Soulmining at TIFF '09, Day Five - Bad Lieutenant, Bitch Slap and Youth in Revolt
11th Oct 09
You wait for a new Werner Herzog film and then two come along at once! I’m a bit of a late starter with Herzog, but suddenly took an interest in the unorthodox director after watching Alan Yentob’s excellent ‘Imagine’ programme with him on the BBC, and then discovering his masterwork Fitzcarraldo for the first time thereafter. Herzog has two films at TIFF 09; My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done which I’m seeing on Friday, but first up it’s Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call New Orleans.
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans
The film world has been buzzing with speculation about Herzog’s take on Bad Lieutenant since the first crazy trailer hit the web with its iguanas-on-the-table scene and Nicolas Cage wigging-out like a mad man. Let’s be clear – this is not a remake of Abel Ferrara’s nun-upsetter that starred Harvey Keitel, it’s a whole new story, its only link being the fact that it features a whacked out cop as its lead character. Herzog insists he’s never even seen Ferrara’s original, sparking a war of words with the director in Venice prior to its Toronto screenings. So, Cage is detective Terence McDonagh working on a murder case in New Orleans, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, doped up on painkillers and cocaine. Just to add to his vices, his current squeeze is an escort (Eva Mendes) and he’s got a gambling problem too.
Watching Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call New Orleans there’s just no way that Herzog and Cage could have made this without knowing just how much comedy lies therein. For wild, OTT performances there really are few better than Nicolas Cage and he totally devours the role of McDonagh delivering line after line of classic dialogue, the best being "Shoot him again – his soul is still dancing". The fact that McDonagh is actually allowed to function as a cop in the state he’s in is frankly amazing, but that’s part of the fun. To be honest, the drug-dealing murder mystery is the weakest part, the focus is entirely on McDonagh and his antics. Herzog is actually an astute choice as director, renowned for his films depicting crazy people up against all the odds, and his directorial choices add real depth to the film – watch out for the croc-cam in one memorable scene! What might seem on paper like just another Hollywood crime thriller is far from the truth, this is a bold and bonkers movie dominated by a hilarious performance by Cage and his lucky crack pipe.
Youth In Revolt
Next, something lighter in tone but equally funny is Youth In Revolt, the latest feature from Miguel Arteta (The Good Girl). Based on C. D. Payne’s cult novel, it’s a coming-of-age story about intellectual loser Nick Twisp (Michael Cera) who meets the girl of his dreams in a trailerpark where he and his dysfunctional family are staying after fleeing from a gang of unhappy sailors (it’s a long story). Sheeni (Portia Doubleday) is perfect in every way, except that she already has a boyfriend at college, so Nick decides to prove how far he’ll go for her with the help of his new no-nonsense French alter-ego Francois. Needless to say, his attempts to woo Sheeni do not run smoothly.
Michael Cera is making something of a career of playing likeable losers, and I guess your opinion of Youth In Revolt might well hinge on just how tolerant you are of seeing him play the same type of character again and again. Thing is, he’s damn good at it, and with the smart source material and a fabulous supporting cast that includes Jean Smart, Zach Galifianakis, Steve Buscemi, Ray Liotta and Justin Long, he’s backed another winner here. With Arteta at the helm, veteran of such TV shows as Freaks And Geeks, The Office and Ugly Betty, there’s an easy nature to the comedy and it really delivers the goods – there were more belly laughs in this film than any other that I saw in my time at TIFF 09 that’s for sure. Okay, it’s perhaps not the most original of stories, but with the combination of Arteta’s fresh approach (love the claymation titles and links) and Cera’s comic timing, Youth In Revolt is a hugely enjoyable watch.
Rob Lowe, Jennifer Garner, Matthew Robinson and Ricky Gervais
I’m feeling pretty tired after my morning’s double-bill so decide to skip Israeli shut-in drama Phobidilia and instead have a slightly more leisurely afternoon. Ricky Gervais is taking part in a press conference for his new movie The Invention Of Lying (which I’m seeing later on) so I figure that ought to be good for a few laughs. Along with co-director Matthew Robinson and co-stars Jennifer Garner and Rob Lowe, Gervais seems entirely at ease with his surroundings and it’s a light-hearted session with the panel giving some good banter as the questions fly in.
Question: What’s the best or worst lie that you’ve ever read about you?
Rob Lowe: Alright, I think that vicious and horrible rumour about me and Ben Affleck (laughter), I just want to say categorically that Ben and I are not secretly married.
Jennifer Garner: That’s what we’re going with now are we? Are you coming back to Boston with me or not? I would like to say that the rumour that Ben Affleck and I are married is also false. Ricky?
Ricky Gervais: I am Ben Affleck.
