July 28, 2010

This year’s tribute festival strand, Dante’s Inferno, is a series of retrospective screenings of the cinematic works of subversive Hollywood insider, Joe Dante. Working within the confines of the system, Dante’s films are just about B-grade enough for both them and him to achieve cult status. Familiar with a few of his features already (I am proud to admit that my geekery knows no bounds and I enjoy viewing Gremlins (1984) and Gremlins 2 (1990) as part of my annual Christmas triple feature; along with Die Hard (1988), of course), I thought it was about time I gave his shorter works a wee look-in. Although I’m usually happy to subscribe to the mantra that good things come in threes (skeptics can refer back to my aforementioned Christmas viewing program), when it came to Tuesday night’s screening, it was more the case that “two out of three ain’t bad”.

Homecoming (2005, 58 mins)

This is the most relentlessly self-conscious and blatantly subversive zombie schlock flick I’ve ever had the pleasure of viewing. Featuring sensationally drawn republican sycophants up against a bunch of military soldier “zombie dissidents” whose motivation to return undead has absolutely nothing to do with the desire to eat people or even to “infect” them, but comes rather from the great compulsion to exercise their democratic right to vote against the very administration that needlessly sent them to their deaths in the search for a bunch of made up WMDs. With a script so incredibly sassy that you’ll barely have time to finish laughing at one line of dialogue before you starting cracking up at the next, Homecoming is a film where one cheap shot constantly and hilariously supercedes the last.

It ‘s a Good Life (1983, 26 mins)

This might in fact be the very best thing I’ve seen at the festival so far. When the film started up I began to experience a pang of nostalgia and some kinda creepy deja vu. Then I realised that here was a film I have seen somewhere around twenty or thirty times (at least) in my childhood and that used to absolutely scare the crap out of me. The opportunity to see it on film, and on a big screen, well, that sure was something. The story is a simple one; Helen Foley is a school teacher whose life is ruled by “sameness” and who endlessly waits “for something different to happen”. Following an “accident” outside a highway diner, Helen drives the young boy involved home, stopping in to meet his “family” for just a moment… But Anthony is no ordinary boy and his “special powers” stretch the limits of reality in this imaginative and terrifying installment of Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone series.

Lightning (1995, 31 mins)

This was, unfortunately, the weakest film in the program. Not all together terrible but certainly paling in comparison to the two films that came before, Lightning is an old-fashioned tale about greed and comeuppance. Very straight forward, narrative and moral, Lightning ought to be daytime tele fodder programmed alongside the likes of Little House on the Prairie (1974-1982).

Homecoming, It’s a Good Life and Lightning are screening as part of the Joe Dante retrospective program of this year’s MIFF and will be screening again on Saturday July 31 2010, 4.45pm in ACMI 2.


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