Shivers 1

Format: DVD + Blu-ray

Release date: 13 October 2014

Distributor: Arrow Video

Director: David Cronenberg

Writer: David Cronenberg

Cast: Fred Doederlin, Paul Hampton, Lynn Lowry, Barbara Steele

USA 1975

88 mins

A delivery boy strolls down the hall of a new luxury high rise just as a grotesquely corpulent old woman pokes her head out of a doorway and moans lasciviously: ‘I’m hungry.’ She waits for a response, then parrots petulantly: ‘I’m hungry!’ Lunging violently at the lad, her teeth bared, she screams, ‘I’m hungry for love!’ As she sates her unholy desires, a gelatinous blood-parasite is deposited down his throat as she sucks face with him.

This is one of many vomit-tempting moments in David Cronenberg’s first commercial feature film, Shivers, which happily inspired incredulous Canuck pundits to demand government accountability, as the picture represented an early investment from the Dominion’s federal cultural funding agency. The 1973 horror classic has now been restored and premiered during the 2013 edition of the Toronto International Film Festival. It’s not only a scare-fest, but is also replete with all manner of nasty laughs, all of them wrenched naturally out of an utterly unnatural situation. Pre-dating the AIDS crisis, Cronenberg links sex with death. The delightfully simple tale involves a new form of parasitical venereal disease spreading like wildfire within a Montreal luxury community, gated by its island borders on the mighty St Lawrence. The disease turns its victims into homicidal sex maniacs.

Allow me to repeat that:


And what a frothy concoction Shivers truly is with all manner of viscous emissions:

• Blood parasites being vomited from a balcony onto an old lady’s clear plastic umbrella;
• Parasites roiling and bubbling just under the surface of Alan Migicovsky’s sexy, hairy belly;
• A lithe, nude body of a lassie formerly adorned in a school uniform has her midriff sliced open, her insides then drenched in acid.

Add to this frothy concoction a whole whack o’ babes, from pretty Susan Petrie as a weepy wifey, Lynn Lowry as a drop-dead gorgeous nurse, to the heart-stopping British scream queen Barbara Steele.

Stunningly, Cronenberg manages, in one salient area, to match the great Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. Hitch, of course, infused utter terror in the minds of millions who dared to take a shower. In Shivers, Cronenberg delivers one of the most horrendous bathtub violations ever committed to celluloid. Best of all, the sequence involves Barbara Steele. ‘God bless you, Mr Cronenberg, God bless you!’

This review was first published as part of our TIFF 2013 coverage.

Greg Klymkiw

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Format: Cinema

Release date: 11 September 2015

Distributor: BFI

Director: Abel Ferrara

Writers: Maurizio Braucci, Abel Ferrara, Nicola Tranquillino

Cast: Willen Dafoe, Maria de Medeiros

France, Italy, Belgium 2014

86 mins

It’s not difficult to understand why a director with a back catalogue like Abel Ferrara’s would have an attraction to fellow director Pier Paolo Pasolini. As Ferrara has said, ‘I was a student of his, of his films’, and both share a filmic vision that encompasses and embraces political/cultural transgression and social marginality. Both have chosen to walk their own path and remain as independent as possible with regard to ‘the industry’ and both are culturally engaged. Ferrara, a maker of films with a decidedly pessimistic point of view whose oeuvre has addressed rape, revenge, corrupt cops, serial killing artists, tyrannical directors, vampirism as addiction, drug trafficking, apocalyptic scenarios and sexual assault at a high political level has developed a cinematic menu that Pasolini would no doubt relish. So it is with some disappointment that Ferrara’s take on Pasolini screened in Toronto could only be met with a lacklustre response by me and the rest of the press.

Ferrara and co-writer Maurizo Braucci have chosen to eschew the usual tropes and conventions of the biopic – a narrative arc that usually takes the audience on a journey through the trials and triumphs, comprising the subject’s key life moments and clarifying just who he was and why we should be interested – by setting the entire film during Pasolini’s last hours on 2 November 1975. It was a time when the director was simultaneously dealing with the moral backlash resulting from his film Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom, working on his unorthodox metafictional novel Petrolio as well as his screenplay for Porno – Teo – Kolossal, giving his last ever press interviews before he was brutally murdered (or assassinated) on that fatal day – in an irony Pasolini would no doubt have savoured – the Day of the Dead in Mexico. So much territory is covered and condensed into such a small time frame that audiences who are not previously acquainted with Pasolini and his importance to 20th-century Italian culture might find it hard to engage with the film.

