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BFFs of TIFF ’09 (Part 1)

Monday, October 26, 2009

01-tiff09logoMoviegoing is a communal experience.  This year’s crop of Toronto International Film Festival posters shows us what we already know: if you’re going to sit in a dark room and stare straight forward at a giant image for two hours, nothing is more important than the person who’s sitting next to you and to whom you’ll be paying no attention throughout the show because god dammit shut the hell up, I didn’t pay my ten bucks to hear you yap about how great it is to Twitter!  And you god damn well better not be Twittering during the movie!

But why is it only we humans who deserve to see a film with a friend?  For the occasion of the 35th TIFF, I have taken the liberty of assigning moviebuddies to the films themselves; each of the films I saw between September 10th and 19th will get another film they could enjoy sharing a cupholder with and maybe trying out that smooth yawn maneuver on … and I might just drop a tidbit or two of what I thought about each one.  Could be useful in your own moviegoing future.


It seems the Greeks make movies now.  I’d go right into the reasons these two films would make a good match, but that would mean spoiling M. Night Shamwow’s trademark twist, so I’ll just warn you befIT TAKES PLACE IN THE PRESENT!  So now that that’s taken care of, I can tell you that Dogtooth is about a mother and father who have kept their three kids confined to their house and yard their whole lives, not with chains of steel, but rather chains of the mind.  He tells them it’s dangerous out there, that their older brother is trapped out there and in peril, that airplanes dropBRUCE WILLIS IS DEAD THE WHOLE TIME!

While the Village keeps this basic theme of protecting innocence through ignorance a secret until the end, hiding it behind a horror story of scary monsters beyond the property line (a tactic the Dogtooth parents use as well — with cats!  Scary cats!), Dogtooth comes more-or-less right out with it from the start, giving us an informed look at the sad dolts that the kids have become, and it’s an art film the whole way through.  And it really works.  Very strong acting and scenes of odd humour keep it from being off-putting or dull, and everything’s delivered with enough ambiguity to pique eveGOD MADE THE ALIENS COME BUT ALSO MADE THEM REALLY EASY TO DEFEAT SO MEL GIBSON CAN GET OVER THE DEATH OF HIS WIFE WHICH GOD ALSO CAUSED!


Superficial Relationship: The threat of airplanes.  The Dogtooth parents clearly recognize the danger airplanes passing overhead have of making their kids yearn to see the world, so they trick’em: sometimes, they say, a plane falls out of the sky and lands in their yard — which they prove by leaving out little toy planes every so often.  Big people can’t fit into little planes, so quit yer dreaming, knucklehead.   The Village doesn’t address its little problem: what happens when planes pass overhead, Shambo?  It’s gotta happen sometimes.



Nobody can accuse the works of M. Night Shantytown of being lonely.  And again, the key difference is that Defendor keeps us in the loop from minute one.  It’s somewhere around the midpoint of Unbreakable that you realize that this man steeped in impotent sadness has a superhero inside him; Defendor has decided to become a superhero specifically because he’s otherwise the sad and insignificant victim of his life.  The difference (aside from Defendor living in a world where superpowers don’t exist) is that this year’s TIFF entry wants some humour and fun mixed into its tragic tale — but only some; it’s mostly serious, just not as dour.

And in both cases, the lead actors are absolutely fundamental to their films working.  Woody Harrelson’s dumb-but-not-quite-retarded Defendor (secret identity: Arthur Poppington) is sweet and funny with great strength of moral, while Bruce Willis’ … I don’t know, Mr. Unbreakable? … Unbreakable Man? .. is gentle and a bit afraid, and both perfectly capture their characters finally finding their place in the world.


Superficial Relationship: Both films’ villains have also played supporting heroes in big deal superhero pictures.  Unbreakable’s Samuel L. Jackson (the kids called him Mr. Glass, motherfucker) likes to pop by to offer people work, as he did in Nick Fury guise in Iron Man.  But more importantly, Defendor’s Elias Koteas played this guy, way back in 1990:

Casey Koteas

He was Casey Jones!  And you know, normally I don’t really care when I see celebrities in person, but my heart genuinely went a-flutter when he showed up for the Q&A.  Because he was Casey Jones!  I even snatched some memorabilia from the theatre floor:


It’s the sign they used to reserve his seat!

04-SurvivalofhedeadJackSURVIVAL OF THE DEAD

George Romero has the rep.  Three classic Dead movies, one divisive Dead movie (I personally dug Land a good bit), and one muh-to-bleh Dead movie, which had something behind it nonetheless.  Plus he created the whole Zombie movie genre.

Francis Ford Coppola has some classics of his own under his belt.  He made these Godfather movies, which you’d expect to be about tragic birthparent deaths, but are actually about Italian organized crime.  He made a Godfather crime TV series.  He made a 79-year epic, straight-to-video Godfather crime movie.  And although he didn’t actually create the crime genre, he’s still pretty well respected.

But despite their prestige, both are capable of laying juicy turds.  I don’t know if I’ve even seen Jack, but I’ll accept, for the purposes of this matchup, that it is indeed as terrible as people say.  And I can assure you that Survival of the Dead is indeed as terrible as I’m about to say it is.

