Almost There

Lane Kiffin doesn't yet have the Vols at the point where they can really compete with the likes of Florida, but so far through the first half they're keeping it close against the Gators in Gainsville. The running game looks good and the whole team is playing a much tougher and more physical game than they have the last few years under Fulmer. Once they have some experience in Kiffin's system, look out.

I'm predicting an upset of Mississippi on the road in November.

More Fools

Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX), lacking any sense of irony or maybe even working brain cells, wants an investigation into the... well, I'll let the WSJ explain:

Rep. Kevin Brady asked for an explanation of why the government-run subway system didn’t, in his view, adequately prepare for this past weekend’s rally to protest government spending and government services.


The Texas Republican on Wednesday released a letter he sent to Washington’s Metro system complaining that the taxpayer-funded subway system was unable to properly transport protesters to the rally to protest government spending and expansion.

“These individuals came all the way from Southeast Texas to protest the excessive spending and growing government intrusion by the 111th Congress and the new Obama administration,” Brady wrote. “These participants, whose tax dollars were used to create and maintain this public transit system, were frustrated and disappointed that our nation’s capital did not make a great effort to simply provide a basic level of transit for them.”

A spokesman for Brady says that “there weren’t enough cars and there weren’t enough trains.” Brady tweeted as much from the Saturday march. “METRO did not prepare for Tea Party March! More stories. People couldn’t get on, missed start of march. I will demand answers from Metro,” he wrote on Twitter.

H/t to JC for that much. But wait, it gets better, Back in July HR3288, a Transportation and HUD appropriations bill, came up for a vote. It included $150 million for emergency maintenance funding for the DC Metro.

Brady voted against it

The only appropriate response to people like this is open, mocking laughter.


Only 18% of conservative New Jerseyites have figured out that Obama is actually the Anti-Christ (scroll down to page eight in the crosstabs).

What's it going to take for the rest of them to realize the end times are upon us? A female African-American president?

Hee Hee!

Linda McMahon has joined the throng competing in the Connecticut Republican primary for the chance to unseat Chris Dodd.

Easy wrestling jokes aside, I think Jesse Ventura already demonstrated that you underestimate someone transitioning from the WWE to politics at your own peril. Ventura cut way better promos than Linda ever did, of course, but he also didn't have a sizable personal fortune with which to finance his campaign.

If she proves to be an actual fiscal conservative and not a wingnut, I'd say she could even be the favorite to win the nom.


I'm on day seven of the film festival, and I'm only eight reviews behind (A Serious Man, Under the Mountain, Collapse, Whip It, The Art of the Steal, Vengeance, The Loved Ones, and Waking Sleeping Beauty).

This whole "getting sleep" thing might actually work out.

Kanye, meet Sister Souljah

Now if only an uppity black celeb can do something stupid every week through Christmas for Obama to comment on, maybe we can ratchet down the tension a little, and eventually all come together in the understanding that Kanye West is indeed a jackass.

Hey, That Was Fast

Latest review package is up here.

Merrick trimmed out my intro though. Pity. I'll put it up here in the interests of posterity:

I was gonna say something… crap, what was it… oh yeah! Bumped into an old friend I’d never actually met in person before a couple of nights ago while on the way with Copernicus to the Whip It afterparty: none other than the former Old Man Moriarty. He seems to be doing well in his new gig.

Whip It is tremendous, by the way. It’s at the top of the pile for review, but my teaser would be this: when Drew (no, the other, cuter Drew, not Moriarty) was introducing her cast while decked out in a fantastic yellow spiderwebby Alexander McQueen creation, she mentioned as part of her intro for Daniel Stern that Breaking Away was one of her favorite movies as a kid.

Well, Whip It is Breaking Away good.

Also, don’t be afraid to add me on Facebook if you use still use it. I’m in the Toronto network, and I won’t spam you with status updates, promise. That’s what Twitter is for.

TIFF Review: Dogtooth

Dogtooth (2009, directed by Giorgos Lanthimos)

Such a great premise, wasted. Ah well.

