The painting of Dale Earnhardt in the Atlanta airport was somehow refreshing, a reminder that I’d made it back to America. I’d become more than a bit homesick while in Toronto, which says nothing about my feelings towards Canada, but much more about how little I travel, and how easy it becomes for me to miss my routines at home. This comfort didn’t last long, since the Atlanta airport insists on blasting CNN at every gate, and in an election year, this was a quick reminder of just how stressful it feels to live in America right now. Canada was the first time in a long time I felt comfortable talking openly about politics. Sure, the unmistakable pall of America hangs over everything up North -- from entertainment to culture. But while Canadian politics are not perfect (Google Toronto mayor Rob Ford, or Parti Quebecois leader Pauline Marois) many Canadians gawk at American politics from a distance. And from that distance, it’s very much a sideshow, something that the bickering pundits on CNN can quickly remind you. But America’s still home, and just seeing an airport Chili’s To Go was refreshing.
Regardless, I’ve still got movies to talk about. Since the last time I typed one of these up, I only had two days of movie-watching left to go. A lot of the big name pictures were already gone, leaving a handful of films from personal favorite directors, and some hopeful hidden gems left to watch. I’ll start with the big names first, like Neil Jordan and his somewhat modernized take on gothic vampire horror Byzantium. There’s more than a passing resemblance to Jordan’s Interview with a Vampire, as in the way both films follow their subjects over hundreds of years, though Byzantium takes the female point-of-view. The movie -- which follows a vampiric mother (Gemma Arterton) and her daughter (Saorise Ronin) -- does little to truly reinvent the vampire genre besides allowing them to walk in sunlight, and giving them pointy thumbnails for stabbing instead of fangs (something that’s just as far-fetched, but oh well). Because of this, the film and its romantic leanings bring little new to the table. But it has some things going for it, like examining the gender politics of vampires, viewing females as an exploited, downtrodden class. Plus, it’s one of the handsomest films I saw at TIFF. Sometimes it’s just really nice to see a gorgeous, expertly made horror film, and Jordan still has a knack for striking imagery (if anything else, the movie’s worth watching for the waterfall of blood). The problem with the film, really, is how Twilight has ruined romance and vampires for quite awhile, and this is a pity for such a wonderfully crafted film like Byzantium and its prospects at the box office.
After Jordan, of course, I had to catch Brian De Palma’s latest, Passion. I want to preface my thoughts on Passion by saying that this is in no way a good film if judged by any normal critical standards. But as overheated, glorious trash, it’s De Palma at his finest, all bloody murder, lesbianism, and intrigue. I had a friend describe the film as De Palma playing the hits, which is approximately what it is -- there’s some (really excellent) split screen work, a little deep focus, and even a few “it was all a dream” moments. But damn, if it’s not fun. You have to know what to expect going into a De Palma film, and if you’re open to his nonsense, you’re likely to have a good time. I saw it in a half-full press and industry screening, and about a third of the audience broke out into applause once the credits started rolling. It was kind of amazing -- especially since P&I screenings are notoriously bad audiences who are there to work, not enjoy some movies. I overheard a couple after the film discussing the film, and attempting to dissect it and analyze it, and it took everything in my power to not pull them aside and explain to them that it’s De Palma, and that’s all that matters. The film is a lot like De Palma walking through the audience giving everyone the finger, and a chunk of us really getting a kick out of that. Because a lot of us De Palma fans wouldn’t have it any other way.
Passion might be the second most fun I had in a film during all of TIFF, right behind a little Spanish movie with an awful title called Ghost Graduation. I have a friend who insisted I catch the film, describing it as Ghostbusters meets Summer School, something that won’t sound appetizing to many (I can already imagine Ken rolling his eyes as soon as he edits this), but is surprisingly enjoyable. The basic conceit is that we have a schoolteacher named Modesto (Raul Arevalo) who sees dead people, and thinks he’s crazy because of it. He continually gets fired from school after school because of this, until he comes up a private school that’s got a bit of a haunting problem itself. It seems that in the ‘80s, a group of teens -- all stock ‘80s teen flick caricatures on the surface -- were caught in a fire in the school’s library, and now spend their time trying to scare anyone who comes around. Reluctantly (and partially because it proves he’s not insane), Modesto agrees to help these ghosts graduate high school and move on to the afterlife. It’ll by no means change the way you view cinema, but as a clever, quick-witted, hilarious comedy with heart, it’s pretty great -- and simply just enjoyable. Supposedly, the rights to an American remake have been purchased, so catch it when you can, before it’s cheesed up for America.
The only documentary I saw -- and I suppose there’s some debate as to whether or not it’s really a “documentary” -- was Rodney Ascher’s Room 237. Here is a clever concept for a doc, pulling together and telling a handful of subtextual -- and more than obsessive -- theories on Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. There are no talking heads, so the film is told through voiceover and film clips. Some of the ideas seems reasonable, like references to the genocide of Native Americans, and even the Holocaust, but much -- like one’s insistence that The Shining is Kubrick’s secret confession that he’s the one who faked the moon landing -- are a bit far-fetched. Yet, within the context of the film, and with the “clues” embedded within the visuals of the film to back it up, these ideas can make sense -- and at the very least are wild enough to be curious. While Room 237 never overtly makes fun of its interviewees, there is an inherent entertainment value to it all. It can -- for me at least -- be an infinitely frustrating film, too, since I just don’t often watch movies in such an overly analytic manner, so there were many times where I wanted to start arguing with the movie. Regardless, it’s a worthwhile watch for any serious movie nerd.
And those are the highlights, since the less I say about Midnight Madness selection Come Out and Play -- a tedious shot-for-shot remake of 1976 horror flick Who Can Kill a Child, supposedly made by a “masked Russian” named Makinov who talks about “serious film,” yet tweets and has a Tumblr -- the better. Of course, that’s the risk one takes with a festival of any size. There are both brilliant films and awful duds, and there are certainly films that I’ll regret having missed. Personally, I’m amazed that I’ve been home for three days now, and there are still people in Toronto who’ve been watching movies each of those days. As hokey and far-fetched as it may sound, this kind of festival is an endurance test. But as a celebration of cinema -- an art form I myself honestly take for granted, that I truly love -- it’s hard to beat.