Hrm, Decisions

I've got a little over an hour before my next film (The Road, as it turns out). Do I:

a) try to crank out my Daybreakers review so I can send it in to Harry with my first package of reviews; or

b) send in the three I've got right now, bugger off for some lunch and make sure I have a place in line for the movie?

To quote Jessayn Gilseg, this is my Sophie's choice.

TIFF Review: Jennifer's Body

Jennifer's Body (2009, directed by Karyn Kusama)

Tales of teen demonic possession are nothing new in the horror movie world. It's too perfect a fit as a metaphor, too short a jump from some frumpy matron describing rampaging hormones and youthful rebellion with the phrase "They've got the devil in them!" to actually, y'know, putting the devil in them, for the idea to remain in storage for long.

Most of the time though, the idea is handled with full Catholic seriousness. For every campy Idle Hands there's a handful of Exorcists and Emily Roses trying to make the concept seem real. What very few of them ever do, though, is put the girls in a position of power. Teen girls in demonic possession flicks are always either the afflicted victim, or the target. They're never in control.

Never, that is, until Jennifer's Body.

Obligatory plot description: School uberhottie Jennifer and her slightly dorky BFF Needy go to a local dive to see a local crappy emo band because Jennifer has the hots for the lead singer. The band does what rock bands have done since the Dave Clark Five originated the practice, namely offer up her virgin soul in sacrifice to Satan in exchange for a successful career. Unfortunately Jennifer wasn't exactly a virgin (as she says, "Not even a back-door virgin") so instead of staying dead she comes back as the vessel for a demon who takes great delight in eating the flesh of horny high school boys. Hijinx, and corpses, ensue, as Needy tries desperately to figure out what's going on and to try and stop her boyfriend Chip from becoming Jennifer-Chow.

Despite Diablo Cody's presence behind the pen... err, typewriter... err, XPS 16 with Final Draft 8 installed, I didn't have especially high hopes for this one. I mean let's be honest, given her track record so far at picking quality material it's hard to get your hopes up for any Megan Fox movie (what's been her best film to date, Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen?) But Jennifer's Body not only made it clear that not only is Fox capable of recognizing a good script when she reads one, it also shows that she's capable of doing something with one. Her Jennifer is deliciously, obliviously bitchy even before she gets possessed, and she dives into her role as a literal hellcat with great glee.

It's Amanda Seyfried as Needy who really owns this movie though. They don't go full Now Voyager on her, but the makeup and wardrobe folk do an amazing job of hiding her Bette Davis eyes behind a veneer of geekiness (at least until the inevitable transformation at the prom) and she does a fantastic job of playing a girl who'd been content living in the shadow of her more glamorous friend until circumstances forced her to find her own strength and her own place in the spotlight.

The obvious comparison here, given the subject matter, is to Joss Whedon's Buffyverse and Jennifer's Body more than holds its own. Cody's dialogue doesn't have the pop culture references cranked up to 11 the way Whedon's does, but it's just as quick and smart, and she knows how to give even small supporting characters their moment in the sun. Cody also does a fine job providing a solid foundation for her paranormal craziness. What really puts the script, and the movie, over the top though is its completely frank treatment of teen sex. The girls aren't treated as prudes or sluts (well, OK, Jennifer kinda is a slut), and sex isn't an unforgivable sin that leads to inevitable doom. It's simply a fact in their lives -- at times a silly, awkward one, but not something that is a Big Deal. Demonic possession, now that's a Big Deal. Teh buttsecks? Not so much.

If I've got one little complaint about Jennifer's Body as a horror film it's that it's not especially scary and that the gore could have been a little bit gorier (Kusama tends not to show Jennifer's kills but merely their aftermath), but on the other hand there's an absurdly hot make-out scene between Fox and Seyfried, so given a choice between one or the other I'd have to say Kusama made the right call.

TIFF Review: An Education

An Education (2009, directed by Lone Scherfig)

It's Britain in 1961. Jenny is a world-weary 16, with her road in life already lain out before her: Oxford (Latin grades permitting), then either marriage or a career following in the footsteps of her instructors. Excitement isn't really on the agenda; excitement still means the Blitz in the minds of her elders, and loud noises in the night, and is something to be avoided at all costs.

