Now on Screen: You Are Here, Fright Night, Conan the Barbarian
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Now on Screen: You Are Here, Fright Night, Conan the Barbarian

Because Toronto’s more movie obsessed than a Quentin Tarantino screenplay (yuk yuk), Torontoist brings you Now on Screen, a weekly roundup of new releases.
Wow. We hope you love the ’80s! It’s like one of those VH1 I Love the ’80s specials over here, with all the love of the ’80s swirling around. This week sees releases of Toronto filmmaker Dan Cockburn’s TIFF 2010 smash You Are Here, which has a decidedly anachronistic, ’80s-ish production design. There are also remakes of two ’80s films, both of which aren’t half bad (indeed, one is very good). So put on your Mike DaMone–issue piano-key scarf and turn up your Black Celebration tape, because we’re going on a journey back in time this week!

20110818_youarehere.jpg   You Are Here
Directed by Daniel Cockburn
4 1/2  STARS
20110818_frightnight.jpg   Fright Night
Directed by Craig Gillespie

20110818_conan.jpg   Conan the Barbarian
Directed by Marcus Nispel
3 1/2 STARS

You Are Here

Directed by Daniel Cockburn
4 1/2 STARS

No doubt about one thing: Daniel Cockburn’s You Are Here is one of the most daring, inventive, and fun first features, Canadian or otherwise, in recent years. (Of course, that it’s Canadian and Torontonian doesn’t hurt, providing lots of those local warm-fuzzies.) The veteran T.O. video artist has made a feature that impresses not only initially but also on multiple viewings.
You Are Here can be described as “mind-bending” or a “narrative puzzle-box,” but a lot of that talk does it a disservice. It’s not that the film isn’t cerebral. It is. Big time. But, as an equation, CEREBRAL + CANADIAN usually works out to Cube or the stiffer, more visually sterile mid-’90s Cronenberg (i.e. Crash). Both fine films, sure, but their knowing intellectualism is of a different stripe than Cockburn’s. Because beyond being smart, or clever, or “cerebral,” You Are Here is fun, overflowing with the philosophy grad student’s giddy love of puzzles, thought experiments, and other heady noodle-scratchers.
You Are Here opens on a man (R.D. Reid) leading a lecture in which he asks an offscreen audience to pay attention to a video of waves lapping against a beach, while ignoring the red laser-pointer dot flitting around the screen. The idea is to be both hyper-aware and not, which (as the lecturer notes) is impossible. Still, You Are Here unfolds on the edge of this impossibility for the next 90 minutes, asking the viewer to pay close attention to everything that’s going on, while also being just as aware of the bigger picture.
The “bigger picture” is hard to describe, exactly. But then, that’s probably the point. Cockburn stages his film, at first, as a series of shorts. One involves a man who is really a whole bunch of people discovering an oddly placed door to nowhere on his birthday. Another is about a scientist (Aanad Rajaram) who develops a room that instructively teaches Chinese to anyone inside of it using a complicated series of commands. Another has a team of real-life geolocators shuffling agents around a half-real version of Toronto. Eventually, something like a film emerges, with these disparate set-pieces revealed, by-and-large, to be documents collected by the Archivist (Tracy Wright), a frumpy middle-aged woman who compulsively indexes material she finds on the street.
After the film’s initial twist (revealing it to be a coherent film and not merely a series of sequential, unrelated episodes), the thematic and intellectual undercurrents running through You Are Here begin to come together. But instead of seeming totally coherent, the connected story lines share preoccupations: with technology, with modernity, with time and space, and with paranoia.
These fixations give You Are Here its centre, and they’re what make it seem so vital and of-the-moment, especially considering how much fun Cockburn has fucking around with production design, never giving us a firm sense of when exactly the film is supposed to be set. It can be frustrating, but in the end it’s precisely this pranksterish tendency that makes You Are Here more than just a self-consciously intellectual puzzle picture.
You Are Here opens Friday, August 19, for a limited engagement at TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King Street West). Click here for showtimes.

