Six-time Canadian Comedy Award winner, Monkey Toast: The Improvised Talk Show is back! For our December show, host David Shore welcomes special guests, from Mount Sinai Hospital, surgeon, Dr. Erin Kennedy, and film critic & host of CTV’s Pop Life, Richard Crouse! It all happens on Saturday, December 7th at The Social Capital Theatre, 154 Danforth Ave. (second floor), Toronto, M4K 1N1. Doors: 7:30pm / Show 8pm. $15 in advance or $20 at the door. Click HERE for more info!
SYNOPSIS: The trouble in “Ouija” begins when Debbie (Shelley Hennig) breaks the first rule of witchboarding: Never play alone. She pays a heavy price for her spiritual disobedience and soon her group of good-looking friends is gathered at her funeral. “She said she’d see us the next day,” says BFF Laine (Olivia Cooke). “Why would she say that?” We’ll never know… unless Laine pulls out the Ouija Board! Using Debbie’s board Laine and pals try and contact their dearly departed’s spirit, but instead unleash a demonic terror that threatens all of their lives.
Richard: 1 Star
Mark: 1 Star
Richard: Mark, Ouija is scary, but not scary like Dracula, Edgar Allen Poe or hungry zombies. No, I thought Ouija was scary because as I watched it I could feel my life slipping away, second-by-second, for ninety excruciating minutes. As scary as you would imagine a horror film inspired by a board game to be, it’s a mishmash of demonology, Japanese horror and so many slasher movie tropes the producers owe John Carpenter and Wes Craven a writing credit. The blonde girl dies first, there’s spooky stuff in the attic and the plucky heroine outlives almost everyone. At least there’s very little found footage. Which way does you planchette point on this movie? Yes or no?
Mark: My planchette points straight down on this one, Richard. The ouija board itself is a dumb device, as laughable as tea leaves or numerology. Then the rest of the movie makes up its own rules as it goes along, with little regard for storytelling or even visual style. The movie, which seems to be pitched at teenage girls who would text photos of jeans while watching it, feels like an after school special viewed on a fourth rerun. But it did make me think. I thought about tax planning, tort reform, Japanese vintage eyewear, and what I ate for lunch on May 7, 1978. Then, blissfully, the movie ended, and I was free.
RC: The movie is 5% jump scares, those unexpected loud noises that make you twitch in your seat, 67% set-up and 28% strange glances. As Laine, Debbie’s intrepid best friend, Olivia Cooke does most of the heavy lifting. She keeps the action (such that it is) moving forward all the while displaying her mastery of the concerned look. With a furrowed brow and a determined attitude she tracks down the mystery behind her friend’s death, but mostly she just looks concerned.
MB: About her career, after this turkey. The acting is so bland in this film that you’re quite happy when they meet their gruesome fates. The pretty, watchable blonde is dispatched in the first few minutes, and you breathe a short sigh of relief when the great character actor Lin Shaye shows up for a few scenes before cashing her paycheque.
RC: Most annoying is the movie’s habit of telling the audience the most obvious of details. “She played it alone,” whispers Laine in amazement over a shot of, you guessed it, Debbie going solo on the Ouija board. Instead of telling us something useful, or interesting, the film makes sure that no detail, no matter how small, is commented on.
Synopsis: Set in April 1945, the movie sees hard-bitten commander “Wardaddy” Collier (Brad Pitt) lead a U.S. 2nd armored division tank nicknamed Fury through Germany in the final days of World War II. His crew, “Bible” Swan (Shia LaBeouf, once again acting opposite giant machines), Gordo (Michael Peña) and redneck Grady (Jon Bernthal), have fought together since the beginning of the war. When Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman), a new gunner recruit with no battle experience, signs on, he must fit in or endanger the entire crew. “You are no use to me if you can’t kill krauts,” says Wardaddy.
