The Self-Esteem Awards: Toronto After Dark 2007 — The Features
The Steemies: because everyone should get a valentine, even the unloved.
Finally, here it is, because nobody really gives a shit about short films, it’s time to give Steemies out to the Features. And oh, what a selection we had this year at the old, grande Bloor Cinema. In addition to the zombie movie, there was also a rat zombie movie, and a chicken zombie movie! Which animals will go zombie next year? Horses?
Best Acting in a Movie that Shouldn’t Have Good Acting: Mulberry Street — People are mutating into giant, flesh-hungry rats, and these jokers are taking the time to convince us they’re real, rounded people?! They’ve got to get their priorities right. Actually, it’s nice to see some acting in this kind of schlock movie – and I don’t necessarily mean “performing” here, either. They may not be baring their souls, but it’s convincing humanity and not just entertaining line delivery that the various humans, particularly the lead Nick Damici and his daughter-acting-as Kim Blair, manage to pull off. They elevate an otherwise blah indie zombie variation just enough to make it recommendable. Not overly, not enthusiastically. But to those who go for this kind of muck, I say why not?
Additional award for Mulberry Street: The “Seemed Extraneous at the Time” Award — What’s that, old man? You say we should be careful around your oxygen tank because it’s liable to explode? Hmm, a potentially useful little tidbit, were things ever to get so bad that an explosion might prove beneficial. I’ll just store that one away. (And before you get all “lame horror writers” huffy, Spielberg allowed the exact same thing in Jaws, and I refuse to believe it was any less obvious back then.)
Most Deluded: Audience of One — This documentary about a 40 year-old Pentecostal Minister’s quest to make a $200 million fantasy-scifi epic film, despite little filmmaking experience and having only seen his first film (The Lion King) about ten years earlier, isn’t as harsh towards him or his religion as I’d expected it to be. It goes without saying that he fails (though technically, he hasn’t failed yet, as he and his congregation are still trying to get their film, “Gravity,” made); what’s surprising about this story is not only how together he actually seems to have it in terms of his production (he’s not doing this with low-end equipment at all, and his set is remarkably professional – though by no means completely professional), but how many people he’s gotten to join him in his mission from God (and yes, his blind determination does come from above). He’s got his family and congregation, natch, but he also brings along so many others – actual working pros, a cinematographer, producers, as well as extras willing to work for cheap while they’re shooting in Italy. In the end, all but the faithful feel pretty duped by his bold claims about how glorious the film will be. It’s all a sad, funny thing to witness.
Additional award for Audience of One: Best Pitch — Pastor Gazowsky: “The Lord came to me last night and told me he wants you to try and get us an extension on those thousands of overdue rent dollars we owe for the studio space.”
Mixedest Bag: The Tripper — Here’s a little movie directed by David Arquette that combines slasher horror, environmental politics, busloads of illegal drugs, humour, and Ronald Reagan. It’s a strange concoction, but it comes together remarkably well, helped out by a great cast of fairly-knowns who deliver genuinely funny dialogue better than you usually find in this fare. Arquette knows how to give good gore, as this Reagan-impersonating crazy who cuts all these hippies to pieces provides plenty of chances for him to show. Dewey’s made a great flick here, one that – thanks to the comedy and the performances more than anything else – warrants repeat and group viewings.
Additional award for The Tripper: Best Ex-Presidential Axe Rampage — Barely beating out Audience of One.
Shittiest Movie (literally): Aachi & Sspiak — In the future, the world’s oil supplies will be depleted, but mankind will find an alternate source of energy in human waste product. So sets up this Korean animated film which I did not actually see at TAD, but rather back in May at a Seoul animation festival. It’s got all the elements for a good absurdist, off-colour, psycho comedy – from the shit-powered future, to the addictive candy reward given out for shits, to the armies of little blue freaks who lust for this reward – but there’s no wit in how they come together. This is a movie that needs to be clever in the execution of its excesses to work, but for Aachi & Ssipak, all cleverness ends with the premise. There’s some decent animation here and there, most of it looking like Duckman pasted over 3D background, with the occasional action sequence (a powerful Robocop-type moving down dozens upon dozens of those little blue addicts – they’re called the “Diaper Gang,” by the way) being the only element worthy of any attention. A terrible movie.
Additional awards for Aachi & Sspiak: Most Meh, Whatever — I’m through thinking about this movie. It gets no additional award.