Jenny's careful road ahead finds a detour, though, when she crosses paths with a dead-sexy maroon Bristol 405 (look it up, you philistine! You're on the internet!) driven by the equally dead-sexy David, a charming ne'er-do-well twice her age...

It's very, very hard to find something new to say in a coming-of-age story. Hell, we've all lived our own*, so anything pop culture puts together on that front already has the high bar of self-centeredness to clear. That said, if anyone is qualified to make the attempt, Nick Hornby's the guy to do it. Between High Fidelity and About a Boy he's set the gold standard for modern tales of arrested adolescence finally bursting forth into grown-up bloom.

Which is maybe why I can't decide whether I'm surprised he turned out to be such a perfect choice to write An Education or not. An Education is almost the polar opposite of those two stories -- Hornby's previous efforts in the genre have been from the perspective of a David, not a Jenny. But perhaps it was exactly that experience which allowed him to see the story from the other side.

It helps that everybody else working on the movie is uniformly brilliant. Lone Scherfig, best known (until now, methinks) for Italian for Beginners, is an effortlessly excellent storyteller in her own right. She knows where to look to find the little details that magnify the whole, and how to keep things flowing in perfectly natural and yet still surprising ways. And she gets amazing work out of an amazing cast. Peter Sarsgaard is the quintessential British charmer, the kind of guy for whom they would have had to invent words like 'rake' and 'cad' and 'bounder' if they didn't already exist. Alfred Molina is inevitably tremendous as Jenny's dad, while Cara Seymour quietly matches Molina chop for chop as Jenny's mum, and Emma Thompson and Olivia Williams both give sharp turns as faculty at Jenny's school.

But the movie hinges on the actress portraying Jenny herself, and there Scherfig struck gold. Carey Mulligan (probably best known to you lot as Sally Sparrow in the Doctor Who episode Blink) is note-perfect as the smart, capable Jenny, a girl who knows where she's going and knows she can handle anything life throws at her... right up until the moment the bottom drops out and she finds out she can't. The part requires a really delicate balancing act between strength and vulnerability, between self-awareness and self-absorbsion, and Mulligan dances along that line like a ballerina. She's an absolute gem, more than up to the task of going toe to toe with the likes of Thompson or Molina, and someone well worth keeping an eye on.

The other thing that sets An Education apart is its setting. In many ways the film isn't just Jenny's coming-of-age story, it's Britain's too. The country became dreadfully dull and safe post-war, but as the 60s began the country started to find its voice again. It's that new, dangerous, exciting Britain that David introduces Jenny too, that David represents, and Jenny's awakening to the fact that she has the power to choose which road to take (the drab, safe one or the exciting, dangerous one) mirrors Britain's own.

Well worth seeing, not just to watch Mulligan blossom into a star but simply to enjoy a story worth telling, being told very well.

* - 93.23% of AICN Talkbackers excepted

Today in TIFFing

Coens (which is why I'm awake at this ungodly hour). Under the Mountain. Gaspar Noe. Idunnowhatyet in the early evening slot (I'm leaning towards Snowblind, but the Pentagon Papers doc is also a possibility).

And then my desperate catch-up on reviews begins, until Daybreakers at Midnight (which I seem to want to call Daywatchers, which would presumably be some sort of vampire version of Baywatch.)

Well, Waddaya Know

Huh. Megan Fox is apparently more than just a pretty... face.

She made quite the fine showing for herself during the Jennifer's Body Q&A. I've now officially moved her up out of Jessica Alba, nuthin'-but-her-looks territory.

On Tap at TIFF Today


Beyond that, possibly An Education, and then Jennifer's Body to kick off Midnight Madness. The first day is usually a slow one.


I'd like to thank Congressman Joe Wilson (R-SC) for having the balls to show something other than knee-jerk deference to the President last night.

I'm being serious. Wilson was wrong -- Obama wasn't lying -- but the idea that one musn't ever be rude to the Commander-in-Chief is ridiculous.

If eight years of Bush taught us anything it's that Presidents have to earn respect, and not get it handed to them along with the front door key to the White House.

