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Empire List #482: Scream

In the late 1990s the American movie machine was producing movies aimed at the MTV generation starring the latest crop of young actors in their 20s who were playing characters in their late teens. Such movies included “I Know What You Did Last Summer,” “American Pie,” and “Scream.” I missed most of these movies because at the time I was either too young, too shy to have any friends with whom I could go out with, or I just thought they didn’t look good enough. Back then I was living in South America and I was a long way from the United-States so there was somewhat of a disconnect between the MTV generation and I.

Still, when you’re spending your summer at your mom’s place while waiting for your next college semester and you’re saving every dollar you have just like I was last summer in Quebec City, if Wes Craven’s “Scream” is playing on TV, you may as well enjoy it while you have access to a movie channel. Plus it doesn’t hurt that the movie is actually quite good at what it tries to b…

Empire List #485: The Wicker Man

Yet another film seen at the residences of UBC in the summer of 2009 thanks to the iTunes movie library. When you are far from your home and your movie collection, it helps to be able to rent a classic for a relatively low price off the Internet. In this particular context I was living on the campus of the University of British Columbia studying German, Drama, and History of Cinema for the summer. I didn’t know a lot of people, so I had some pretty quiet evenings, sometimes spent renting movies such as the 1973 British cult film “The Wicker Man.”

This movie is a lot of things: a horror film, a mystery movie, the tale of a missing person, and a statement about religious extremism. Nicolas Cage starred in a remake, which I haven’t seen but the highlights on YouTube are hilarious. I do believe there is also an homage to it in an episode of The Simpsons, a proof of being culturally relevant if there ever was one.

It begins with British police sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward) arriving at t…

Empire List #486: Breakfast at Tiffany's

The great thing about a TV channel where they only show movies 24/7 is that eventually, you just might run into a classic. I do not currently even own a TV, but fortunately during the fall of 2009 I was spending my week off at my mother’s place in Quebec City where she does have the Movie Network. This allowed me to watch “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” a classic from 1961.

I didn’t know much about this movie except that it stars Audrey Hepburn, a giant of the screen in her days. I was familiar with the work of the director, Blake Edwards and his composer Henry Mancini. If you haven’t seen the original “Pink Panther” films, which are ten times better than the remakes, then you definitely must have heard its iconic theme at some point. With talent like that in front of and behind the screen I felt pretty confident this was a film worth watching.

Audrey Hepburn plays Holly Golightly, a firecracker of a character who owns every room she walks into. Her name sounds like that of a Bond girl fro…

Empire List #487: Superbad

You have got to love a movie that, for a little while at least, leaves its mark on popular culture. When “Superbad” came out in 2007, “I am McLovin” became one of the funniest lines of the year. I even met a guy in one of my classes who kind of looked like McLovin. He liked it too and I can’t blame him: McLovin is a funny guy.

Directed by Gregg Mottola, “Superbad” is another comedy gem from the Judd Apatow’s laugh factory. Once again I had to skip this movie at the movie theatre because it was dubbed in French so I watched it on DVD in my off-campus room about six months later. It turned out to be slightly more entertaining that way since Apatow-produced DVDs are filled with extras like gag reels, bloopers, alternate stakes, behind-the-scenes, and interview with just about everyone involved in making the movie. You are not just renting a movie; you’re renting hilarious entertainment for the whole evening.

The story is pretty simple: Evan (Michael Cera) Seth (Jonah Hill) and Fogell (Ch…

Empire List #488: Princess Mononoke

This movie was an event among friends. Back in the fall of 2007 I was taking a public speaking course at the University of Sherbrooke and one assignment was writing a persuasive speech. My friend and fellow film buff Derek Godin wrote a speech about why Sherbrooke should have an art house cinema where they would play cult movies. Since there was no way that would happen in real life, Derek decided to open his own art house by booking the rec room in the student lounge every Friday evening where he would play two movies from 7:00pm to 11:00pm. He called it OMASUS (Obscure Movie Appreciation Society of the University of Sherbrooke) and he played movies from his own large collection starting in 2008.

It didn’t always work, there were some snags, such as missing DVD cables, missing keys for the projection room, and a party going on next door. But Derek’s club did allow me to watch a whole bunch of movies that I had not heard of or would have had a very hard time finding on DVD. One that …

Empire List #489: Brick

Ever come across a movie where the dialogue makes the characters seem smarter than they look? “Brick” directed by Rian Johnson is such a movie. It takes the dialogue of film noir films and puts it in the mouths of high school kids. The gumshoe detective is an average kid investigating the death of his ex-girlfriend. Instead of a police lieutenant threatening to throw the gumshoe in prison, there is a high school principal threatening to throw the kid in detention if he doesn’t back off. There is a drug dealer calling the shots from his lair, except his lair is his mother’s basement.

