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Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter

Blu-ray review


Phil Caracas

Murielle Varhelyi

Maria Moulton

Directed by:

Lee Demarbre

The tagline for Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter is "the power of Christ impales you", and that line should tell you whether or not you'll enjoy this film.

As the title implies, Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter is about Jesus Christ's quest to eradicate vampires in Ottawa, Ontario.  The bloodsuckers have apparently been around a long time, but have become particularly troublesome in recent months because they've been rounding up lesbians.

Why, you ask, are the vampires rounding up lesbians?  Apparently, if you graft the skin of a lesbian onto a vampire, the vampire can then walk around in daylight.  No, I'm not making this up.  Oh, it also has a musical sequence.

In case you hadn't figured it out, Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter is a B-movie, through and through.  It was shot on 16MM film, and they had no audio on set, so all the dialogue was dubbed in (badly) using ADR processes later on.

In 2008, someone decided to dust off the original negative and create a high definition transfer of this film.  Surprisingly enough, it looks fantastic for something that was shot on 16MM film with a crappy little handheld camera.  The problems with this transfer are obviously from the original negative (e.g. damage during cutting, framing issues).

Audio is pretty lacklustre, living up to the original stereo mix that was created for the film.  It sounds awful, but that's how it's supposed to sound. 

Special features are fairly limited, including a 15 minute retrospective with some of the cast and crew filmed nine years after the movie was finished.

One part Evil Dead and two parts 70's Kung Fu film, JCVH is actually a pretty entertaining film.  It does have a hard time sustaining it's 85 minute run time, but the creators knew to hold some of the fun back for the big finish.  They have a surprising amount of stunts, but not very much in the way of special effects.  That doesn't stop them from staging a blow out ending that involves a fog machine and a mirror (again, not making this up).

Oh, they also seem to think you won't look at anything except what they will you to look at on screen, so keep an eye out for stray crew members, guts made of what looks like toilet paper tubes and cotton balls, fabric intenstines used as a weapon, and an airline pilot mysteriously changing gender from one cut to another.

For fans of bad movies, it doesn't get much better than this.  Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter is destined to become a classic along the lines of Ed Wood's Plan 9 From Outer Space.


Terminator Salvation

Blu-ray Review


Christian Bale

Sam Worthington

Moon Bloodgood

Anton Yelchin

Directed by



The Terminator franchise is an odd one.  There have been four movies now, all with pretty long delays between them, and the franchise has been saddled with financial issues as the backing studios have either gone belly up, or sold the rights in order to maintain cash flow.  About the only thing that's consistent between the four films is the premise: killer machines out to wipe out humanity.

The fourth installment in the series, Terminator Salvation, is better than it has been given credit for.  McG has shown he can put together an action sequence and have it make sense, and he also shown that he understands the history of the franchise and its roots.  Having said that, Salvation is not a classic film like the original or Terminator 2: Judgement Day, but it is certainly stronger than the third outing in the franchise.

Salvation takes place in the future, after judgement day.  John Connor (Christian Bale) is fighting the war against the machines while former death row inmate Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington) tries to help a teenage Kyle Reese(Anton Yelchin) - John Connor's future father - escape from a levelled Los Angeles filled with terminators.  Throughout the course of the story we are introduced to Blair Williams (Moon Bloodgood), an A-10 pilot who is shot down while trying to assist Wright and Reese in their escape.

The plot is essentially an excuse to move from one huge action set piece to the next, but it does a good job of holding the story together and remaining true to the original films. The performances are stellar, especially Worthington's portrayal of Marcus Wright and Anton Yelchin's fully believable performance as a young Kyle Reese (played as an adult by Michael Biehn in the original Terminator film).  Christian Bale does a great job playing a tortured John Connor, who is trying to determine what changes have happened in the timeline as a result of the machines that have come back in time to kill him in the prior films.

The special effects are also spectacular.  There are many scenes that are reminscient of (or lifted directly from) other films, including Aliens, War of the Worlds, The Road Warrior and Transformers, and the film sometimes crosses the line between homage and rip off.  It's also filled with subtle (and a few not so subtle) call backs to previous films.  At one point, John Connor is trying to draw a Terminator's attention, so he plays music from a boom box (Guns 'n Roses "You Could Be Mine", first heard in T2), at an earlier point Kyle Reese says the line he will later famously say to Sarah Connor in the first Terminator, "come with me if you want to live." (and a line which is repeated by Arnold Schwarzneggar's "friendly" Terminator in T2).

