Inside Movies & DVD with Drew McWeeny

Toronto: 'John Carpenter's The Ward' features familiar scares, strong young cast

Does the horror icon's return to the bigscreen deliver big scares?

<p>Amber Heard is one of the young stars of one of the most anticipated horror films of the festival, &quot;John Carpenter's The Ward'</p>

Amber Heard is one of the young stars of one of the most anticipated horror films of the festival, "John Carpenter's The Ward'

Credit: Echo Lake Productions/A Bigger Boat

I am biased about this film, but not for the reasons you'd think. (*)

I'm just biased as a fan of John Carpenter's work.  I have very strong opinions about what I like and what I don't like from his filmography, and this weekend, you'll hear those opinions in a special podcast I recorded here at the Toronto International Film Festival with Cinematical editor Scott Weinberg, who is also the film critic for FEARNet.  We spent an hour talking about every one of John Carpenter's 17 theatrical motion pictures, from "Dark Star" to "Ghosts Of Mars."  Because we recorded it in the wee small hours of Sunday night/Monday morning, we had not see his latest yet.  If we had, it might have made for a great conversation, and an optimistic ending to the retrospective, since "John Carpenter's The Ward" is a genial, entertaining ghost story, featuring a strong cast, a great environment, and some genuinely scary sequences.  Is it a new masterpiece from the master?  Nope.  It's not personal enough for that to even be a possibility  But it's character-driven, it's a slow-burn, and when the big reveal finally comes, it's not particularly fresh, but it's also not a cheat.  It makes sense in the context of everything else we've seen in he film.  I was relieved to be enjoying the film, but not surprised.  This may not be an "OMG! Forget about 'The Thing'!" moment, but neither is it an "OMG! Remember 'Village of The Damned'?!" moment, either.

Catching My Breath

A quick bit of housekeeping between festivals

<p>This pretty much sums up how I&nbsp;feel post-Toronto, especially when I consider Fantastic Fest in less than a week.</p>

This pretty much sums up how I feel post-Toronto, especially when I consider Fantastic Fest in less than a week.

Credit: Marcia McWeeny

We're still basically only halfway through the month.  A little more than halfway, actually, since it's the 17th, but it feels like the halfway mark for me since I'm writing coverage of two different film festivals this month, and I've just finished the first of them.

That is to say, I'm back in Los Angeles.  I'm not really done with the Toronto Film Festival, and I won't be until I write those reviews next week.  I'm planning things right now so the last review I publish will be on Wednesday, and it will be for "Stone," one of the two Overture titles that are playing in both Toronto and Fantastic Fest.  It seems like the perfect way to pass the baton from one to the other, and I'll also be running a long-promised Michael Giacchino profile that day as well.

This weekend, though, I've got a few more Midnight Madness reviews for you, as well as a very special "Saturday Night At The Movies" about the Toronto influence on the show.  And then next week, we'll hit it hard on Monday and Tuesday.  You can expect to read about Woody Allen, Hillary Swank, Sam Rockwell, Jacques Tati, French animation, amateur underage magicians, Nicole Kidman, dead kids, sexual perversion, crazy people, Errol Morris, Werner Herzog, the state of American education, Jonathan Ames, Kenny F'ing Powers, Jody Hill, Edward Norton, Gemma Arterton, ABBA, Michael Caine impressions, family squabbles, Sarah Silverman, Alicia Witt, Rainn Wilson... again... and the worst film I saw at the festival.

It's going to be an amazing week, and then we're into Fantastic Fest, and I've just started working on my schedule for that festival.  It's such an amazing slate of things I'm hoping to see while I'm there, but let's get through all of the above before we even get into it.

