Friday, September 11, 2009

TIFF Day One: Antichrist and Jennifer's Body

Lev Lewis reporting from the Toronto International Film Festival

My first day at the festival yielded two opposing ends of the horror spectrum. On one end: Antichrist, the latest piece of controversy from Danish provocateur Lars von Trier; on the other: Jennifer's Body, the horror-comedy written by Diablo Cody. It's not difficult to say which one I prefer although words such as "prefer" or "enjoy" are not words that one should ever use to describe Antichrist.

Antichrist is everything you have heard and then some. I came into my screening moderately prepared for what von Trier had in store for me. I'd seen his previous work, read numerous articles detailing the controversy surrounding the film, thought I knew what I was in for. But, without trying to sound hyperbolic, nothing can prepare you for this. Perhaps, there will be people out there who will find themselves unaffected by the film, but I simply cannot imagine who they would be. Antichrist is the most audacious, disturbing, gut-wrenching, terrifying film I have ever encountered. At this point I'm still having difficulty applying any sort of critical sensibility to a work this powerful. Honestly, I'm unsure if a film has ever affected me quite as much as von Triers' has. Three quarters through I was literally shaking.

Charlotte in Eden

I need a bit more than an evening's perspective to really dissect the film, but needless to say Lars von Trier, along with Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg (who give astonishing performances as the grieving couple) have created what will likely be one of the seminal works of our time.

Willem Dafoe watched the whole film with us and then did a Q&A. I wasn't quite sure what to expect from him, but he was extremely suave, intelligent and funny.

Megan and Amanda: They know what boys want. They know what boys like.

Jennifer's Body, Diablo Cody's second foray into film, yields dull results. It's difficult to say whether Jennifer's Body feels inferior to Juno* due to a less able director (Karyn Kusama in the place of Jason Reitman), a lesser cast, or whether it is simply due to a poor script on Cody's part. So while it is certainly true that director Kusama is a) unable to combine horror and comedy in any sort of resonant way, and b) build the mood or tension very much needed for horror, blame must also be attributed to Cody who insufficiently blends her already-dated, stylized pop-culture laden dialogue with 80's camp-horror. Sadly, this is the one distinguishing element of Jennifer's Body and the only aspect that separates it from every horror film of late. Like the rest, scares are derived from characters walking slowly through dark spaces until something jumps out, which is of course complimented by appallingly loud thumps on the soundtrack. As well, the numerous flashbacks, which always begin with the obligatory dissolve to white and the contrast pumped to the max, do little to set Jennifer's Body apart from its modern-day peers.

<-- Seyfried & Fox in blood red heels at the premiere.

The film's Midnight Madness premiere was packed and the audience was eating out of the hands of Cody, Kusama, Fox and even Seyfried. However I can't imagine many people getting worked up about Jennifer's Body outside of the late-night festival atmosphere. Or perhaps I'm giving moviegoers too much credit. It is also possible that people will devour the audience-baiting of Jennifer's Body. For instance, at one point Amanda Seyfried, from out of nowhere and with no motivation, sucker-kicks a nurse who has done nothing to warrant such violence. The nurse flies through the air (accompanied by mind-numbing sound editing) and falls bloody and battered into an array of tables. This lurid act of violence received huge rounds of applause from an apparently blood-thirsty audience. Grade: D+

More fun than the film itself were the proceedings. The whole cast and crew were in attendance and up on the stage were: Karyn Kusama, Megan Fox, Johnny Simmons, Amanda Seyfried, Adam Brody, Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman. The rowdy crowd was quite thrilled at the appearance of Fox, and asked numerous questions about the kiss between her and Seyfried. However, Diablo Cody stole the show announcing that her greatest contribution to cinema has been the words "Stick it in".

*Not that I am, by any means, Juno's biggest fan.

related posts:
"Places Willem Dafoe's Ass Has Been" / Jennifer's Body trailer


KID said...

What other films did you choose for the festival?

