Halloween Movies on Netflix Canada for 2015


Since you’ve seen “The Exorcist” how about some others?

Halloween is a fantastic holiday. It might not come with the benefit of a day off work or presents or a bunny handing out chocolate eggs, but its got style. And it inspires watching lots of horror, thrillers, and just plain ol’ weird movies to get into its twisted spirit. That being said, Netflix Canada has a great list of flicks to stoke that Halloween fire (and for those who’ve exhausted the classics – The Exorcist, The Thing, Halloween, just to name a few – Netflix has a bit more of an eclectic mix). Check out some recommendations below:

It Follows (Grade: A)

Just released on Netflix Canada on October 19 – if you have not seen this horror movie, go watch it on Netflix now. It’s one of the best horror films in recent memory.

Afflicted (Grade: B)

While generally not a fan of found-footage films, this horror-travelogue has some fun with a classic movie monster and some really cool POV action scenes. Also, it was filmed on a shoe-string budget and made by Canadians, so that’s pretty cool too.

Oculus (Grade: B+)

A haunted house movie that works. Especially because its about a haunted mirror. The subject matter is laughable, but the film draws you in with its warped reality and sympathetic characters. It will make you feel crazy.

The Sacrament (Grade: B)

Another found-footage movie filmed under the guise of a VICE documentary about a charismatic cult leader (who everyone creepily calls “Father”). The arrival of the VICE outsiders signals unease…and then bloodshed.

Evil Dead remake (Grade: C+)

Not as kitschy or fun as the beloved original, but the remake has better gore and creepy set-pieces. But Ash is sorely missed.

The Conjuring (Grade: A)

Hide and clap. ‘nough said.

The Cabin in the Woods (Grade: B+)

Not one to start off with if you’re not familiar with horror movies. Plays off on a lot of horror movie stereotypes and cliches, and a ton of fun. Not scary though.

Sinister (Grade: B)

Holy shit, those 8mm family films. Terrifying. The rest of the movie can’t reach the heights of the opening, but pretty creepy overall.

Jacob’s Ladder (Grade: B+)

An oldie but a goodie. A Vietnam vet learns that New York isn’t quite the same as he left it. A bit of a slow burn, but lots of disturbing imagery. The stuff of nightmares.

Orphan (Grade: B)

A movie about an evil child that torments a mother and her family (but mostly the mother). Enjoy it for the thrills and the frustration that no one else can see this child is the devil except the mother (who obviously no one believes – but the film provides a good reason for that). Speaking of evil child films…

We Need to Talk About Kevin (Grade: A)

Not actually a horror film, but a disturbing drama about not bonding with your child. Probably because they’re a psychopath.

1408 (Grade: B+)

John Cusack. Stephen King adaptation. Samuel L. Jackson. And as surprisingly effective one-room horror-thriller. Cusack does great work as a cynical writer who spends a night in a “haunted” hotel room. He learns too late that quotations weren’t needed.

The Faculty (C+)

Just a fun sci-fi horror high school romp. But there is a scene where a scalp falls off in a shower that I’ve never been able to forget…

Tucker and Dale vs Evil (Grade: B)

Another Cabin in the Woods style movie. Two hillbillies keep running into co-eds who end up dying. Good for lighter fare after the heavier stuff.

Session 9 (Grade: B)

Underrated psychological thriller set in an abandoned mental hospital undergoing asbestos removal by a team of workers. Atypically, most of the film is set during the day (i.e. when most people work) but still manages to scare with the claustrophobic set and great cast (David Caruso!).

Leprechaun (Grade: D)

Jennifer Aniston battling a little green man who drops one-liners in an Irish lilt and is compelled to shine all dirty shoes he comes across. Cue dirty gym shoes being thrown to slow him down.

Honourable mentions: Creep (found-footage with Mark Duplass, could be good), the television show Hannibal (specifically, Season 1, Episode 5 will haunt you), Carrie (a classic, but you’ve probably already heard about it), Halloween: Resurrection (Busta Rhymes battles Michael Myers after he says “Trick or Treat…motherfucker!” Absolutely amazing trash), Kiss the Girls (Morgan Freeman/Ashley Judd thriller – formulaic but well done), The Call (Halle Berry as a 911 operator in a race against time to save a girl from a serial killer – a quick watch), Maniac (a horror film shot entirely from the POV of the killer. First ten minutes is great, the rest…not so much.), The Strangers (“Because you were home.”), The American Scream (documentary about homeowners creating the best haunted house).

Happy Halloween!

