Soulmining at TIFF '09, Day Three - REC 2, The Road and Survival Of The Dead
3rd Oct 09
It’s no surprise that I oversleep and come round to a slight hangover clouding my brain, but armed with a bottle of iced cold water to rehydrate myself and a large coffee to wake myself up, I’m out the door and off to the Varsity in the nick of time for my 9am screening – Chris would kill me if I missed this one!
The Imaginarium Of Dr Parnassus
Yes, Chris has insisted that I go see The Imaginarium Of Dr Parnassus, the latest work from maverick director Terry Gilliam. Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) takes his travelling sideshow around London, his ‘Imaginarium’ creating a fantasy world of imagination for those who enter where they’re faced by a moral dilemma. Tony (Heath Ledger – in his final screen role) is on the run and joins the troupe just as Parnassus is forced to wager with his nemesis Mr. Nick (Tom Waits – as unhinged as always) over the fate of his daughter (Lily Cole). Thrown into disarray following the untimely death of Ledger, Gilliam cleverly found a way to complete his film by employing three other actors – Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell no less – to complete Tony’s scenes within the Imaginarium.
It’s a ploy that works remarkably well and if you didn’t know otherwise you could be forgiven for thinking that this was the plan all along. The Imaginarium is a fairytale world where you become who you want to be, so appearances can change at will… it’s also a fantastical place that gives Gilliam the freedom to let his imagination run wild, and with his animation background coupled with the latest digital technology, he’s able to realise this surreal, stunning vision on screen. Visuals aside, the story is strong too complemented by a gifted cast – Plummer is on top form and former model Cole is a revelation as the daughter Valentina. Like the Imaginarium itself, what you take away from the film depends on what you put in to it. For those with a child-like wonder it will enthrall and delight. It’s Gilliam’s best picture for years, an assured return to form and a fitting tribute to the late Heath Ledger.
Next up I regretfully have to skip Swedish thriller The Ape as I’m up for a dose of something a little more hardcore, and with a interview opportunity in the offing with directors Jaume Balaguero & Paco Plaza, it’s time to join Bruce and Scott Weinberg (Cinematical) as we return to that spooky Spanish apartment block in [REC] 2. Continuing directly on from events in the first film, the story picks up with a SWAT team entering the building to secure the area and search for survivors of the viral outbreak. Here the filmmakers take the opportunity to return to the attic and further explore the background of the little girl and take us into the realm of demonic possession which adds a new twist to proceedings. We also encounter some curious kids from a neighbouring apartment block and find out exactly what fate befell reporter Angela Vidal (Manuela Velasco).
It’s always tough to follow a critically acclaimed and original film – remember [REC] was right at the forefront of the recent ‘documentary’ footage films, ahead of Cloverfield – and maintain that high level of quality, but whilst not quite reaching the dizzy heights of the first movie, the returning duo still deliver an entertaining and solid sequel. Retaining the look and feel of [REC] utilising the SWAT team’s video footage and helmet cams, it’s still an intense ride and provides a number of shock moments. The fear of the unknown is largely absent now, so instead [REC] 2 plays more like an action movie – like Aliens to Alien. The film loses its momentum midway through when it switches its attention to the neighbours, something that could perhaps have been fixed by introducing them before the SWAT team arrive on the scene, but otherwise it’s a lean, pacy affair which should satisfy fans of the original.
Coming out of the AMC I get accosted by a very sick looking girl, then realise it’s my new friend Thea in full zombie gear all set for the Toronto Zombie Walk which she’s organising this afternoon ahead of a free outdoor screening of Night Of The Living Dead at Yonge/Dundas with George A. Romero in attendance. Sadly as much as I’d like to don my zombie attire again I have a post-apocalyptic wasteland to get to so hop into a cab with Bruce and Scott and hot-tail it up to the Varsity.
The Road arrives in Toronto with considerable buzz surrounding it, based on the bestselling novel of the same name by Cormac McCarthy who of course also wrote No Country For Old Men which was such a big hit here two years ago. Set in a barren United States at some point in the near future a terrible event (unseen) has blighted the world we live in and small communities struggle to survive with dwindling resources. The film follows the Man (Viggo Mortensen) as he journeys across the country with his son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and their shopping cart of possessions, educating him on how to stay alive and all the time protecting him from the bandits who roam the land, threatening their very existence.