Lev Lewis said...

I will reveal them as we go along.

Robert Hamer said...

God, Jennifer's Body looks and sounds stupid on nearly every level.

Wayne B said...

Wow, I am now both excited and nervous to see "Antichrist." The last time a movie truly terrified me was "The Exorcist" when I was 13. I hope I can handle it.

Danny King said...

I was completely turned off by the trailer for Jennifer's Body, but I at least thought it might be interesting because Cody wrote it, but I guess it's a sophomore slump.

As far as Antichrist, I'm sure I'll have the same experience as you when i go to see it. I've read so much about how disturbing it is, but I know that nothing can prepare for what I will see.

home staging said...

Thanks a bunch for the reviews. Cannot wait to see "Antichrist", it sounds amazing, though kinda terrifying. Enjoy the rest of TIFF and looking forward to read more reviews from you.

Best regards, Ella

Anonymous said...

I disagree with your take on 'Jennifer's Body.' The dialogue was often quite witty-- and indeed has evolved from 'Juno's quips to match our more "Twitter-ized" society. Some of the lines were absolutely priceless! The vaginal cream nicknames? C'mon! Cody's lines were hysterical! Sure, the plot didn't progress all that smoothly and felt weighed down by exposition at times. And yes, I agree that it had some problems with tonal consistency. But I still think the film offered some truly potent commentary about the influence of culture on our youth-- and through much more stylish and inventive means than anything from 'Mean Girls.'

Anonymous said...

I want to add that 'JB' really picked apart our pop culture, too. Huge bitch-slaps to anyone who sells out and sacrifices art. I caught some fun digs at 'Mean Girls,' the current vampire frenzy, Maroon 5, and yes, even 'Juno.' The film actually had a good deal of substance. It just lacked polish. I wish Sam Raimi had taken the reins instead of Karyn Kusama, and that Diablo Cody had given a little more thought to the narrative structure. This one could have been an instant classic. Definitely still worth a watch though.

Notas Sobre Creación Cultural e Imaginarios Sociales said...

I didn't find "Antichrist" to be as terrifying, disturbing and plain wrong as most people do (not even the infamous scissors scene).
I actually found it to be kinda moving.

Andrew K. said...

That JENNIFER'S BODY review makes me feel oddly cheered. The nurse flies through the air (accompanied by mind-numbing sound editing) and falls bloody and battered into an array of tables. This lurid act of violence received huge rounds of applause from an apparently blood-thirsty audience. ...I do not like Cody or Fox one bit don't care for the director...although I do like Amanda, she has other projects coming up.

Glenn said...

Isn't it funny how as soon as a writer is a name it is their fault for a movie's shortcomings. Normally people don't seem to give two hoots about who wrote it.

I thought Antichrist was really something. That screenplay, actually, is one of the strongest aspects. Von Trier's visuals are amazing, too.

Lev Lewis said...

Glenn: I realize that it could sound like I'm picking on Cody for the sake of being fashionable and perhaps giving her more credit than one generally gives to a writer. However, Cody does seem to be a screenwriter like Charlie Kaufman whose name often eclipses the directors'. There's little denying that Cody seems to be the main auteur behind "Jennifer's Body".

I'm not suddenly jumping on the "let's all hate Diablo Cody" bandwagon. I can't say I was particularly fond of her writing when I first saw "Juno" (which was before there was enormous amounts of hype surrounding it) and my thoughts on her haven't really changed.

UncleVanya said...

Wow really sound like a nervous dervish dancer with your reaction to "Antichrist".

