This year I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to watch some advanced screenings of movies prior to the start of the Toronto Film Festival. As with any eclectic set of films, I found some were fun and entertaining, while others were more thought provoking, and unfortunately, one was just downright aimless and boring.
My favourite movie of this set was the Irish crime comedy/thriller called “Jump” involving a heist, an attempted suicide, a car accident and small-time hoodlums running around, all happening on New Years Eve. This action packed flick hooks you from the opening scene and then takes you on a wild ride, keeping you guessing all along the way. Multiple parallel plot lines intersect with each other, but after a while you realize that at least one of them is a flashback. As the scenes play and then play again from different viewpoints, things that seemed confusing or mysterious the first time suddenly make sense and each payoff feels really satisfying. The pulsing soundtrack and fast-paced action ratchets up the tension and then releases it with spurts of comic relief.
Another fun movie was the documentary “Secret Disco Revolution”, which used 3 actors dressed like members of the old TV show “The Mod Squad” to portray the “masterminds” behind the promotion and evolution of disco. This cheesy and humorous plot device gave the documentary some structure in presenting the history of disco . Interviews with DJs, producers and former disco stars such as The Village People, Anita Pointer of the Pointer Sisters, Gloria Gaynor, Thelma Houston, etc. were spliced with video clips of archival live performances and scenes from discotheques. One of the main arguments of the movie was that disco aided the cultural emancipation of women, blacks and gays. Much time was spent discussing how Donna Summer’s moaning rendition of “Love to Love You” represented a 12 minute female orgasm.
The movie that made the most impact on me (although I’m not sure I would have called it entertaining) is Janeane from Des Moines. A strange cross between documentary/mockumentary and scripted drama, it follows ultra conservative, religious housewife “Janine”, whose life is falling apart when her husband loses his job with its company health care plan and she discovers she has cancer. She attends the Republican primaries, trying to question each of the candidates on their alternative plan for providing health care to the poor since each of them pledge to eliminate Obamacare. It is during these sessions that the line between documentary and drama blurs. Janeane is captured on film actually interacting with each candidate including Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Michelle Bachmann who actually converses with her at length over coffee. Janine begins to question the party platforms when it becomes clear that none of the candidates offer her any real health care options. I wonder how the candidates feel to realize they were set up and now star in a subversive movie.
The Canadian movie I Declare War depicts two groups of children using very realistic war game tactics to play “Capture the Flag” in a remote woodland. The weapons and battles are seen from the point of view of the children’s imaginations. Plastic toys turn into machine guns and assault rifles, and the sounds of gunfire and bomb explosions are deafeningly loud. Amidst of all this, relationships are explored as mutiny, flaunting of game rules, friendships, alliances, trust and betrayal are all in play. Even though you can clearly see that these are just children engaged in make-believe, you get caught up in the intensity of the game. The child actors were all very talented and versatile, showing a wide range of emotions and vulnerabilities underneath postured toughness. This movie is Lord of the Flies meets Patton.
Another Canadian film called Blackbird revolves around a teenaged Goth-dressed outcast in a small town who is falsely accused of planning a mass school shooting. This was an intense movie that was admirable for the plot and acting but was not exactly fun to watch. I came out feeling anxious and a bit depressed.