What's that you say? Obama has earned that respect, and Wilson was just being a childish tool and the perfect representative of the current state of the Republican Party?

Huh. Good point. Well... then I'd like to thank Rep. Wilson for being such a douche on national television, and for helping to rally all those who do show knee-jerk deference to the President to Obama's side.

TIFF Review: The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus

The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus (2009, directed by Terry Gilliam)

Gilliam films of recent vintage (all two of them... it's still hard to believe he's only managed to complete three projects in the decade following Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) have a spotty pedigree at best. The Brothers Grimm is tired studio hackery, and Tideland is almost universally reviled as unwatchable (even though I may go to my grave arguing that it's probably the greatest film he's ever made.) Add to that all the projects that failed to make it across the finish line, and it's easy to have doubts about what Gilliam has left in the tank as a film maker.

Doubts = assuaged. No, more. Doubts = buried, very very deeply.

Gilliam's back, baby.

The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus might be the perfect summation of Gilliam's own completely individual ouevre, the film his career has been angling towards all along. In fact it's almost too perfect a summation. It'd be easy to dismiss it as a Gilliam greatest hits package: the wonder of Baron Munchausen mixed with the fantasy/reality juxtaposition of the Fisher King and the dark heft of Brazil, with a little person from Time Bandits and a leftover Monty Python sketch for garnish. But there's more than enough originality and genius here for it to be something greater than just a nostalgia trip.

For one thing, I don't believe Gilliam has ever made a film this autobiographical before. It's hard not to see Dr. Parnassus (played so ably by Christopher Plummer, looking like Dumbledore's broken, beaten-down brother) as a stand-in for Gilliam himself, a storyteller dressed in rags tossing gems to an audience of philistines, drunks and video game-obsessed children (when, that is, he gets around to finishing a story at all...) It's all clearly more than a little personal for Gilliam, and his investment in the story shines through in every frame.

For another, Gilliam has a ton of help. The focus is obviously going to be on Heath Ledger's performance and he's great as the charismatic, treacherous Tony, but he's not the only person rising to the occasion. Plummer is utterly fantastic. The three Ledger amigos who stepped in after his death (Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell, in order of appearance) all bring different and interesting things to the table, although Law once again struggles to prove he can hang with the big boys when it comes to acting chops. Tom Waits is flat out fucking awesome as Mr. Nick. Boy A's Andrew Garfield is brilliant as the kid with the cool name. And hell, even Verne Troyer is more than just a prop.

And then there's Lily Cole.

Sweet Jesus.

Every once in a while the slow chaos of the universe resolves itself in such a way that little human brains think they can see patterns in it (this is what is known as the Aneristic Illusion). Often these phenomenon translate into religions, and religious experiences, since the patterns otherwise defy explanation.

Lily Cole's existence is one of those patterns. Lily Cole doesn't just make me believe in God; Lily Cole convinces me that God is benevolent and that God loves me, because otherwise God would not have put a woman as incredible and perfect and sweet and sexy and awesome as Lily Cole on the same planet as me.

There are times in the film where her sheer stunning presence is almost distracting, in a way I haven't seen since a young Angelina Jolie burned through the screen in Foxfire. She's the best special effect Gilliam has in his arsenal. All the other crazy, enchanting visuals are just parlor tricks. Cole is the real deal, Magick of the ancient sort, and it makes perfect sense that she would be the ultimate prize in a battle between two potential lovers, or between her father and Satan himself.

Right at this very moment, somewhere in New York or London or wherever, she's the most beautiful woman in the world.

As a film, the Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus is a triumph, one of the miraculous high points of Gilliam's accursed, roller-coaster career. As Ledger's final performance, it's a send-off more than worthy of his talents. But as a Lily Cole delivery mechanism, it's a gift from heaven.

Thank you, Terry. For everything.

Almost There... Almost There...

Film fest starts tomorrow.

My Imaginarium review is embargoed until the film fest starts. Which, technically, means I can put it up at midnight.

Heh heh.


I'm reserving judgement until I see the first proper episode tonight.

