Monday, July 07, 2008

The Good Old-Fashioned TIFF 2007 Roundup - The Hell?!

Man, I'm really not up to this blogging thing. Ouch. Regardless, I promised myself I'd finish this damn thing, even if it took me a year or two. You can just skip this and move on to one of my relevant posts, somewhere around here. (I think I've written a relevant post...) For anyone foolhardy enough to stay, here's my thoughts on the last batch of TIFF 2007 films--the "Did-I-Just-See-That?" collection. Enjoy:

The Mother of Tears (Dario Argento)
George A. Romero's Diary of the Dead (George A. Romero)

Two of cinema's greatest horror filmmakers, both with new films at Toronto--how could it go wrong? Spectacularly, that's how. Argento has been coasting for years, so it's no great shock that his latest is pretty weak. But working in the "Three Mothers" world should have inspired him, or at least that's the lie I wanted to believe. Sadly, there's nothing here, not even a "what the hell is he thinking" setpiece like Inferno's flooded basement scene. Instead, it's a boring little head-scratcher that's never scary and is filmed and edited so poorly, it could have been made by Uwe Boll.

As sad as Argento's film was, Romero's was twice the disappointment. The buzz surrounding this one was that it was Romero's return to form. Romero was thrilled with the final product and the early word was that it was as good as his first two zombie films. Instead, it turned out to be the least interesting zombie film he's ever made. The zombies are dull, the cast is obnoxious (and not deliberately) and the film never quite goes for the jugular in any significant way. But the worst offense, the absolute nadir, is the film's narration, which drones on and on about what the zombies represent, how images can't convey truth, etc. It's Romero 101 and it's presented with absolutely no artistry whatsoever. A colossal step down for a once-great director.

The Exodus (Pang Ho-Cheung)

I had zero expectations for this, but was intrigued by the TIFF catalog's description. The idea of a film about a secret society of women, plotting to destroy men in the various bathrooms of the world certainly showed potential. Would this be a serious rumination on the war of the sexes? Or a dark, twisted satire, with flashes of grim humor?

Well, it's sort of the worst of both worlds (By the way, I'll try not to spoil this too much, but it may be necessary). The film opens with a bang. We fade onto a picture of Queen Elizabeth, hanging on a wall. As the camera slowly pulls back, more details are revealed. Standing next to the Queen's picture is a half-naked man, dressed as a frogman (i.e., snorkelling gear, not as a large, green frog). The camera continues its deliberate pull and slowly reveals utter chaos: a group of men, all in frogmen outfits, surrounding a bloodied, terrified man, who keeps trying to crawl away from them. They leap about, all in slow-motion, and beat the man with phone books, as the camera (and the Queen), look on, distant, dispassionate...

It's such a searing sequence, so intense in its absurd details and rich subtext that it actually kept me from realizing that the film was a bust for a good thirty to forty-five minutes. It was only then that I realized that the film had become a serious slog. Rather than explore the satiric potential of the scenario, the movie instead gets bogged down in an interminable romance that slowly goes nowhere and generates no genuine heat or interest.

And then a funny thing happens. The film suddenly snaps back to attention and rallies for a surprisingly sad/funny finale, a montage that fills in the history of a major character and deepens the situation, while allowing the film to end on a suitably dark, satirical note. It's a rousing ending, but it's simply not enough to save the film, which is a damn shame.

Mister Lonely (Harmony Korine)

Korine's heartfelt ode to the outsider might not be the strangest film I saw at TIFF, but it's a contender. Taking place mostly in a commune for celebrity impersonators, it strives to replicate the feel of a weirdo 70's film like THE NINTH CONFIGURATION or KING OF HEARTS, but ends up a pale imitation at best. Still, there's a lot to like, particularly Samantha Morton's performance as a lonely Marilyn Monroe impersonator. The oddball tone may grate at times, but at least it's not boring. Bonus points for the Werner Herzog / flying nun sequences that intersperse throughout.

Eat, for This is My Body (Michelange Quay)

A weird, personal exploration of Haiti and the difficulties it's experienced dealing with its French "ownership." At times, the much-vaunted strangeness is fairly transparent, but then you're knocked back by a scene that refuses easy understanding--the mesmerizing elderly DJ scene, the "Merci" sequence, the daughter's hypnotic walk into the center of the village. I'm not sure I could explain the whole thing, but a large part of me never wants to understand it, at least not completely.

Glory to the Filmmaker! (Takeshi Kitano)

The strangest film of the festival, no contest. Like Takeshis', this is Takeshi Kitano exploring his own relationship to film and attempting to make sense of it. But that does nothing to convey the sheer insanity of this thing. The first thirty or forty minutes consist of a series of genre spoofs, with Takeshi attempting to make a film, but failing miserably when he can't find inspiration. The spoofs are sometimes funny, but are mostly dull and obvious. But then the film settles on a story (sort of) and a central set of characters, and it quickly changes into...well, something else.

This is the part that seemed to lose much of the audience, but the group I was with laughed like crazy. It's not all funny and the funny stuff is so ridiculous and so silly, it might not be funny to every viewer, but I had a lot of fun with this and recommend it to anyone interested in weirdo Japanese flicks.

Chaotic Ana (partial) (Julio Medem)

We had to leave Medem's film prematurely, so we missed the (reportedly) bonkers ending, but the bits leading up to it were pretty incoherent. Ana, a young, pretty girl who lives in a cave with her father, is invited to join a prestigious art school by Charlotte Rampling, where she meets a handsome painter and attends hilariously pretentious art shows. In the meantime, she begins to recall past lives, all of which seem to have ended prematurely and very badly. It's a pretty silly film and it takes itself far, far too seriously. I just regret not seeing the ending, which sounds like it would have been the single most bonkers thing I would have seen at the festival.

That's all. I'm done. Any questions, comments, etc. just leave them in the box. It's about time I started writing about this year's festival.

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