Richard: 4 Stars
Mark: 4 Stars
Richard: Mark, Fury is a brutal war film with exciting and well-executed battle sequences, but its most vicious scene takes place over a meal, at a table set with a lace tablecloth. It happens midway in the film after the crew has captured a German town. Once the bullets stop flying two local women prepare a meal for Wardaddy and Norman. The long scene begins with tension as the German ladies try and figure out if the Nazi hunters mean them harm but when the core group crowds around the table it becomes something akin to a surreal family dinner where real humanity, or lack thereof, is laid bare. It could have stopped the movie dead in its tracks, but instead is a welcome interlude that showcases the effects of battle on a tightly knit but disparate group of men.
Mark: Yes, Richard, it’s an excruciating scene, and I mean that in the best way. What I liked about it was the way it disposed of the “greatest generation” mythology and showed American soldiers as borderline rapists and sadists. Not Pitt, of course, who is just and fair, but some of the soldiers who saved us from the Nazis were swine themselves. It is a depressing irony in a film that’s too tough for irony. I admired the general toughness of the movie; war is not glamourized, it’s shown to be a cesspool of degradation, a literal mud bath. I can’t even imagine what the mud budget was for the picture.
RC: The mud budget and the cost of the fake body parts that litter the battlefield must have rivalled Pitt’s salary. Those are the details, however, that give the movie so much of its grit. The dinner scene helps open the movie up and keep it from becoming Das Boot on land, but I was fascinated by the tank interiors. A sense of claustrophobia, tension and fear percolates inside the tank cab and literally bleeds off the screen. It helps that the performances are very strong, but it’s the primal feeling of being trapped inside the small space that gives the movie much of it oomph.
MB: Yes, I couldn’t get into the elevator after I saw the film. The performances are strong, as you say, and I was most impressed by Shia LaBoeuf, who we can now all forgive for all those Transformers movies. Michael Pena is great, but he’s always great. A real surprise is Jon Bernthal, a relative newcomer, who nails his southern-fried redneck character as a man you equally hate and pity. And what did you think of Pitt, Richard?
RC: Pitt really pulls this off. At first I was concerned he was going to hand in a rehash of his Nazi hunting character from Inglourious Basterds. That character was over-the-top, and so is this one in his own way. Much of his dialogue sounds like it was written by Quentin Tarantino, but the character is deeper, not so much in what he says, but in his quiet scenes when everything you need to know about him is written on his face.
MB: The sadness is even in his haircut, which has its own gravitational pull.
By Richard Crouse & Mark Breslin – Metro Reel Guys
SYNOPSIS: Robert Downey Jr is Hank Palmer, a hotshot defense lawyer. Who’s been estranged from his father Judge Joseph Palmer (Robert Duvall) for years but is forced to see him when his mother passes away. Returning to his hometown of Carlinville, Indiana for the funeral Hank must confront the life he left behind—ex-girlfriend Samantha (Vera Farmiga), brothers Glen (Vincent D’Onofrio) and Dale (Jeremy Strong) and his cold-fish father. The quick in-and-out trip is extended, however, when the Judge is accused of murder and Hank becomes his lawyer.
Richard: 3 Stars
Mark: 4 Stars
Richard: Mark, The Judge feels like Oscar bait. It’s a long movie with a wide story arc that gives its leads ample opportunity to strut their stuff. Downey hands in a solid, if somewhat familiar performance while Duvall plays elder statesman, resurrecting the alpha male feel of The Great Santini. Both are used to good effect and the supporting cast keeps things humming along despite a story that pushes credulity to the limit. What’s your verdict? Were won over the performances despite plot holes so big not even Iron Man could fill them?
Mark: Richard, The Judge is a sprawling, square, old-fashioned movie and I loved it in spite of itself. It’s a pleasure to watch Downey act without a fifth of a billion bucks in CGI helping him out. The movie reminds us why we fell in love with him so long ago. His perfect wiseass line readings and adolescent smirk hide the softie underneath, and it’s great to watch the transition slowly unfold. As for Duvall, how can you go wrong? He’s not just an actor now, he’s everyone’s granddad. The acting in the movie is pretty flawless, and I’m including Vincent D’Onofrio and Vera Farmiga here as well.