A couple, living in an estate/compound completely cut off from the outside world, have raised their three children to near adulthood in complete isolation. They've taught them the wrong words for things (if the movie becomes a hit back in its native Greece I fully expect the phrase "Lick my keyboard" to become big) and constructed an elaborate mythology about the outside world, the world father bravely heads out into every morning to go to work despite its killer house cats and other dangers.

At the factory where father works, he's begun bribing a female security guard to come back to the house with him periodically in order to, umm, service his son. This causes problems, as Christine would much prefer to have her keyboard licked by the eldest daughter, so she begins bribing eldest daughter to service her. Eldest daughter then begins bribing younger daughter likewise, although she's unclear on which parts of her are supposed to be licked, and the parents' twisted version of paradise is threatened.

I've heard more than one person describe the film as a feature-length version of Steve Martin's 'mambo dogface to the banana patch' routine, and sadly that's not far from the truth. There are some funny bits (I particularly liked the idea of passing planes occasionally falling into the garden as toys for the kids, or the pool randomly spawning fish which the father then goes after with snorkel and spear gun) but when the film tries to be shocking it falls completely flat. If you don't figure out that there's going to be incest somewhere along the way after watching the first five minutes of this movie, you probably shouldn't be watching anything more narratively difficult than Transformers.

The big problem though is that the universe just doesn't make a lot of sense. The movie is apparently set in the real world, which begs the question of how the parents have gotten away with it for so long. These are smart, curious kids, and it's simply not plausible that one of them wouldn't have started sneaking outside the gates before this, even if just to the other side of the road.

There's a good movie in this premise somewhere. Dogtooth, however, isn't it.

TIFF Review: Bitch Slap

Bitch Slap (2009, directed by Rick Jacobson)

Reviews of movies like this are basically pointless, but what the hell.

A mostly successful attempt to drag Russ Meyer-style exploitation films into the 21st century, Bitch Slap is a blast for anyone who likes boobies... err, I mean anyone who likes to see hot women blow shit up and beat the crap out of each other.

The plot is a ridiculous mishmash of elements from every other movie you've ever seen in your entire life with the possible exception of Last Year in Marienbad. Three hot women (the mysterious Hel, the ditzy stripper Trixie, and the loose cannon Camero) have kidnapped local underworld scumfuck Gage and dragged him out to the desert to try and beat the location of his legendary stash of diamonds out of him. As the mayhem (and lesbian sex) escalates a series of flashbacks start falling like dominoes, explaining how each of the ladies got there. And looming over it all is the sinister figure of Pinky, Gage's Keyser Soze-like boss who seems to be one step ahead of them at every turn.

I have to admit I was a little worried when the film started. The script has trouble deciding whether it's going to play things as campy tongue in cheek or go balls to the wall, and while America Olivo is ridiculously, hilariously over-the-top as Camero the other girls have it pulled in a little more, which is a bit jarring.

Then, around about the time Camero kills Gage and Deputy Fuchs shows up, the switch gets thrown all the way into balls to the wall territory, and the movie takes off on a jolt of adrenaline and lust that it rides straight through to the end.

Look, Bitch Slap isn't going to win any awards. It isn't going to revolutionize anything. Hell, the green screen effects in the flashbacks are so deliberately phony-looking they at times seem like the biggest budget David Hasselhoff video ever.

But in terms of providing an audience with big stupid sexy fun, Bitch Slap is miles better than most of Hollywood's recent attempts at big stupid sexy fun. And that's really all that matters.

TIFF Review: The Road

The Road (2009, directed by John Hillcoat)

When Walk the Line played here oh those handful of years ago, I recall describing it as a "well-intentioned failure". It's a movie that means well, but makes just one or two mistakes that in my arrogant opinion sink it.

The Road is the polar opposite of a well-intentional failure. It's a misguided success. Everything about the film is just about perfect: the look, the direction, the performances. And it doesn't make a lick of difference, because even as perfect as it is, it just doesn't work.