TIFF 2015 Review: Anomalisa


The back of Michael Stone’s head in “Anomalisa”

I feel like Michael Stone. The protagonist in Anomalisa has a unique ailment – everyone he sees has the same face and speaks with the same voice. It’s called Fregoli syndrome, apparently. To him, the whole world is just one person. It’s frustrating, confusing, and depressing. But then there’s Lisa – and Stone can see her and hear her as an individual. She’s an anomaly. An Anoma-Lisa. This movie’s supposed to be an anomaly, but I can’t see it.

Utilizing puppets and stop-motion animation, the film takes place over a twenty-four hour period at the fictional Fregoli hotel in Cincinnati, where Michael Stone (David Thewlis) stays on the eve of giving a speech about customer service at a conference. The other characters he encounters are flat, lifeless, and speak in a perpetual monotone, all voiced by Tom Noonan. They all have the same face, and the purpose of using puppets is clear – their blank faces, abnormal movements, and indistinguishable bodies emulate, and emphasize, what it would be like to have this condition. But the use of puppets isn’t exactly necessary. A thematically similar scene in Being John Malkovich (also scripted by Charlie Kaufman) does the same thing, but was performed in live action with CGI. It would’ve been more effective if this film was in live action as well – the use of puppets distances the audience from the material and is a constant reminder of a much better puppet film –  yes, Team America: World Police.

I can’t figure out what’s so enjoyable or thought-provoking about this movie. The comedic material is tired and third-rate with obvious observations like: what’s the deal with keycards that never seem to work, why is hotel shower water always too hot or too cold, and which telephone button do I use to order room service?  The protagonist is an unlikeable twat who looks up an old girlfriend for a one-night stand, and when that doesn’t work, has one with Lisa instead. The “groundbreaking” puppet sex scene is a poor man’s retread of the sex scene in Team America. It’s a slice of life movie with characters you would never want to hang out with in real life, but have to suffer with through the film’s interminable running time of ninety minutes. There can be beauty in the mundanities of life, but Anomalisa doesn’t find it.

This was the most disappointing movie of TIFF for me. Charlie Kaufman is a brilliant screenwriter who has created three of my favourite films of all time. But Anomalisa doesn’t go any further than its high concept premise. Michael Stone is depressed because he can’t understand anyone else. I can’t understand what anyone else sees in this movie.

Grade: D

TIFF 2015 Review: The Devil’s Candy

Ethan Embry in "The Devil's Candy"

Ethan Embry in “The Devil’s Candy”

The tensest moment in The Devil’s Candy isn’t a scary one. It’s a character one. Director Sean Byrne (The Loved Ones) really cares about the family at the centre of the film – the unambiguously named Hellmans – Jesse (Ethan Embry), Astrid (Shiri Appleby) and their daughter Zooey (Kiara Glasco). Even though Byrne puts them through Hell – bouts of demonic possession, frequent run-ins with a serial killer, and a nefarious art dealer  – the scene that really got me was Jesse running late to pick up Zooey from school. That’s when I realized that despite The Devil’s Candy being a fairly average horror flick it does a fantastic job of crafting likeable characters that you’re invested in…even when they’re not in life-threatening situations.

Jesse is a tortured artist reduced to painting butterflies on commission for a bank’s lobby to pay the bills for his family. He’s a heavy metal aficionado (which may be obvious from his matted beard and long, unkempt hair) and shares that passion for music with his daughter. This is a happy, if unconventional, family and inevitably, they find a Perfect Family Dream Home for a great price. The catch? Obviously, a double murder took place there (but don’t worry, the real estate agent discloses this…although he may refer to them as deaths rather than murders…). Things get a little spooky, Jesse starts hearing some voices, the former occupant of the home (and also a serial killer) comes for a visit, yada yada yada we got ourselves a horror movie!

The Devil’s Candy is an example of a film with too many ideas. It’s a fascinating haunted house movie, similar to The Shining, where the personality of the patriarch undergoes some disturbing changes. But it’s also a a family-in-peril film where the Hellmans are hunted by an unhinged serial killer. And it briefly flirts with the religious conspiracy angle where seemingly normal individuals are agents of the devil (it’s usually pretty obvious who they are when the soundtrack becomes darkly ominous). The film does a commendable job juggling these different plot strands, but they all feel a little undercooked.