I first heard about “Brick” via apple trailers and was intrigued by the concept of a Dashiell Hammett story set in a modern setting. It came out in 2005, but in limited release only so I had to wait until fall of 2007 to finally rent it. That fall I was living in an apartment off the campus of the University of Sherbrooke. The place was tiny, with a bad Internet reception, and I had to walk up a hill to ge…

Empire List #490: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Call me a cynic, but I like to see a little blood spill around the holidays. When I was around eight years old my favourite Christmas movie was “Home Alone,” but as I grew older I gravitated towards movies like “Die Hard,” “Batman Returns,” and “Bad Santa.” There is just something about superimposing graphic violence over the cheery setting of the Christmas environment that provides such a beautiful contrast. It’s like every year the malls of the western world try to convince everyone that the month of December (and November) is some magical time of year just because it used to be a religious holiday. Now Christmastime is an excuse to consume massive amounts of food and buy products sold at the malls where the decorations have been in place since late October.

So given my more and more cynical approach to the holidays, imagine my joy when in 2007 I saw the trailer for “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” directed by Tim Burton, the most visually arresting gothic director…

Empire List #491: Ben-Hur

“Ben-Hur” is a classic mega-production made in the days when Hollywood used practical effects and computers were nowhere on their radar. It stars Hollywood giant Charlton Heston, lasts 212 minutes, is set in Biblical times, and features one of the most spectacular chariot races in movie history. Yet as I was watching it, I couldn’t help but think of “Monty Python’s Life of Brian.” Maybe it’s because I haven’t been to church since 1999.

I rented this movie on iTunes in the summer of 2009 when I was studying at the University of British Columbia for the summer. I didn’t socialize too much with my roommates since they already knew each other and I was only there for a few more weeks anyway. So whenever I had time on my hands I would rent movies the only way that didn’t require going to Blockbuster or owning a TV: online rental. People say it will soon replace video stores and I can see why. There are no late fees, you don’t have to leave your home, and you don’t have to wait in line whi…

Empire List #494: Sideways

Every now and then it’s nice to go see an adult movie, and by adult I mean for grown-ups. I don’t think I could have been considered a grown-up in the fall of 2004 since I had just started CEGEP (a pre-university program in Quebec) and I was still living with my mom. Still, my movie tastes were expanding and I was getting into the rhythm of the yearly movie schedule, which means deep meaningful movies in the fall season. So, despite the fact that no English version was being released in Quebec City, I went to see Alexander Payne’s “Sideways” with my mom. Since it deals with two middle-aged men visiting California’s wine valley I figured there wouldn’t be too many colloquialisms lost in translation.

What surprised me about this movie was how funny it was. Paul Giamatti plays Miles, a divorced English teacher and unpublished writer. Thomas Haden Church plays Jack, an actor and Miles’ former college roommate. Lets think about this for a minute: an unpublished writer and an actor? Doesn’t…

Empire List #496: Superman Returns

I have mixed feelings about this one. On the one hand it was a great feeling to go see a Superman movie on the big screen for the first time and to see Kevin Spacey do an impeccable job as archvillain Lex Luthor. On the other hand, having already seen three Superman movies on the small screen and many TV episodes, whether animated or live action, I didn’t feel that “Superman Returns” brought anything new to the table: same villain, same on/off relationship with Lois Lane, and same evil plot.
This new Superman movie came out in 2006, years after the disaster that was “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace” and one year after the release of “Batman Begin” which had grounded the superhero genre in a more dramatic and realistic landscape. Suffice to say that the bar was high. I felt that the movie was in good hands knowing that it had been made by Bryan Singer who had done a great job with the first two “X-Men” movies and had made one of the best crime movies of the 90s, “The Usual Suspects,” …

Empire List #497: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

The year 2000 was the year when special effect movies such as “X-men,” “The Patriot,” and “The Perfect Storm” were unleashed upon audiences. In early December, another movie featuring special effects was released just in time for Oscar season, only this one had less computer generated images, more shots of grand landscapes, martial arts, and it was all spoken in Mandarin.
“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” was one of Ang Lee’s breakthrough films in Hollywood. It became an international hit and won four Academy Awards including Best Foreign Language Film. Unfortunately, I did not see it on the big screen, which would have been more appropriate considering the beauty of the fight scenes, but on a Television screen off a VHS tape that was dubbed in French.
This is actually one of the few movies that my parents chose to buy. Usually my brother and I would put a bunch of action films or raunchy comedies on our Christmas wish lists and if our parents wouldn’t buy them we would buy them ourselv…

Empire List #498: Back to the Future Part II

With movie trilogies I often find that the second part is always the best. Think about it: The “Godfather Part II,” “Shrek 2,” “Blade II,” and “The Dark Knight.” “Back to the Future Part II” confirms that theory and actually does what no other sequel has ever done before by literally going back to the first movie.
I first saw this movie in Peru in the late 90s with four fellow French-Canadian expatriates. We didn’t have many friends so every weekend or so I would drop by their house and we would kill as much time as possible before school would start again by swimming in their gigantic pool, jumping on the trampoline, and watching movies on VHS. That’s right, back then we were still using the good old VCRs, in which you insert a cassette, fast-forward through the commercials, watch the movie, and then rewind the tape for the next time. Sometimes we would watch some of the more violent movies from my collection, such as “Air Force One” and a few James Bond movies, much to the pleasure o…