RC: The acting is very good. It’s the story, or should I say stories that bogged me down. It’s the hardest working movie in show business. It’s a film that wants to check all the boxes. It’s a family drama! No! It’s a romance! Nope! It’s a courtroom thriller! It’s all those things, and, for me, less because it spreads the focus too thin by trying just a little too hard. Downey and Co. float above it all, however, touching down every now and again to introduce a new plot twist and deliver the occasional touching moment.
MB: You’re right; it’s all those things. And one more: It’s a John Mellencamp song. You see, he was born in a small town… Richard, let’s not forget the cliche of the big city slicker who finds out his roots are where his heart belongs. In spite of that, in spite of everything you so correctly enumerate, I still loved the movie. And although I had a pretty good idea how the thriller part was going to turn out, I was engaged to see how it would get there.
RC: Most of the silly stuff that bothered me comes in the form of clues Hank pieces together while forming the Judge’s defense and the trial itself. There will be no spoilers here, but suffice to say the whole thing hinges on a bit of information so implausible that it gives new meaning to the term suspension of disbelief. Trouble is, it didn’t have to be that way. There were any number of ways to establish the point in question (OK, HERE’S A MILD SPOILER ALERT: It involves chemotherapy and a cottage) without trying so hard, but that’s not the kind of film this is.
MB: But it is the kind of movie where the prosecuting attorney (Billy Bob Thornton) is given a Snidely Whiplash moustache just to make sure we all know he’s the bad guy. Doesn’t matter. Still loved the movie.
SYNOPSIS: This prequel to “The Conjuring” proves that you can’t keep a good doll down. It tells the story of Annabelle, that movie’s creepy, possessed doll, before she was safely locked away in ghost hunter Ed and Lorraine Warren’s cabinet of curiosities. The story begins in the late 1960s with a gift from John (Ward Horton) to his expectant wife Mia (Annabelle Wallis). He buys her Annabelle, a seemingly harmless vintage doll, decked out in a lace wedding dress. “She fits right in,” Mia squeals. The quiet peace of John and Mia’s life is broken by a Manson Family style home invasion, and even though Mia and John survive, strange things start happening in the wake of the attack and it looks like Annabelle has something to do with the weird goings on.
Richard: 3 Stars
Mark: 3 Stars
Richard: Mark, Annabelle is like a Haunted House attraction at Halloween. There’s nothing that’s really, truly soul-scorchingly scary inside, but it will give you a few good jolts. It’s part psychological drama, part Paranormal Activity and is filled with good weird atmosphere, but where The Conjuring had the benefit of two strong leads in Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson, Annabelle’s stars, Wallis and Horton, aren’t very compelling. She put me in the mind of Sharon Tate, which is appropriate for the time and story and Horton reminded me of… nothing much at all. More interesting leads might have made me care more about the story. Were you scared?
Mark: Yes I was, Richard, more from the expert filmmaking than what the actors brought to the picture. The director uses a lot of unusual camera angles and unexpected cuts to raise the suspense. And unlike so many horror movies that take place in dark, decrepit mansions, this one is bathed in light and uses a lot of California pastels. The story is familiar but the look of the movie kept me off balance. But it owes a big debt to Rosemary’s Baby, which you hinted at in referencing Tate, who was married to Roman Polanski. Horton looks a lot like John Cassavetes, the plot involves children and satanic cults and the couple lives in a penthouse. Do I make a decent case?
RC: It definitely has echoes of Rosemary’s Baby and I’d add in a taste of Repulsion in there as well. The actors may be milquetoasty, but the movie’s low-key eerie atmosphere isn’t. Director John R. Leonetti amps up the tension but without the use of computer generated special effects. Instead he relies on silence and everyday sounds to make your skin crawl. The Self-Operating Sewing Machine from Hell and Satan’s Popcorn are effectively used in a movie that may be the quietest horror film ever made.