Pruitt Taylor Vince does an excellent job as Ray, the former occupant of the Hellman’s new home. He’s a unhinged monster, but he doesn’t want to be one. He’s simply a glimpse of a few steps further along on the demonic possession scale than Jesse is. Where Jesse’s demonic voices are his muse to create challenging pieces of artwork, for Vince’s character they torment him until he kills people. His only salvation is drowning the demonic voices out with heavy metal music, but as you might be able to guess, that doesn’t really make him a popular person when everyone else is trying to sleep. Dressed in a ratty red tracksuit that gets filthier throughout the film, Ray is the image of malevolence and a frightening character. It’s just too bad that the climatic confrontation between Ray and Jesse uses some laughably bad CGI flames that completely undercuts the realism, and as a result – any tension – of the situation.

The Devil’s Candy is a competent horror-thriller with a sympathetic family at its centre, but loses its punch by juggling too many different plots that each could’ve each served as their own film. A solid feature for those thirsting for a horror fix, but don’t expect anything groundbreaking.

Grade: B

TIFF 2015 Review: The Program


I don’t care about the Tour de France. I’ve never watched it, nor do I really care about cycling. It’s fine that other people like it, but it’s just not for me. But I’m really interested in the Lance Armstrong story. It’s a fascinating tale and instigates great debates about doping, athleticism, myth-making, and society’s desire to tear public figures down. For myself, revealing Lance Armstrong used performance-enhancing drugs to win the Tour de France seven times always makes me think of one question: what did we accomplish?

The Program doesn’t answer these questions, but instead is a thrilling fact-based account about those seven tours with dramatizations of the doping that took place behind the scenes. Lance Armstrong (Ben Foster) is a young American cyclist tackling the Tour de France for the first time. He’s doing an interview with David Walsh (Chris O’Dowd) while playing foosball. Walsh likes the young athlete, but privately tells his colleagues that the American will never be a true contender. In that first Tour, Walsh is right; Armstrong doesn’t even come close. And then Armstrong is diagnosed with cancer, and it looks like his career is over. But he returns to the Tour against all odds – a true Cinderella story – and wins it. Armstrong’s suddenly a true contender, but Walsh, unlike his colleagues, doesn’t believe everything is above board. He can’t be wrong.

Obviously, Walsh wasn’t wrong. Lance was doping. And the scenes of the “program” are captivating as a whole team of cyclists lounge in their tour bus with needles in their veins and IV bags above their heads. There’s a great scene where a drug inspector makes a surprise visit to the U.S. Postal team’s trailer to do a drug test on Armstrong, and Lance scrambles to inject himself with enough water to dilute the drugs running through his bloodstream. But here’s the rub: it seems like everyone in the Tour was doping. That first Tour that Lance did horribly in? Yep, doping scandal. Walsh laments that he wants to watch athletes race up a mountain, not chemists. So why isn’t that the bigger story – that doping is rampant and the systems in place to keep the sport fair are horribly ineffective? Frankly, taking down “athletes” (quotations, cuz doping) just seems like whack-a-mole at this point.

The film does a good job of being the Coles Notes of the scandal. It hits the major beats – well-shot racing sequences, scenes of Lance with his charity and the extension of his lies into the inspirational speeches he tells to crowds of cancer survivors, his scorched earth strategy of silencing opponents through numerous lawsuits, and endorsements from major companies as his star rises. Admittedly, the film is pretty much a dramatization of the documentary The Armstrong Lie that just came out two years ago. But what’s the problem with that? The Armstrong Lie is an incredible film, and The Program is a great one as well.

Ben Foster captures the look an essence of Armstrong to an eerie degree. He’s contained, precise, and calculating. But there’s a scene near the end of the film when the facade breaks down and Foster does some incredible work. Holding back tears, and through gritted teeth, he pleads with the board that competition is his life while they strip him of his titles. It’s a powerful moment. From the man who had everything, to a instant disgrace.

Grade: B+

Sidenote: Isn’t there something similar about Walsh’s dogged pursuit of the truth and Armstrong’s dogged pursuit of victory? And don’t journalists sometimes use dirty tactics to get an edge over other journalists? I’m not saying that Walsh did this, but I’m just thinking about the advantages in different areas of life that we may exploit unfairly but don’t suffer repercussions from. It all depends on the game though, right?

TIFF 2015 Review: Legend


What’s better than one Tom Hardy? Two Tom Hardys!

If you asked me that question in May – about the same time Mad Max: Fury Road was storming around theatres – I probably would’ve answered the same thing. The guy is a good actor. And even though he pulls off the dual performance in Legend and creates two entirely different characters, the rest of the film felt a bit flat. Two Tom Hardys is good, but two Tom Hardys plus an engaging storyline is even better. This one’s a bit generic.

