Monsters and Martians Film Festival 2012

L'arrivo di Wang
L’arrivo di Wang

I recently caught up with Monsters & Martians International Science Fiction Film Festival director Nadia Sandhu to discuss the upcoming fest – the first of its kind in Canada – and the state of science fiction as we head into another jam packed holiday season at the box office.

Monsters and Martians runs at the Projection Booth in Toronto from Thursday, December 6th, up to and including Sunday, December 9th. Tickets and more info.

Why Monsters & Martians?

If you are going to launch Canada’s first all science fiction film festival, you need to have a memorable name and this one evolved from a popular Saturday night series we ran at Projection Booth earlier this year. In fact, we hosted an Earth Day Party which featured Gozilla vs the Smog Monster and Turkish Star Wars on May the 4th Be With You under this banner.

Star Wars Episode VII.  How does that make you feel?

I am a Star Wars nut but the recent 3D re-release of the Phantom Menace made me realize that you can love something to distraction but one day love just dies.  I feel like Rhett Butler at the end of Gone With the Wind. I’m just so drained.

If I may be so bold, however, I am disappointed that we are finally getting Episode VII now that Luke and Leia need walkers and Han is the in the retirement home.  I truly dread the obligatory Luke becomes Ben Kenobi in a sacrifice scene.  At this point I’d rather see a reboot of the prequel trilogy.  Yes, a reboot.  With a real story and real conflict, and a badass Anakin Skywalker and writers who actually have a clue how the story ends.   And Ben doesn’t know about there being TWINS dammit.

What do you think about The Hobbit in 48fps?

Dear God.  I cannot with another digital vs 35mm debate.   What I can tell you is that I fully intend to see this film on opening night for the Man of Steel trailer and the first nine minutes of Star Trek: Into the Darkness.  I can’t promise I will stay for the film because try as I might I just can’t seem to make myself care about it.  Odd when you consider I met an ex-boyfriend because of my enthusiasm for a just about to be released Return of the King.

As Festival Director, did you get time to make programming suggestions or was that left to Head Programmer Gareth McGorman?

I really wanted to break the mold and showcase a web series rather than host the obligatory shorts showcase, ergo Heroes of the North on Sunday afternoon.  Having something of a Super Hero fetish, and having worked with Jason Mewes, I was hot to trot on the first SModcast release “Alter Egos” which pairs really well with our web series for a Super Sunday Afternoon at the movies.

Name a hidden sci fi film gem.

Starman starring Jeff Bridges.  Go see it.  I dare you not to get teary at the end.

Full disclosure: I am Nadia Sandhu, Festival Director and Co-Founder of Monsters & Martians and owner of Projection Booth Cinemas.

Monsters and Martians runs at the Projection Booth in Toronto from Thursday, December 6th, up to and including Sunday, December 9th. Tickets and more info.

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ChickFlicking – A Reflection Brought on by Sci Fi (Nadia Sandhu)

The Monsters and Martians Science Fiction Film Festival recently showcased the festival sensation “Dimensions,” a film which has been wracking up Best Film and Best Director Awards from science fiction film aficionados the world over (Best Film at 2012 London Independent Film Festival, Boston International Science Fiction Film Festival, and Long Island Science Fiction Film Festival)

However, despite this pedigree my male blogging colleagues showed no interest in attending the screening or reviewing the film – even though most of these same gents were at Fan Expo this weekend, a convention that science fiction built.  So science fiction was clearly not the issue at hand.

What was it then, that kept these self-confessed film nerds from embracing this festival darling?  Was it the marketing emphasis on steampunk or was it the period costumes?  It couldn’t have been the time travel plot, because I know these guys speak glowingly of films like Back to the Future, The Terminator and even Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. (Watch the trailer and decide for yourself.)

As I mulled things over I kept coming back to the period costumes and the British accents.  I thought back to the screening I attended for Hysteria, which in retrospect was mostly female even though the film was an honest to goodness sex comedy.  That film too featured British accents and period costumes.  Then there was that whole The Social Network vs. The King’s Speech divide. Curiouser and curiouser.

Simplistic as this may sound then, British accents and period costumes are integral to the definition of a chick flick.  Armed with this evidence it has become clear to me that what we have here is a clear case of a Science Fiction Chick Flick that will require special handling for its inevitable release.

So while this summer we’ve been getting our feet wet, feeling our way around the boundaries of the chick flick before we plunge into more complex academic dissections, at this early stage it seems safe to categorize films that are largely the provenance of chicks thusly:

–       A plot concerned primarily with romance/romantic relationships

–       A comedic plot concerned primarily with romance/romantic relationships

–       A plot revolving around family dynamics

–       A plot revolving around a female protagonist

–       An adaptation of classic literature or chick lit

–       A period piece (British accents optional)

–       Musicals

These are the films we take/drag our significant others to.

