If you can’t make it to the Toronto International Film Festival but still want to get a flavour of the films, the Reel Guys — Richard Crouse and Mark Breslin — have some movies and some memories for you. They’ve been attending the festival for years and have seen it all, from actors’ tears to classic films to medical emergencies to stars being born. It’s a wild time, but like Dr. Hunter S. Thompson said, “Buy the ticket, take the ride.”
Richard: Mark, I’ve been going to TIFF for 30 years and covering it for almost 20 so I can’t even begin to imagine how many movies I’ve seen in the 10 days after the first Thursday after Labour Day. Hundreds? Thousands? Somewhere in between, I’m sure. There have been many standouts, but my mind immediately goes to Lost in Translation. Perhaps because it’s Bill Murray Day (isn’t every day?), but I remember walking out of that theatre thinking I had just seen a star being born. Bill Murray was great, but Scarlett Johansson was memorable. She had been in things before, but that movie and TIFF made her a star that day.
Mark: Great film, Richard, but I saw it on a rainy night in Vancouver. If you want to go way, way back, I saw the gala premiere of The Big Chill at University Theatre in 1983. It was the first film that channeled baby boomer angst and it hit me hard — in a good way. So many great performances, but I still remember William Hurt and Kevin Kline. Meg Tilly has the best line when she says, “I don’t know many happy people. What are they like?”
RC: One of the things that happens at TIFF is you see movies that never open anywhere for some reason. What Doesn’t Kill You, a gritty crime drama set in South Boston starring Ethan Hawke, Mark Ruffalo and Amanda Peet, was one of those. I really liked the movie and I hosted the press conference and that’s where something really memorable, for me, happened. During the conference, I looked over and Ruffalo had his head in his hands. At first I wasn’t sure what was happening. Was he tired? Taking a break from the conversation? Asleep? Turns out the conversation and questions had made him emotional and he was crying. I didn’t expect him to break down into tears and be unable to speak, but Hawke jumped in and spoke about how Ruffalo is a committed actor who completely throws himself into his roles.
MB: There’s more to that story … Just before the press conference, for no apparent reason, I shivved Ruffalo in the left kidney, and he must have been in a lot of pain. But I know what you mean by movies that don’t open. The film immediately disappeared. Then there was the recent Lebanese movie The Attack, which was a harrowing story of a Palestinian doctor who finds out his wife is a terrorist. After the film, the director did a Q&A describing death threats he got and the tribulations he endured just to get the film made. It was almost as good as the film itself.
RC: You never know what will happen at the screenings, whether it’s a wild Q&A or the audience reaction. A few years ago the amputation sequence in Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours, was so intense several members of the audience required medical attention.
MB: Sometimes the volume of movies you see yields unexpected results. I remember the Saturday night I saw Jason Reitman’s Up In The Air immediately followed by the Coen Brothers’ A Serious Man. My two favourite movies of 2009, back to back!
When the Reel Guys aren’t at the movies, one of their favourite things to do is talk about going to the movies. This week Richard and Mark have a look at talking apes, a vengeful Scarlett Johansson, and a singer with a papier-mâché head and a talking raccoon. So throw some popcorn on the BBQ, crank up the air conditioning and enjoy the Reel Guys’ most anticipated films of the summer season.
Richard: Mark, I was a huge Planet of the Apes fan as a kid. Loved the rubber masks, the twisty endings and the “YOU MANIACS! YOU BLEW IT UP!” scene still blows my mind. Saw them over and over, and even enjoyed the bad ones like Conquest of the Planet of the Apes. Today, as an adult, I have a full-sized Cornelius bust with faux chimpanzee hair in my office. So, given my obsession with simian cinema, my inner 14-year-old goes a bit ape every time I see the Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer. What’s got you excited this summer?
Mark: I’m a Planet of the Apes fan, too, Richard. The idea of animals acting like humans is a welcome change from my life in show business, where humans act like animals. I’m really looking forward to Lucy, starring Scarlett Johansson in a Luc Besson revenge/action flick. This is Scarlett’s moment, and this is going to be the movie to make her a megastar. The trailer made me spill my popcorn!