Narrated by not-Tom Hardy (Emily Browning, playing the long-suffering wife Frances – because the wife is always long-suffering in these types of movies – why does the wife always want the career gangster to go “straight”? Isn’t it obvious that’s not going to happen? Wouldn’t it be preferable to just revel in the immorality and excess? But I digress.) the film tells the tale of twin gangsters – suave Reggie (Tom Hardy) and mentally unstable Ronnie Kray (Hardy again) as they become the most notorious leaders of the London underworld.

This isn’t really a gangster film in the typical sense, as much as you’d be led to believe. The central conflict of the film is about family. There’s the family we’re born with – our blood relatives like our parents or siblings. And then there’s the family we choose – our spouses and friends. If the two families conflict, which one do we choose? That’s the dilemma facing Reggie Kray. He loves his loose-cannon brother Ronnie despite his reckless behaviour and his penchant for violence. He also loves his wife Frances (Emily Browning), who loathes the gangster lifestyle and just wants him to be a regular businessman and nightclub owner. Who will Reggie choose? What will he do?

If only we cared.

My problem with the film is that it’s only Reggie that seems to be the fully-developed character surrounded by one-dimensional caricatures. Reggie stands steadfastly by Ronnie because Ronnie’s “his brother,” but what redeeming qualities does Ronnie show in the movie? He insults Reggie’s wife, almost single-handedly destroys their legacy while Reggie was doing a short stint in prison, and his constant paranoia threatens to derail their criminal empire at every opportunity. The biggest threat to the Krays’ legend isn’t rival gangs (they’re all dispatched fairly easily and with few repercussions) but Ronnie. He’s the ticking time bomb in their operation, and there needs to be a better explanation for Reggie’s protection beyond the half-hearted “he’s my brother.”

Meanwhile, the role of Frances is a thankless part. She falls in love with a charming criminal (and she knows he’s a criminal – he’s practically a celebrity in the East End neighbourhood he prowls in) then asks him to throw it all away to lead a “clean” life and is upset as he constantly fails to do just that. I’m sure the real Frances had dreams and aspirations. The film Frances only does two things – (1) asks Reggie if he’ll go straight and (2) is shocked and disappointed when he doesn’t. That’s about it.

Reggie is the only interesting character. He’s conflicted, he’s successful, he’s got motivation, and he’s torn between two people he loves. Good sympathetic stuff. And then THE SCENE happens and it leaves a sour taste of Reggie that casts a disapproving shadow over the character and undermines the “emotional” scenes that follow. In the television series Breaking Bad, the main character Walter White does some horrible things but perversely I still found myself rooting for him every episode (and judging by the universal acclaim of the finale, which is essentially a redemption story, other people were rooting for Walter as well). After THE SCENE in Legend, I couldn’t care less about Reggie’s plight. He’s an idiot who unconvincingly protects his ne’er-do-well brother and brought all that bullshit on himself.

One other thing before I end this rant – the film doesn’t treat the characters seriously. Ronnie is used mostly for comic relief, but is supposed to be an intimidating and intense character. I kept thinking about Joe Pesci’s character in Goodfellas, and how you never laughed at him (or with him) and how unpredictable and frightening he was. Ronnie is portrayed as kind of a lumbering dim-wit in this film, which is a missed opportunity but makes a good trailer. Also, the earnest detective (Christopher Eccleston) hot on the Kray brothers’ trail is played like he was lifted from a slapstick comedy – i.e. he’s not really a threat to the twins – but look at those pratfalls!

So what are we left with? A watered-down gangster pic with tonal and thematic issues, but a killer double-handed performance by Tom Hardy. Which all adds up to…meh.

Grade: C-

TIFF 2015 Review: Hardcore


This is the type of experimental movie that’s perfect for seeing on the big screen at a film festival, because you might not get to see it anywhere else. This year’s winner of the TIFF Midnight Madness People’s Choice Award, Hardcore is obviously a crowd-pleasing film about an indestructible half-cyborg half-man soldier with memory loss, the inability to speak, and a penchant for getting himself into (and by spilling lots of blood, out of) sticky situations. Oh, and the film is completely shot from a first-person perspective. That’s the “experimental” part I mentioned.