Here are my thoughts (posted minutes ago under a probably a wrong topic) following the 9PM screening of “Antichrist” at Toronto’s Ryerson Theater:

After months of post-Cannes chatter hinting at the shock quotient delivered in Lars von Trier’s, “Antichrist”, I often found myself thinking, “could this film actually surpass the grotesqueries seen in such films as Gaspar Noe’s, “Irreversible”, Pascal Laugier’s, “Martyrs”, or even “Salo: 100 Days of Sodom”, the 30 year old film by Pier Paolo Pasolini”. Well the answer is, decidedly, no. This is not to say that “Antichrist” does not have it’s moments (it does). What is evident, however, is that the droning chorus of expressed horror by the peanut crunching throngs has, alas, been mostly dubious hyperbole, much like the arrogant psycho-babble of the psychiatrist/husband, the other half of the male/female equation, here, played by Willem Dafoe. I’m sure most of you know the plot: a couple (while having, to say the least, florid sex) lose a child to accidental death. Their guilt and grief force them to look for some kind of solace, which leads them to their lush, ethereal country getaway (Eden) where they will excorcise their demons, each with his and her agendas, which include the ‘nasty’ and some violent nastiness. What could have been just an exploitation film is often bouyed by Von Trier’s direction, and Anthony Dod Mantle’s (Slumdog Millionaire) eerily, off-kilter cinematography (you often get the feeling that some omniscient being–-antichrist?–-is viewing surrepitiously with adolescent glee the goings-on from a cosmic/underworld telescope). Also, it must be said that Charlotte Gainsbourg (playing a variation on the madonna/whore theme prevalent in Von Trier’s films) gives a pungent and torturous performance, the likes not seen since Ingmar Bergman’s unhinged women of the 60’s and 70’s. But ultimately, it was not the violence/S&M that shocked me (perhaps it should have). What jolted me most was the sudden vision of Willem Dafoe’s erect penis, and perhaps this response is what von Trier intended, knowing that much of the audience for the film would be, like most provincial westerners, people who were raised in bourgeois judeo-christian homes (where violence is more acceptable then sex, pornography is more objectional than war, and the male sex organs are more consciously hidden than the females’, especially in film). One must remember that Von Trier’s most loathed and least successful film, “The Idiots”, a film about catharsis and fakery, was loaded with sexually explicit imagery, which ultimately doomed the film. Von Trier, I am assuming, must have surmised, at one point, that said film would have done better had it included some blood with it’s debauchery. These hypocrisies, I am convinced, are what Von Trier wanted to expose with this new film. In other words, much like the omniscient viewer who’s lens we are forced to see through and, thus, identify with, we, the collective audience, with our manufactured, jaundiced, and skewed opinions on morality, are the true antichrists. In fact, our moral compass, with all of its exaggerated, self-righteous indignation, is more in league with the devils’, and to Von Trier, we are legion.

UncleVanya said...

Day 2:

I saw “City of Life and Death (Nanjing Nanjing)” today at the beautiful Winter Garden Theater, and here are some of my rambling thoughts:

The new film by Lu Chuan (”Kekexili: Mountain Patrol”), will, I believe, illicit many comparisons to Spielberg’s, “Schindler’s List”, and not unduly. Mainly because Spielberg’s emotional juggernaut depicting horrific war crimes against innocent civilians is still fresh in the minds
of many, and also because unlike most films released today, Chuan’s film (like Spielbergs’) is in black and white (stunningly, I might add). But, for me, the similarities end there. This film would more appropriately be discussed in relation to Masaki Kobayashi’s trilogy of films (”The Human Condition”) or Akira Kurosawa’s, “Ikiru” (at least in regards to style and tone). Like Koayahi’s and Kurosawa’s films, the paradoxes of war and it’s aftermath are an inevitable by-product of premeditated violence, sans any fore-thought or malice. Violence is just the nature of the beast, and in war, nothing is out of bounds for even the most rational and free-thinking person. In fact, horrific violence is boringly commonplace, if not a means of entertainment from boredom, to those caught within this malestrom. “City of Life and Death” opens with the taking of China’s capital city, Nanking, by the Japanese in collaboration with the Nazis at the beginning of WWII (1937). Even peripheral knowlege of this historical event, for most, should evoke outrage and disgust, similar to the disdain felt for the treatment of European Jews and others who suffered the holocaust.
Shot seemingly like a sonata (and intercut with actual postcards preparing us for an upcoming scene) , Cuan’s film is divided in to three acts. The easily won victory of Nanking, then the subjugation of a city, and finally the denoument at war’s end. One would expect a sort of cohesion through each act, but order is not the norm within these perimeters. In fact, each act is markedly different in tone, which threatens to undermine the film, and, yet, it succeeds through the simplicty of it’s narrative. the absence of a typical hollywood-like score (in fact music is mostly absent here),
and minor,
or, if not predictable, revelations in it’s conclusion. The horror (of rape, infanticide, mass murder) here is for the most part generated on the expressionless face of Kadokawa (Hideo Nakaizumi), a young Japanese soldier who increasingly loses his ability to react to the atrocities unfolding before him. His final act of mercy and violence is indicative of a redemption that is as meanimgless as the forces that brought him to this end. Ultimately the film topples over one paradox after another, reminding us of the senselessness of war and the inevitability of unthinkable cruelity. Though not a perfect film, China would be foolish not to submit it for Oscar consideration.

