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Toronto 2009: “Jennifer’s Body” Could Use Some Work

Toronto 2009: “Jennifer’s Body” Could Use Some Work (photo)

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Even though Telluride stole a little of Toronto’s thunder with a sneak premiere of Jason Reitman’s “Up in the Air,” the foremost film festival in North America is not about to let anyone forget that it was the place where “Juno” debuted two years ago. All three “Juno” principles — Reitman, screenwriter Diablo Cody (with “Jennifer’s Body”), and star Ellen Page (the lead in “Whip It!”) — are back up north with new films, and the most direct descendent, the Reitman-produced and Cody-penned “Jennifer’s Body,” was the first of the three to premiere in the midnight madness section on Thursday.

An émigré of the dearly departed Fox Atomic label, “Jennifer’s Body” arrived in Toronto with plenty of baggage, but came across like catnip to the friendly audiences in a country that gave birth to the “Ginger Snaps” franchise. Though Cody has said her follow-up to “Juno” was inspired by ’80s horror films like “Fright Night” and “Nightmare on Elm Street 3,” it’s the Canuck werewolf tale of two sisters — one infected and one looking for the cure — that “Body” most resembles. Not that Jennifer (Megan Fox) is in the least lupine — she’s a demon who, much to the dismay of her friend Needy (Amanda Seyfried), begins to feed on the boys in their high school.

One wishes that director Karyn Kusama showed as ravenous an appetite for genre in her adaptation of Cody’s eminently quotable script — the snap of the latter’s pop culture references and puns occasionally connect, but are usually steamrolled by Kusama’s heavy-handed efforts to push through a plot that seems made up as it goes along. Then again, no one can accuse Kusama of not indulging the film’s likely audience — Seyfried asks Fox if she’s wearing her “Evil Dead” t-shirt shortly before the two make out. And Kusama does manage to push the envelope with what’s unusually subversive imagery for a mainstream film (Fox’s first appearance as a demon with a Cheshire Cat grin is rather unforgettable, especially when there’s an implication she’s been raped).

If we’re still playing six degrees of “Juno,” “Up in the Air” star George Clooney’s other film in Toronto, “The Men Who Stare at Goats,” screened for press and industry on Thursday afternoon to mild applause. Based on Jon Ronson’s nonfiction account of the U.S. military’s experiments with psychic warfare, the film’s opening title card reads “More of this is true than you’d like to believe.” Moments later, we meet Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor), a down-on-his-luck journalist for the Ann Arbor Daily Telegram who stumbles onto a lead about a troop of U.S. soldiers who were trained to become “psychic spies.”

After an interview with a former soldier (Stephen Root) who stared a guinea pig into cardiac arrest, Wilton tags along with Lyn Cassady (George Clooney), the most intuitive member of the New Earth Army, a secret unit trained to use their minds in response to violent confrontation after the discovery by one soldier (Jeff Bridges) that most of his command isn’t psychologically capable of killing another human being. Instead, the specialized troop communicates in New Age-y buzz phrases like “psychic disincentive” and “optimum trajectory” and practice skills like cloud bursting to preserve their mental acuity.

09112009_menwhostare.jpg“The Men Who Stare at Goats” was helmed by Clooney’s producing partner Grant Heslov and it couldn’t come with a more impressive pedigree — besides the cast, the screenplay, by Peter Straughan, was on the 2006 Black List of best unproduced scripts. On the technical side, cinematographer Robert Elswit (“Magnolia”) and composer Rolfe Kent (“Election”) bring their usual panache. But “Goats” never quite adds up to the promise of all its involved talent, working fine as a broad comedy about a hippie squadron until it faces a third act where it must either embrace or reject the psychic hooey it’s spent the majority of its runtime mining for jokes. The filmmakers also made a critical error in casting McGregor in the lead, a choice that seemingly was made because of his “Star Wars” past — there’s a running gag about the psychics calling themselves “Jedi warriors” that he’s amusingly oblivious to — than the other qualifications of playing a risk-averse Midwestern beat reporter. As the often-shaggy-haired Cassady, Clooney comes out unscathed, relying on the crazy eyes he developed in the company of the Coen brothers to convincingly pull an apprehensive McGregor through an unspecified mission in the Kuwaiti desert.

The only trace of irony in “Creation,” the festival’s opening night film, can be found in its title, seeing as the Jon Amiel-directed drama chronicles the most destructive period in the life of Charles Darwin, as he debates whether to publish his groundbreaking “On the Origin of Species” and contends with the failing health of his ten-year-old daughter Annie. If that sounds serious with a capital S, it’s because it is, but with Paul Bettany in the lead, the film avoids being crushed under the weight of its own self-importance. Along with his real life wife Jennifer Connelly playing Darwin’s spouse Emma, Bettany’s impressive turn as the famed naturalist invites the audience in with his passionate intellectual curiosity and keeps the film afloat when things turn sour.

[Additional photo: “The Men Who Stare at Goats,” Overture Films, 2009]

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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

via GIPHY

Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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