As far as the Blu-ray release goes, it's one of the best I've seen.  The silver-retention film process that was used to shoot the film is rendered perfectly on the Blu-ray, giving it a gritty feel with a colour palette that feels just slightly "off" (but in a good way).  The audio is superb, with lots of surround activity, great highs and  beautiful low frequencies.  The special features are also spectacular, including one of Warner Bros "Total Movie Experiences" which allow you to watch the film as director McG walks you through the choices he made and allows you to understand the work that went into some of the scenes in the film.  If you watch the TME, you will completely understand where the money that went into this film was spent; it's all up there on the screen.

Terminator Salvation is not going to become a long term classic like the original or Terminator 2, but it is a very strong action picture, and a good addition to the Terminator franchise.  The story is serviceable, the actors give great performances and the action sequences are spectacular.  Compared to most franchises that reach a fourth film (Lethal Weapon 4, anyone?) Terminator Salvation is high art.


The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus

Theatrical Review

Heath Ledger
Christopher Plummer

Directed by:
Terry Gilliam

I'm a big fan of Terry Gilliam's work.  Gilliam is known for directing some films I consider to be classics, including Brazil, 12 Monkeys and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen.  The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnasuss, while not perfect, fits nicely into his canon of films.  Certainly more so than The Brothers Grimm, which always felt a bit like someone impersonating Gilliam, and given the bad word of mouth, I've avoided Tideland thus far (although I'm sure I will see it at some point so I can make my own judgement).  It also marks a great finish to Heath Ledger's all too short career, with him having passed away part way through filming.

Parnassus revolves around a crew of performers attached to a travelling roadshow.  There's Dr. Parnassus (Christopher Plummer), Anton (Andrew Garfield), Parnassus's daughter Valentina (Lily Cole) and their driver - and moral compass - Percy (Verne Troyer).  Their show is performed using a run-down, horse-drawn, mobile stage that flips open to reveal a show based around a magical mirror.

The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus is the type of film Terry Gilliam was born to direct.  Full of bizarre concepts and imagery, and taking place in great part within the imaginations of the customers of the Imaginarium.  As customers step through the magical mirror, they are enveloped by a world of their greatest dreams.  Then, as part of the "dream", they are forced to make a choice - the high road, where they become a better person and achieve true enlightenment, or the low road, where they are slave to their most base instincts (as the film implies most of us are on a day-to-day basis).

Through the course of the film we learn that Parnassus has achieved immortality through a deal with the devilish Mr. Nick (Tom Waits), but as a result, has had to make a supreme sacrifice.  Mr. Nick gets possession of Parnasuss' daughter on her 16th birthday, a mere three days away.

After a particularly bad show, our travelling band of gypsies meet up with Anthony (Heath Ledger), a mysterious man who's history is little known (even to him, initially), but who is the key to ensuring Parnassus does not lose his daughter to Mr. Nick.

Parnassus, as a film, is a classic simple tale told in an incredibly complex way.  The environments are massive in scope, and full of Gilliam's unique brand of imagination and humour.  There are moments that are simultaneously terrifying and hilarious while being incredibly symbolic in nature (as Anthony's world falls apart, his world literally begins to crumble around him) and at times Gilliam's Monty Python's roots shine through (a musical sequence involving a chorus line of British police).

This is not Avatar, however.  The environments are kept well outside the realm of any reality, and there's never any question as to whether the characters are in the real world or the Imaginarium.  The effects are at times cheesy, it feels like a film made 10 years ago,  but always serve the central story.

Gilliam has also done a brilliant job with the incredibly challenging task of replacing Heath Ledger in a film role he had only partially finished when he passed away.  Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell step in using a plot device that is explained early in the film and is consistent with the themes and conceits of the rest of the world of Dr. Parnassus.  This makes Ledger's disappearance at times less a distraction than a simple plot point that feels completely organic.

If your film tastes are drawn to less thoughtful films like Transformers, then you're probably best to spend your entertainment dollars elsewhere.  If you're a fan of Gilliam's particular off-beat view of the world, then you owe it to yourself to see The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus.  It's not a film that's going to change the world, but it's good entertainment has some nice, resounding themes that suit Gilliam's style to a tee.  Gilliam's best film since Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas.



Theatrical Review


Sam Worthington

Sigourney Weaver

Zoe Saldana

Directed by:
James Cameron

It has been 12 years since James Cameron has had a mainstream motion picture in theatres, and the wait has been an agonizing one for fans of his work.

Sure, he's had some IMAX 3D documentaries, and has produced some content (Solaris, Dark Angel), but he hasn't actually directed a work of fiction since Titanic took the world by storm.

