by Bill Chambers There's something a little ghoulish about still reviewing TIFF movies at this late date, I know, but I wanted to briefly touch on a few of this year's selections I never got around to reviewing in full, before they became indistinguishable dots in the rearview.
- Ghost Graduation (Promoción Fantasma) (***/****), from Spain, was the penultimate film I saw at the Festival, as well as the ultimate palate cleanser. "The Breakfast Club meets Ghostbusters," went TIFF's own logline, which turns out to be fairly truthful advertising. In Ghost Graduation, a teacher able to see dead people is recruited to mediate with five archetypal teenage ghosts--six, if you count the Pregnant One's unborn child--who've been haunting their high school since perishing there in the mid-'80s. He deduces that the white light never came for them because they haven't graduated yet, and sets out to tutor them to a passing grade. Though set in the present day, this is very much an Eighties Movie, complete with gettin'-it-done montages (themselves embedded with Breakfast Club shout-outs), jarring moments of tastelessness, and a synth score, not to mention a bureaucratic hardass who wants to shut down our hero's project. But it's a uniquely nostalgic vision, in that instead of coming off as mere homage, it's as though the cinematic language hadn't developed at all in the last twenty-five years, and movies are still being made in the key of Real Genius and The Monster Squad.
- The only Midnight Madness entry I had opportunity to see is J.T. Petty's 3-D Hellbenders (*/****), about a fraternity of Brooklyn priests who perform rogue exorcisms--the city, in what feels like another Ghostbusters riff, is filthy with the possessed--and, to keep themselves honest, sin up a storm. The novelty of men (plus one woman) of the cloth cussing, stealing, and hitting on each other wears off quickly, while Petty mysteriously abandons not only a running gag of these characters addressing the camera, Ferris Bueller-like, but also the various conflicts introduced in that context. Hellbenders just has too half-baked a screenplay--one that Clancy Brown overexerts himself to save--to be anything but a mulligan for cult director Petty. And the 3-D is disappointingly unmemorable.
- In The Thieves (Do-Deuk-Deul) (½*/****), Ocean's Eleven is cross-pollinated with The Usual Suspects just as South Korean thrillers are cross-pollinated with Hong Kong actioners, and the results are not pretty. I admit a better understanding of relations between China and South Korea might facilitate a deeper appreciation of the cultural tensions that dictate a lot of the narrative, but even so this is an interminable, convoluted, occasionally bathetic heist movie finally as generic as its title. If there's a Korean answer to George Clooney, he didn't show up.
- The Fest rebounded for me in a big way, though, with Harmony Korine's Spring Breakers (****/****). I missed Terrence Malick's To the Wonder earlier that morning, but I sense I saw the better Malick movie, anyway, via this elliptical, dreamy, and, yes, transcendent ode to what Korine calls "the Britney Spears generation." Four seemingly sheltered college freshman girls (Ashley Benson, Vanessa Hudgens, Rachel Korine, and Selena Gomez (!)) decide to do the whole Florida spring-break ritual--a horror-movie-ready set-up that gets turned inside-out when our heroines become ecstatically-violent henchwomen to menacing white rapper Alien (James Franco, brilliant), thereby defanging him as a bogey. The only one who bows out is Faith (Gomez), whose religious convictions, perhaps once shared by her lifelong friends, have put moral distance between her and the rest of her group. Gomez--not the only erstwhile Disney Channel starlet here, but the only one still associated with Mickey Mouse in the public consciousness--is cannily cast as the other alien, and she has a great scene with Franco, who looks like the King Kong to her Fay Wray as he cups her tiny face in one giant paw. (When she wriggles free, he even sniffs his fingers, Kong-like.) I run hot and cold on Korine in part because his grinning-idiot persona makes me doubt his sincerity, but there's no denying the lyricism of Spring Breakers, especially a sequence set to Spears's "Every Day" that includes the indelible image of three armed, bikini-clad women in pink ski masks dancing in a circle like nightmare music-box ballerinas. To invert Hitchcock's unkind assessment of Ingrid Bergman: so stupid, so beautiful. This is me waving a white flag at Korine and Franco.