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Moriarty Whines Some More About Not Being In Toronto!! MY LITTLE EYE and VOLCANO HIGH Reviews!!

Published at: Sept. 13, 2002, 3:58 a.m. CST by staff

Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab.

What day is it? What time is it? Am I allowed to stand up and stretch now?

[A whip cracks, and Moriarty howls in pain.]

Okay. Never mind. I’ll just get right to it. At least I’m finally able to steal away to write a few reviews and change things up a bit. I’m glad I’m still finding time to screen films so that I don’t just get overwhelmed as I work on my own stuff. I think it’s important to keep the input flowing.

In this case, I managed to see a couple of the oddities playing at Toronto this year, both midnight offerings, and I thought I’d offer up a few thoughts about each of them...

MY LITTLE EYE

This Working Title production is playing as part of Midnight Madness in Toronto, and someday, I plan to attend the fest just to see how they program this increasingly cool section of the festival. I would have loved to have seen this in a crowded theater at that late hour instead of in a completely empty screening room at 10:00 in the morning. This is the kind of film where a crowd is going to feed off of each other, energy-wise, and part of the fun of watching the movie unfold is going to be watching the screams and laughs as they roll in. Director Marc Evans delivers plenty of both here, and for me, this is an introduction to a filmmaker who appears to have been working under the radar since the early ‘90s.

David Hilton (THE DELIVERY, YOUNG AMERICANS) and newcomer James Watkins are the screenwriters here, and they haven’t really created something shocking original. In fact, when I realized as the film started that this was another reality show riff, a pseudo-documentary, my spirits fell. So many of these films simply fail to work on any level, and I settled in for a long, slow ride.

Thankfully, I think Hilton, Watkins, Evans, and the cast are all aware of the pitfalls these films normally fall into, and as a result, they’ve managed to craft something fairly entertaining that actually manages to twist nicely a few times and build a genuinely menacing sense of atmosphere before finally kicking into standard thriller mode in the last half hour. It’s a lot closer to SHALLOW GRAVE than it is to HALLOWEEN: RESURRECTION, thankfully, and the film should play well to crowds that are primed by the right ad campaign.

One of the things that Evans does particularly well as a filmmaker is how he seems to have shot the entire film using real videocameras and webcams and night-vision cams. So often, people shooting fake documentaries cheat and do things that couldn’t happen in a real documentary. It has ruined many of these films when someone stretches and tries to make something that’s somewhere between narrative and documentary, neither fish nor fowl. Evans plays fair here, and if anything, the film is stronger for it. His use of infrared photography, something that’s become fairly well-recognized by anyone who has watched BIG BROTHER (which must be at least some of you, based on the show’s popularity around the world in all its various guises), is disturbing and unsettling and incredibly effective. There’s some images involving people creeping around at night that are pretty hard to shake.

The premise of the film is simple: Five people are selected to live in a house. If they obey a few simple rules (no outside contact, a curfew each night after which they can’t step foot outside), and if all five of them make it for six full months, then they split $1 million. And, of course, they also are bargaining for a certain amount of fame, since the entire six months they’re locked in, every moment of every day is supposed to be broadcast over the Internet. There’s a quick montage at the beginning where we see Matt (Sean CW Johnson), Rex (Kris Lemche), Danny (Stephen O’Reilly), Emma (Laura Regan), and Charlie (Jennifer Sky), all of them looking forward to the challenge.

They make an interesting choice by fast-forwarding through the entire six months in little more than an extended credits sequence. Evans hustles all the way up to the last week they’re all in the house...

... and then he finally stops, gets settled in, and begins turning up the heat, little by little. And it’s the slow burn that makes up most of the running time that convinces me that Evans has the goods as a filmmaker. He manages to exercise a fair amount of control over the way he gradually builds suspense, and the way he plays with your expectations as a viewer. There’s really only two other characters who show up (a hiker played by Bradley Cooper and a cop played by Nick Mennell), and as a result, the success of the film depends upon you buying into the dynamic between the characters.

Kris Lemche and Jennifer Sky are the two immediate stand-outs in the film. Rex and Charlie are the two characters with the most life, and as a result, it’s Lemche and Sky who look like they’re having the most fun. One’s never quite sure as you watch who exactly is driving the mechanics of the story. There’s a game going on here, and part of the fun of the film is figuring out exactly what game it is. That way, when the final act unfolds and all the secrets are revealed, it’s just one jolt after another, and it’s fairly successful. It would be hard to live up to a slow burn like this, but it helps that the script plays mean and doesn’t chicken out. When the end comes, it’s not your standard issue teenagers-beat-the-psycho sort of thing. This film plays for keeps, and as a result, it feels more satisfying than most of what pass as “big finishes” in the genre.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that MY LITTLE EYE is going to redefine the genre. What it does do is proudly represent the genre. These guys get it, and they’ve had a lot of fun with this particular movie. It reminded me a lot of the Korean horror film ST. JOHN’S WORT that I saw last year in Montreal. That was a little more style-over-substance than MY LITTLE EYE, but they both made great use of their locations, creepy old houses, and video surveillance technology and the Internet. At any rate, I liked this picture enough to tell you to seek it out. I hope Universal Focus has a real release planned for the film so that I can go see it at a midnight show with a group of friends, and so you don’t have to go digging too hard to find it when it’s out. I may not have been at Toronto; doesn’t mean I don’t get to enjoy the film the right way.