Hardcore is the first video-game movie that captures the breathless essence of a first-person shooter, without being based on a video-game at all. It uses all the common tropes from the interactive medium it takes its inspiration from, including a brief introductory sequence set in a hospital, where the nurse explains what’s happened to “you” (because really, this character is an avatar for the audience), attaches a cybernetic leg and arm to your body, and then wouldn’t you know it – the hospital is assaulted by terrorists led by the telekinetic AKAN and its up to “you” to stop them.

This is a film that is begging for a feature-length documentary about how it was made, and would probably be just as mind-boggling as the final project itself. The camera (and the stunt man attached to it) leaps from buildings, zip-lines down a skyscraper, engages in hand-to-hand combat with countless faceless henchmen, and is thrown into the air by telekinesis. I really want to know how it was all done and choreographed, because it’s a pretty stunning feat when you watch it all in a theatre. Those who are sensitive to motion sickness beware.

Your buddy through all this mayhem is actor Sharlto Copley (of District 9 fame) who accompanies us on the journey in several different guises – such as a secret agent, homeless man, hippie, WWII-era soldier, wheelchair-bound genius, and many more that I forget. His recurring appearances are a little strange at first, but the reason he can keep coming back as different people is skillfully explained using a plot point and video-game logic (where everyone can re-spawn after waiting five seconds).

It’s a fun and energetic thrill ride that surprisingly has a sparse but involving story to cut up the numerous set-pieces and allow the audience some breathing room before the camera just barely misses getting crushed by a car, falling off a bridge, and rolling behind cover, again. It’s a perfect popcorn thriller and an experience no other action film can touch (a two-hour session of Call of Duty on the other hand….).

Worth the watch, and the award.

Grade: B+

TIFF 2015 Review: February


Emma Roberts, keeping her mouth shut about the macabre in “February”

It’s almost impossible to go into a theatre and not know what to expect anymore. Yes, I’ve touched on this before with TIFF movies, but it’s still one of the big draws of the festival for me: walking into a darkened theatre based solely off a brief synopsis, one film still, and the flickering hope that the movie you picked might just be a good one. And February is a helluva good one.

I would be doing a disservice to the movie if I wrote a complete review with details about its plot, so I’ll only provide the same information I had going in from the synopsis below (from the TIFF website):

Two young students at a prestigious prep school for girls are assailed by an evil, invisible power when they are stranded at the school over winter break. Starring Kiernan Shipka (Mad Men), Emma Roberts (American Horror Story) and Lucy Boynton.

Yes, I know there is more information about the film than that on the TIFF website, but I only read the longer version after seeing the movie, so the above quote is what stuck with me (and induced me to buy tickets). Upon reflection, it’s a bit misleading about the movie, but that’s part of the charm. February is the type of movie where you aren’t quite sure what’s going to happen next, but when it does happen it all makes sense.

I’ve been saving a quote from Stephen King’s Danse Macabre for years now that I’ve wanted to use on this blog. Now I’m finally going to use it. While it is specifically about horror movies, I think it applies equally to all films (and why some of us are obsessed with going to the theatres to see more and more):

“The true horror film aficionado is more like a prospector with his panning equipment or his wash wheel, spending long periods going patiently through common dirt, looking for the bright blink of gold dust or possibly even a small nugget or two. Such a working miner is not looking for a big strike, which may come tomorrow or the day after or never; he has put those illusions behind him. He’s only looking for a livin’ wage, something to keep him going awhile longer.” [Danse Macabre, page 222]

February is the type of film that keeps me watching. It’s such a pleasure to find a hidden gem in the deluge of mediocre movies that flood the multiplex. Even moreso to find a good horror movie, where the ratio is about 10 shlocky films to a single good one.

A few details are important – this is a slow-burn horror film. It takes place in an unsettling atmosphere, where all the characters speak with long pauses and sometimes have offbeat responses. The incredible score by Elvis Perkins (the director Osgood Perkins’ brother) creates an unbearable mood of evil that infiltrates every scene (including moments that seem sinister, but on reflection weren’t at all). This film and It Follows are showing the amazing (and sadly all too under-appreciated) work done by an ominous soundtrack. There’s not a lot of gore, and a lot of the “scary” moments are left to the imagination in darkly lit scenes. And the film actually has a pretty solid theme underpinning all the ghoulish stuff about loneliness, loss, and alienation.

Last year, horror aficionados were praising The Babadook and It Follows. In 2015 (or 2016…or the year this comes out), fans will be talking about February with the same reverence. At the very least, I will be.

Grade: A

Sidenote: This is Osgood Perkins’ first feature. It’s such a self-assured debut that I’m not entirely certain that can be true. Unless he made a Faustian bargain to make it….


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