Thursday, February 22, 2007


How many films feature a conversation in a restaurant, in a hotel lobby, a night club of two people flirting by painting fictional back-stories onto others observed in a single context? It is sexy and cool to be detached; observing and casually passing judgment on the world around you. Be it with wit or be it with sarcasm.

Rear Window, from its first tracking shot around a large courtyard in Manhattan invites you to spy on the lives of those in the courtyard as you spy on Jimmy Stewart spying. It is really the perfect film about watching movies. What is a film other than a voyeuristic trip into other people’s private lives? Of course it being an Alfred Hitchcock film there is a murder to be witnessed, solved, and broken-down into little pieces for evaluation and sorting. And there is Grace Kelly before she became the Princes of Monaco doing a wonderful fusion of Holly Golightly (before that character existed) and Nancy Drew. A slew of other supporting characters go about their lives about the courtyard neighborhood and a few others come in and out of L. B. Jefferies’ (Stewart) apartment to get caught up in the show.

It is a testament to any piece of entertainment that can sustain not only interest, but emotion, a wee bit of philosophizing ('Rear Window Ethics') and most importantly, thrill, when the film takes in a single tiny apartment. The fact that the entire film is shot from the point of view of only one location and so engrossing is Alfred Hitchcock at the peak of his abilities. A scene where a character looks directly into the camera for the first time is enough to make the little hairs rise on the back of your neck. There is also no musical score (modern films seem to rely heavily on the score telling you how to feel at nearly all times). Rear Window relies on ambient sound; either a neighbor playing their piano or turntable has to suffice. When Hitchcock is referred to as the ‘master of suspense’, Rear Window is the essence of that statement.

There is something about films that have a single location and just observe their characters react and behave in that place (most recently Deepa Mehta's Water, but also Kevin Smith's Clerks. , Vincenzo Natali's Cube, and Joe Dante's The 'burbs. In fact, Dante was definitely operating in the spirit of gentle parody and homage with that 1989 comedy which brilliantly cast the modern equivalent of Jimmy Stewart in the lead of that underrated film, Tom Hanks. That is film is a big favorite of mine, and the right way to do a remake, switch genres and play with conventions, but I digress.

Rear Window has been remade more than once and has been referenced in more facets of popular culture that I care to mention (OK, a few recent ones as diverse as horror (The Ring), animated TV (The Simpsons) and coming of age drama/satire (Ghost World)).

What is probably the wrong reason for revisiting Rear Window again, but there is a crass, over-wrought looking knock-off aimed at teenagers coming out very soon called Disturbia. The trailer got me angry just watching and I started lamenting the death of studio cinema seeing how Rear Window was the entertainment of its day, and we get this today! (After calming down, I fully acknowledge that it is a false sentiment (a snap reaction in fact) in a year (2006) that had Children of Men , The Queen and The Fountain as studio pictures).

Nonetheless, Hitchcock's film has held up well, very well. The acting, characters and situations do not have that ‘old movie’ feel to them, these feel like real people. The sound-stage set is a bit on the artificial looking side, but it does not detract from the film, rather gives it a timeless feel, much like the Technicolor process.

Do yourself a favour and come out Thrusday Night to revisit (or visit for the first time!) a bonafide classic of cinema, both art and entertainment. Drinks at 8pm. Trailers and Showtime at 8:30pm.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

KBT Presents: WHO CAN KILL A CHILD? (aka ¿Quién puede matar a un niño?)

Spanish filmmaker Narciso Ibáñez Serrador’s Who Can Kill A Child? (1976) has a certain grace not often encountered in horror films. Italy's horror maestro, Dario Argento often hits the mark. Robin Hardy’s 1962 classic The Wicker Man definitely has it. Alfred Hitchcock nailed it with The Birds, as did Steven Spielberg in both Duel and the early half of Jaws . -It- is something primal that gnaws away at the irrational part of your brain and taps a (sort of)

This 'daylight horror' film starts off a tad on the exploitive side (fair warning to the meek, film is also not recommended for pregnant ladies). The film is often lumped into the 'exploitation' subgenre of horror, but is a much better film that category ever sees. The opening minutes may make or break viewing the film and an argument could perhaps be made (I’m not making it, however) that it is unnecessary. This is perhaps why this film has never really made it to North America. A version of the film was released with this whole sequence excised amongst other things, called “Island of the Damned,” clumsily referencing John Wyndham. Documentary footage over the lengthy opening credits unflinchingly shows horrors visited upon innocent children during WWII, Vietnam, and widespread famine in Asia and Africa. Serrador may be dropping a karmic note as to what will follow plot-wise, or perhaps he is going for generating horror, sympathy and outrage prior to the first opening image of European tourists and locals frolicking on the beach.

A body washes up on the shore, and while folks look on (in that special way people do when there is a car accident on the side of the road) an ambulance picks up the corpse and carries it away. Instead of following this unexplained event, the camera follows the ambulance until it passes a tourist bus heading back into town. It is a bit long winded, but the film decides to follow an upper middle class white couple on their vacation to the south of Spain.

Tom and Evelyn (apparently from Britain, but speak in Spanish even in private – an artifact of Spanish and Italian style filmmaking (those folks do a fair bit of dubbing in post-production)) want to get some time away from their kids, while Evelyn is in the middle of her third pregnancy. Finding the Spanish port too crowded during a summer festival (fireworks and piñatas everywhere), they rent a boat in and head for a tiny island Tom knows of where things are peaceful and quiet. When they arrive at this island, a few children help them tie up their boat, but gaze at them more than a little odd-like.

