Monday, September 14, 2009

TIFF 2009 Reviews: George A. Romero's Survival of the Dead

Before I go any further...the title? Is that official? It's annoying enough when John Carpenter does it, are we to infer that the possessive is to distinguish this flick from the other Survival of the Dead? Just wondering.

I really don't do well with not being at work in the middle of the day. I know I've got the week off for my festival holiday ("Merry TIFFmas!" as Roxy put it to me the other day) but taking the TTC in the mid-afternoon and being in my well-lit apartment while the rest of the world reminds me too much of the last time I was unemployed and it freaks me right the hell out. So I supect I may break a promise and cave to pick up another ticket or two just to keep myself out of the house and occupied between now and Friday.

As I settled into practically the same seat for a second show in a row in the Scotia 2, I engaged as usual in the "What have you seen that you've liked?" conversation and found myself chatting to Joshua Ligairi, one of the co-directors of Cleanflix. And now I feel like a bit of a tool for dissing his movie on this blog, 'cause he's a decent and soft-spoken guy. I mentioned how I thought the parallel between Hollywood's capitalism values and Daniel Thompson's viewing Provo Mormons as little more than a viable market was an odd one (he also confirmed my suspicion that Thompson is not a practicing Mormon), and told him I was surprised that he hadn't shown some of the directors the hacked-up versions of their films and got their comments on camera. As close as they got, it turns out, was when they interviewed Neil LaBute on the set of Lakeview Terrace. While on set, Ligiari and James showed Samuel L. Jackson the Cleanflicks version of Pulp Fiction, in which every bit of profanity had been excised...with the notable exception of the n-word. Jackson was quite incensed, and it was all I could do to not ask "Why the hell isn't THAT footage in your movie?"

Anyway, back to George A. Romero's Survival of the Dead. Seeing this movie violated one of my general festival rules, namely it's coming out in theatres this fall anyway. I wound up with a ticket for a couple of reasons: I had changed my mind on Tanner Hall and wanted something earlier in the day on Monday; I wanted to show some love to Romero in honour of his becoming a passport-carrying Canuck and Hogtown resident; and despite my Midnight Madness overdose of last year I felt odd only seeing one MM flick this September. Romero couldn't show up for this morning, which was a bit of a surprise, but Colin Geddes conveyed his regrets, and regaled us with tales of the mini-Zombie Walk of this past weekend.

And then the movie started, and a kind of disappointment set in. Romero's never been a filmmaker with a distinct visual style, but he's always been a perfectly good no-frills director as opposed to a no-style hack. That artlessness is still on display here, but I have to say, for the sixth part of a walking-dead saga that's now been unspooling on screens for 41 years, the wheels are really starting to come off the wagon. Talk all you want about the sociopolitical subtext of Romero's films, and I concede there's always something there, the fact is one goes to a zombie flick for the trashy fun of seeing splattery gore effects and creative vivisectioning done with verve. There may be political comment going on, but it needn't get in the way of the money shot. Survival is like the Home Alone of zombie movies: an hour and a half of unfunny mugging which leads to a marathon of slapsticky ultraviolence to close out the affair. And fair 'nuff, the splatter is at times quite inspired, though a bit CGI-heavy in a couple of shots...part of the charm of revisiting Dawn or Day is seeing the amazing old-school latex work by Savini and his crew, who are missed terribly. But to get there we have to wade through Kenneth Welsh and Richard Fitzpatrick putting on elaborately silly Irish brogues and reenacting John Ford-esque rivalries that seem airlifted in from another movie, a gratuitous Strombo cameo and a rather perfunctory military group and their not terribly original internal bickering.

It breaks my heart. I really wanted to have a blast at this movie, especially since Romero is such a groundbreaker in the genre that I love so much and which has been such a huge influence on my life and writing. But my heart's just really not in it. (**)

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