Let's start from the top, although if you've read the book you don't need a plot recap. The Earth has suffered some sort of apocalypse. Fire has swept the globe, and civilization has collapsed as all the animals and crops have died, making food incredibly scarce and driving survivors to madness and cannibalism. A man and his son travel down the road, aiming south for the coast as the temperature drops due to ash choking out the sun. They have little keeping them going other than pure stubborn survival instinct on the part of the father, and their love for each other.

Sounds pretty bleak, right? Well, it is, and that's the problem. Post-apocalyptic stories require one crucial element: hope and the possibility of rebirth. In the Road Warrior, hope comes in the form of the precious petrol, and the tales of a distant refuge. In Children of Men, hope comes literally in the form of rebirth, and a baby born after decades of despair and infertility.

But in The Road, there is no hope. No possibility of a solution to the planet's death spasms. No city rising from the ruins. No green shoots poking through the snow and ash. There is only the monotony of day after hungry day, and the reality of two people watching each others' lives tick away.

Don't get me wrong, it seems like great material to work with. Viggo Mortensen is predictably unpredictable and brilliant as the father desperately trying to live just because it's all he knows to do. The son (relative newcomer Kodi Smit-McPhee) is excellent as a child who internalizes his father's lessons even as his father's actions drift further away from the moral compass he's trying to instill. Various famous faces pop up in supporting roles and do great work, particularly Charlize Theron as their long-lost wife and mother. And John Hillcoat creates a stunning believable dead world in which those actors can do their thing.

But it's all seems so futile. Theron's despair, shown in flashback, seems like the only sane reaction to the insane situation they find themselves in. Viggo keeps himself and his son going out of pure inertia, not out of any sense that there's a better world on the horizon. The movie feels like we're just marking time, because that's what Viggo is doing, just marking time. It's all there in his eyes, the hopelessness and desperation. And while it's a great bit of acting, it also makes it that much harder to invest anything in the story. Does it really matter whether they end up dead of starvation, or disease, or in someone's belly, or by their own hand?

Which I guess is the point. If you think it does matter, you're probably going to respond to this movie much more strongly than I did.

Right at the very end, a tiny sliver of hope gets tossed our way. Father and son find a small beetle, alive, and watch it fly up into the sky. But for me it wasn't enough, and came too late. The effects, the acting, they'd all done their job too well.

This was a dead world, not one waiting for rebirth. There's no future here.

TIFF Review: Antichrist

Antichrist (2009, directed by Lars von Trier)

Most modern horror films aren't really about horror at all. Horror literally derives from the Latin word 'horror', which means "shaking and trembling", but horror films by and large aren't interested in leaving you shaking and trembling even after you leave the theater; they're interested in making you scream and jump while you're in the theater. They're focused on the thrill ride, the instantaneous terror of the physical now as opposed to the lingering dread of the existential future.

There are exceptions, of course. Wise's The Haunting is for me the classic example of a true horror film, a movie that forces you to fear what might be coming as opposed to what is actually happening. Blair Witch Project, for all its faults, managed to create the same effect in me because I saw it under absolutely ideal conditions. And the French, Goddess bless their twisted hearts, have been cranking out true horror films almost annually recently (I'm thinking here of A l'Interieur and Martyrs, and very much not Haute Tension or Calvaire).

I suspect von Trier briefly considered both options, then laughed and decided to do what he always does, namely subvert and pervert every convention he can get his hands on in service to his awesomely deranged muse.

Antichrist begins with a sequence of heartbreaking beauty and tragedy, as a man (Willem Dafoe) and a woman (Charlotte Gainsbourg) obliviously make passionate love while their young son accidentally falls to his death. The woman's grief is shattering and bottomless; the man, a professional therapist, can't stand the thought of losing his wife as well as his son and throws aside his objectivity to try and treat her.

