Daily reviews of some of the best and worst movies to screen at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival
God Bless America
Director: Bobcat Goldthwait
Stars: Joel Murray, Tara Lynne Barr, Larry Miller
Rather quietly, former Grover-voiced comedian Bobcat Goldthwait has become one of the best dark comedy directors kicking around Hollywood. Chances are you’re sadly unaware of that fact because disarmingly sweet comedies about bestiality (Sleeping Dogs Lie) and teen suicide (World’s Greatest Dad) don’t typically make it to the multiplex.
However, anyone who managed to get their dirty little mitts on Goldthwait’s recent movies knows that the man has become a master of crafting comedies that cause uncertainty over whether or not it’s even appropriate to laugh (for the record, it always is).
The director’s latest bile-spewing comedy God Bless America is his bitterest, funniest, and finest film to date. The ultraviolent satire of American trash culture premiered in Toronto’s Midnight Madness program that’s typically dedicated to horror movies and Asian action fims, yet the comedy that opened with a baby being blasted with a shotgun to a thunderous explosion of laughter and applause fit in with those weirdo late night romps rather perfectly.
God Bless America is about a bitter, middle-aged burnout disgusted by what passes for American culture who becomes so enraged by an episode of a My Super Sweet Sixteen-style reality show that he promptly steals a car (sporting a 9/11 bumper sticker no less), drives across the country, and kills that bratty teen. He quickly befriends a similarly minded ADD-addled girl from the bitchy reality TV queen’s high school and together they set off on a cultural killing spree across America, taking out figureheads of greed, bad taste, and even people who talk during movies.
The film is a satire that fires its point home with a bloody bullet. Some will claim it’s too harsh and longwinded, but this movie isn’t for them. It’s a fantasy for anyone who ever watched daytime TV or Juno and wondered what the fuck is wrong with people for slavishly accepting what passes for mainstream entertainment and appropriate behavior these days.
Goldthwait’s film is viciously dark and funny to such a degree that it will probably make it difficult for the director to even get a North American release in its current form. However, that outrage and intensity is exactly what makes the film special. The writer/director doesn’t just criticize others for creating facile art while pooping out a banal comedy himself. He takes bold, uncompromising risks with his satirical attack and creates something thankfully unfit for mass consumption.
This is a cinematic pipe bomb wired to explode on flaccid filmgoers. It attacks the drivel playing in neighboring theaters and presents a bold and startling satirical vision as an antidote. That’s high-falutin' talk for a comedy, but the movie deserves the praise. Plus it’s cripplingly funny and endlessly entertaining if you share Goldthwait’s warped worldview. A must see for anyone with a sick sense of humor and a healthy distain for populist entertainment.
Director: Fernando Meirelles
Stars: Rachel Weisz, Anthony Hopkins, Jude Law
Hey kids, did you know that even though it feels like we live in a bubble, all of humanity is actually interconnected? In fact, every little decision we make can actually have an impact across the globe. Mercifully the deeply disappointing, multi-character mosaic movie 360 stops short of actually saying that regurgitated nonsense out loud though sadly the well worn theme is hammered home so hard that it might be a good idea for theater owners to hand out vomit bags with each purchased ticket.
I won’t pretend that 360 is the worst movie ever made, but it is easily the worst movie I’ve seen at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. So many great movies have been made about the beautiful and ugly ways that strangers' lives intertwine and bounce off of each other (mostly by Robert Altman) that you have to wonder why City Of God director Fernando Meirelles would even bother to try and add his stamp to the almost-genre, especially when he’s stuck with such a nauseatingly melodramatic and clichéd script. Adding Russian prostitutes and possible sex offenders to this type of movie doesn’t make it original. It just mindlessly pushes buttons in a sad and failed attempt to create something verging on profundity.
There’s not point in discussing the plot. Most of the threads just peter out rather than building to anything. There are a great deal of big names in the cast like Rachel Weisz, Anthony Hopkins, Jude Law, and the underrated Ben Foster, presumably because they all assumed that with Fernando Meirelles at the helm, the movie would have to be at least semi-interesting. Sadly Meirelles adds nothing other than a few interesting visuals and the actors are stuck looking stoic in every scene, hoping that it’ll cut together into something interesting through editing.
There’s sadly just nothing there worth pursuing or even watching and the good will that Meirelles built up amongst film fans with the genuinely enthralling City Of God and the under-appreciated thriller The Constant Gardner is going to disappear quickly following the wannabe art house swill of Blindness and 360. I’m still holding out hope that the terrible screenplays the director was saddled with on his last two movies are to blame, but I can’t imagine that anything better is going to fall into his lap after two consecutive failures.
Maybe it’s time for the director to return to Brazil for his next feature in the hopes of recapturing the spirit that made his first movies so compelling. Meirelles definitely needs to try something different because whatever it is that he thinks he’s doing now sure as hell isn’t working.