McCarthy’s bleak novel was always seen as being unfilmable so credit to director John Hillcoat (The Proposition) who expertly brings these vast grey wastelands to the big screen and in doing so creates a very faithful adaptation. Aside from the stunning landscapes, for the narrative to work it requires an actor at the top of his game and in Viggo Mortensen The Road has just the right man for the job too. Newcomer McPhee also shines, bringing an innocent vulnerability to the role of the boy who’s forced to grow up in this unforgiving land. Supporting roles are fleeting but look out for Charlize Theron, Guy Pearce and Robert Duvall who all make an appearance along the way. An unqualified success, sombre, moving and yet not without hope, The Road will definitely be challenging for the major awards in 2010.
Having set off the smoke alarm in my apartment with my lame attempt at home cookin it’s time to head back out. One of the titles attracting column inches in the trade publications but that has otherwise passed under the radar is a new British thriller entitled The Disappearance Of Alice Creed. With J Blakeson at the helm – he co-wrote The Descent: Part 2 – I’m curious to find out more so head down to the Ryerson where the film is getting its gala premiere. Maybe due to the film’s unknown quantity, or more likely due to the fact that the Clooney-starring Up In The Air is just kicking out at the same venue, I am the only member of the press who’s turned up to cover the premiere. Oh dear!
However, this works in my favour to some extent as I’m guaranteed time with the talent. Most importantly, from my point of view, is director J Blakeson and he comes over first for a relaxed discussion about his debut feature – which of course we’ll be using in a future podcast early next year when the film receives its UK release. Sadly Gemma Arteton is absent, but the two male leads Eddie Marsan and Martin Compston are both here, so I’m invited over for a brief interview with the pair before they’re ushered away into the auditorium. Marsan of course has already built up a solid career and worked with the likes of Martin Scorcese and Michael Mann, whilst I’m familiar with Compston from his genre work in Doomsday and Red Mist, and then more recently The Damned United which is also screening at TIFF this year
Colin Geddes with George A. Romero, Alan Van Sprang, Devon Bostick, Kathleen Munroe and Richard Fitzpatrick
Unfortunately I don’t manage to secure a rush ticket for the screening – the line is too long and the film has already started – so I resolve to catch tomorrow’s P&I screening and instead walk over to The Imperial pub, a regular watering hole for pre-Midnight Madness get togethers. It’s not long before I’m joined by Stephanie, Susan Curran (Anchor Bay) and friend and so we catch up on the latest festival gossip over a drink and then head back to the Ryerson in time for George A. Romero’s Survival Of The Dead.
Able to skip past the queue that already snakes its way round three blocks, I roll up to the red carpet area where I’m pleased to catch up with the Midnight Madness bloggers (Darryl, Robert, Sanjay and Sachin) and also bump into Lee DeMarbre (Smash Cut) who’s just driven four hours especially to be here. I also find Paul who’s been with Ian covering the zombie walk and to witness Romero being honoured with an award by the city of Toronto in celebration of his work and permanent residence in Canada. Indeed when Romero is introduced to the crowd he’s afforded a thunderous standing ovation, another clear show of respect for the Godfather of zombies. Along with stars Alan Van Sprang, Devon Bostick, Kathleen Munroe and Richard Fitzpatrick he introduces his new film and returns for a lively Q&A after the screening.
Survival Of The Dead
A companion piece to Diary Of The Dead, this focuses on a small group of soldiers led by Crocket (Van Sprang) who made a brief appearance in that movie when they intercepted the winnebago. Now they’re seeking refuge from the zombie outbreak on Plum Island where they find themselves caught in a feud between the two clans who rule the land, led by O’Flynn (Kenneth Welsh) and Muldoon (Fitzpatrick). O’Flynn thinks all zombies should be killed whilst Muldoon believes they should be looked after until a cure can be found, a disagreement further complicated when O’Flynn’s daughter (Munroe) joins the Muldoon camp.
Clearly influenced by and structured like a classic western, this is Romero’s comment on tribalism and the futility of stubborn disputes in the face of other more serious issues. It’s a richer, more rewarding piece of work than Diary and Land Of The Dead, and funnier too; Romero seems totally at ease with his subject matter and the blend of seriousness and satire seems almost effortless. Of course, it wouldn’t be complete without some zombie action and here the attacks are used sparingly, yet when they come they have greater impact and pleasingly Romero is still looking for new and original ways to dispose of the undead. A real return to form for the legendary director, this is his best work since the original trilogy that made his name. Welcome home George!
For further information on TIFF 09 visit the festival website: www.tiff.net/.
The Road will screen at the BFI 53rd London Film Festival in October and is released in UK cinemas on 9th January 2010.
The Imaginarium Of Dr Parnassus is released in UK cinemas on 10th October 2009.