VOLCANO HIGH (aka WHASANGO)

This is one seriously bizarre little film.

And, if you’re in just the right mood, it’s also hella fun.

The opening sequence promises a certain type of film. A teacher furiously scribbles something on a blackboard, pausing as his anger builds. Through clenched teeth, he says, “I told you... no sleeping in CLASS!” and whips around to throw a piece of chalk, full force, at the head of a student.

Kim Kjung-Su (Jang Hyuk) isn’t sleeping, though, and he isn’t about to let someone bounce the chalk off his head. He looks up and the chalk simply slows in the air, until it’s spinning, surrounded by waves of energy, right in front of his face. He roars, the chalk shoots back the way it came, and BLAMMO! Kim Kjung-Su is expelled from his ninth school in a row.

He ends up at Volcano High, where the Great Teacher War once raged, where a Secret Manuscript carries with it the secret to ultimate power, and where the rugby team and the kendo club and various other gangs all vie for supremacy, something he learns in his first day on-campus.

He doesn’t want trouble, though. He doesn’t care if Jang Ryang (Kim Su-Ro) bullies everyone else in the school. He doesn’t care if the beautiful but austere Icy Jade (Shin Mina) is right in her desire to protect the school. He just wants to mark his time and stay out of it all. Of course, that’s impossible, especially for someone as powerful as Kim Kjung-Su, who is able to summon enormous energy and destructive force under the right circumstances.

There are some inventive and beautifully designed sequences involving martial arts choreography, CGI, and flying gags, and everyone seems to have super powers of some sort. They don’t explain a damn thing, to be honest, but it doesn’t matter. Just looking at the film is so much fun in so many places that it overcomes any narrative lapses or pacing issues. When it delivers, it’s worth anything you have to sit through.

This is one of those films like VERSUS, where your final reaction is going to depend on how you feel about what they’re doing their riff on. If you really love zombies and swords, you’re probably going to love VERSUS no matter how padded and slow it feels to me. And if you love superheroes and manga action along the lines of DRAGONBALL Z, you’re going to get a lot of enjoyment out of VOLCANO HIGH, no matter what. It’s a fetishist’s dream. Detail has been paid close attention to, and this is more visually striking than many giant-budget Hollywood films.

VOLCANO HIGH is utterly inconsequential, and that is part of its charm. It doesn’t matter one little bit what happens in the story of this film. It’s all just an excuse to set up various fights. When they happen, though, they’re really cool, and as a result, I would say that director Kim Tae-Gyun's film is worth searching out for anyone who feels like seeing a crazy amped up amalgam of HARRY POTTER, X-MEN, and classic Wuxia action.

I’ve got a few other things I’m working on tonight, including the official announcement of the screenings I’m hosting in NYC in two weeks. It’s gonna be a great evening, and I hope to see all my East Coast friends there.

Until then...

"Moriarty" out.





Readers Talkback

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  • Sept. 13, 2002, 4:12 a.m. CST

    foist

    by 81666

    i wanna see volcano high bitches, badly

  • Sept. 13, 2002, 4:16 a.m. CST

    Sounds like Harry's getting pretty handy with that whip.

    by Rayanne Graff

    Like Shallow Grave you say? I'm a bit more intrigued now. But what was that old animation from? The one with naked Harry climbing up a glass box? Anyone care to show off their knowledge of obscure nudey flicks?

  • Sept. 13, 2002, 4:42 a.m. CST

    ahahahahahaahhahhahaaaaaa.............

    by Aronld Scazziger

    just fell over lmao. this BNAT4 poster is DA FUCKIN BOMB. thx... that made my day

  • Sept. 13, 2002, 4:53 a.m. CST

    washango

    by talbuckin

    it sounds actually like my shampoo

  • Sept. 13, 2002, 5:38 a.m. CST

    Just up my alley, weird shit with no spoon fed explanations

    by Son Of Batboy

    I gots to see Volcano High. Oh Yeah!!! Just what I figured. Already out on DVD. Available in a two disc set. Region 3 baby. this shit is always on DVD by the time I hear about it.

  • Sept. 13, 2002, 5:48 a.m. CST

    So how did your pitch meeting go, you coy bastard!

    by Cash Bailey

    How much of this whole process will we be privvy to on the site, Moriarty? Will we be kept up to speed when James Gunn is hired to re-write it and Paul Anderson is hired to direct?

  • Sept. 13, 2002, 9:02 a.m. CST

    Anyone know where I can get Volcano High

    by SteveRefa

    I am in the UK and badly want to see Vocano High anyone know where I would be able to get the region 3 dvd?

