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BFFs of TIFF ’09 (Part 2)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

There’s a curious subtext to the 35th Toronto International Film Festival‘s poster philosophy of communal filmgoing.  Yes, they want us to see movies together, but take a closer look.  For a Toronto festival, there’s an odd lack of diversity in those pairs.

Old black, old black.  Asian teen girl, Asian teen girl.  India Indian, India Indian.  Annoyed I’m-not-sure, Annoyed I’m-not-sure.  Old white, old white.  Jesus Christ, identical twins?

Right.  So it’s, “Share the experience, as long as it’s with your own kind.”

In this second and final look at my TIFF 09 (Part 1 way back here), you’ll notice that the Moviebuddies I’ve assigned to each of the films I saw may be a bit more integrative than the Toronto International Film Festival would like, but hey, man.  Brotherhood, man.


Not applicable

Some people are just meant to go to the movies alone.  With some of them it’s because they’re intolerable, with their cellphones and their “Do we know who he’s talking about?”s.  But this is not the kind of moviegoer Symbol is.  The reason Symbol is alone is because it’s just too freaking bizarre for anyone to really get a bead on how it thinks, even to the point of simple conversation.  And it’s bipolar, which is always a handful.

One of Symbol’s two unrelated stories is about an oft-ridiculed luchador getting ready for a big match.  It’s very straightforward, realistic, hardly even dramatic.  It’s just a depiction of a none-too-special day unfolding.

The other is about a man (writer and director and superstar Japanese TV nutjob Hitoshi Matsumodo) who wakes up in a giant, empty, cream-white room.  Before long there are hundreds of little cherub penises sticking out of the walls, and when each one is pressed, some odd bit of randomness occurs.  And it goes on as you’d expect from there.

The movie is autistic, but it’s insanely hilarious.  So know that you’ll enjoy it, but only as an outsider, for this is not a film meant to be understood.

3 Caddies

02-InformantForrestgumpTHE INFORMANT!

Full disclosure: this was playing at TIFF, but I didn’t actually see it as part of the festival.  If a movie’s gonna come out anyway, guaranteed, why on earth would I drop the extra 60% ticket price and endure the inhuman lineup for a shitty seat?  Because Matt Damon’ll be there?  I know what Matt Damon looks like, I’ve seen his face blown up by a factor of ten onto a giant 2.35:1 screen a whole bunch of times!  So no, it was at a normal theatre that I saw The Informant!  (I’m not shouting, that punctuation’s part of the title.)

You don’t really get a handle on the main character in this movie.  He seems pretty dumb, and yet he’s rich and has gotten himself a nice gig and some slick bling.  But then things go bad and crosses are sorta doubled, and there are moments where you think maybe he knows what’s really going on, like it’s part of his grand, diabolical scheme.  Like he’s an evil mastermind hiding behind a veil of idiocy.  Well guess what — so was Gump.

Playing dumb, building his hand, lining up his ducks; all those years, and then BAM! — Kennedy is dead and Jenny’s got AIDS.  A fortune in shrimp and it’s his, all his.  You don’t fuck with the retarded, and especially not the seemingly retarded.  Some feathers are razor-sharp.

Unofficial Three!

Superficial relationship: Both films used advanced barbering techniques to sorta uglify their normally nice-looking-in-a-completely-non-threatening-way lead nice guys.

03-MrnobodyFountainMR. NOBODY

Really, these two are more like a big ol’ gang of friends out together than a couple of buddies.  More like a party.  Both of these heady science fiction films smoosh a number of stories from a number of different ages and different realities together — with The Fountain, it’s three; with Mr. Nobody, I can’t really say how many.  It’s a very weavy-windy kinda movie.

The cool thing about Mr. Nobody, the thing I think I love, is that it bases its scifi trip on some of my favorite out-there real scientific ponderances — the big collapse, string theory, Schrödinger’s cat, that kind of stuff.  There’s more than one kind of science fiction: there’s the popular laser-blasting science fiction, which uses science as mere cool gloss; there’s the less common but much appreciated what-if science fiction, where technology’s effect on humanity’s humanity is speculated upon; and then there’s this kind, the rare, limited edition kind of science fiction, which is just about science.