Review: The Dowdles' 'Devil' kicks off The Night Chronicles in high style

Horror-thriller is good 'Twilight Zone' style fun

<p>Several passengers face off against one they suspect of foul play in 'Devil,' the first film in the new 'Night Chronicles' series</p>

Several passengers face off against one they suspect of foul play in 'Devil,' the first film in the new 'Night Chronicles' series

Credit: Universal/Rogue

The new film "Devil," which is part one of a new label called "The Night Chronicles," is exactly the sort of thing that fans though they'd be getting from M. Night Shyamalan when he first became a name brand and not "just" a filmmaker.

I'm not surprised.  The film was directed by the Dowdles, John Erick and Drew, and written by Brian Nelson.  The Dowdles are responsible for "Quarantine" and "The Poughkeepsie Tapes," and they're talented horror filmmakers who have proven they've got the chops to genuinely unsettle an audience.  With this movie, they've finally made something that has a shot at being seen by a wide audience that's not a remake and it's not so graphic it will scare people away.  And it was written by Brian Nelson, who was the screenwriter for "30 Days Of Night" and "Hard Candy," who seems like a natural fit for this sort of story.  The original idea was created by Shyamalan, who then handed it off to this creative team and who served as producer on the film.  Yes… these are "The Night Chronicles," but based on this first one, it appears there is room in this series for strong individual storytelling voices aside from Night's.

"Devil" is a tight, smart little suspense piece that tells the story of five strangers who end up trapped in an elevator in a skyscraper together, unaware that one of them is not what they appear to be.  It's a straight-up "Twilight Zone" style morality play, and it just plain works.  From the very start, with an opening title sequence that's built over an upside-down trip through an urban landscape, the film works at creating a feeling of disquietude. 

Review: 'Catfish' offers up big mysteries, unclear answers

Is it real? And does it matter?

<p>Nev Schulman gets closer to the truth in the hotly-debated new documentary 'Catfish,' opening today.</p>

Nev Schulman gets closer to the truth in the hotly-debated new documentary 'Catfish,' opening today.

Credit: Rogue Pictures

The new film "Catfish," directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, was listed in the Sundance catalog at this year's festival as a documentary.  That's how it's being sold now, too, as a "real-life thriller," with much of the conversation after a screening being dedicated to figuring out what is real and what isn't.  That's not true of every documentary, so why is it this one that people are having issues with regarding credibility?

It goes to the very nature of the film, I think, and it's not a problem that audiences are suddenly struck skeptical by the film; it's the natural result of a story that grapples with issues of reality and fantasy in the online age.  I think it's a mistake to sell this movie as a film that hinges on a giant secret, because once you do that, audiences start trying to get ahead of the movie.  They work overtime to piece things together, which means they aren't giving themselves over to the movie as a whole.  And it also leads to reviewers playing coy in print instead of actually digging into the film and its merits.

The short version is this:  Nev Schulman is a photographer working in New York City, and he published a photo in the New York Times of a dancer.  He was contacted on Facebook by a family who loved his picture, and the youngest daughter decided to paint the picture.  That simple gesture, a reaction to Nev's work, led to a whole world of new relationships for Nev, and his brother Ariel and their friend Henry Joost decided to shoot Nev's side of the relationship.

Watch: Bam Margera gets a high five in "Jackass 3D"

'Antiquing' can be more than a hobby

They're Back
Credit: Paramount

We interrupt the regularly scheduled in depth film commentary and mostly high brow festival hobnobbery to bring you this clip from "Jackass 3D."

If you happened to watch the MTV Video Music Awards this year, you would have seen this clip of Bam Margera getting "antiqued" (having flower thrown in the face to make one look dusty and old) by a giant spring loaded hand. If you were like me, you ran through it a few times on the DVR, just to watch his feet leave the ground. (I'm not proud.)
Funny thing about the Jackass crew is that it contains some irritating personalities that are especially fun to watch get abused (Margera.) Yes, Jackass brings out the worst, most primal and adolescent tendencies in all of us, and I guess that's the point. It's fun.

Watch the shenanigans embedded above.

