Richard sits in with Marcia MacMillan to have a look at the big weekend movies, Peter Berg’s ripped-from-the-headlines “Patriot’s Day,” “Live By Night” from director-actor Ben Affleck, the terrible “Monster Trucks” and the sublime “20th Century Women” and “Paterson.”
TODAY! TODAY! TODAY! The worst movie on four wheels! No adrenaline pumping action! “Monster Trucks!” We’ll sell you the whole seat… to make it easy to take a nap!
“Monster Trucks” begins when avaricious oil baron Reece Tenneson (Rob Lowe) insists on drilling through an underground water main to get to “the ocean of oil” that lies underneath despite the possibility of disturbing the life forms that may live down there. “If we keep this quiet will all do very well,” cackles Tenneson. His greed unleashes several strange creatures, sort of land squids with big googly eyes, whom he immediately orders destroyed.
On the other side of town Tripp (Lucas Till) is a curiously old high school student and scrap yard worker. He’s a blonde James Dean type, an outsider more comfortable around cars than people. When one of these creatures shows up at his junkyard he doesn’t set it free, nor does he call the authorities. After discovering oil is this tentacled creature’s mother’s milk, as any true grease monkey would do, he straps it to the underside of an old truck he’s been working on, using it as a super-charged engine, literally turning his old junker into a “monster truck.”
With the help of biology student Meredith (Jane Levy) and the creature—who Tripp inventively nicknames Creatch—our hero tries find out exactly where his oil-guzzling new friend came from.
Fittingly “Monster Trucks,” a movie about automobiles, is my first seatbelt movie of the year. It is a film so bad I needed to a seatbelt to keep me in my chair for the entire movie.
Forget that Tripp looks old enough to be his high school classmates’ hip guidance counsellor or that the sum total of the great Amy Smart’s role is advising her son what to eat for lunch or that a sea monster appears in the landlocked state of North Dakota. That stuff is bad enough, but the thing that really puts “Monster Trucks” on a collision course with the ditch is a complete lack of playfulness.
What might have been a fun action-adventure with a kid friendly sci fi twist is, instead, a collection of lame brained ideas that feel strung and in search of a heartwarming or interesting moment. “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial,” another alien movie, works not because we believe the little rubber alien is real but because we care about the way that Elliot, Gertie and Michael interact with him. Despite the presence of a rubber alien it feels authentic and not cobbled together by a marketing department.
When Tripp’s dad (Frank Whaley) says, “It’s like the earth got mad and let something bad out,” he may well have been speaking about this movie and not Creatch.
Richard and CP24 anchor Jamie Gutfreund talk about the weekend’s big releases, the scared-of-the-dark thrills of “Don’t Breathe,” the walking-and-talking of “Southside with You,” the noirish grit of “Manhattan Night” and Natalie Portman’s directorial debut “A Tale of Love and Darkness.”
Richard sits in with Todd van der Hayden to have a look at “Don’t Breathe,” a new edge-of-your-seat home invasion flick, the romantic “Southside with You,” the noirish “Manhattan Night” and Natalie Portman’s directorial debut “A Tale of Love and Darkness.”
Half lit hallways and gloomy basements are standard backdrops for spooky stories. “Don’t Breathe” makes good use of them, playing on our primal fear of the dark in a topsy turvy home invasion story that sees the invaders terrorized by the man who was meant to be their victim.
Set in Detroit, the movie follows Alex (Dylan Minnette), Rocky (Jane Levy) and Money (Daniel Zovatto) as they hatch a plan to rob the house of a blind military vet (Stephen Lang). “I got our ticket outta here,” says Money. “Rumour is, this guy is sitting on at least three hundred K.” Their goal is to grab the stack of cash The Blind Man won in a wrongful death settlement when his only child was killed and hightail it to California to start new lives. Despite Alex’s reservations—“It’s pretty messed up to rob a blind guy, isnt’ it?”—the trio go to the man’s house on an abandoned block of the city’s downtown, drug the guard dog and search for the money. Their easy score proves elusive when their victim turns the table, and hunts them in the dark.
