast, which in turn should make it more attractive to a wider audience. The good thing is that Drinking Buddies does deserve a wider audience due to its charming leads and realistic take on modern romance.

This promo pic is phony: Jake Johnson has a beard throughout the movie.

This promo pic is phony: Jake Johnson has a beard throughout the movie.

The film follows Kate (Olivia Wilde) and Luke (Jake Johnson), workers at a Chicago brewery. They share an undeniable chemistry; they drink hard and they flirt hard. These feelings go unspoken due to both of them being in relationships with other people (Ron Livingston and Anna Kendrick, respectively). Things come to a head when the two couples take a weekend vacation that rocks the foundations of both these partnerships, who then have to traverse rocky terrain filled with sexual tensions and relationship hurdles.

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