Toronto: Midnight Madness rocked by 'Insidious,' new horror film from 'Saw' creators,

Our reviewer thinks Sony made the right move by buying it

<p>Now that's a nightmare, and a lot of people are going to share it after they see James Wan's 'Insidious,' a creepy, powerful new ghost story</p>

Now that's a nightmare, and a lot of people are going to share it after they see James Wan's 'Insidious,' a creepy, powerful new ghost story

Credit: Sony Pictures Worldwide

Before the movie began tonight at the Tuesday night edition of Midnight Madness at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival, director James Wan said of his new film "Insidious" that he wants the movie to be "the 'Poltergeist' for this generation."

I leaned over to Scott Weinberg and Erik Childress and whispered, "Big words."  I admire anyone who aims high, but saying it right before you're about to screen your film to a midnight audience who has turned out for the new film from the team behind "Saw" is borderline hubris.

And even so, James Wan and Leigh Wannell pulled it off.  "Insidious" is nothing less than an instant addition to the horror canon, an exuberant haunted house ride that throws some great narrative twists at the audience while always doing one thing consistently:  actually scaring the audience.  It is uncommonly good, and Wan's best film by a wide margin.  I am not surprised to see Sony pick up "Insidious" immediately so they can make a ton of money with it.  More importantly, I hope they distribute it as a big mainstream title because i want the widest possible audience to have a shot at seeing a film that reminded me tonight that there is always room for a new riff on an old idea if it's done right.

"Insidious" deals with a family (mom, dad, two sons and a baby girl) moving into a new house, and as soon as you see the house, you know where things are going.  Or at least you think you do.  The film takes its time establishing character and mood, but right from the very first shot of the film, Wan is playing with you. 

Video Interview: Carey Mulligan discusses 'Never Let Me Go' in Toronto

The young star discusses her busy fall season and her latest work

<p>Andrew Garfield and Carey Mulligan co-star in Mark Romanek's 'Never Let Me Go,' opening today in limited release</p>

Andrew Garfield and Carey Mulligan co-star in Mark Romanek's 'Never Let Me Go,' opening today in limited release

Credit: Fox Searchlight

Carey Mulligan is almost unnaturally poised considering how much expectation has been heaped on her since last year's "An Education" made its debut at Sundance 2009.  She turned around and, on the basis of the heat around her performance in that film, booked a couple of high profile jobs that are just now making their way to theaters.

First up?  This weekend's "Never Let Me Go," which is opening in limited release first.  You can read the Motion/Captured review of the film here.

On Sunday, Carey Mulligan was part of the big Fox Searchlight press day, and we sat down with her to discuss her work in Mark Romanek's movie, her work with Oliver Stone in "Wall Street 2," and how you go about playing the sort of character she plays in "Never Let Me Go."

She was charming, sharp, polished.  As expected.  And even as the afternoon wore on, even when she was on break, she seemed relaxed, ready for the interviews, open and sincere.  Toronto can be a punishing schedule for everyone involved in the film festival… publicists, talent, journalists, audiences.. and to see someone with so much staked on these movies handle it with such poise… especially someone so young… is a humbling thing.

Video Interview: The makers of 'Catfish' discuss the reality of their much-discussed new movie

We don't spoil the secret, but we still dig deep

<p>Ariel Schulman, Henry Joost, and Nev Schulman are the filmmakers behind 'Catfish'</p>

Ariel Schulman, Henry Joost, and Nev Schulman are the filmmakers behind 'Catfish'

Credit: Rogue Pictures

I'll have my review for "Catfish" up soon, but I'm still chewing on the movie.  It feels to me like I went to a very good magic show, and at the end of it, I was talking to the magician and complimented him on his tricks and he started insisting that there were no tricks and that it was all real magic.  I don't mind a magic show when the magician acknowledges the sleight of hand.  That's just good fun, but when he insists it's 100% real, I start looking for the seams in the trick.  I can't help myself.