“Don’t Breathe” presents a conundrum. Who do you root for the bad people who broke into the house or the bad man who lives in the house? Either way, one thing is clear, you don’t need to be afraid of the dark, you need to be afraid of what’s in the dark. “Evil Dead” rebooter Fede Alvarez combines the primal scares that come along with claustrophobic, dark spaces with a weird anxiety inducing soundtrack a slow building sense a=of dread and some of the best bug-eyed acting I’ve seen in a horror film in some time to create a down-‘n-dirty horror flick.
From Lang sniffing, as though tracking his prey through scent to Levy’s large expressive eyes to the prerequisite gore—although the film gets more violent than clever near the end—“Don’t Breathe” is suspenseful and unpredictable, just like whatever is out there hiding in the dark.
Jane Levy has a diverse resume that includes the cable hit Shameless (where she dies in a most fiery way), the sitcom Suburgatory and the 2013 remake of Evil Dead. But her new film, Bang Bang Baby takes her back to where she began: singing and dancing.
“I did musical theatre, mostly because it was the only theatre available, not to say anything negative about that, but I wanted to be an actor. I loved drama and that was the way to do it so I was in all the plays. I was in Annie. I was in Oklahoma. I was in Annie Get Your Gun and The Wizard of Oz,” When she was seven years old the California native recalls about her seven -year-old self.
She warbled her way through Broadway-style shows until she was about thirteen when she traded the stage for the soccer field. It took a few years but eventually she felt a familiar draw.
“I was eighteen and I just finished my first year of college and I hated school,” she says. “I was miserable the whole year and I couldn’t quite figure out why.
“I was in Europe with my friend and I said, ‘You know what? I’m not going to do it anymore. I’m not going to school. Why not pursue the thing that I know has always been, deep down, my dream?’”
She’s back to basics in Bang Bang Baby, a strange new big screen sci-fi musical that gives her the chance to strut her stuff. In it, she plays Stepphy, a 1960s teenager whose dreams of rock ’n’ roll stardom are dashed when a chemical leak in her town causes mass mutations and “threatens to turn her dream into a nightmare.”
When she first saw the script she says, “I thought, how cool and how strange. I thought it would be a challenge to explore singing and dancing which is something I had done as a kid but not since. And I also thought how unusual, how peculiar, how fun.”
Levy has a whole slate of films on the way, including the much-anticipated animated movie Monster Trucks, but the best part of it all, she says, is that she is able to act in a variety of projects.
“For me, I feel like this is the thing I have to do. This is the thing I enjoy the most and this is the thing I’m best at.”
Richard: Mark, looking around at the press today in the lobby of the Inter Continental, the host hotel for the media, put me in the mind of an episode of The Walking Dead. Everyone is beat and there are still a few days to go, movies to see and celebrities to be coddled and interviewed. The end, howeVER, is in sight and to me right now it looks like a big glowing orb. A delicious orb of made of cookie dough and beer. How’s it going for you?
Mark: Day 8 of the hostage crisis and no signs of release, Richard. Haven’t eaten a proper meal since TIFF started. Very little sleep. No contact with my family. They’ve turned me into a broken man and I’m ready to talk, to name names and talk about where the gems are. And there have been some real gems in the festival so far. Any faves, my friend?
RC: Reese Witherspoon had a couple of movies at the festival. The Good Lie is a Blind Side-esque story of a social worker who helps three Sudanese Lost Boys find work in America and reunite with their sister. It got a standing ovation at the gala BEFORE the stars came out. Pretty rare for a credit roll to bring people to their feet. She’s also in Wild, the story of a troubled woman who hikes 1100 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail. Filled with happiness, pain, sorrow and more melancholy than a Patsy Cline ballad, it feels like a life on parade. Like puzzle pieces the snippets piece together to eventually form a whole. And it’s funny too. I’m still laughing about the “lady hobo” scene.
