Wednesday, September 28, 2011

"Odds" and Ends

  • The first TIFF movie I saw this year, a Canadian teen-gambling thriller called The Odds (**/****, Canada First!), is unfortunately a tiny dot in the rearview now. What I remember of it is that writer-director Simon Davidson, shooting in 'scope presumably to announce his transition to a bigger canvas (he's a veteran of short films, all of which previously played at the TIFF), seemed to have a good eye but trouble maintaining momentum for the length of a feature. With its Psycho-esque shocker a half-hour into the film, in fact, The Odds comes to feel like a short with two more acts tacked on. And its distinctly "Degrassi"-esque vibe of kids playing dress-up affirms the wisdom of Rian Johnson's Brick in stylizing its high-school setting to abstraction.
  • If Into the Abyss: A Tale of Death, a Tale of Life was my favourite movie of the 2011 TIFF, my favourite moviegoing experience was Killer Joe (***½/****, Special Presentatons), William Friedkin's second collaboration in a row with Pulitzer-anointed playwright Tracy Letts, the Tennessee Williams of scuzz. It accomplishes two things I once thought impossible: 1) It made me a fan of Matthew McConaughey, at least momentarily; and 2) Though not based on a Jim Thompson novel, it goes to those quintessentially Thompsonian places in its final minutes that are always jettisoned when the movies adapt the author, either for lack of balls or lack of vision. I think I need another viewing to wrestle it into place in Friedkin's filmography; in many ways, it's not like anything he's done before (even Bug, with which it shares a trailer-trash milieu), and yet it feels as if only the guy who had 13-year-old Linda Blair masturbate with a crucifix could have made it. Killer Joe is exhilaratingly vulgar. (My respect for it shot up when a mass exodus of the audience began with just ten minutes left in the film.) I hope the buzz surrounding McConaughey, whose performance as the Mephistophelean title character is indeed one for the ages, doesn't drown out Thomas Haden Church's exquisite work as a dark variation on his "Wings" dimwit.
  • I hereby admit that I don't totally get Francis Ford Coppola's Twixt (***/****, Special Presentations). Here's the thing: it's pretty stupid, a shaggy-dog, barely-coherent, decidedly-underpopulated supernatural mystery that requires its hero to go to sleep for the plot to advance in any meaningful way. But along with being pretty stupid, it's transparently autobiographical, with Val Kilmer--so burly here that he looks very much like his director in silhouette--playing a cash-strapped, commercially-compromised artist grieving the loss of his daughter (who, like Coppola's son Gio, died in a boating accident). What I'm saying is that mere bad movies are rarely so conscious of themselves, and things like Twixt's cryptic use of 3-D--only two relatively uneventful scenes require the use of glasses, not counting the closing credits--suggest to me there's an unknowable intentionality in its alleged cheese. This is perhaps not personal but private filmmaking. In any case, it's not a hatefully bad movie like, say, Jack--if it's a bad movie at all, it's a lovable one that almost miraculously recreates the sensation of reading Poe (eventually a character in the piece essayed by Ben Chaplin) under the covers on a crisp autumn night. "Did you find that spooky?" an elderly woman asked me afterwards. "No," I lied.
  • That's a wrap until TIFF '12. I promise I'll try to see something outside the Special Presentations programme next year. (Weird how that worked out.) Thanks for reading!

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