One of the most talked about streaming releases of the week was dropped on the unsuspecting public on Monday like a new album by Beyonce, Radiohead or Kanye West, with nearly identical fanfare, due in large part to it being the big-screen acting debut of Chance the Rapper (or as he’s credited in the film, Chance Bennett). The film in question is a horror-comedy offering called Slice, the feature writing/directing effort from Austin Vesely, who has worked previously with Chance and some of his label mates on music videos over the last few years.
Slice opens with the murder of a pizza delivery driver (played by Vesely) in the part of town occupied by ghosts — and there’s nothing spooky about it. The film takes place in a version of reality where ghosts and other supernatural beings are just a part of day-to-day life. Chance plays a werewolf, who also used to deliver Chinese food; there are also witches about. The town’s only pizza place (owned by Paul Scheer) is built atop a gateway to hell, and it’s partly up to another delivery person named Astrid (the great Zazie Beetz) to find out who’s being what becomes a string of murders of her co-workers.
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You can see what the filmmakers are going for. In fact, it’s so clear that it makes it all the more frustrating that writer/director Austin Vesely’s feature debut, Slice, keep missing the mark even as it bombards us at every turn with characters, story turns, jokes, and horror movie tropes, all arranged by someone who has watched hundreds — maybe thousands — of scary movies and not much else.
The result is a work that is whole-heartedly ambitious in terms of its scope — a pizza place built atop a gateway to hells is admittedly a wonderful idea — but so many other elements (character development, creatively conceived special effects, pacing) are left so far out of the mix that the film slogs along, feeling uninspired and overlong, which is tough to do with a film that barely crosses the 80-minute mark.
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Even without taking into account his 30-plus-year acting career—highlighted by performances in Dead Poets Society, Reality Bites, Training Day, and Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy—Ethan Hawke has had a hell of a 2018, which technically began a year ago at the Venice Film Festival), where writer-director Paul Schrader’s First Reformed premiered, featuring a career-best performance from Hawke. The film wasn’t officially released until May 2018, and just recently came out on home video.
Currently, Hawke has two more films making their way across the country in limited release, both of which debuted at the year’s Sundance Film Festival—one he stars in (Juliet, Naked) and one he directed (Blaze). (We could also throw in his extensive interview about Elvis Presley’s flawed acting career in director Eugene Jarecki’s documentary The King, which came out earlier this summer.) Produced by Judd Apatow and directed by Jesse Peretz, Juliet, Naked is the story of a British woman (Rose Byrne) whose boyfriend (Chris O’Dowd) is obsessed with a reclusive singer who had one of the great broken-heart records decades earlier. When Bryne’s character lashes out at a record label releasing demos for said record as being a lame cash grab, the long-silent musician (Hawke) writes her an email confirming her suspicions, and the two begin an online correspondence that has the potential for something more, if for no other reason than it drags him out of hiding. Based on the novel by Nick Hornby, the film is charming, funny and gives Hawke the chance to use images of himself from younger days in very amusing ways.
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When filmmaker Bing Liu was a younger man shooting skateboarding videos of himself and two best friends Zack and Keire in their hometown of Rockford, Illinois, he likely didn’t realize that years later he would use that footage, as well as more deeply personal interviews with the two and many of their closest friends and family to compile a portrait of broken homes, domestic abuse, and undeniable impact of role models — both good and bad. While skateboarding begins as the central focus of the resulting documentary, Minding the Gap, it eventually becomes the much-needed escape from the real world for this kids — a real world that includes alcoholism and getting his girlfriend pregnant for Zack, and losing his father and coming to grips with being the only African-American kid among his group of friends for Keire.
Minding the Gap, which won a Special Jury Prize for Breakthrough Documentary Filmmaking and has additionally won countless Best Documentary and Audience awards along the 2018 festival circuit, explores the grueling transformation from adolescence to adulthood, made all the more painful since these three are exceptional on their boards and must give up their time a skate parks in order to get jobs to support themselves and their loved ones. There’s a confessional tone to the project that Liu himself takes part in when he interviews his mother about her abusive second husband, who mercilessly disciplined him as a child.
