What We Do In The Shadows: Review

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I had the opportunity to see Jemaine Clement (of Flight of the Conchords fame) and Taika Waititi’s (director of 2010’s Boy) hilarious What We Do In the Shadows last night at Toronto’s imagineNative festival. The film presents a fantastic take on the vampire movie trends of the past decade or so, making fun of the Twilight-esque and calling for a return to the darker roots of vampire tropes – all while staying within the realm of comedy, of course.

These comedy is largely achieved through the film’s style as a mockumentary. The film is presented as real – even with a warning playing beforehand stating that the film may contain deceased peoples – and this take is used very effectively by Clement and Waititi. The characters all directly address the camera, reality-show style. The results are hilarious.

What We Do In The Shadows follows the lives of a group of vampires living together as flatmates in Wellington, New Zealand. These characters, without giving much away about their distinct personalities (from which much of the laughs derive) are all based on different interpretations of vampires throughout history. For example, Clement plays the Dracula-esque character of the group, who is dark, brooding, and sexual. Waititi’s character, on the other hand, is decidedly more Interview With a Vampire, and I found him to be my personal favourite. When a new, young vampire tries to join this group of friends, they are forced to change their century-old traditions and get a little more modern.

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I found the strongest part of the film to be the first half an hour or so, though the entirety of the film is great. Personally, I really enjoyed the setting up of all the characters, and watching their day-to-day, pretty normal (all things considering) lives (well, not lives, exactly) play out as they introduce themselves and fill in each others’ backstories to the camera.

Rhys Darby as the leader of a pack of werewolves was also a welcome thing. How can you not love that?

Overall, What We Do In The Shadows is a hilarious film that is definitely worth watching. I am excited that I got to see it around Halloween time (appropriate), but for now the film is only running along the festival circuit in North America. If you have a chance to see it any time soon and you’re a fan of comedy – especially previous work of Waititi or Clement – then I’d recommend it. The film has been picked up for release in Canada in February 2015, and although I have not heard, I would imagine a similar deal has or will be made within the US.

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New Form Digital and YouTube-Based Filmmaking

Last week I was able to attend Toronto’s Buffer Festival, where YouTube and Vimeo-based filmmakers showed off their latest short films. I was able to attend two different screening sets, and I was overall very impressed by the levels of creativity and quality in what I saw. My favourite things, however, had to be the series of short films funded by New Form Digital, a new company that works as a sort of online studio (major players include Ron Howard, Brian Grazer, and Discovery Communications).

New Form provided funds for 14 different YouTube channels to produce short films in a project called the New Form Incubator. These YouTubers were all selected based on their creative potential as Youtube-based filmmakers rather than simply internet personalities with large numbers of subscribers. Each film also had to include fellow YouTuber Mitchell Davis in the cast in some way, and Davis’ hilarious personality connected each film in a way that seemed to make the projects flow together and make sense to be watched or screened in succession.

I watched 7 films during the Incubator screening and another the next day, so I was able to see 8 of them in official screenings. The rest I have been watching online, as each film is provided on YouTube. I was incredibly impressed with the levels of sophistication in each short – these filmmakers are proving themselves to be filmmakers in earnest, not just ‘YouTubers.’

I definitely think these shorts are worth watching, and these internet-based filmmakers are worth keeping an eye on. It’s interesting to see what these creators are capable of, given more resources than they are usually accustomed to. My personal favourites of the group include Oscar’s Hotel by Kickthepj (undeniably charming) and Bad Burglars: The Heist by TimH (hilarious). Also worth noting is The Fourth Door by BlackBoxTV, which features an interactive version. I have only watched the festival cut and have yet to try this experience for myself, but I am impressed by the creator’s choice to embrace the online abilities of the medium of showing films on YouTube. I am also impressed by New Form’s choice to support this.

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Overall, the quality of digital, online content keeps getting better, and I applaud New Form Digital for providing means with which creators can test themselves and improve upon their skills, challenging the online future of film content to push forward.

All of the films of the Incubator project can be viewed from the playlist here. If you watch any of them, let me know what you think – especially if you’ve seen the earlier work or YouTube content of any of these creators! I enjoyed getting to see some of my personal favourites move forward and discovering new creators who I hadn’t had the chance to see before.

Gotham Review: Pilot

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Let me preface this review by thanking CTV for inviting me to the Canadian premiere screening of Gotham on September 18. I am very appreciative and had a lot of fun! I would also like to point out that I don’t know a whole lot about the DC universe as presented in the comics. I don’t read the comics, and thus the observations I draw in this review will be based solely on my knowledge gleaned from watching Gotham itself as well as from watching various other film and television adaptations of DC’s properties. I’ll try my best to avoid spoilers and point out things that stood out to me from the show’s Pilot episode.

Now. On to Gotham.

Gotham, in my opinion, is off to a great start.

The Pilot episode was immensely enjoyable, and watching it on a big screen was definitely a good way to take everything in. The city itself is set up to be the main character of the show (along with Jim Gordon, of course), and the title of the show clearly leads to this. And what a city it is. Gotham looks beautiful and dark throughout the entire episode. The tone of the show and the look of the city itself greatly impressed me, with the show putting forth an image of Gotham that comes across as a true blend of Nolan’s gritty-city feel of The Dark Knight trilogy and Burton’s whimsical, night-life glow as evident in his various film adaptations of the 80’s and 90’s. Gotham as a city is dismal and beautiful all at the same time, its dark streets contrasting nicely with the luxe, red interior of Fish Mooney’s nightclub.

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The characters of Gotham certainly seem to be intriguing as well. It is exciting to see familiar faces and hear familiar names dropped here and there, which Batman fans are sure to enjoy. I had previously read reviews and fan concerns stating that they were worried about the amount of “winking” the show would do – hinting at too many villains’ backstories, for example. I was slightly nervous of this myself as well. However, watching the Pilot proved that the show, at least at this early stage, is not about to throw everything in the viewer’s face. There are definitely hints, but Gotham isn’t going overboard – at least, not yet. As long as the character references are kept subtle and build over time, instead of feeling like too many coincidences all at the same time, the show is bound to succeed.

Besides, it is very interesting to see a new take on the origin stories of these beloved characters. Oswald Cobblepot (future Penguin) is an intriguing focus, and the addition of Jada Pinkett Smith’s Fish Mooney is fresh and fascinating. Mooney is the leader of a gang of thugs, and is shaping up to be an interesting character who am I looking forward to seeing more bad-assery from.

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Ben McKenzie as the young Jim Gordon is nice as well; the character seems to have much potential within the police department, with his different attitudes towards how to handle things than those of his partner, Harvey Bullock. Gordon is charismatic, and it will be interesting to see what happens with this character along the way in order to cement his status as the lead of the show (other than Gotham city itself, of course).

Scenes featuring the young Bruce Wayne and butler Alfred are a nice way to tie Gotham back to hints of the city’s future as one protected by a vigilante. Indeed, Gotham as a series suggests the seediness of the city, showing why exactly it needs such a vigilante hero after all. Many people questioned the idea of a Batman series without Batman, but the inevitability of the rise of Batman is a fascinating endpoint, and one that genuinely feels exciting.

Overall, I found Gotham’s premiere episode to be very entertaining. Worth watching? Definitely. Interested to see what happens next? Yeah, I am. The characters are compelling and the city is legendary. I want to know what happens next.

If you do too, tune in to Gotham on Monday, September 22, and let me know how you feel about it yourself.