James Cameron is the man who has reinvented film more often than anyone else in recent history.  He turned Arnold Schwarzneggar into a major star with The Terminator.  Arnold had been in Conan the Barbarian prior to playing the titular role in Cameron's action flick, but the role of a killer robot from the future is what the Austrian was born to play. Cameron made one of few sequels that didn't suck when he brought us Aliens, he pushed computer animation further than had been done before with The Abyss, and he made another stellar sequel in Terminator 2 (and again revolutionized effects technology). 

Cameron's work on True Lies cemented Arnold Schwarneggar's action hero status, and gave Tom Arnold a role in a film he can be proud of to this day.

Then came Titanic. 

It's easy to forget now, but at the time, it was expected that Titanic would be the end of James Cameron's career.  The movie had gone famously over budget, costing around twice as much as it was originally budgeted.  It was not completed in time for its originally slated July, 1997 release date, meaning it missed the lucrative summer movie season.  It was a long movie, running 194 minutes (advertised to theatres as "2hrs 74mins" in the hopes they'd miss the "7", and book screens without realizing how tight scheduling would be), and it starred two actors who were, at the time, relatively little known.

Leonardo DiCaprio had achieved critical success for his work in What's Eating Gilbert Grape, The Basketball Diaries and Marvin's Room, but hadn't been in any films that had really broken through. 

Kate Winslet had been in Peter Jackson's Heavenly Creatures (before Jackson was a household name, keep in mind) and had a role in Sense and Sensibility, but had been flying under the mainstream radar up until that point.

Titanic looked like it was going to make people forget what a disaster Waterworld was, until it opened, that is.

It didn't have a stellar opening weekend, but did a respectable $28M in business.  Christmas was the following weekend, and Titanic expanded its grosses to $35M, and then fell to $33M for the New Year's weekend.  It was after that when Titanic's story really took shape.  It brought in more than $20M per weekend up until the end of February, a box office streak that remains unmatched.  Titanic, of course, went on to be the highest grossing film of all time (not adjusted for inflation), eventually grossing $1.8 billion worldwide.

After Titanic, James Cameron effectively disappeared, and it seemed like had spent a decade sleeping on a mattress full of $1,000 bills while occasionally doing deep sea dives in the ocean and filming them in IMAX 3D.  What Cameron was really doing, however, was waiting for technology to get to the point where he could make Avatar.

Avatar is this generation's Star Wars.  It doesn't have the most original story, the plot doesn't have very many surprising or unusual twists, but what it does do is tell a timeless tale in a manner that only someone like James Cameron can pull off.

The budget for Avatar is largely a mystery, with official studio numbers at around $230M, and unofficial numbers at around $350M.  Whatever the number is, it's all been spent up there on the big screen.

Avatar tells the story of Jake Sully, a crippled ex-Marine who steps in for his twin brother on a project that requires a specific DNA match.

Jake travels to a distant planet called Pandora to be an "Avatar driver".  This is a person who uses some high tech gadgetry to maintain a mental link between themselves and an Avatar, a biological entity that has been grown to appear to the native Pandoran species (the Na'vi) on the planet as one of their own.

Jake eventually embeds himself in the Na'vi village, and befriends Neytiri.  Throughout the course of the story, Jake comes to respect the Na'vi way of life, and to understand their core reasons for their resistance against the invading Earth people.

What's interesting about the way the story is told is that Cameron always takes the time to present the information in a way that seems plausible, and allows you to see all sides of the arguments in play.  The themes around invading "inferior" people for the resources under their feet, respecting the environment and not judging people by the colour of their skin are all there, but they all play into the main story instead of feeling like a ham-fisted "message movie".

Cameron has also realized an immersive, beautiful 3D world where it's impossible to tell what has been shot practically (very little, from what I understand) and what has been generated in computers.  He has effectively taken a leap in special effects technology that is equal to the leap that was taken when George Lucas unveiled Star Wars on the world in 1977.  This movie, more than any other, will be recognized as the turning point when the training wheels came off movie making and the only limits are the imaginations of the people making the movies (and, of course, budget).

Cameron has also created a box office juggernaut unlike any the world has seen since Titanic came out 12 years ago.  He's proven what has been said all along; if you make movies people want to see, they will come see them.

I've seen Avatar twice in theatres (both times in 3D, and if you haven't seen it yet, do everything you can to see it in Digital 3D), and will probably see it at least one more time on the big screen. 

I also look forward to the Blu-ray of this film.  While it inevitably will fall short of the cinema experience, it will offer the opportunity to look behind the curtain and understand how Cameron pulled off this unimaginable feat. 

I also look forward to what Cameron pulls out of his bag of tricks next.  I just hope it doesn't take 12 years to do it again.