Cartuna Day 5: A SERIOUS MAN on THE ROAD to see George A Romero's SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD & more!
CARTUNA REPORTING - TIFF DAY FIVE
Day Five of TIFF has concluded. Sadly, I concluded a bit sooner than I was scheduled to (hey, don’t pretend like it’s never happened to you!) More on that at the bottom.
For now, here are the reviews:
A SERIOUS MAN
directed by the Coen Brothers
The short version:
A ridiculously great movie. Funny as hell. I really loved this one.
The long version:
This is a phenomenal film. Is it too much to ask that it become a big success? Is that at all possible?
Larry Gopnik is comfortable. He doesn’t get a lot of respect from many folks around him, but he’s achieved something and is maintaining it. He’s even up for tenure at the university where he is a professor. So it comes as a great shock to him that not everyone around him is happy with the status quo.
His wife wants a divorce, and has gone so far as to find his replacement (someone for whom she DOES have respect). Someone has been sending letters, urging the university against granting him tenure. He’s forced to move into a divey motel with his mostly useless brother and his sebaceous cyst. Things that seemed stable, are no longer.
And I guess that’s what the movie is about - what does one do, when the illusion of stability is taken away?
Michael Stuhlberg is a total revelation as the put-upon Gopnik. He is absolutely perfectly cast here, and turns in a smart, funny and sensitive performance. He has a silent movie star’s face and needs to be shot in black and white at some point.
The movie itself is screamingly funny at points. If you like the Coen Brothers’ sense of humor, you will revel in this film. They get everything right here. The ‘Tale of the Goy’s Teeth” in particular, is a killer sequence. The audience was in hysterics.
As a goy, myself, there were quite a few moments of jewish ephemera with which I was not particularly familiar, but none of it seemed to be need-to-know. I didn’t feel left behind at any point by some inexplicable practice. I don’t think the niche setting should in any way preclude a niche audience.
If there’s anything that keeps the film from being practically perfect, it is the inclusion of the accursed “all-just-a-dream” sequences. And not just one. Nothing kills the enjoyment of a movie more for me, than suddenly discovering that what I’d just seen was all just pretend. I have no issue with dream sequences - they can give more insight into what a character is going through, and give the filmmakers opportunity for visuals they may not otherwise get away with in the reality of their movie, but when we’re led to believe something is real, and it turns out it ain’t? Fuck that.
So, that brought my overall score down a bit, but in spite of that, I loved this movie unreservedly. I would make a long-term commitment to this movie if I knew it a little better. Maybe after a couple more dates? Who knows?
GEORGE A. ROMERO’S SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD
directed by (shockingly) George A. Romero
The short version:
Well... We can still watch Night, Day and Dawn as often as we want to, right?
The long version:
I shouldn’t be surprised, I suppose, but I was really disappointed by this one. It certainly wasn’t the movie I was hoping it would be. I haven’t seen Diary of the Dead, but I’ve certainly heard nothing good about it. Still and all, Land of the Dead was mostly pretty passable, if not inspiring, and I had hopes that the Romero who kicked my ass so many times in the past would be back on the scene.
When an amateur internet advertisement suggests that a secluded island may be a potential refuge from the zombie epidemic, a group of AWOL soldiers-turned-brigands steal a ferry and go. Unfortunately, the island is home to a pair of feuding clans, whose main source of disagreement (other than an apparently pre-existing age-old feud) is whether zombified family members should be killed immediately, or chained up and kept around, just in case someone comes up with a cure.
To the film’s credit, it does try to be about something more than just zombies. Focusing on the different ways that people might react to, or deal with living in a world where zombies become the norm. But even so, all of its ideas come off as incredibly half-baked and very poorly thought out.
And unfortunately, in this case, the focus on other issues actually diminishes the zombies. In the argument between slow zombies vs. fast zombies, I come down squarely on the side of the shamblers, BUT in this film, they mostly don’t feel like all that much of a threat. I can only imagine this is because the characters in the movie don’t perceive them to be much of a threat, and are much more focused on one another. Whereas, in Night, Dawn, and Day, the power seemed to come from the fact that the characters didn’t realize that the people around them might be more of a threat than the zombies they were focused on defeating.
The tone of the movie is a bit scattered. It wants to be hard-nosed, but instead, it’s dumb. It’s corny. The dialogue is goofy and forced, the delivery of the dialogue is... goofy and forced. Nothing feels very serious.
The movie has no sense of scope. It doesn’t feel like a world taken over by zombies. There’s never any greater understanding of what’s going on around our characters. Not that we should necessarily know more than they do, but they cover a fair amount of ground in the film, on the way to the island, but we don’t see a lot more than empty highway around them.