Still, I like the film as an experience, and I was pleased to sit down with Ariel Schulman, Henry Joost, and Nev Schulman, the filmmakers whose collaboration is being released this Friday by Rogue Pictures, so I could discuss the film with them.  Hopefully, you'll enjoy this conversation, where we talk around the film's big secret in such a way that anyone who hasn't figured out the general nature of it from the publicity won't have the film spoiled for them here.

Here's the official synopsis of the film from Rogue, which is about as much as you should know before you go in:

"In late 2007, filmmakers Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost sensed a story unfolding as they began to film the life of Ariel's brother, Nev.  They had no idea that their project would lead to the most exhilarating and unsettling months of their lives.  A reality thriller that is a shocking product of our times, 'Catfish' is a riveting story of love, deception, and grace within a labyrinth of online intrigue."

EXCLUSIVE: David Fincher explains why Rooney Mara is 'The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo'

Plus the director answers more questions on 'The Social Network'

<p>Rooney Mara is poised for superstardom if the public loves her in the role of Lisbeth Salander as much as David Fincher does.</p>

Rooney Mara is poised for superstardom if the public loves her in the role of Lisbeth Salander as much as David Fincher does.

Credit: AP Images

Earlier this week, HitFix ran an early reaction to David Fincher's "The Social Network," and right after I saw that film, I was invited to send a few question to him via e-mail.  He was already out of the country preparing to start work on "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo," and we were told that he would get answers back to us as quickly as possible.

Today's the day.

I tried to avoid a few major spoilers, and I had to ask him about one performance in particular.  We'll lead with that question, actually, because it deals with both his new film and his next one, and it addresses one of the biggest questions of the last month.

I wrote:  Rooney Mara's role in the film is pivotal, although brief.  What experience on this film led to you bringing her back in for "Girl With The Dragon Tattoo"?  The moment where I felt like I saw a flash of Lisbeth was her final encounter with Mark when she destroys him quietly.  Did you have her in mind immediately, or was it a gradual realization?  

Fincher's reply:  "We read her and, not surprisingly, loved all of the things about her that we'd initially loved for Erica.  She's smart and capable and works really hard.  She is ridiculously photogenic in a very interesting way -- she can be plain, or she can be exquisite in a matter of moments -- and she's a great listener.  Lisbeth is a very tough role to cast -- the audience needs to project into a mystery, so we needed a mystery for them to fill."

Toronto: Josh Hartnett, Woody Harrelson, Gackt star in 'Bunraku,' a martial-arts fantasia

Crazy action film delivers high style and big archetypes

<p>Josh Hartnett delivers some hurt in Guy Moshe's wild 'Bunraku'</p>

Josh Hartnett delivers some hurt in Guy Moshe's wild 'Bunraku'

Credit: Picturesque/Ram Bergman Productions/Snoot

No, I didn't know what the word meant, either.

Evidently, bunraku is a type of Japanese puppet theater, which makes sense after you've seen the film, but I'm not sure that title really communicates just how oddball an experience Guy Moshe's made for his debut feature.  "Bunraku" was one of the films that is playing the Toronto International Film Festival as part of the Midnight Madness programming, and it was a great crowd, ready and willing to lose themselves in the bizarre world the film creates.

It's set in the future, after we've finally used the nuclear option and set civilization back significantly.  Mankind has decided to eliminate guns from the equation altogether.  If you want to settle something with someone, you need to use fists or knives.  The story "Bunraku" tells is a familiar one, which is sort of the point of the movie.  As much as this is a pretty pop-up picture book world, it's also a story about the act of myth-making.  It doesn't connect all the interesting material it introduces, but it's ambitious, and it's got an original sense of style.  It's worth noting that Alex McDowell (the amazing production designer behind films like "The Crow" and "Watchmen" and "Fight Club" and "Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas" is one of the film's producers, since production design is front and center in this movie.  When I say that, I mean that the world is almost this living breathing thing around the characters, and that shouldn't be dismissed. 

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