RC: Johansson is doing interesting work these days, splitting her time between rock ’em, sock ’em movies like Captain America: The Winter Soldier and smaller movies like Chef and Under the Skin. Michael Fassbender has a similar career arc. We last saw him in X-Men: Days of Future Past. Next up he’s in Frank, a strange indie based on the life of Frank Sidebottom, a real-life English musician who wore a giant papier-mâché head complete with painted-on eyes, ruby red lips and slicked-back hair.
I love Fassbender for still taking chances on movies like this when he could easily cash big Hollywood paycheques time after time.
MB: Sounds like one strange biopic, Richard! A more commercial variant I’m looking forward to is Get On Up, the James Brown story starring Chadwick Boseman. The Godfather of Soul never wore a papier-mâché head, but he was big on ermine capes and tantrums, so this should be a lot of fun. And what a soundtrack it will be!
For life lessons and laughs, there’s And So It Goes, a mature rom-com starring Michael Douglas and Diane Keaton. Bring your CARP card for discounts on soft-chew treats from the concession stand.
RC: I don’t have a CARP card …. yet. I do like soft chew candies, however. As far as movies go, I’m curious about Guardians of the Galaxy. So many of the summer’s blockbusters have been oh-so-serious affairs that I think this one promises some good laughs and action.
MB: The cast suggests it might be more than your typical sci-fi adventure. But it’s Jason Segel and Cameron Diaz in Sex Tape that gets me hot. Big laughs, lots of action, at least of the horizontal variety.
Synopsis: Liam Neeson joins the mile-high club in Non-Stop. He plays Bill Marks, an aging U.S. federal air marshal safeguarding the 150 passengers, including Julianne Moore, Corey Stoll, Linus Roache and flight attendant Lupita Nyong’o, on an international flight from New York to London. He’s also a burn-out, a lonely guy with a loaded gun and a propensity to get loaded on booze. The routine flight becomes fraught with danger when he receives text messages from a mysterious source threatening to kill a passenger every 20 minutes unless a ransom of $150 million is deposited into a bank account. When that account is discovered to be in Marks’s name, he’s accused of being a hijacker.
• Richard: 2/5
• Mark: 2/5
Richard: Mark, Non-Stop has more red herrings than a fish and chips shop. Clues are dropped and discarded and the plot is so ludicrous that every now and again someone has to say, “I can explain this,” so the audience has a fighting chance of making some kind of sense of the intrigue. The story is simple but is muddied by outrageous twists. Once I decided to not try and play along — this isn’t True Detective where every word and scene counts — I enjoyed watching Neeson in action man mode. He’s better than the movie and he made this movie better simply by showing up.
Mark: Richard, I liked the movie in spite of itself. I did play along right to the end, and enjoyed the ride. But it’s this Agatha Christie-like cheesiness that keeps threatening to sink the picture. And the answer to the movie’s riddle was far from satisfying. It felt tacked on and graceless. Neeson is great, but he’s getting so old for this sort of thing. Soon he’s going to have to chase after the bad guys with a walker.
RC: You wouldn’t say that if he was after you! Walker or no walker, the old boy has some life in him yet. There is a certain cheesy joy to be found in the image of Neeson floating in zero gravity, grabbing a gun out of the air and getting business done. He has carved a unique action niche for himself and seems to be having fun growling and gunning his way through trashy action movies.
MB: And what about Julianne Moore? What’s her excuse? Mortgage payments? She was actually the one passenger I didn’t believe in for a moment. I kept thinking, “Why is Julianne Moore in this picture?’ And like everyone else, she gets to do an emotional speech that proves she couldn’t be the villain. Which, of course, may or may not be the case. I know you liked Neeson’s zero gravity gun grab, but I also liked his fist fight in the airplane lavatory. Shot in such close quarters, it was very exciting.
RC: I hope Moore buys something nice with the pay cheque. She gets the job done, but that part could have been played by anyone. I feel bad for Lupita Nyong’o. She’s an Oscar nominee for 12 Years a Slave, but here she’s reduced to a Grace Jones impersonator with just a few lines.
MB: Weirdly, I did not feel very emotionally involved with the movie. Maybe because so much of the plot depends on texting, or maybe because the characters keep yammering on, Non-Stop, about their backstory.
SYNOPSIS: I, Frankenstein, Aaron Eckhart’s martial arts update of the famous Mary Shelley story wasn’t screened for the press in time to meet our deadline, so after a long conversation with our editor the Reel Guys have decided to do a column on Eckhart’s oeuvre. At least that’s how we saw it. Our boss has a different idea. “As your editor I demand a thorough dissection of Eckhart’s abs,” she wrote before adding, “More than pretty, Eckhart is.” What follows is our humble attempt to mix cinematic business with our editor’s pleasure.