There is a plot; it’s about Nemo Nobody, who refused as a boy to choose one parent or the other, which freed his life from any one consequence of any choice.  So on the surface, yes, it sounds like one of those lame Sliding Doors plots, those different-paths-his-life-could’ve-taken movies.  But they bury that cliché in the aforementioned superscience, and they give good style and character and performance to his many different lives (the latter especially from Sarah Polley, as Nemo’s bipolar wife — one of three women he doesn’t choose between).

I need to see it again to really know if I was duped by fancy science and acting slight-of-hand, or if this movie really does what I’ve claimed.  But it’s an impressive feat even if it doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.  Real science fiction.  More real science fiction than most real science fiction.

4 Caddies

Superficial relationship: Longevity.  The Fountain’s Tom Creo lifespans about 1500 years (about 468 of them fictional), and while Mr. Nobody doesn’t live a superhumanly long number of years, he does stick around.  And both guys go out on a hell of a bang.


Grammar lesson: in reported speech, we tend to change the tenses of verbs to reflect the time change between the original statement and the reporting of said statement, in acknowledgment that the fact of the matter may have changed between then and now.  There are exceptions (as there always are in English), the most clear-cut one being when reporting on a spoken general truth.  For example, “The sun rises in the east,” or “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is awesome.”

Or “Mothers love their sons.”  In TIFF’s big Korean entry, a Korean mother goes to all lengths to prove her dopey son innocent of the brutal murder of a teenage girl.  In Friday the 13th, it’s a bit late for Mrs. Voorhees to help little Jason, so instead she brutally murders some teenage girls of her own.  Sometimes moviebuddies balance one another out.

Mother is the product of a really interesting director, Bong Joon-Ho of Memories of Murder and The Host fame, and it just adds reason to keep an eye on him.  He’s made another really good film that’s in a completely different genre from anything he’s done before.  He’s like the Ang Lee of Asia.

3 Caddies

Superficial Relationship: The puncturing of skin.  In regards to Mother, I’m not sure if this has something to do with Korean culture or Korean moviegoing culture, but it’s something I’ve seen before.  We have an otherwise completely real-world natural setting, but then they throw in one bit of hokum as a device for plot movement or resolution.  Here’s it’s acupuncture — the mother practices it, and seems to be able to use it to wipe memories.

Friday the 13th also features skin being punctured.  It’s subtle, but if you watch closely, you can pick it out.

05-OngBak2EveryOtherONG BAK 2
Moviebuddy: Every Martial Arts Movie Ever (Especially Those Set in the Not-Now)

Ong Bak 1 was one of my TIFF greats.  The Uptown-that-was nestled me snugly in its upper back, holding me protectively close for a surprise onslaught of knees and elbows to the skull.  Lo, Tony Jaa was born.  That was a special night.

Ong Bak 2 is all right.  It’s okay.  It’s more of the same Tony Jaa, but not as impressive or as new.  They don’t pull out any really cool tricks or moves that make you flinch.  Some good junk with an elephant, though it feels like even that bit could’ve gone further.

But basically, if you’ve seen any ancient-past kung fu flicks, there’s nothing here to surprise you.  It’s good-enough fun, not must-see fun.  And by the way, don’t see it just to find out what fantastic places only hinted at in original this movie takes the Ong Bak saga — there’s no story connection.

At least, if there are connections, they haven’t been revealed yet.  In the film’s most interesting and anticlimactic moment, our hero loses the final boss fight.  The badguys get’im, and we fade to black.  And then someone — God, I guess — voiceovers us that if we all have faith, Tony will return to fight for justice in Ong Bak 3.  This new age of interactive cinema.

2 CaddiesSuperficial relationship: Most basic of plots.  It is the one thing you can truly depend on in martial arts movies.  That and bone-cracking violence, I suppose.  The funny thing is, on those rare occasions when a kung fu movie comes out that does have a more than placeholder story, it automatically isn’t considered a martial arts movie.

And there you have it, TIFF 2009.   As always, I end in poem:

Do not wait for a Part 3
For a Part 3 there will not be
For no more did this year I see.

Bonus alternate ending:

For no more did I this year see.

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