The pilot-y thing was fun, but not perfect. For one thing, while it's just about mandatory for a high school show to deal with peer pressure and conformity issues, it's downright annoying for one of the adult characters to tell you flat out "High school is about conformity" every five minutes or so. And I'm having trouble forgiving them for using that song as the club's big number, although my fingers are crossed that it's a sign Journey is about to finally jump the shark and cross back into the realm of the uncool.

The writing was otherwise sharp and the cast excellent though, so here's hoping.


My film fest preview thingie is up at Ain't It Cool.

Yup, it's time for my annual bloodletting at the hands of the AICN Talkbackers. Wheee!

National Security vs Securing the Nation

Orin has an extremely well-written analysis of the 9th Circuit's decision in al-Kidd vs Ashcroft up over at Volokh. I don't think I can put enough IANAL disclaimers on any response I have to it, but this section did strike me as the crux of the matter:

[Judge] Smith rests his analysis in a critical assumption: That if the government is fighting terrorism by using the material witness statute pretextually to detain terrorist suspects, that detention is a criminal law detention rather than a national security detention. Judge Smith then looks at how the Fourth Amendment applies to criminal law detentions, and he sees the traditional criminal law arrest doctrine that requires probable cause that the person committed a crime. He then assumes that this is the only way to define probable cause, and when he sees that the material witness warrant doesn't measure up, he concludes that it must be unconstitutional.

I don't think that works. The point of pretextual use of the material witness warrant is to use them for national security purposes: the avowed goal is to try to investigate, monitor, and detain terrorists. Indeed, the pretext is that it's being used for a criminal investigation at all. And that's the allegation that al-Kidd makes in his complaint: it alleges that he was detained as part of a general program “to arrest and detain terrorism suspects about whom they did not have sufficient evidence to arrest on criminal charges but wished to hold preventatively or to investigate further." Given that, I think you have to define the "programmatic purpose" of the pretext as a national security purpose, and then confront the novel question (novel in the sense that no court has ever addressed it, as far as I know) of what kind of probable cause is needed under a United States District Court analysis for a national security detention warrant.
This a debate the country simply has never had. My personal feeling is that laws should not be (for lack of a better phrase) jury-rigged. If the material witness detention statute isn't quite the right tool with which to investigate possible terrorists, then it shouldn't be used to do so -- it's Congress' job to create those tools, and not the job of law enforcement to try and jam a square peg in a round hole. Ignoring little niceties like Constitutionality is a mistake, as anyone trying desperately to construct a case against Gitmo prisoners can attest.

That said, I also don't feel that Ashcroft should be liable for prosecution on a 4th Amendment violation here. While it's not the job of law enforcement officials to construct adequate tools, the impulse to use the tools at hand to try and get the job done is an understandable and defensible one.

Which is not to say people shouldn't be held accountable for any mistreatment of al-Kidd while he was in custody, or that I agree with his detention in the first place. Just that I don't think he should be able to sue Ashcroft personally over it.

Ahmadinejad : Karzai :: Khamenei : ???

Everyone who's shocked by widespread systematic election fraud in Afghanistan to ensure Karzai's re-election, raise your hands.

Didn't think so.

Idiots tried to turn Honduras into "Obama's coup", and tried to make him someone culpable for what's happening in Iran. They did so because they are idiots.

This one, however, pretty much has to be lain at the feet of the Obama administration if this gets swept under the rug. Karzai is our vassal, and if the obvious fraud goes unchallenged by the West it becomes our fraud, and just one more piece of evidence that those cherished American values of democracy and freedom and blah blah blah are just pablum for the rubes.

I Chose Wisely Last Night

At 2:30 in the morning at the Riv, someone nearly salvaged Don't Stop Believing for me by singing "Some-a y'all will sing the blues."

Good times.


I told folks I'd be at the Swan tonight, mainly so I can finally have a go at Bowie's "Kooks".

However, it is also Dr. Wil McLean's birthday at the Rivoli, which means Wil will bring all his hawt female friends with him. He'll also get stupid drunk, since he only even drinks on his birthday. (Remember kids, free booze + low tolerance = fun for the whole family!)

I am torn. And not in the Natalie Imbruglia, my-apartment-is-just-a-film-set, kind of way.