MB: Yes, the movie is very good at making inanimate objects spooky. I also never thought of Cherish by The Association as being a scary song, but it’s just another example of how Leonetti twists conventions in this otherwise conventional movie. The part of the film that least impressed me was Annabelle herself. Not to malign the doll, but she’s no Bride of Chucky.
RC: She’s no Barbie either! She’s simply the prop that will allow producers to string together a series of prequels and sequels based on devil doll lore. Possessed or not, I’m guessing she works cheaper than the human actors.
MB: Wait! Barbie as devil doll! Talk about rebranding! Let’s get the pitch ready…
SYNOPSIS: Washington plays a home improvement store worker by day, righter of wrongs by night. He’s a former black ops commando trying to leave his violent ways in the past but just when he thought that part of his life was over, the Russian mob leans on him because he tried to protect a young woman (Chloë Grace Moretz) from her violent pimp. When he singlehandedly wipes out the east coast wing of the Russian mob Teddy (Marton Csokas), an enforcer from Moscow arrives to put an end to McCall’s one man search for justice.
Richard: 3 ½ Stars
Mark: 3 Stars
Richard: Mark, The Equalizer is more elegant than Liam Neeson’s recent action movies but less viscerally satisfying. All the elements of Neeson’s Euro-trash thrillers are in place—tattooed bad guys and the “seasoned” hero with a “special set of skills”—but the pace is much slower. The point of the story is that McCall equalizes situations, using his talents to help the down trodden but it takes about thirty minutes before any settling of scores happens. We meet McCall, learn about his orderly life but we don’t learn anything about his past. He’s Denzel and ergo, a badass, but the first thirty minutes of this movie could have snapped things up a bit by illuminating his past.
Mark: Richard, withholding information must be what passes for suspense in this thriller. But I can accept a slow burn off the top if the rest of the movie ignites. But the plot and tone of the movie is standard stuff, as you say. What lifts the rote material into the stratosphere is Denzel who is such a good actor we forget we’re watching an expensive Steven Seagal flick.
RC: It is a slow burn that does build some tension, and by the time McCall unleashes hell on the Russia mobsters it comes as a bit of a catharsis. Now the movie is rolling! Except that it isn’t. It takes ages for McCall to open another can of whoop ass. Instead director Antoine Fuqua has elected to gradually build up to a wild showdown in a massive hardware store. Who knew those places were so dangerous? The climax is tense and inventive, apparently there is no home improvement device that cannot be turned into a WMD, but it is a more standard blockbuster-movie ending than you might expect from a movie so stingy with the action in the first hour.
MB: Homeowners…killing homeowners, as the jingle sorta goes. I liked the set piece at the end; it was very well directed, and I have no quibble about the technical virtuosity of the movie. Denzel’s tactiturn hero is mysterious and engaging. But when I thought about it, all of the hero’s efforts to eliminate the Russian mob in Boston would only result in the ascendancy of the Irish mob. And what’s Bill Pullman doing in the movie with three lines? Time to fire his agent?
RC: Pullman did have the nicer house though, so I guess that counts for something. Overall it’s a good movie and Denzel is, as always, charismatic and interesting, but as he says, paraphrasing Hemingway, if “the old man gotta be the old man,” then The Equalizer gotta be more of an action movie to be completely satisfying.
MB: I might say the violence was often gratuitous, but there’s not much of a movie without it.
SYNOPSIS: Based on a series of wildly popular young adult books, The Maze Runner sees Thomas, played by Teen Wolf’s Dylan O’Brien, plopped into community of young men surrounded by a labyrinth. The rebellious Thomas wants to see if there is a way to navigate through the ever-changing maze that stands between the boys and whatever is happening in the outside world. When a girl, played by Kaya Scodelario, arrives with a note clutched in her hand, “She is the last one,” it seems like the time has come to take on the maze and hopefully avoid being eaten by its evil guardians the Grievers.