Pasolini is not so much an evocation or re-enactment as a poetic and impressionistic view of the man, and this structure proves to be a little too elliptical and confounding. Willem Dafoe, who bears a striking resemblance to Pasolini and is an actor who satisfyingly takes chances and seems to revel in extreme roles, has a good stab at the role but when Pasolini’s pronouncements on poetics, politics and culture come out of Dafoe’s American-accented mouth, credibility is undermined. Though Dafoe tries hard with his spoken Italian in certain scenes (the film bounces in and out of English/Italian) this compromise for English-speaking audiences weakens the film considerably (there is apparently an all-Italian version for the home market). Personally, I would have preferred subtitles.

Dafoe in an interview stated: ‘I didn’t “play” him. I just tried to be his flesh, his voice, his presence in the last days of his life… Like with Jesus: I wasn’t playing THE Jesus, I was playing a Jesus… we set out to make a portrait.’ The issue here is that this ‘portrait’ is fragmentary and revealed in various non-sequential vignettes: great for the arthouse crowd but probably anathema to any general audiences, and it can be assumed that Ferrara and team are hoping for a wider audience than some of his previous films got. The ‘facts’ of Pasolini the man in Pasolini the movie are revealed through conversations, voice-overs, random thoughts, gay cruising and lunch with his beloved mother.

Indulgently perhaps, a major sequence of a film within a film occurs wherein a once-a-year sexual orgy between gay men and lesbians takes place, a lovingly imagined scene from the screenplay of Porno – Teo – Kolossal – which was of course never made. In spite of being well-imagined and shot in a Pasolini sort of way, this inclusion/intervention by Ferrara seems to either be a misguided homage or a bit of a conceit for him to want to film. Is he saying that he and Pasolini are cinematic soulmates? If so, I am afraid to say that the directors here are mismatched. There are other cinematic accounts of Pasolini – Ebbo Demant directed the documentary Das Mitleid ist gestorben (1978) about Pasolini and Stefao Battaglia made Re: Pasolini (2005) – and my regretful feeling about this new effort was that – however sincere, unsentimental and heartfelt – Abel Ferrara was not really the director to make a film version of the phenomenon that was Pier Paolo Pasolini.

This review is part of our TIFF 2014 coverage.

James B. Evans

99 Homes

99 Holmes
99 Homes

Format: Cinema

Release date:
25 September 2015

VOD release date:
18 January 2016

DVD/BR release date:
25 January 2016

Distributor: Studiocanal

Director: Ramin Bahrani

Writers: Ramin Bahrani, Amir Naderi, Bahareh Azimi

Cast: Andrew Garfield, Michael Shannon, Laura Dern

USA 2014

112 mins

Ramin Bahrani is one of the best and most consistent of the new generation of American writer-directors who has a clear and precise filmmaking style and a consistent narrative vision of the ‘real’ America. By this is meant that he has a deep understanding of, and empathy with, America’s immigrants and outsiders. He is unique in sustaining what used to be called a committed cinema. His new film, 99 Homes is no exception. Different in tone than his previous excellent film, Goodbye Solo (2008), it is a hard-hitting and well-researched examination of the vagaries, cruelties, exploitations and de-humanisation of the home repossession ‘business’ in the US today.

This piercing and eye-opening film largely eschews sentimentality but rather poses tough moral questions whose ambivalences are left open for audiences to ponder. Bahrani has marshalled a strong cast of better known actors – presumably budgets have risen – while steadfastly maintaining his independence and integrity. The direct cinema approach to filming and the use of very real location shooting positions the narrative and film squarely in the world of docu-drama and faction cinema, and is all the more authoritative for that.

Behind in his mortgage payments, construction worker Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield) finds himself and his dependents, son Connor (Noah Lomax) and single mother Lynn Nash (Laura Dern), being unexpectedly and forcefully evicted from their family home by the brutal and cold methods of Rick Carver (Michael Shannon) a property acquisitions and repo man who is one of the few taking full advantage of the market meltdown. Desperate to save the family home and provide a roof over their heads, Nash has few options and must reluctantly and bitterly accept a go-fer job from Carver, which leads him into a dark and shady world of questionable tactics and moral ambiguity.

Extremely well-written (by Bahrani, Amir Naderi and Bahareh Azimi) and directed, what sounds in this brief synopsis like a stock premise is in fact a challenging and not-to-be-missed film that is absolutely on the mark and as timely as a newscast. Ramin Bahrani continues on his successful journey as a purveyor of excellent and challenging films for the thinking audience.

This review is part of our TIFF 2014 coverage.

James B. Evans

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