Arriving at the town square, the sun is sweltering and the tall white-washed adobe buildings are completely empty. Forbiddingly empty. It is here that the film kicks into high gear by actually doing nothing. Tom and Evelyn are left to wander the emptiness, first trying to make the best of things, feebly convincing themselves that the residents must be on the other side of the island at a festival or something. Evelyn, while taking a load-off in the deserted cantina, has another strange encounter with a young girl. Soon afterwards she and Tom witness an event which is both casually off-kilter and horrific that it borders on sublime.

While I’m being a bit coy on plot details, the titular question offers more than a little clue. The effectiveness of Who Can Kill A Child? is in the slowly building tension on the island, which lets the sun and the architecture breathe along with the characters. The concept of daylight horror seems strange as most it is commonly accepted that chilling things go bump in the night. Much scarier, I think, are when things are horribly askew in broad daylight. Surprisingly, few directors attempt this type of horror. There was mention of The Wicker Man (previously shown at KBT) and Duel above, as well as Peter Weir’s one-two punch of Picnic at Hanging Rock (also previously shown at KBT) and The Last Wave come immediately to mind. This film clearly belongs in that master-class and more is the pity that it is so damn obscure. There is a scene in the film where a man encountered by the confused couple is simply convinced to walk to and accept his own annihilation which he clearly knows will be of the worst sort. It is horrific in a way that by the films logic is weirdly plausible. Another scene involving Evelyn and her pregnancy surely rivals Roman Polanski’s horror of the same type. Furthermore, I can only guess that a key moment (it is on the poster, no less) from Kátia Lund & Fernando MeirellesCity of God was cribbed directly from Who Can Kill A Child?, just as Serrador borrows effortlessly from George Romero. Why this film isn’t woven properly into the tapestry of great horror films is a tragic, I'm lucky enough to have a copy of Alfa Digital’s 2004 release. After all, if you are only going to see even the tiniest fraction of horror films made worldwide, this should be one of them.

Come out Thursday for a lost classic horror film that is bonafide scary. Drinks at 8:15pm. Trailers and Showtime at 8:40pm.

Thursday, February 01, 2007


2006 was not a particularly strong year for horror films. The best flat-out horror film to play in the multiplex, Neil Marshall's spelunking creature-feature - The Descent, was actually a 2005 UK hold-over. Perhaps the real top horror film was Heidi Ewing & Rachel Grady's Jesus Camp, a documentary which covers a particularly hard-core brand of Evangelism in the United States. Any subject which has an enthusiastic following (from dog show folks to Star Trek fans) has an extreme branch so focused, the members come off a little bit crazy. Well, Christianity, or any religion for that matter, is no exception and the lady-pastor Becky Fisher and three of her key pupils that Jesus Camp follows may, in her own words, make you 'quake in your boots.'

I've tried to make the below description avoid any sort of soapbox. You be the judge if I was successful or not. Oh and I apologize for using the phrase 'hard-core' far too many times.

From Missouri to North Dakota and I'm sure in most of the 50 states, there is an collection of Evangelical churches and organizations that have one of their key missions to break down the barrier between church and state. A sizable chunk of these folks get out and vote, enough of them to push President Bush into a second term; or protest in Washington against homosexuality or abortion. Jesus Camp brushes these topics by pointing the camera at the "Kids on Fire" summer-camp in (no joke) Devil's Lake, North Dakota. This is not a fun getaway, but hard-core indoctrination to form an Army of God. Pastor Becky Fisher rationalizes that if the extremist Muslims can train their kids to become suicide bombers, surely Christians can muster up a similar discipline for their spiritual (and political) causes. Thus, upon entering the camp, she makes sure that nearly all things secular are thrown out the window. The program is all Jesus all the time. Fisher is indeed hard-core, telling the 10 year olds that there are no fakers in this camp you are 100% or nothing. She believes Harry Potter should be burned at the stake, and all the kids little child-sins must be purged or confronted. This is done mainly through the young ones crying tears of shame or speaking in tongues.

Fisher and the parents of the three principle children, Levi, Tory and Rachel, have expressed publicly that they are all happy with the documentary and how they are captured on film. This I find quite strange, but it illustrates that you bring your own beliefs in how you interpret what is up on screen, they see white, I see black. The camera lets them push their message of creationism = good, science = bad and shows the fever and the ecstasy of the camp kids, in between these same children obviously spewing the evangelical rhetoric which they may or may not understand. However, the documentary also uses odd camera angles and a creepy score that for me personally, make it much more akin to a scary movie than a propaganda piece. And although it is a tad clunky, the doc constantly cross cuts to a liberal Air-America talk radio host, which (I'm pretty sure) give the filmmakers talking-points. Though many critics seem to label Jesus Camp unbiased, I believe that the filmmakers have an agenda (also, which I think in a doc is a very good thing). They are (rightfully so) quite terrified that the land of the free is treading toward the land of the intolerant and in the most ironic of twists the leaders of the path are the ones who fall under the banner of a man who preached kindness and tolerance way back just shy of 2000 years ago.

Ultimately, Jesus Camp is at its best showing the goal/agenda driven camp, and the thin line between teaching children and indoctrinating them; how kids learn is as much driven by social climate as it is by the information itself.

Come out Thursday night and check out the first time KBT presents a documentary. Drinks at 8pm, Trailers and Showtime at 8:30pm. The film runs 84 minutes and that leaves some time for perhaps an interesting post-screening conversation.