Richard: 3 ½ Stars
Mark: 2 Stars
Richard: Mark, the story in The Maze Runner is based on a dare. When Thomas is dropped into a mysterious walled world where a society of boys have grown up in the shadow of a giant labyrinth, he is told, “Don’t go in the maze.” Of course he does, because that’s like telling a teen, “Don’t go through that door,” in a horror flick. Based on a series of wildly popular young adult books—so yes, you can look forward to The Maze Runner 2: Electric Boogaloo coming soon to a theatre near you—and the immediacy of the story serves it well… to a point. It’s a good set-up that turns into a becomes a standard 3D sci fi chase flick. What did you think?
Mark: Richard, it was dull, dull, dull, interrupted by the occasional exciting scene but it played like a dumbed down version of Lost for paranoid teens. Yes, the set up is good, but so little time is actually spent in the maze, and there’s too much time talking about it. The dialogue is mostly exposition, the acting is functional at best, and although it’s cut from the same cloth as The Hunger Games, it doesn’t have any of its bite. It’s no spoiler alert to reveal that some will survive, and the big reveal is laughable in the way it shills for the inevitable sequel.
RC: I liked it way more than you. I liked that the characters are cyphers with no knowledge of their pasts, so they have to create personas based on their abilities in the camp. That way, unlike most original stores, we don’t have to spend much time getting to know the characters; where they came from or what their inner torment is. They don’t know and neither do we. Instead they concentrate on the present—their present—and survival. Imagine if the reality show Survivor was set in a world surrounded by an impenetrable maze and the only way to get voted off the island was to be eaten by a giant, mechanical Griever beast.
MB: Actually, that’s a pretty good description of Survivor. Mazes intrigue me,and so do mad scientists. You’d think the combination would work here, but it just didn’t for me. I preferred Cube and even the much-maligned The Village as riffs on the same topic. Of course, you could see the movie as a metaphor for a cruel deity’s continuous test of the human race, but… naaaaah. And I really wanted a more shocking ending.
RC: I think there will be more thrills should the next part of the series ever get made. The first movie is just the foreplay.
MB: Foreplay perhaps, but with cold fingers and bad breath
The Reel Guys, Richard Crouse and Mark Breslin, wrap up their coverage of TIFF with a look at Midnight Madness and the lonely characters of Foxcatcher
Richard: Mark, we’re at the tail end of the festival, a time for reflection and sleep. Every year when it winds down like this — from full throttle to a trickle almost overnight — I always think of the last line in The Usual Suspects. I’m paraphrasing, but it’s been echoing in my head today: “And like that, poof. It’s gone.” Of course it’s not quite over, but the pace is manageable for the first time since Day 1. I look back fondly on movies like The Theory of Everything, The Imitation Game and Whiplash, but they seem like a long time ago now. Latter-half festival movies I really liked were 71 and a thriller from director Ruba Nadda called October Gale that suggests Patricia Clarkson might be up for a Liam Neeson-style action hero makeover.
Mark: I usually spend the second half of the festival watching foreign films I should have watched during the first half of the festival, having been distracted by all the stars and glitter. So let me say some great things about Labyrinth of Lies, a German film set in 1957 that tells the true story of the prosecutor who brought Germans working at Auschwitz to justice. It’s hard to fathom that the German people were in the dark about what happened there, but you can feel the horror rise in the prosecutor’s mind as he slowly realizes how many people were involved and that the rot went right to the top. Movies like this usually don’t look very good, but every shot is artfully done. The movie is gripping and important.
RC: Courtesy of the Midnight Madness program comes The Editor a giallo-comedy tribute to the films of Mario Bava and Dario Argento about a one-handed film editor who becomes the prime suspect in a brutal series of murders. It’s an odd film, but one that perfectly pays homage to the Italian horror films that inspired it. And there’s one that I’ve missed but am going to try to catch on the weekend. What We Do In The Shadows is a comedic mockumentary. Flight of the Conchords star Jemaine Clement plays one-third of a trio of vampires trying to adjust to life in a New Zealand suburb.
