As some of you know, we just got back from a lengthy trip to Toronto for this year’s Toronto International Film Festival and it’s “Midnight Madness” event. While I personally took on the task of seeing every horror-themed film at the event, my good friend Simon Barrett strayed into other realms. So you guys get the skinny on everything that went on during this epic festival, we decided it could be fun to have him do a full event report, including both horror and non-horror tiles. Below you’ll find “Film Festival Follies: Toronto International Film Festival – Day 0”, which includes his thoughts on Jennifer’s Body and the doc The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers.
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The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers and Jennifer’s Body
About a month prior to the Toronto International Film Festival, Brad “Professor Repulsive” Miska and I discussed the notion of me reviewing non-horror titles for Bloody-Disgusting during the fest, under the presumption that this way he could combine all of the site elements that are of no interest to his readers into one single post. As I had been granted an industry pass due to the kindness of a festival friend who probably should not be identified in these pages, I was determined to see as many movies as possible, and Brad wanted his site to have first row seats to the accompanying decay of my body, mind and spirit.
Accordingly, in the weeks leading up the fest, “Doctor Abhorrent” forwarded me about a dozen emails a day regarding pre-fest press screenings. Of these, I went to exactly one, in New York, of a film that I normally wouldn’t even bother to review because I had few strong opinions on it and it is basically of no interest to anyone. However, I did go into the press screening under the pretext that I would be reviewing the movie, and writing about subjects that are of no interest to anyone will be a recurrent theme in these pages, so let’s continue.
The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers (hereafter to be referred to by the catchy acronym TMDMIADEATPP) is a documentary regarding the 1971 leak of the Pentagon Papers, secret government documents detailing the cynical, deliberate escalation of the Vietnam War, to The New York Times by Daniel Ellsberg, a RAND Corporation employee who had been instrumental in the war’s inception. Ellsberg, once a conservative hawk, became radicalized by his involvement in the war and his proximity through friends to the peace movement, and leaked these documents, risking imprisonment for treason, in an effort to end the war.
There’s no reason a good documentary couldn’t be made from this subject matter, but TMDMIADEATPP isn’t it. Not that it’s bad; its narrative is interesting enough, and it’s all presented with relative competence, aside from a few appallingly animated segments that literally look like they were created by an elementary school student with a passing knowledge of Flash programming. The main problem is that the documentary never fully engages the viewer. It’s very much in the “talking heads edited together with recreation footage” Errol Morris style, but lacking that director’s visual sense or probing interview tactics. Thus, for example, despite Daniel Ellsberg’s willing involvement in the documentary, we never get much of a sense of him as a person, nor does the film bother to draw parallels to contemporary media behavior or illustrate how the lessons of the Pentagon Papers were (or, more pointedly, were not) learned by our society. That would have been interesting. As is, it’s just another liberal documentary that will only appeal to people who are already familiar with its arguments and subject matter and therefore really have no need to watch it.
I flew into Toronto on Thursday afternoon for one reason: the Midnight Madness series premiere of Jennifer’s Body that night. I got to the screening about an hour early expecting a line, but was completely unprepared to encounter an enormous line of literally over a thousand people, plus throngs of press and excitable onlookers hoping to catch a glimpse of the film’s star, Megan Fox.
I have always been indifferent to Megan Fox. Don’t get me wrong; if she asked me to light her cigarette, I’d burn my fingers fumbling for my lighter; she’s attractive. But, I mean, come on. My attitude had always been, there’s a lot more attractive girls out there, and since she doesn’t seem to ever do much in the way of real acting, I never got what all the fuss is about.
With Jennifer’s Body, I finally kind of got it. Megan Fox, first of all, isn’t just hot. She’s really hot. But beyond that, there’s something creepy about her hotness, something synthetic about her expression and disaffected in her demeanor. Like porn star Sasha Grey, she always seems vaguely bored no matter what she’s doing. And Jennifer’s Body plays upon this weirdness beautifully.
As Jennifer, a pretty, competitive high school girl who becomes possessed by a demon, Megan Fox is simply awesome. Diablo Cody’s stylized dialogue, which would sound awkward spoken by any normal human being, flies off her lips like spittle from the guy sitting next to you in a crowded bar, except, like, better. In other words, Megan Fox is great in this film because she is making no effort to act like a normal human being, which she probably can’t do anyway. Megan Fox in a stage production of August: Osage County? Probably not a good idea. Megan Fox in Jennifer’s Body? Awesome.
In fact, the entire cast of Jennifer’s Body is superb and a large part of why the film succeeds. Amanda Seyfried, who I personally think is quite a bit more attractive than Megan Fox, plays smartly against her previous Mean Girls/Veronica Mars roles as Jennifer’s mousy, unassuming best friend Needy, who becomes increasingly alarmed by her friend’s transformation and the resulting trail of high school boy corpses. And Adam Brody, an actor who I was previously only peripherally aware of, is hilarious as the overly ambitious lead singer of an emo band.
I’m not going to discuss the plot of Jennifer’s Body much further because it’s a movie that benefits from having some element of surprise. A lot of people at the festival were hating on it, possibly due to the celebrity factor involved, but I thought it was clever and a great start to the Midnight series. I understand why people dislike Diablo Cody’s writing, and frankly I’d love to jump on that bandwagon because I hate other writers in general, but fuck it, she’s truly talented, and at least she’s trying to do something different than the standard Hollywood attempt at stilted teen dialogue. Yes, no one in the real world should ever talk like the characters in Juno, but it’s not aiming for realism.
Jennifer’s Body is by no means a perfect film, but it delivers exactly what its premise promises, and I was engaged from start to finish. That’s a successful movie in my book. As Heathers rip-offs go, this is one of the best, and hopefully it will be the first horror-comedy to succeed at the box office in a good long while.
After the screening, the friends I was with all fled before Colin Geddes, TIFF’s Midnight Madness curator, could rock the Q&A, so I left early and probably missed audience members asking Megan Fox some really awkward questions. Outside of the theater exit, there were about two hundred people who hadn’t seen the film waiting just to catch a glimpse of Fox walk the ten or twenty feet to her limo. Surprisingly, most of the people gathered were teenage girls, which led me to realize that Fox’s fans aren’t all just vaguely horny members of the Axe Body Spray demographic. This made me happy, because with the vaguely feminist Jennifer’s Body, she has finally acted in a film that her female fans can enjoy as much as her male admirers.
Not that Transformers 2 isn’t a film that can be enjoyed by everyone.
I don’t usually do review ratings, but Bloody-Disgusting does, so I’ll break it down as follows:
The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers – 4/10
Jennifer’s Body – 9/10
(Full disclosure: I am working on a screenplay project with one of the producers of Jennifer’s Body and am also pals with a creative executive involved. However, any notion that such affiliations would prevent me from denouncing the film if I’d hated it will hopefully be dispelled in my later Toronto posts, in which I will destroy all of my relationships, professional and otherwise. Also, I haven’t actually seen Transformers 2.)