As a zombie movie, it’s bad.  It’s got none of the elements you expect, or rather, none of them are done well.  Kills are dull.  Gore is cheap-CG-fake.  Never any sense of dread.  And as a “social commentary” movie, it’s bad.  And the social commentary in Romero movies tends to be, as I see it, present and curious, but not necessarily brilliant.  Well, here it’s slightly present, but never functional.  The premise is fine — I agree with newly-Canadian George, tribalism is divisive and lame.  It could’ve made for a really interesting, post-zombie-apocalyptic tale, but the execution is shoddy beyond repair.  And I’ll assume Jack’s execution was also weak, and that it’s thesis against tribalism also contained great untapped possibility.


Superficial relationship: Conflicts of parenthood.  Jack’s Mom & Dad have to deal with a boy who looks adult and yet acts like a hypercaffinated gnome creature (Robin Williams); Survival’s Mr. Seamus O’Flynn has to decide whether he can shoot his zombie daughter in the brain.


Going to the movies isn’t all sitting and staring.  There’s also lineups.  Well, there aren’t really lineups at normal movies, but you’d better believe there are lineups at the Festival.  One hour is usually safe, two is preferred for the more-anticipated films in the crappier theatres.  And if you’ve got moviebuddies with you, you definitely don’t want to be to late, lest you have to not talk to some stranger next to you rather than not talk to a friend.

This festival week, I line-averaged more than an hour, and I averaged them alone.  None of my friends are extreme enough to handle the kind of extreme moviegoing I tend towards, so I know to come prepared for the long wait.  Between reading and music and plant observation, I flipped open my Nintendo DS and indulged in some Scribblenauts.  It’s a buzzed-about new game where you can write just about any noun you can think of, and it’ll appear in-game, for use in solving puzzles and collecting little stars.  Remember the Popples cartoon, how they could pull whatever they needed at the time from their Popple pouch?  It’s kinda like that.

But it ain’t all high-dive boards and hang gliders, the game’s got its flaws.  There are a lot of puzzles, a lot, but getting through them is a bitch because the control system is pretty terrible.  Making your little Scribblenaut guy run around is a pain, and the camera’s insistence on going back to him every two seconds is really frustrating.  It’s a puzzle game, so I’d like to be able to, you know, look at the puzzle for a minute while I think.

Unofficial Three!

Superficial relationship: Both are available in French.


The moral of these twin stories is that, try as you might, you just can’t fight human nature.  That nature, and here we drive off the spoiler cliff again, is molesting kids.  Little Children tells us that plain society will always be stained by the pedophiles.  Cleanflix tells us that you can edit out all the cussing and the fighting and the sexing from your favorite films, and you’re still gonna have people paying teenagers to suck them off.

It’s a weird direction this documentary goes.  It starts off pretty straight, as an investigation of these Morman-started movie editing companies I’m sure we’ve all heard about before, and it does a really good job of not pandering to the opinion its audience is obviously going to come in with.  That opinion: fuck these guys.  It has a bit of that, a bit of “You have no right to edit another’s art,” but it offers some solid counterpoint arguments, lets us meet the companies and the customers, and examines the legality of it all.

And then it goes where nobody expected.  Some strange business comes up with one of their primary subjects, stuff they didn’t know about when they started the documentary, and the story goes way left from its original focus.  It’s a deviation, but to the filmmakers’ credit, they did a great job of not completely forgetting their real topic while following this tangent that they absolutely had no choice but to follow.


Superficial relationship: These Cleanflix companies’ entire purpose is to cut the genitals out of movies, and anyone who’s seen Little Children recalls the playground scene where Jackie Earle Haley tries a similar move out on himself.  I shan’t elaborate.

But I shan continue this look at TIFF ’09 in BFFs of TIFF ’09 (Part 1)‘s very own moviebuddy: BFFs of TIFF ’09 (Part 2)!

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Thursday, October 29, 2009 10:52 pm

    And by the way, I’m really sorry for the lame M. Night Shyamalan name jokes. It’s just so impossible not to.

  2. tgjkennedy permalink
    Wednesday, November 4, 2009 6:42 pm

    I can’t believe I’m defending The Village, but there is a part at the end where one of the security guards mentions that the property owners have paid off the right people so that planes won’t fly over the land. And the jokes are funny, so it’s okay. :)

  3. tgjkennedy permalink
    Wednesday, November 4, 2009 6:47 pm

    Also – Scribblenauts got really boring after I realized I could solve half the puzzles with a lasso and a helicopter. Or God.

  4. Wednesday, November 4, 2009 7:41 pm

    Oh yeah? Well then, looks like both families found a way to shield their kids from those giant metal birds. Their bond is even tighter.

    And it’s true that you can use the same tactics for a lot of Scribblenauts, but they account for that with that clever bonus mode where you have to solve the puzzle three more times without using the same item twice. Unfortunately, the control’s too atrocious to make such a challenge enjoyable.

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