AFF DAY 6: The Corridor/You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger/Daydream Nation

A good day at the movies

Director Evan Kelly confirmed what I’d suspected and mused on here at the Haliwood Insider AFF coverage, that they were indeed burning the midnight oil to get The Corridor ready for the premiere screening Wednesday night at Park Lane. The good news---for me, anyway---is that I was able to see a print complete with special effects this afternoon.

I don’t want to spend too much time on the plot details---they can be found here in Sean Flinn’s chat with screenwriter Josh MacDonald---but to say that MacDonald and Kelly have plenty to be proud of in this Nova Scotia-shot creepfest. The sophistication of the script, about five old friends who discover a strange presence out in the woods, shines through in the performances and direction. This isn’t just a creepy, sometimes gory horror film---though it succeeds in that department too---its subtext is all about the fear of the unknown and fear of the future. The ambiguity as to what the thing is out there, and what it wants, helps lift the material from your average something-in-the-dark horror. And though I wasn’t convinced the opening pre-credit sequence worked as well as the rest of the film, that’s a minor quibble in what was otherwise a pleasantly unsettling experience in the cinema. After the screening, Kelly remarked that the credit for the credible and essential special effects goes to local FX supervisor Jake Owens, who also directed the short This2, part of the Atlantic Shorts Gala.

Now, my film reviewing colleague Tara Thorne and I don’t always agree on movies. I thought tonight we’d be zero-for-two on the agreement front, but things didn’t quite work out as I’d planned. She saw both You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger and Daydream Nation at TIFF---you can read her impressions here---and I saw them tonight.

I’ve gone on record as being a big Woody Allen fan, and suspect he gets a rawer deal from critics these days as his current work is always compared to Annie Hall and Manhattan. Well, in the case of You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger that is kind of fair, since it regurgitates so many of his tropes so familiar from his earlier movies. That’s not to say I didn’t like it---for Woody fans there’s plenty to enjoy in the dialogue, performances and a very flattering depiction of London in the summertime---and while he didn’t bring his A Game, it’s a hell of a lot better than last year’s Whatever Works.

In this one we first meet Helena (Gemma Jones), recently separated from her husband of 40 years, Alfie (Anthony Hopkins, the closest thing in this movie to a Woody stand-in), who has decided to go chasing his youth and marry a woman a fraction of his age who makes her living as an escort (Lucy Punch). Meanwhile, daughter Sally (Naomi Watts) is unhappily married to novelist Roy (Josh Brolin), who can’t quite write the follow-up book to match his first success. Sally is besotted with her boss, Greg (Antonio Banderas, who is hard to imagine named “Greg”) and Roy keeps getting distracted by Dia (Freida Pinto, from Slumdog Millionaire), who lives across the courtyard and often strums her guitar with the window open. So, you can count those familiar tropes: 1) An older man falling in love with a much younger woman and questioning his mortality, 2) a creative person who can’t quite recreate his earlier success, 3) infidelity and marital strife, 4) general neuroses of the upper class, 5) a character makes a dubious ethical decision he lives to regret and 6) sometimes willful ignorance brings happiness and trumps intellectual rigor and realism. But, again, I can’t condemn it, even if it was over-familiar and not as funny as it should have been. I was engaged by the characters and the situations, in the grip of a storyteller whose tales I’ve enjoyed for years.

So, Tara, I can’t quite agree with your panning review.

Oh, and before I go on, a quick shout out to Rogers. The communication giant sponsored this film at the AFF, and I for one appreciate you bringing it in and supporting the film community. But here's a friendly tip for the future: If you're going to buy up a whack tickets for your staff---and presumably, clients---please get to the screening on time. You reserve 75 prime seats right in the middle of Park Lane 8 and then show up five minutes after the film was supposed to start and take 10 minutes to get seated. The rest of the cinema-goers stood in line, paid for their tickets, got in early and had to find a place to sit around the huge expanse of empty seats, and I can tell you there was a lot of grumbling.

Later I saw Daydream Nation, a late addition to the festival. Tara really dug this one, and I was prepared to not like it, but it did a rare thing and it won me over part-way through. It stars Kat Dennings, who writer-director Michael Goldbach calls “actor crack” for how the project attracted other name cast (Josh Lucas, Andie MacDowell) once she signed on.

Dennings is Caroline, a self-aware and foxy teen who has just moved to a small town from the big city. As the new kid at the high school, she’s sure everyone hates her, so she becomes exactly the person they hate... though it seems likely she was that person before she arrived. She finds the girls socially backwards and the boys terminally immature, so she seduces her English teacher, Barry (Lucas). In order not to arouse suspicion in the school, she dates Thurston (Reece Thompson), a local nerd who she just barely puts up with.

So far, so expected. A knowing voice-over, chapter titles helping to explain some fragmented chronology early on and a general feeling of self-consciousness had me feeling pretty cold towards the film in the first reel. Dennings was in Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist, which I was comparing to this with much more favour early on.

And then I was won over.

The story took turns I just didn’t see coming. A serial killer is terrorizing the town, and that becomes a much more prominent and interesting subplot. Characters are dealing with drug issues, loneliness, a lot of teen angst and even accidental death in car wrecks. The darkness is palpable, even scary.

Unlike a lot of teen movies, the adults are very believably fleshed out---I think MacDowell doesn’t get enough credit for her skills as an actor. She’s great here. She just needs a script and director that maximizes her charm.

And I believe this is a largely Canadian-funded project, and as such, it’s the best looking Canadian film I’ve seen in ages. Goldbach, who when presenting the film said it was shot in 22 days, did a great job in making the production look a lot bigger than the money they had. The lighting, camerawork, it all resists the typical and increasingly dull cinema verite look, and adds enormously to the picture. And also, kudos on the soundtrack, the score and the songs, which include Lou Reed and, ‘natch, Sonic Youth. This is Goldbach’s first feature, and I was kind of astonished by how coherent a vision his is, even as he freely plays with tone. I’d even compare it to Donnie Darko as another example of satisfying twists to the teen movie cliches.

And Dennings is excellent in the part, even as her makeup sometimes makes her look like the Joker, and not the cool Heath Ledger version, more the Cesar Romero version. But that didn’t bother me too much. I was a teen in the 80s, when Robert Smith was the shit. A lot of girls looked like him, and thus, like Caroline.

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