Empire List #499: Saw

In 2004, the “Saw” franchise began and in October of 2010 the world should see it arrive in 3D. This has been without a doubt, one of the most successful horror franchises in history: one movie a year, all made on a relatively small budget, a simple plot, buckets of blood, twist ending after twist ending, and a truckload of traps. Yet I must confess that out of all of the movies in this franchise, I only saw the first one by James Wan in 2005, and I was not impressed.
At the time I was still in CEGEP (pre-University school in Quebec), living with my mom in Quebec City. I was flipping channels one evening on a weekend when the menu showed that “Saw” would be playing soon. There are not many movies released in English in Quebec City, so I am glad whenever I can catch one on TV, no matter the subject matter. I remembered seeing the posters for “Saw” the year before, featuring Shawnee Smith wearing the infamous “reverse bear trap,” and I was mildly curious. I had read that it had a twist e…

Empire List #500: Ocean's Eleven

The early 2000’s were exciting times to say the least. Terrorist attacks, war, and fear spreading faster than you can say Y2K. Luckily for moviegoers, by the end of 2001 we could all relax and watch one of the coolest cast ever assemble rob a Las Vegas casino in Steven Soderbergh’s “Ocean’s Eleven,” number 500 on Empire magazine’s 500 Greatest Movies of all Times list.
I watched the first instalment of the Ocean trilogy in theatres with my brother and our friend Louise in Santiago, Chile. If I recall well, my brother and I were still living in Lima, Peru, but we were visiting Louise whose parents had moved to Chile. The time might have actually been early 2002 since the release dates for American movies are not the same in South America.
The other thing about mainstream movies shot in English but released in a Spanish market is the fact that you get to see George Clooney explaining how he will rob millions from Andy Garcia with Spanish subtitles. It’s actually a pretty good way to learn…

John Carpenter's The Ward

“The Ward” is John Carpenter’s first movie since “Ghosts of Mars” nine years ago. This new movie is a classic horror tale set in a spooky locale on a dark and stormy night featuring a vengeful ghost. Unfortunately, it doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel.
The movie opens on a dark and stormy night at a mental institution. Inside one of the rooms, a young female patient is pretty sure that there is someone or something creeping outside her room. As she stands to take a look through the door’s window, she is strangled from behind by what can only be a ghost, since the door was locked from the outside.
The following morning another young girl (Amber Heard) is running through the countryside. She finds an empty house, whose address was written on her hand, and immediately sets fire to the curtains thus burning the house down. The police find her collapsing at the scene and she is immediately taken to the asylum where the first girl was taken.
Once there she tells nurse Lundt (Susanna Burney)…

Seeing "Monsters" at TIFF

Yesterday I had the chance to watch “Monsters” a low-budget science-fiction movie at the Toronto International Film Festival. It was the first time I saw a movie in this context and overall it was a memorable experience. Plus, the movie was memorable.
I arrived at the Scotiabank theatre for the 8:30pm showing about an hour and a half ahead of schedule. It wasn’t a bad idea since there were already a few people in line. On the other hand I probably should have brought something to read or at least my iPod. By 7:30pm the line was full. Most people were dressed casually (it was a monster movie after all) but some wore expensive clothes. I guess it was somewhere between a Comic-con crowd and just another Friday night at the movies, except there were also one or two members of the press waiting in line.
Now, as to the actual movie…
“Monsters” is first and foremost, just like the title says, a film about monstrous creatures. The premise is somewhat reminiscent of last year’s “District 9.” Th…

Purchasing Movie Tickets at TIFF

What a day. When I woke up the plan was to go to Toronto and buy tickets for films that will be shown at the Toronto International Film Festival. I left the house armed with a backpack, a wallet,  food, water, a festival program that comes with a map of festival hotspots, sunglasses, my hat, and my camera in case I would see something worth photographing. Boy, did I ever.

While reading my festival program on the train between Oakville and Toronto, I read that today was the opening of the TIFF Bell Lightbox, a sort of movie museum sponsored by influencial people from the movie industry in Toronto including Jason and Ivan Reitman. Since the opening would include an outdoor show from noon til four in the afternoon and I had nothing but time after I bought my tickets, I thought "why not?" I may as well make the most of my day.

After buying the tickets for Monsters next Friday and John Carpenter's The Ward next Sunday, I walked in front of the newly constructed building and n…

TIFF for the First Time

Ever since I created this blog I have only written amateur movie reviews. I am just one of thousands of film fans, nothing special. Until Wednesday of last week I was limited by the fact that I was living in Quebec City where most of the movies are dubbed in French, which I hate. Great movies are made in Quebec, but because it is mostly Francophone town, they prefer to dub any foreign movie. Since I learned how to speak English when I was around six years old, I can tell that something is often lost in translation. Hence I was always eargerly awaiting  the week-end to see which movie might be shown in its original language. This summer I missed a lot of wide releases and mostly watched movies made in Quebec or France. Which brings me back to last Wednesday, when I moved to Oakville, a small town outside of Toronto.

After I obtained my B.A in English Studies, I did not see myself going anywhere hence I decided to go to Sheridan College where I was accepted in post-graduate program call…