There ARE a few inventive kills in the film, and the audience ate them up, though in that desperate-to-be-entertained-by-ANYTHING sort of way.
I dunno. This isn’t the review I’d hoped to be writing. I think Romero has kinda lost touch with what’s going on in other films around his. Not to say that he should speed up his zombies or do work that isn’t true to himself, but it seems as though he needs to be a bit more aware of the context in which his films are going to be seen. That they will be compared to the other zombie films that are playing elsewhere in the multiplex. I want to fall head-over-heels for another film of his, but after this one, I will be greatly lowering expectations.
directed by - John Hillcoat
The short version:
If this movie doesn’t make you hug your kid and appreciate the world you live in, then I don’t want to know you.
The long version:
A man pulls his young son through the end of the world, where everything and everyone is a threat, and there is almost no hope of anything ever being better at all. An unnamed apocalypse has destroyed almost all life. There is no more living foliage. There are no more animals. There are only other people. And they are as evil as you can possibly imagine. As the duo travel, the man does his best to insulate his son from the badness surrounding them, while preparing the boy to go on without him. Because, he is dying.
The book almost killed me. While reading it, I descended into a deep funk over its unrelenting bleakness. Even crazier, the book made me paranoid, or at least, enhanced my existing paranoia. While reading it, I would feel terribly anxious and uncomfortable when people joined me on an empty subway platform, or walked behind me on less than fully-lit streets, especially while I was out with my young, defenseless kid in hand.
So you could say it had an impact on me, and I came into the movie with a pre-existing relationship with the material. And so it is a relief to say that the film is exactly what it ought to be: tense, bleak, terrifying, an experience. My stomach went quickly to that place of twitchy flux, and stayed there through to the end.
Which is what SHOULD happen. It wouldn’t be fair to say that it had the SAME impact as the book - I don’t imagine that’s really possible - but it is still a powerful and affecting film, and one that will surely leave many folks reeling from its implications.
I can tell you one thing for sure: I would not survive in the existence of this story. The boy is born very soon after the end of the world, but is around eight or nine by the time we catch up with them. I’m certain I could not have survived nine years. Most likely, I couldn’t have survived nine months. Probably, I couldn’t have survived nine weeks. If I was alive at the nine day mark, it would be a miracle. And if I couldn’t, what of my family? How could anyone possibly protect their loved ones? It’s horrifying.
Horrifying, but well worth checking out. Truly, a film of consequences. Be ready to be upset by it, but in the end, shockingly, there is a sense of hope and possibility to the tale. A sense of triumph. The movie definitely carries the flame of the book. And in the end, I think most of the audience will as well.
directed by - Yoav Paz/Doron Paz
The short version:
Starts out to be something pretty interesting, then veers off into crazyland... and not in a good way.
The long version:
A computer programmer doesn’t ever need to leave his home. He gets everything he needs delivered to him - either to the door, through the tv, or over the internet. And without even realizing it, through isolating himself and never leaving home, he becomes extremely agoraphobic and uncapable of leaving when it comes up that he needs to. And he DOES need to. He’s being evicted.
For the first half of this movie, I really enjoyed it. It was inventive and interesting. The lead was cool, and I was interested to see what happened to him and what he did about it.
As his world destabilizes, first by the intrusion of new people into it, then by the threat of eviction from life in the manner to which he’d become accustomed, I began to lose interest. Because, I think, his answer was to not really do much of anything at all, at least, not anything that really made a lot of sense. And he very quickly goes nuts, and not nuts in a way that followed from the character (who was a pretty obsessive compulsive cleaner) but instead in a way that kinda went in an opposite direction to what we’d learned so far about him. It rang very falsely to me, and kicked me right out of the film.
They had me, but they lost me.
It certainly had its strong-points, but overall, the film left me pretty meh.
And, finally for DAY FIVE, I hold in my hand, my intact and unspoiled, non-torn ticket to:
CELL 211 (directed by - Daniel Monzon) a film which I was really looking forward to, based on the synopsis, but which I had unfortunately done a piss-poor job of scheduling.
I didn’t really leave myself a sufficient window of time to get from the Varsity Theatre to the AMC between the films, PLUS... I’m feeling a bit burnt out from a few nights of minimal sleep (which, coming from me, is really saying something). So I missed it.
Anybody out there get the chance to see it? Please, let us know what you thought.
Anyhow, I’m the full(er) night’s sleep has left me totally refreshed and ready to greet the first day of the last half of the Toronto International Film Festival. YAWN! Pretty sure anyway.
Wish me alertness, kids.