After the press conference concludes I take a stroll down to Front Street in the afternoon sunshine and pop into the Anchor Bay offices to pick up a couple of DVDs that Susan has kindly arranged for me. I then bump into Paul at the Sutton Place Hotel, grab a bite to eat, check my emails and before I know it, it’s time to get ready for tonight’s gala premiere.
The Invention Of Lying
After hearing all the flannel from the press conference I’m now primed to see if The Invention Of Lying really is the hilarious comedy that we’ve all been led to believe it is. Arriving at the prestigious Elgin Hall in the nick of time the press are out in force tonight and Jennifer Garner is the centre of attention as I skip past her and grab my seat. After a quick intro from Ricky Gervais & co. we’re thrust straight into the film. The plot is simple enough; set in a parallel world where everyone is compelled to speak the truth, Mark Bellison (Gervais) suddenly discovers he has the ability to tell a lie. Keen to win the heart of Jennifer (Garner) – who initially dated him before moving on someone with better genes (Rob Lowe) – Mark uses his ability to boost his status by appearing to know answers to life’s great mysteries.
To be honest, by Hollywood’s standards this is a by-the-numbers comedy that will satisfy a Saturday night crowd, or make for a pleasant enough in-flight movie, but it’s nothing more than that. Sure, it’s a nice enough idea, but just not developed in a very satisfying manner – why, for example, do all characters have to voice their every thought except for our amusement? It just wouldn’t happen. Yes, there are funny lines – and the Coke / Pepsi ads are inspired – but as a whole it doesn’t quite gel. The cast do their level best but their characters just aren’t strong enough, especially Jennifer who seems so self-obsessed with raising such perfect children you really wonder who’d want to get involved with her in the first place. It’ll no doubt help maintain Gervais’s profile in the US, but it’s his next film as writer/director, Cemetery Junction, which will be the real test as to whether he can create something as good on film as he’s done on British TV.
Meanwhile across at the Ryerson an eager buzz is building ahead of the Midnight Madness screening of Bitch Slap. Having been billed by Colin as “Sports Illustrated: The Swimsuit Edition – The Action Movie”, the fanboys (and girls) are lining up to feast their eyes on the four sexy stars who I’d had the pleasure of meeting the previous evening. Also present tonight are director Rick Jacobson, actor Ron Melendez and, much to my delight, stunt co-ordinator Zoe Bell (best known for her work on Tarantino’s Death Proof). I hook up with the MM bloggers, take some photos, and then find a seat ready for the beatings and boobage to begin.
How to sum up Bitch Slap then? Well, essentially it’s a crime-caper centred around three feisty women who have a rendezvous out in the desert; there’s Hel (Erin Cummings), the ringleader on a mission of revenge, Trixie (Julia Voth), a stripper, and Camero (America Olivo), a ruthless killer who hates men. Their bounty includes over $200 million in stolen diamonds and a powerful device that could end life on earth. Allegiances shift and double-crossing is abound as we learn more and more about each character’s history. Throw in some evil drug dealers, some cops and a high-kicking assassin named Kinki (Minae Noji) and you’ve got a recipe for trouble. And not forgetting – it’s even printed on their promotional postcards – “More Cleavage than you can Shake a Stick At and Kidney-Rattling Erotic Displays of Carnal Prowess Heretofore Unimagined…”
Yes, it’s safe to say that Bitch Slap does not take itself too seriously. Jacobson, a veteran of Xena: Warrior Princess and Hercules: The Legendary Journeys brings the campy action from those popular shows and mixes it with the sexploitation films of Russ Meyer. There’s certainly a lot of flesh on show from the busty beauties, and there’s even time for a long slow-motion water fight in all its close-up glory, but there’s no explicit nudity, it’s pure titillation. The acting varies wildly – Voth impressing the most – but the girls certainly look the part and there’s a real sense of camaraderie amongst them. It’s the over-complicated plot and the dialogue that rather hampers the film, with too many elements trying to fit in and an over-reliance on flashbacks that is funny at first but soon becomes tiresome. A great shame really as Bitch Slap is otherwise a fun attempt to revive those sexy films of the sixties and seventies.
With Zoe Bell
Immediately after the screening Colin hosts another lively Q&A with the director and cast, and then I catch up with Zoe Bell and Minae Noji outside for a quick chat. With tonight being Bruce’s last night before he heads back to San Francisco I decide to stay out late, so along with Paul and Aliza Ma, Colin’s Programmer Assistant, we bundle into a cab and head over to The Drake for a few beers. Shortly afterwards we’re joined by the whole Bitch Slap posse, and before long we’ve taken over a corner of the room and are drinking and dancing away what’s left of the night. A fantastic end to the evening but as I roll in to my bed at 5am it’s not looking too hopeful for next scheduled screening in just four hours time...
For further information on TIFF 09 visit the festival website: www.tiff.net/.
The Invention Of Lying was released in UK cinemas on 2nd October.