Madness ensues, and as the dead fox tells Dafoe later on, chaos reigns.

von Trier is almost too skilled for his own good sometimes. It does a filmmaker no good to subvert a convention if you work it in so seamlessly that no one notices the convention is there, but that's almost what happens. For instance: the film's second half is set in an isolated cabin in the woods, and a major plot point hinges on a book of occult scribblings found hidden in the attic, and yet while what von Trier is working with there is obvious in retrospect during the flow of the film itself there are no winks and nods in those references, only the sense of a trap sprung, and of inevitable doom grinding inexorably forward.

Dafoe and Gainsbourg are both beyond magnificent. It's easy to forget sometimes, what with his gleeful genre work in movies like Spider-Man and even this year's Daybreakers, that Dafoe is a goddamned incredible actor when he gets material that challenges and pushes him. He's incredible here, subtle and caring and self-aware enough to realize he's in way over his head even as his arrogance drives him to keep moving forward and to keep trying to save his wife. Great as he is though, Gainsbourg is that much greater. To say her performance is merely brave is to belittle it. She's a force of nature, abandoning herself to a role that requires her to find the darkest part of not just herself but of all humanity. von Trier is an old hand at putting his lead actresses through hell to get what he wants out of them, but there were times in Antichrist when I got the impression that even he was caught off-guard by the fury of what he'd awoken in Gainsbourg. This is normally the part of the review where I'd talk about her Oscar chances, but she has none. Her performance is too raw, too unspeakable and too dangerous to ever get the Academy's seal of approval. I hope she wears the inevitable snub like a badge of honor, because that's exactly what it will be.

What lies at the heart of Antichrist though (and for me the thing more shocking that even the grand guignol of the final act) is not the contempt for the human species I've come to expect from Lars, but rather love for it. This is a film about the corrosive, destructive power of guilt, and how evil is just despair externalized. This isn't a movie condemning the human race, it's one freakishly trying to save it from itself. It's also, perhaps, von Trier's most feminist film (if such a thing is even possible), an elegy for all the women through all the centuries who fell victim to the forces of fear and ignorance. Given the circumstances under which he wrote and conceived the film (von Trier came up with Antichrist after a divorce and a depression) that's both remarkable and understandable.

A word about that final act: it's abominable, in the best possible way. If you've already heard what happens you still know nothing, because the why is far more important than the mere what. And if you haven't heard, well, like I said it's abominable in the best possible way. Shaking and trembling afterwards are the least of your worries.

Visually beautiful beyond even the compositional abilities of a Kubrick or Lynch, and as emotionally and psychically devastating as anything he's ever done before, Antichrist is von Trier's most vulnerable work, and his most haunting. Don't call it a horror film though. Antichrist is something else entirely, and something very much more powerful.

More Reviews Up


TIFF Review: Survival of the Dead

Survival of the Dead (2009, directed by George Romero)

I should have known it was too good to last.

Over the last few years, Romero's career seemed to be on a bit of an upswing. Land of the Dead wasn't great but it at least had some interesting ideas in it, while Diary of the Dead was an effective 'reboot' of the series. 40 years on, it appeared as though Romero still had some new things to say about the walking dead.

After watching Survival of the Dead last night, I have to say that no longer appears to be the case. The film is just a flat out mess.

The basic premise isn't terrible. It picks up right from the middle of Diary, focusing this time on the AWOL National Guard unit the kids ran into. The idea of a group of trained military personnel gone rogue, trying to survive the chaos, certainly has some appeal as a more action-oriented take on Romero's zombieverse, sort of an Aliens to Diary's Alien.

That's not what we get though. Instead we get just four soldiers who stumble into the middle of a generations-old Irish family feud on a small island off the coast of Delaware. One clan patriarch wants to shoot all the zombies on the island in the head. The other wants to keep them around and find a way to train them to eat animals and not humans, because... well, the best they can do for an explanation as to why he wants to keep them around is some half-assed crap about following God's plan.

Seriously. That's the plot.

It gets worse from there. The script is atrocious. Stupid shit happens for no reason other than an aborted attempt at comic relief with zero logic or follow-up. For instance, there's a scene with a guy on the roof of a shack fishing for zombies. He casts a line, hooks one, pulls it up to the surface then shoots it in the head and rips the hook out. He then casts back again, but accidentally hooks a zombie climbing up the building behind him, and they tumble down the roof into the water.