Fright Night

Directed by Craig Gillespie

Sure, sure, they’re cranking it right out of the Redundant Remakes That Nobody Asked For Department, but this riff of Todd Holland’s Fright Night is surprisingly, impressively good. Whether it’s better than Holland’s 1985 original depends on your nostalgia for both the original Fright Night and the culture of midnight movies it was nostalgic for back then. But nevermind Holland’s film. Gillespie’s Fright Night can more than stand on its own merits.
Picking up the monster-next-door narrative of the original, the film (ingeniously) casts Colin Farrell as Jerry, an ancient vampire who moves into a suburban home next to Charley (Anton Yelchin) and his single mom (Toni Collette). Charley’s ex-BFF and former LARPing buddy, “Evil” Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, exhibiting no fatigue as the terminal dork archetype’s ne plus ultra), is onto Jerry and tries to warn Charley. When Ed disappears, Charley picks up the trail, consorting with a Criss Angel–ish illusionist at a Las Vegas casino (played excellently by ex–Doctor Who David Tennant) in order to figure out how to dispense of Jerry.
Farrell is perfectly cast as the hunky, broad-shouldered bloodsucker vamping on Chris Sarandon’s already pretty-great smarminess in the original. Yelchin, though looking a little old for the role of high-school gumshoe, is fine, but better is Imogen Poots as his buxom, blonde, believably down-to-earth girlfriend. (Also, the four of you who keep asking, “Hey, where’s Lisa Loeb?” will get to go “Oh, okay, there she is,” since she makes an appearance.) Though shot in 3D, some of the effects fall flat, with some late-game CGI betraying the inherent cheesiness Gillespie and co. work so diligently to cover up. Still, though by-and-large an unknown quantity, Gillespie directs with competence and, frequently, flair. A single-take car chase sequence (ostensibly—a few cuts are probably hidden) proves one of the most exhilarating action set-pieces of the year so far. And that includes all of Michael Bay’s whizz-bang what-have-you.
Fright Night opens Friday, August 19, in wide release.

Conan the Barbarian

Directed by Marcus Nispel
3 1/2 STARS

Inhabiting a role made famous by Arnold Schwarzenegger’s a tough thing. Because not only was the Austrian Oak’s body just about the biggest thing you ever saw in your life when he came stomping across movie screens in the mid-’80s, but he also had that undeniable charisma: the heavily accented English and gleam in his eye that made him seem somehow childlike. As the new Conan the Barbarian, the six-foot-five Jason Momoa’s no less imposing. But he lacks the gleam. As the vengeful Cimmerian warrior-adventurer, the flash in Momoa’s eyes seems almost psychotic, which works to give the impressive violence of this half-due remake some subtext.
Conan opens with a narration by Morgan Freeman (helping set the film’s weird tone between seriousness and inside-jokery), explaining how an evil Necromancer once enslaved the world in an age now unknown. Defeated, the Necromancer’s power-giving skull-mask was busted up, the shards given to rulers of different kingdoms for safe keeping. But, of course, prophecy told of a man who would attempt to reassemble the pieces and enslave humanity once again. Then cut to the unborn Conan, whose prenatal slumber is interrupted by a blade piercing his mother’s womb. Born on the battlefield, Conan grows up to be a formidable barbarian warrior. As a young boy, he watches helplessly as his kindly, long-headed father (Ron Perlman) is murdered by the murderous warlord Khalar Zym (Avatar baddie Stephen Lang) and vows to avenge him. We then tag along on Conan’s sword-and-sandal conquest to track down Zym (the guy who’s trying to enslave humanity, natch), while also protecting pure-blooded monk and damsel-in-distress Tamara (Rachel Nichols).
The 1982 Conan is no great film (though its defenders will say otherwise), but its crazy racism and broadly Nietzschean triumph-of-the-will thematics were so intense and in-your-face that it commands a kind of respect. This remake lacks the thematic immensity, displaying a watered-down equal-opportunity racism (Sand people! Howling Native American–looking tribesman! A token black friend!) but remaining fairly unblinking in terms of its violence. (Cred here should probably be given to producers Millenium Films, who have, in recent years, handled such bold genre pictures as Stallone’s The Expendables and Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. This has to be the beheading-est movie of the year. So far.) There are a few nice set-pieces—Conan versus the magical sand monsters, a final showdown between Conan and Zym—and Rose McGowan as a serpentine sorceress helps amp up the Sam Raimi–produced Saturday afternoon feel. But like so many remakes, Conan feels rushed and uninspired. It’s no Fright Night.
Conan the Barbarian opens Friday, August 19, in wide release. Click here for showtimes.