MB: I found Beyond the Lights to be a terrible movie-fraudulent and packaged, with bad concert footage in place of plot and character development. It’s the story of a Beyonce-type diva who finds her true self, but I’ve never seen the journey to authenticity portrayed with such little authenticity. Yet in this bad movie-and I mean Showgirls bad-movie, there are the two leads transcending the material at each moment. Gugu Mbatha-Raw fills the screen with her electric presence, and Nate Parker as her Bodyguard redux cop boyfriend delivers an impressively restrained performance.
RC: I’d put Jack O’Connell in the stars to watch category. Every year there is someone to look out for. A few years ago Michael Fassbinder became a big star after his portrayal of hunger striker Bobby Sands helped make Hunger one of the big hits of the festival. In 71 O’Connell plays a rookie British soldier lost in an IRA controlled part of Belfast at the height of “The Troubles.” It’s a break out, and is a nice sedt up to his next movie, the Angelina Jolie directed war-drama Unbroken based on the life of WWII POW and Olympic distance runner Louis Zamperini. I also think Bang Bang Baby’s Jane Levy could break big after TIFF this year.
MB: I’d put Julia Sarah Stone in that category too. The lead in Wet Bum, she brings a wide-eyed innocence and slow burn to the coming of age picture. The movie meant something extra to me because I, too, came from a family that owned nursing homes. The movie is slight, though, and not a lot happens in it, which is why it’s so important we identify with the young girl. Unfortunate title, though, and I think you may get websites you’re not looking for when you google it.
Metro’s Reel Guys columnists Richard Crouse and Mark Breslin take a look at this year’s crop of potential crowd pleasers at the festival.
Richard: Mark, every year I look forward to covering the festival with a mix of dread and anticipation. The dread part comes from knowing how I’m going to feel once the 10 days of 18-hour shifts is finally over. The drooling anticipation part comes along with the slate of films TIFF offers up. This year the new David Cronenberg film is top of my list. In Maps to the Stars, he showcases the stupid, venal and stratospherically self-involved behaviour that goes on behind the scenes in Beverly Hills’ gated communities. The idea of debuting a jaundiced look at Hollywood at the biggest film festival in North America appeals to my rebellious side.
Mark: Can’t wait, Richard, for this or any other Cronenberg! I’m also a big fan of Jason Reitman, who consistently delivers movies that plumb the abyss of the zeitgeist. His latest, Men, Women, and Children, should be no exception. Based on one of my favourite novels by Chad Kultgen, it’s a look at how the Internet is warping families, twisting our sexuality and mediating our desires. Oh, and it’s a comedy.
RC: Mark, the sci-fi musical genre has been sadly overlooked at TIFF in past years. That changes with Bang Bang Baby, starring Jane Levy as a 1960s teenager whose dreams of rock ’n’ roll stardom are dashed when a chemical leak in her town causes mass mutations and “threatens to turn her dream into a nightmare.” Then there’s 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.
MB: Sounds great, Richard! I’ll stand in line to see the new Denys Arcand film, An Eye For Beauty. Here’s a director not afraid to take a satirical look at our modern mores, but he’s never tackled a love story before. Some of it takes place in Toronto, so I’m expecting a sly gimlet-eyed view from this great Québécois director.
RC: Speaking of great Québécois directors, Jean-Marc Vallée, the Canadian Oscar nominee for Dallas Buyers Club, returns to TIFF with Wild, starring Reese Witherspoon in the story of a woman who finds an escape from her self-destructive ways on a 1,100-mile solo hike along the Pacific Crest Trail. I’m also psyched about Haemoo. With a script by Snowpiercer penner Bong Joon-ho, this movie about a fishing crew smuggling illegal immigrants from China to Korea promises wild action and unexpected thrills.
MB: Richard, do you realize all our picks inadvertently turned out to be Canadian directors? I’m looking forward to Black and White by Mike Binder. It promises to be a heartfelt drama about an interracial family with issues. Binder is from Detroit but went to summer camp in Muskoka, so he qualifies as an honorary Canuck.