The people in the building apparently notice absolutely nothing - not the zombie climbing the building, and not the gunshot five seconds earlier - until the two bodies fly past the window.

The whole film is like that. Characters do stupid shit for no reason, comment on the fact that they are doing stupid shit for no reason ("Wow, I forgot my gun at the cabin when I wandered out into the woods looking for water. That was stupid.") and then do nothing about it (like, say, walk back twenty feet to the cabin and get a fucking gun.) Even the plot does stupid shit for no reason. One of the clan elders has a daughter he squabbles with, but when he returns to the island with the soldiers she's become a zombie. No worries though, she's got a twin that we didn't think it was important to mention until we realized we still needed her character to talk! Surprise!

It's almost like this thing didn't have a script at all, and it was some sort of attempt at an improv zombie comedy. Only without casting any comedians.

If the zombie kills were decent, the rest might have been forgivable. Goddess knows effects have salvaged films like this before. But they're not, they're just as dumb as the rest of the movie. One zombie gets killed by jamming a fire extinguisher into its mouth, because I guess the expanding foam crushed its brain or something. All we get to see is a cartoony shot of its eyes bugging out. Another gets killed by being shot in the chest with a flare gun, which magically makes its head (and only its head) catch fire. There's simply nothing in here even on the level of the brain defibrillation from Diary.

I can't even really say I was disappointed by Survival of the Dead. Angered and offended is probably closer to the mark.

TIFF Review: Daybreakers

Daybreakers (2009, directed by Michael and Peter Spierig)

When Toronto lost the Uptown Theatre a few years ago, the final movie to unspool on its screen was a silly little Aussie zombie/sci-fi romp called Undead directed by twins. It was low budget and decently inventive with home-brew effects, the kind of film fest film that's enjoyable but doesn't leave too much of an impression. Hence, my expectations were not exactly through the roof for their follow-up, Daybreakers.

I came into the theater figuring I was in for a silly vampire/sci-fi romp with a bigger budget. Instead, what I got was the emergence of two seriously talented filmmakers.

The year is 2019. A vampiric plague has swept the Earth, and the vampires have won. While civilization has continued on largely unscathed, there's a major problem with the new world order. As humankind's numbers dwindle, so too does the vampire's blood supply. With shortages reaching crisis levels Edward, the chief hemotologist for a pharmaceutical giant, rushes to find a synthetic blood substitute... until he crosses paths with a ragtag group of free humans, who offer him the possibility of finding a cure, something the powers that be will never allow.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about Daybreakers is the extraordinary world the Spierigs have created. Instead of the post-apocalyptic wasteland you might expect, they've instead constructed a future moving in a straight line from the present. Their vampires still go to work (although their 9 to 5 starts twelve hours later), still drive cars (albeit with dayproofing options like heavily blacked-out windows and automated UV level warnings), still order their morning lattes (now with 20% real blood!) And capitalism still rules the day, with blood prices rising higher on the market than even oil or gold.

They've also done an great job of incorporating just about every vampire stereotype you can think of into their milieu. Edward (Ethan Hawke) is your brooding romantic, mourning his lost humanity and refusing to drink real human blood. His boss (Sam Neill) is your typical Machiavellian political schemer. And those poor vamps who suffer from blood malnutrition, or start feeding on vampire blood, turn into Nosferatu-like mutated freaks (derogatorily referred to as 'southsiders' in the film, presumably because they congregate in the dark below the subways and Subwalks).

Add to that mix some awesome creature effects from WETA, a fantastically over-the-top performance from Willem Dafoe as one of the humans (which is not to say Neill isn't sinking his fangs into the scenery too) and some nice little nods to Die Hard and Star Wars in the final act and you've got yourself one hell of an original, entertaining flick.

The Spierigs made a major step forward from Undead with this one. I'm very much looking forward to seeing where they go next.

Review Set 1 Is Up