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“It’s not 1985 anymore; it’s 1986,” explains one of the many characters voiced by British writer/director Michael (Mike) Mort in his first feature-length stop-motion animation work Chuck Steel: Night of the Trampires, the follow-up of sorts to his 2013 Chuck Steel short, Raging Balls of Steel Justice. Like the short, this film is a send-up of 1980s American action movies like Die Hard and Lethal Weapon. But with Trampires, Mort adds a bevy of tributes to horror films of the decade as well, including very funny and graphic shouts out to the Evil Dead trilogy and John Carpenter’s The Thing, among others.
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There are few actors whose voice and mustache are revered more than those possessed by Sam Elliott. From Road House and We Were Soldiers to The Big Lebowski and last year’s heartfelt The Hero, Elliott is often cast as the voice of authority and righteousness in role after role, including the current Netflix series The Ranch and the upcoming Bradley Cooper-starring/directed A Star Is Born (in this latest adaptation, Elliott plays Cooper’s manager/brother).
And while the 74-year-old performer is often cast as a hero, it’s difficult to remember a time when he’s played a character who has killed both Hitler and Bigfoot in the same movie. Then again, there’s never been a film quite like The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot, from writer/director Robert D. Krzykowski, making his feature debut.
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Michael Ironside has been a great friend to genre works over his acting career, which spans more than 40 years and includes undeniably memorable performances in such film and television works as the original V series, Scanners, Top Gun, Extreme Prejudice,Total Recall, The Perfect Storm, and Starship Troopers. In 2015, he starred in two terrific science-fiction films, Turbo Kid and Synchronicity, both of which played at the Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal.
A proud Toronto native himself, the 68-year-old Ironside is always happy to help out Canadian filmmakers, like those who made Turbo Kid and his latest film, Knuckleball, which received its Canadian debut at Fantasia.
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What is about the image kids on bicycles, having an adventure, that just screams “This is a story set in the 1980s”? The trio of Montreal-based filmmaking team, known collectively as RKSS (and individually as François Simard, Anouk Whissell, and Yoann-Karl Whissell), decided to find out when they got their hands on the Summer of ’84 script from first-time screenwriters Matt Leslie and Stephen J. Smith. This is a story that taps into some of the same nostalgic vibes that made last year’s version of Stephen King’s It and Netflix’s Stranger Things series so popular, while grounding its story more squarely in reality rather than diving into the supernatural or other worldly.
Set in the deepest, darkest suburbs of Oregon, the film follows 15-year-old Davey Armstrong (Graham Verchere), who is bored and not interested in hanging around the house while the tension between his parents is close to boiling over. He sets himself the mission of discovering the fates of a handful of missing and dead area teens — a search that gets kicked into overdrive when a few pieces of circumstantial evidence points Davey and his three closest pals to suspecting that local police officer Mackey (Rich Sommer) of being the so-called Cape May Slayer. It just so happens the cop also happens to be Davey’s next-door neighbor, which makes for some very awkward and tense moments around the old cul-de-sac.
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For most of the 2000s, Marc Turtletaub has been one of the leading producers of mid-size indie works (many of them quite successful), so it should come as no surprise that he would take an interest in directing one of his own. After making his directorial debut with 2013’s Gods Behaving Badly, he’s helmed Puzzle, which received a great deal of attention at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year and is scheduled to open in theaters today.
/Film spoke about Puzzle with Turtletaub in Chicago back in May when he was a guest at the Chicago Critics Film Festival. He spoke of taking a deep dive into the world of puzzling, the personal connection he had to the material, the subtle ways in which he depicted loneliness, and yes, a bit about Mr. Rogers.
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In the wake of digital animation, the art of stop-motion (or stop-frame) animation has been relegated to the furthest reaches of the animation spectrum, despite the fact that its handmade quality gives the entire production a warmth and tangible quality that is nearly impossible to capture in a computer-born creation. And while animation houses like Aardman and Laika Entertainment are still kicking and putting out a feature every few years (in addition to commercial work and the occasional short films), but even they use digital assistance to smooth out action and erase lines where they aren’t meant to be.
So imagine the sheer delight at seeing a film like Chuck Steel: Night of the Trampires (courtesy of the newly created British house Animortal Studio) on the big screen using old-school stop-motion techniques that combine the feel of the artist’s fingerprints on the creation with high production value that you’d expect to get from much more established studios. Read More »