RC: Mark, Aaron Eckhart isn’t exactly a household name, but he has appeared in some very big movies. He’s the only live-action actor in the Batman films to play both Harvey Dent and his villainous alter-ego Two-Face. The Dark Knight is by far and away his biggest hit, followed by his star-making turn in Erin Brockovich but despite those box office busters we don’t talk about the handsome actor in the same breath as a-listers like Cruise, di Caprio or Smith. He has the above- mentioned absn and is versatile to star in everything from video game action movies like Battle: Los Angeles to hardcore dramas like Rabbit Hole and yet doesn’t get the same recognition as many of his peers. What’s your take on him?
Mark: You mean the cleft that walked like a man? I could probably fit my grad thesis in there! Eckhart exploded onto my radar with two films he did in the late Nineties, both by the cynical playwright Neil Labute: In the Company Men, and Your Friends and Neighbors. In both films he plays despicable, curdled, almost unwatchably misogynistic men. The key word here is almost. As rotten as he behaves in these movies, there’s an inchoate grace under the surface that redeems the characters, and it’s a testimony to his acting skills that he can keep us watching. And that cleft.
RC: Some like the cleft, some the abs. I like his versatility. In a year span between 2010 and ’11 he released three very different movies. In Rabbit Hole and Nicole Kidman were a couple trying to deal with the death of their four-year-old son. They are at different stages of their grief, but they share a couple of things; a terrible sense of loss and an inability to know how to deal with it. Terrific stuff. Next was the alien invader movie Battle Los Angeles followed by The Rum Diaries where he played a slick PR person. Three different movies and three very different performances. Maybe we have a hard time defining him because he constantly does wild career flip flops.
MB: Or because there’s an opacity to him that allows him to play so many compromised characters, allowing us to project our feelings onto him. Look at one of his finest roles, as the tobacco lobbyist in Thank You For Smoking. He’s so slick, so shifty, we don’t judge him, precisely because we don’t really know him. A quality that’s great for an actor. but less so for a movie star. I really liked him in Rabbit Hole and Rum Diaries, too, but his mainstream work doesn’t register with me as much. Except for his cleft.
RC: He’s has made a number of movies I wouldn’t recommend for the big screen but work well enough as rentals. Two action films, Erased and Suspect Zero are very VOD friendly and feature many cleft hero shots.
MB: Or two romantic comedies that would have been disastrous without him: No Reservations and Love Happens. He doesn’t do nude scenes in them, though, because in close-up you couldn’t tell if it were his backside or his cleft.
Synopsis: The Reel Guys are hardy Canadians, but with the sub-zero weather we’ve been having lately even the most robust Canuck deserves a snow day. With that in mind, the Reel Guys have put away their long underwear, ear muffs and dignity and decided to stay home. At the risk of earning ridicule from our friends in Saskatchewan and other places where it regularly gets frigid, here are our ideas for movies to take your mind off the deep freeze. Close the drapes, turn up the heat and enjoy…
Richard: Spring Breakers was shot in St. Petersburg, Florida, so expect lots of beach shots, beautiful sunsets and a young cast — featuring Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson and Rachel Korine—stripped down to clothing that would cause instant frost bite for those us of living in the Great White North these days. The story of the illegal way they try to make money for spring break plays more like a wild music video than traditional film, but there’s no denying the heat that comes off the screen.
MB: Summer camp? I’m with you on the Canadian classic Meatballs, with the great Bill Murray. But there’s another counter-intuitive way to go here, Richard. And that is to watch movies that depict a world so hot, you’ll be wishing for some refreshing snowflakes. Just put on the great Lawrence of Arabia. You’ll want to make a snowman by the second hour. Or Gus Van Sant’s Gerry or Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point, both of which take place in literal and existential deserts. Dune would probably work too, although I’ve never met anyone who could watch it all the way through.
RC: Talk about flipping from one extreme to the other. I’ll stick with a more moderate climate for my last pick. Under the Tuscan Sun is a hot love story starring Diane Lane set in moderate, but enjoyable temperatures.
MB: A lovely movie. But let’s not forget the old standby: The Yule Log, burning brightly on DVD. Not much of a cast, the acting is wooden, but the dialogue crackles!