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The Divide Review – Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2011

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The 6th Annual Toronto After Dark Film Festival, 8 Nights of Horror, Sci-Fi, Action, and Cult Movies runs Oct 20-27, 2011 at the Toronto Underground Cinema. For complete festival info visit

Some readers may be familiar with my position regarding post-apocalyptic films that I have voiced in previous reviews, but I will go over it once more for new readers. I feel that these films are often not subject to the same standard of criticism that fans and reviewers use for other horror and sci-fi fare. There is something about the end of the world, and a bleak environment faced by a small band of survivors that is extremely appealing to a large group of fans. Too often, poor story lines and insipid dialogue are overlooked, simply because a movie features a post-apocalyptic theme. I can certainly dig post-apocalyptic if it is done well, I’m just not as forgiving as the hardcore fans. I’m sure that I too am guilty of the same selective criticism of other sub-genres, perhaps slashers and dark detective stories. Fortunately, my clash with post-apocalypitc apologists can wait for another time, as I’m sure we can agree that Xavier Gens’ The Divide is a grotesquely mean-spirited and emotionally powerful tour-de-force.

The short which preceded the feature was Blind Spot from Matthew Nayman. Blind Spot depicts a disgruntled man driving on the freeway and attempting to change his flight time while on the phone with some unhelpful booking agents. What the man doesn’t realize is that while he battles the booking agents, an alien invasion has begun outside his driver side window. Viewers listen to the oblivious man argue, while a massive urban centre crumbles and burns in the background. Blind Spot is brilliant in its simplicity and is everything you could want in a short film.

Back to The Divide.

The story begins with Eva (Lauren German) gazing out her apartment at the fiery end of the world, or at least the end of New York City. Eva snaps out of it thanks to her husband Sam (Iván González), and the couple make a dash for the secure basement of their apartment complex. The pair make it to the basement safely, along with a small group of other tenants, including Josh (Milo Ventimiglia), Bobby (Michael Eklund), Marilyn(Rosanna Arquette), and paranoid superintendent Mickey (Michael Biehn), however they are forced to close the doors on a stampede of other tenants, or jeopardize their own safety. It turns out that the people who perished in the blast were the lucky ones, as the inhabitants of the apartment basement begin to lose their sanity and turn on each other in a horrifying sequence of events.

The Divide looks, feels and sounds fantastic, but the real story is the amazing acting turned in by the entire cast. Director Xavier Gens gave the cast a large degree of artistic freedom, so the final on-screen performances are the result of careful writing by Karl Mueller and Eron Sheean, combined with many improvised moments and ideas from the cast. Add to this the strict 31 day diet that Gens placed the cast on, in order to realistically display the worsening physical condition of the characters, and I imagine that much of the on-screen tension was fueled by real emotion.

I really don’t want to go through the performances of the cast one by one, as they were top notch across the board, and of a calibre that is rarely seen in this type of film. Although it should be noted that witnessing Milo Ventimiglia and Michael Eklund transform into despicable villains is absolutely chilling.

Gens has created one the most stifling and claustrophobic atmospheres to ever be depicted on film. The characters in The Divide seem like they could be your real life friends or acquaintances. That is what makes their Lord-of-the-Flies-like descent into barbarism all the more chilling. Do not watch The Divide to have a good time at the movies. Instead, go see it when you are ready to witness the dark side of humanity. The film will weigh on your chest and make it difficult to breathe for 110 minutes, as you try to find a way out for these unfortunate characters while they destroy each other, both physically and mentally.

It should be noted that the Toronto After Dark version of The Divide was not the extended cut. The official Xavier Gens cut will feature an additional 15 minutes of sex, violence, and canned beans (don’t ask). I imagine it will feel like a much darker film. I’m not sure if I could handle that.

Toronto After Dark Lineup Announced – 3 weeks until showtime!

Image from

Showtimes and trailer links below!

It’s almost time for Toronto to usher in the Halloween season with the Toronto After Dark (TAD) Film Festival, eight nights of horror, sci-fi, action and cult movies. This the perfect type of festival for someone like me, as my interest in film lies with the mysterious and the fantastic. After the first wave of TAD films were announced, it became apparent that I would be spending a lot of time at the TAD venue, the Toronto Underground Cinema. Now that the complete lineup has been announced, I’ll just have to see if they have a room I can rent for eight nights.

The lineup for TAD looks amazing, and features a variety of ravenous undead, lonely astronauts, thirsty vampires, unfathomable futures, menacing ghosts, otherworldly secrets and pile-driving monsters, but this is just scratching the surface. Over the years TAD has garnered a reputation for their professionalism, and dedication to screening a wide variety of the best genre films from all over the world. This year will be no exception, and may just be the most exciting TAD yet!

Father’s Day (the latest from notorious Troma Entertainment, Inc.), VS (a bloody battle between four kidnapped superheros and their arch nemesis) and War of the Dead (a WWII zombie-action film out of Lithuania) make up the world premiere lineup. Highly anticipated festival circuit films include The Woman, which has been shocking audiences for a while now (check out this clip of a guy freaking out during a screening at Sundance), and The Innkeepers, the latest from Ti West, director of the creepy The House of the Devil.

