Fitting that, with the NYC IFP Market trip next on the travel agenda, we'd suddenly start seeing black squirrels running around Toronto. At least they weren't exhibiting flesh-eating behavior like the one I came upon my first day in New York last year that was chowing down on a dead bird. It was gross then and it's still disgusting thinking about it--circle of life my ass!
Final Quick Takes from Ontario: When I didn't get in to see DEATH OF A PRESIDENT, the most convenient alternative was THE ABANDONED (2-Stars), also playing at the Cumberland. A nicely shot ghost story with decently forboding atmosphere, this English language Spanish film set in Russia (!) is ultimately too convoluted and ridiculous. In fact, this story of an adult sister and brother confronting their family demons in an isolated farm house probably had the highest percentage of walk-outs of any of the screenings I attended. Of all the worthy selections in the MIdnight Madness section this year, this one was the weakest of the bunch. FAY GRIM (3-Stars) - First let me say that HENRY FOOL was my favorite film of the festival when it played here 8 or 9 years ago. Everyone is back in Hal Hartley's much anticipated sequel, with the addition of Jeff Goldblum as a perfectly cast CIA agent. But what starts out hilariously deadpan and bizarre, not to mention cleverly shot from every angle but a straight one, grows tiresome in its complicated tale of political intrigue and espionage. Parker Posey is terrific once again (what a festival with both this and FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION!), and the film looks great shot in HD (and had the best video projection I saw the whole week), but this subject matter and spy stuff wore me down. AMERICAN HARDCORE (4-Stars) - In theaters any day now, I was happy to catch up up with Paul Rachman's thoroughly researched and entertaining doc about this particular part of the early 80's punk scene after missing it at Sundance. With a great deal of emphasis on Black Flag, Bad Brains, and Minor Threat, the film is nicely constructed with good archival footage and interviews. But for my money the definitive early 80's punk doc is still Penelope Spheeris' classic THE DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION. RESCUE DAWN (4-Stars) - Based on his own documentary from 1997, LITTLE DIETER NEEDS TO FLY, Werner Herzog has made a really good Vietnam War POW story that should be his biggest success in years. Christian Bale, who just keeps getting better and better, is fantastic as Dieter Dengler, the German-born US Navy pilot who was captured in Laos and tortured until he finally escaped. Steve Zahn is also great (in a serious role!) as a fellow prisoner, and it seems one of our most extraordinary filmmakers is happy being back in the jungle. SEVERANCE (4-Stars) - The British sales division of an international arms company goes on retreat for a little team building in Hungary, and ends up at the wrong lodge in the wrong forest--bad move! Without giving too much more away, I'll just say that this sick, funny, bloody, and violent combo of "The Office" with DELIVERANCE and FRIDAY THE 13TH both shocks and rocks--another perfect Midnight Movie!