I also saw two other films: one from the great Korean director, Hong Sang-soo (”Jal Aijido Motamyunseo”) and “El Traspatio”, the new film from the director of the Academy Award nominated, “The Crimes of Father Romero”. The former film, I need more time to digest, but the latter (which I was expecting to be Mexico’s version of such great American films on serial killers, like “Seven”, “Zodiac”, or “Silence of the Lambs”), is really nothing more than a more graphic episode of CSI.

Rob said...

I was at both of these screenings last night too. I respectfully think Lev's being a bit too extreme on both of them.

"Anti Christ" really affected me, particularly on a second viewing, but more for the thematic points rather than the intensity of the filmmaking/imagery, and certainly didn't feel like one of the most extreme/disturbing/etc anythings ever. Though perhaps that's due to people WAY overhyping such factors during Cannes.

"Jennifer's Body" I found to be, shockingly, a lot of fun.

So, diff'rent strokes...

Rob said...

I agree with a lot of Adam M.'s points, and agree with Jose about "Anti Christ," but I just wanted to mention one thing I LOVED about "Jennifer's Body" is that Cody paints poser indie-rock bands as literal tools of Satan. For all the critical snipes, I think the movie does a lot of fresh things with potentially familiar material, and actually attempts to do some interesting, subversive stuff. i.e. it's a horror comedy that actually cares about the genre to which it belongs and is trying to be something different/special.

But I get it, Diablo Cody won an (arguably) undeserved Oscar, so we all need to hate on her now.

Lev Lewis said...

Adam: I really can't agree that "Jennifer's Body" critiques our culture in any sort of profound way. The initial premise does have promise as a metaphor for teenage, and especially teenage girl, culture, but Cody and Kusama fail to explore it in any way other than the given.

Rob: Understandably, not everyone is going to have the same reaction that I did to "Antichrist". For whatever reason it affected me unlike many others have.

All: I'm not ragging on Cody because she won an Oscar, or because she's considered 'cool', or for any other reason other than I don't care for her writing. I actually find her personality somewhat charming, and enjoy her presence more than her films.

Glenn said...

I'm not saying you're criticising Cody because she's famous, but if this were her first movie I doubt anybody would be even talking about the writing.

I just find it strange that so many WRITERS turned on Cody when she became famous. Besides, Jason Reitman got an Oscar nom for Juno so it's not like Cody got all the credit. And, as you say, Kusuma is hardly an auteur so I think the "Cody does seem to be a screenwriter like Charlie Kaufman whose name often eclipses the directors'" comment is a bit disingenuous.

I may not have been as gung ho on Juno as others were, but she created The United States of Tara so she gets a pass from me for at least a couple of years.

alan orthman said...

too bad for Megan Fox, eventually she'll have to actually do some acting at which point she'll be done for; but it looks she may have escaped career destruction for a least a little while longer...