MB: Ahh. Midnight Madness, where the audience can be scarier than the movies. My favourite late night was spent in It Follows, about zombie-ism as a form of STD. There’s almost no gore in the film, just an overwhelming sense of dread brought on by moody atmospherics. It’s also shot with the detail of a magic realism canvas and supported by the most disturbing soundscape I’ve heard since John Carpenter’s work in the Seventies.
RC: You want disturbing? How about Channing Tatum with an under-bite and Steve Carell with a fake nose and dead eyes? Foxcatcher is a quiet, restrained film, one that demands the viewer to lean forward to appreciate, so when three loud gunshots ring out they shatter the quiet in a jarringly effective depiction of violence.
MB: What’s really scary about that movie is how horribly sad and lonely the characters are. Same thing is true for the characters in Maps to the Stars and Jason Reitman’s Men Women and Children. Affluent misery seems to be a big theme at this year’s festival.
Synopsis: Tom Hardy plays Bob Saginowski, a mild-mannered bartender at Cousin Marv’s — a Brooklyn neighbourhood pub owned by the Chechnyan mafia. Marv’s bar is sometimes used as a “drop,” a place where gangsters secretly hide money until it is collected by their crime bosses. One night after work, Bob hears a dog whimpering from inside a garbage can. Lifting the lid, he finds a beaten pit bull puppy. He adopts the dog and romances Nadia, (Noomi Rapace), the woman who helps him rescue the animal, but soon a robbery, a scheme by his boss Marv (James Gandolfini) and the dog’s former owner (Matthias Schoenaerts) force Bob to show his true colours. Steve Gow sits in for Mark Breslin this week.
Richard: 3/5 Steve: 3/5
Richard: Steve, this is a boy-and-his-dog story, but it ain’t Old Yeller. Sure there are gun shots and a cute dog, but there is also a slow unveiling of the clues, red herrings and characters with shady pasts. As Bob, Hardy is a cypher; kind to dogs, shy and lovesick, he’s an average neighbourhood guy. Except in this neighbourhood, average guys have pasts, and Hardy does a nice job of playing a guy who is trying to move on while the past tries to stop him in his tracks. What did you think?
Steve: As the deadbeat bartender who may or may not be what he seems, Hardy certainly crafts a compelling character with a unique set of subtleties. Even the gait of Bob’s walk and the curious physicality of Hardy’s character is distinguished and fantastically nuanced. It’s just too bad the story itself feels a bit too played out. There’s nothing quite fresh about the intertwining local gangsters and interlopers here. Plus, a few plot ambiguities don’t help keep the story clear. Or was that the red herrings?
RC: I thought of it as a slice of life, a slickly made look at the underbelly of crime, relationships and dog rearing. Nice performances make up for some plot idiosyncrasies and the cute dog earns some goodwill for a story that doesn’t so much comment on the condition of its characters as it does reveal it. What did you think of Gandolfini in his final role?
SG: It’s a bit of a bittersweet final curtain for Gandolfini — whose character is a bit morose. But the late actor’s presence is as bold as ever and, in scenes with Hardy, the two of them burn up the celluloid — especially in the movie’s softer moments — as when Bob corrects the burly former bar owner about the proper pronunciation of “Chechen.” Surprisingly, the film is actually darkly humorous.
RC: Gandolfini does play to type as the Tony Soprano-Lite bar owner and while it is a part he could play in his sleep, there is something comforting about seeing him, one last time, as a conflicted tough guy. And you’re right, the movie is darkly humorous, until it turns rather dark at the end.
SG: It was also a bit anti-climactic for me. For all the mystery built up around the characters, the not-so-surprising twist at the end tries too conveniently to wrap everything together. The film is entertaining enough but it doesn’t quite add up.