  • Sept. 13, 2002, 10:09 a.m. CST

    Volcano High DVD

    by seoulman

    There's several onlines stores but I recommend: www.aznfilms.com - great service www.hkflix.com www.pokerindustries.com DVD is special ed. region 3 or you can get the region 0 on ebay hee hee. BTW-it should really be Hwasan-go as a opposed to Whasango with the W, closer to Korean pronuciation-ust a minor peeve =p

  • Sept. 13, 2002, 12:52 p.m. CST

    Ebert was saying...

    by mbeemer

    ...that it kinda defeated the purpose of a film festival (to get the film reviewed and picked up for distribution) if the festival organizers sold tickets to fans with deep pockets and left the reviewers and buyers standing outside the theater looking at each other. Sounds like he has a point!

  • Sept. 13, 2002, 2:23 p.m. CST

    Great Movie

    by royce

    Vocano high rocks, its like a live action anime. As for the "naked Harry climbing up a glass box" image, i think it's from a cheech & chong movie.

  • Sept. 13, 2002, 3:16 p.m. CST

    Just for the punny sake of it

    by PattyOGreen

    I Spy and My Little Eye should come out the same weekend. That way theater marquees could be a bit entertaining. Like the time that they put the Blow teaser directly to the left of The Emperor's New Groove poster with the giant "ME" on it. Ahhh, I have no life...

  • Sept. 14, 2002, 6:42 a.m. CST

    Volcano High concept already done in anime

    by turk128

    Check out Combustable Campus Guardress, a very good anime which I'm pretty sure Volcano hHgh got many of their ideas from.

  • Sept. 14, 2002, 10:06 a.m. CST

    Double-Helix here in Toronto, "My Little Eye" sets the standard

    by Double-Helix

    Last night, during the post-screening Q & A it became obvious that the filmakers didn't enjoy the word, "gimmic." Fair enough, but since they're not in my presence anymore, I believe that "My little Eye's" gimmic isn't exactly original, but that doesn't mean it's not a whole lot of fun. Unlike "The Blair Witch Project," MLE is methodically structured and paced. This was a wise movie, because we've already had the wool pulled over our eyes before, and shooting on video just isn't enough to fully suspend an audience's disbelief. We know this isn't real, so why bother? Admittedly, like every other "film" that was shot on anything less than high definition video (Including Dancer in the Dark) the sharp edges/low contrast ratio/30fps WILL EXPOSE and MAGNIFY any actor's weaknesses and MLE's young cast have many. There are times, however, (particualarily when the characters look directly into the camera) which work particularily well. Unfortunately, these days... to get noticed, a filmaker almost NEEDS a high concept/gimmic to get noticed, but fortunately for the audience, MLE's tightly woven/shocking script demands respect. The pacing builds to a rocking crescendo. The dialogue is crisp and funny, and the sex scene delivers. There are some gory scenes in this film that had some audience members screaming, and others... dry heaving. Once again, however, this filmaker's restraint surprised me. He "cut away" at precisely the right moments, building to a crescendo of carnage. I have to agree with Moriarity; "the skills" are there. With the success of other digital features, I'm fairly confident that many of you will have the opportunity to sit down and watch MLE. The gimmic isn't as fresh today as it was a few years ago, and (at times) the acting isn't "perfect," but if you can sit through the relatively uninvolving "first act," you'll definitely be in for a treat! Pack your bags...My Little Eye is a dirty, sexy, funny little movie with great pacing... and you're involved. If, like myself, you respected the Blair Witch experience, but believed that the concept could have been used to greater effect than you'll really enjoy "My Little Eye." Is this the last of the digital/reality TV movies? I doubt it... but if anybody wants to top the overall fun of this film, they're going to have a lot of work ahead of them.

  • Sept. 14, 2002, 5:52 p.m. CST

    thanx for DVD tips

    by Trader Groucho

    Thanx for the DVD tips (Daewoo 5800, region 3 version of Volcano High). I saw Volcano High at AFM in Santa Monica last January and concur with the positive notices posted here. It's worth getting hold of. I understand that Matrix Reloaded will feature sequences with water effects similar to what Volcano High had. Should be cool. -- TG

  • Sept. 15, 2002, 12:53 a.m. CST

    MLE:free tickets(brits only)

    by Wyrdy the Gerbil

    CARDIFFs Chapter Arts center FREE FRIGHT NIGHT Be among the first to see the film that The Observer called "the reinvention of the modern horror movie!" Blair Witch meets Big Brother in the seriously scary latest from Chapter favourite Marc Evans, My Little Eye. We are delighted to announce a special preview, courtesy of Momentum Pictures, at 10.15pm on Fri 27th Sept. Get your free tickets from Chapter box office

  • Sept. 16, 2002, 8:57 a.m. CST

    Volcano High Uncut

    by seoulman

    Saw Volcano High at the Toronto Film Festival. Met the director, very cool and gracious guy. He's working on a 1930's gangland pic of a famous Korean gang leader, major action and martial arts to follow. BTW, Volcano High was edited at the festival - I suggest buying the import dvd as it's unedited.