In addition to these big name genre films are some that may not have as much hype, but still have me anxious for the festival to start.

The Corridor – A group of friends travel to a cabin for one last getaway before jobs, marriages, etc. make it impossible for them to do it again. The getaway takes an unexpected turn when the friends discover a spectral hallway in the middle of the woods. The corridor seems to be a harbinger of things to come and sparks negative emotions in the hearts of the men. If they hope to survive the weekend, they must face not only the corridor, but each other.

A Lonely Place to Die – From the UK comes a thrilling mountain chase film, in which a group of hikers discover a young girl trapped in the mountains. The girl turns out to be a kidnapping victim, and the hikers attempt to bring the her to safety but are tracked and attacked by the her kidnappers at every twist and turn. This film has been getting fabulous reviews and apparently must be seen on the bigscreen.

The Divide – The end of the world starts to occur just outside the windows of a towering apartment building. The tenants stampede to the secure basement in hopes of surviving the apocalypse, however, the first few to make it slam the door on the rest. The surviving group must now survive each other, as cabin fever, claustrophobia and the possibility of being the last surviving members of the human race begin to weigh heavily on the cellar’s new inhabitants. From Xavier Gens, the director of the graphic Frontier(s). Sci-fi or not, this one is probably not for the squeamish.

Redline (animated) – This animated film out of Japan is supposed to be Death Race 2000 on steroids. The plot is about a deadly intergalactic race that happens every five years, and apparently has some stellar sound effects. Let’s hope the TAD crew cranks the volume for this one!

TENTATIVE SCHEDULE (The official schedule will be announced on the 4th, when single tickets go on sale. I’m not sure when VS and War of the Dead will screen)

Click on a title to be directed to the trailer.

Thursday, October 20th

7pm – Monster Brawl

Friday, October 21st

7pm – Exit Humanity

9:45pm – Father’s Day

Saturday, October 22nd

4:15pm – Redline

7:00pm – DeadHeads

9:45pm – War of the Dead

Sunday, October 23rd

1:30pm – Some Guy Who Kills People

4:15pm – Love

7:00pm – The Theatre Bizarre

9:45pm – Midnight Son

Monday, October 24th

7:00pm – Absentia

9:45pm – A Lonely Place to Die

Tuesday, October 25th

7:00pm – The Divide

9:45pm – Manborg

Wednesday, October 26th

7:00pm – The Corridor

9:35pm – VS

Thursday, October 27th

7:00pm – The Woman

9:45pm – The Innkeepers (no trailer yet)

Attack the Block – Aliens are invading at the Maven, and we love it!

The poster art copyright is believed to belong to the distributor of the film, Optimum Releasing, the publisher of the film or the graphic artist.

This is what going to the movies is supposed to be like! Think of Attack the Block as a small reward for putting up with the sub-par efforts that have been all too common in North American theatres for the past few years. This film is a wonderfully eclectic combination of sci-fi, horror, comedy and adventure, which never commits too firmly to one specific genre. The result is a film that can be enjoyed by anyone, although I would not call it ‘family friendly’.

I always love going to see genre-mashups, even if the movie isn’t that great, the product still tends to feel fresh. Fortunately, Attack the Block is great and happens to be one of the best movies I’ve seen in a long time. Think The Goonies meets Gremlins, except the kids are a British gang of street toughs and someone has juiced up the gremlins with a boatload of steroids. Trust me Bruv, you’ll love it!

The story starts like this, a gang of younger teens are up to their usual tricks, hanging around the block and robbing people that look like easy targets. When an attempted robbery goes awry, it’s not because of resistance from the victim, nor is it because of police intervention. The robbery goes wrong because a hurtling projectile from outer space nearly kills the thugs and victim alike. This foreign object turns out to be a a small alien monster and shortly after a rather harrowing encounter, the kids find themselves pedaling like mad on their bikes back to the block (their apartments) to save their skins.

For the entire runtime, roughly 90 mins, Attack the Block stays within the limits set by the storyline, budget and young group of actors and demolishes all expectations. The creatures look great and are terrifying. The British slang will be extremely fresh for North American audiences and the laughs are plentiful. The actors that were selected to play the group of troublesome teens do an excellent job, while some fabulous comedic performances are turned in by Luke Treadaway as Brewis, the wrong-place-at-the-wrong-time pothead who just wants to get his fix and deal with the alien invasion another day, and Jumayn Hunter as Hi-Hatz, who takes what it means to be Gangsta to a previously unheard of level.

Even if you aren’t the biggest horror or sci-fi fan, Attack the Block deserves your attention. It is fairly tame in the violence department, by today’s standards, and doesn’t delve into sci-fi techno-babble. It was made with care and passion, and it shows.

Allow it bruv, you won’t regret it!

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