Friday, September 11, 2009

TIFF 09: Day 1: Year of the Carnivore and Big Head

TIFF 09 could not have gotten off to a worse start for me. Stuck in line outside the Varsity for far too long (they only let us in about 1o minutes before the scheudled start time), then stuck in the theater for a horribly long time as the they did not even do introductions until about 25 minutes after the movie was supposed to start. Then I watched one of the worst short films I have ever seen, followed by one of the worst films I have ever seen at TIFF. At least, there is no where to go but up.

First up was Big Head (*), a 12 minute short part of the Short Cuts Canada program, something I support in theory, but never actually want to watch the films. Big Head is director Dylan Akio Smith's (who won the prize at the 2004 for best Canadian short film) painfully bad school comedy? Or it a drama? A cautionary tale? A after school special? Honestly, I have no clue. It is about a kid, who looks to be around 10, who has a big head (just look at the picture), and is constantly made fun of at school because of it. In class one day, he hears a girl talking about her new nose - she was in a skiing accident, and had to get plastic surgery to get it fixed, and in the process got to pick out a new nose, which delights her because now people will not call her Hawk Nose anymore. So Big Head decides to try the same thing, putting his head in a vice to crack his skull, so they will have to fix it. At the hospital, after his plan goes horribly wrong, he meets the little girl with the nose again, who has had the crap kicked out of her by the other girls for her new nose. Big Head decides he has had enough of all the teasing, and addresses an assembly at school by playing a song about how everyone is special. Seriously, who thinks this crap up? What am I supposed to take away from this short? That kids are horrible to each other, and pick on each other's differences? Well, duh! I knew that one already. I have to say that almost all of the short films I saw the high school kids in the Brantford Area make at their Film Festival last year were better than this piece of crap.

Then, we moved onto the feature, Sook-Yin Lee's directorial debut Year of the Carnivore (*). This is a lamebrained "romantic comedy" about a lowly store detective named Sammy Smalls (Cristin Milioti), who is uncomfortable with her body. She is in love with Eugene (Mark Rendell) a musician who performs on the street outside the store, and also in a up and coming rock band. Their first attempt at sex goes diasateriously, and he tells her that maybe she needs to work on it some more if she wants to be with him. Instead of calling him an asshole, she decides he's right, and sets out of a journey of sexual discovery, all of the encounters of which are supposed to be hilariously amusing, but are really just humilating - particularly one scene where Sammy has a threesome with a bored married couple across the street, where the lactating mother uses a vibrator to get herself off as the husband humps Sammy, who has a bored look on her face (as does the audience for that matter). The main problem with the movie is that is a terminal case of the quirks. Every character in the film is so off the wall zany - not just the leads but also the talented Kevin Macdonald and Sheila McCarthy as Sammy's parents, Sheila McCarthy as a porn star turned sausage lady turn university student turned philiosopher, Will Sasso as Sammy's boss (who actually is quite amusing), and all the strange ladies who so willing seem to degrade themselves for the awkward Eugene. I never found my way into the film as Lee was so obsessed with being quirky, and cool and hip. I cannot tell if the horrible music in the movie is meant in an ironic way or not. The one saving grace of the film is Milioti's charming performance as Sammy. She has the same wide eyes, adorable features and easy comic charm of Brittany Murphy, and you like Sammy almost in spite of herself. The one scene in the film that actually works remarkably well is one where Sammy, all by herself in her room, tries to make herself sexy, and dances around the room. It's here where Milioti shows what she could do if she was not saddled with such terrible material. She's a star in a terrible movie.

In the introduction to this film (I couldn't bear to stay for the Q&A as I always feel bad for the people involved in a terrible movie at those things), the head of the Canada First! program, in which Year of the Carnivore was the easiest choice they had for an opening night film for their program in years - which I supposed means they think its the best of the bunch. If that's true, than I am very thankful that I do not have any more films from that program coming up this year. The only good thing I can say is that hopefully, I have gotten the worst film I will see at the festival out of the way early.

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