Shittiest Movie (figuratively): Simon Says — I can’t believe this didn’t go to Aachi & Sspiak. The whole pun was based around giving both awards to Aachi & Sspak. But underdog Simon Says snuck in and claimed this trophy with wretched zest. This is a bad movie, with brutal dialogue and acting, even from Crispin Glover as the pair of homicidal twins — aw, fuck it. Who gives a shit if I spoil this junk? There’s only one of them; the regular twin and the retarded twin are the same guy. The only silver linings is the kills. Teenagers are offed in some pretty clever, gruesome, well-staged ways; if they’d been able to surround that with anything but garbage, this could be a pretty solid flick. But it’s not.
Additional award for Simon Says: Most Unexpected Career Turn — Not for Crispin Glover, because there’s no level of strange that guy could reach that’d be unexpected anymore; the director, William Dear’s most famous previous turn as writer/director was for 1987’s Harry and the Hendersons. Remember that movie? Yes you do.
Biggest Balls: Automaton Transfusion — This is a no-budget fast zombie movie that does an incredibly impressive job with the budget it’s got, surpassing fellow TADer (and Steemie-winner) Mulberry Street in forcing tension and excitement into cheap. It’s ambitious, with crowd scenes of a hundred mad undead going full-tilt down deserted city streets, voluminous blood, and a handful of quick effects shots that must’ve been digital. This is the kind of independent movie that must’ve tapped the filmmakers out, emptied all their bank accounts, calling in every favour. And yet the little bastards had the audacity to give us a To Be Continued at the end. This is not, as I’m sure you’re thinking, a “we’ve run out of money” To Be Continued, as there only recently had been some fairly interesting (but not especially well-handled) story revelations. In fact, we were told by the festival programmer that this was the first in a planned trilogy. But somebody’s confidence paid off, as there was a Dimension EXTREME card at the beginning of the film – it’s already been picked up for distribution (at least straight-to-DVD). For additional proof of BALLS, watch the trailer and read what it says. Jeez, pal.
Additional award for Automaton Transfusion: Most Jaw-Dropping — A zombie rips a girl’s jaw off. It’s a pretty straightforward award.
Best Breasts: Poultrygeist: The Night of the Chicken Dead — I ‘Nuff saided this Troma flick when I saw it at PIFF, but maybe I wasn’t being fair. First of all, not everyone knows what a Troma movie is; my mother doesn’t, and your mother doesn’t – why am I always ignoring the mother demographic? And secondly, this is certainly the best and most fun of the Troma movies I’ve seen. It’s a musical about a fast-food chicken restaurant built over an old Indian burial ground, and it’s ridiculous. Loaded with silly-dirty gags, madness gore, and topless lesbian makeout sessions, it’s hard to find things not to like in here. It is Troma, which means it’s independent and depending on that independence to get away with some seriously sloppy production/acting/other; it’s strange that shoddiness is part of the joke, but it is, and it makes the joke better.
Additional award for Poultrygeist: Most Un-PC — The likable, middle-eastern, burkha-clad fry cook named Humus finds herself somewhat peeved when her boss mispronounces her name “Hamas.” Plus, jokes on: jihad; Mecca; suicide bombing; 9/11; everything else regular white folk like me know about Islam.
Additional additional award for Poultrygeist: Easiest Crude Pun — For my “Best Breasts” bit above.
Most Good: Murder Party — A very cheap movie (which, unlike Automaton Transfusion, shows it in every frame) wins the coveted “Most Good” award by virtue of a really clever, smart script. Halloween night, a timid parking enforcer finds a ticket to a “murder party”; when his cat refuses to move from his TV-watchin’ chair, he reluctantly decides to go. But of course, the party description is literal, and he’ll be playing murder victim to a group of flakes intent on making his killing into a grant-worthy work of high art. It’s played entirely for laughs, with probably the fewest gills of blood spilled of all the Toronto After Dark entries (save Audience of One, praise the lord). These might be the kind of dialogue-and-character driven laughs that allow for repeat viewing after repeat viewing – it’s a great little group of artistes they’ve put together here, all very pompous and immature and insecure. They actually come across as more than just caricatures (with a couple of exceptions) – there are even surprising little moments of sad humanity that surface, amidst the gags and splatter. Genuinely good writing (and not just good-compared-to-the-rest) is a pretty rare thing in this genre; I’ll be looking forward to what these guys do next.
Additional award for Murder Party: Best Running Chainsaw Gag — Gas-powered chainsaw chase = Terrifying. Electric chainsaw w/ extension cord chase = Hilarious.
For the record, the “official” festival award winners have also been announced, with the first place audience choice award going to a movie I didn’t see, Alone, an Asian ghost horror (Oh no! Scary hair!). Steemie winner for Most Good, Murder Party, came in second, and another movie I didn’t see, epic Russian fantasy flick Wolfhound, came in third. And Terror on 3918 was the big Canadian Short Film winner. But only time can determine the true winners. laebmada