Synopsis: Out with the old and in with the new: 2013 contained many magnificent movie moments (and some bad ones as well, but let’s not dwell on those) for the Reel Guys and it looks like 2014 will be just as bountiful. This week we gaze into our cinematic crystal balls and choose the films we’re looking forward to in the new year.
Richard: Mark, years ago I loved a show called The Equalizer. It starred Edward Woodward as a private detective who helped people in need “equalize the odds.” It was a cool show, and as much as movie versions of programs like The A-Team and Starsky and Hutch have disappointed, I’m looking forward to this. Denzel Washington is masterful at playing ambiguous antiheroes and reteaming him with his Training Day director Antoine Fuqua seems like a good idea to me.
Mark: Richard, I don’t know the show but I do like Denzel, I do like Fuqua and I do like the concept. One movie I am looking forward to is The Monuments Men with George Clooney, Matt Damon and John Goodman as civilians pressed into battle during the Second World War to save art treasures from the Nazis. This should hit all the bases for me.
RC: Clooney is always cool, and he also directed the movie, so I’m keen to see it. I’m also very excited for The Zero Theorem. Terry Gilliam says his new film is the third part of the trilogy he began with Brazil and continued with 12 Monkeys. If that isn’t enough, it stars Christoph Waltz and Matt Damon. And did I mention it sprung from the wild mind of Terry Gilliam?
MB: Reality check: Whose last movie was the unwatchable The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. When Gilliam stinks he stinks up the whole room. Just saying…. If it’s sci-fi you’re looking for, how about the RoboCop reboot, a franchise that’s had more reboots than an Ugg store? Or Transcendence, which has a Philip K. Dick meets Body Snatchers sound to it. Appeals to the paranoid side of my split personality Richard…
RC: I liked Parnassus! It was like a Salvador Dali painting come to life! Gilliam Rules! But there are other things I’m looking forward to, like Maleficent. The creepy but beautiful Sleeping Beauty villain is a role Angelina Jolie’s cheekbones were born to play. If the movie is as cool looking as the clips I’ve seen, I’ll go for the art direction alone.
MB: Sure, but I think we’re both ignoring what must be the Greatest Movie of 2014 — the cinematic adaptation of the great novel Fifty Shades of Grey. C’mon, Richard, admit it, you’ll be second in line to see it, only because I got there the night before… and I understand James Franco is playing the handcuffs.
SYNOPSIS: Nothing ruins a family reunion like an invasion of masked killers. On the occasion of their parents 35th wedding anniversary Davidson kids and assorted wives, girl and boy friends gather at a remote Tudor mansion—is there any other type in these kinds of movies?—to enjoy dinner and one another, but instead end up in a fight for their lives. Only one of the guests, Erin (Sharni Vinson), has the know-how to protect herself, but will it be enough?
Richard: 3 ½ Stars
Mark: 4 Stars
Richard: Mark, I don’t know what it says about me, but I really liked You’re Next. It’s disturbing, violent and without any redeeming social value, but I enjoyed sitting in the theatre with my hands over my eyes, afraid of what I might see next. I’m not usually a fan of head trauma, but from what I saw as I peeked through my fingers, it worked well. You?
Mark: Richard, I found it one of the best movies of its type ever. Home invasion films are my kind of scary because it could-and does-happen. But I did find some redeeming social value in it. I thought it turned out to be a sly satire on family dynamics and materialism. Without revealing too many plot twists-and I loved them all- this movie starts as one thing and becomes something a little deeper. And, yes, I don’t like to admit it, but I was scared through and through.
RC: It’s hard to discuss without giving away a major plot twist, but I will say there is a Manson Family aspect to the story that really creeped me out. That and the anxiety-inducing John Carpenter style score throbbing in the background. It’s all effective but it is the idea behind the movie that is truly disturbing.
MB: Let’s not leave out the creepy animal masks! And I learned a lot from the movie, like how much can be accomplished with a two by four and a simple set of nails. In fact, I just got back from the hardware store. I’m ready!
RC: It is a lesson in survivalism to be sure, but keeping in mind how it works out for everyone. I think I’ll stick to calling 911. Lessons aside, I did like that while there are a number of hysterical characters here—who wouldn’t be upset when your friends and family are being randomly murdered?—the hero, if you can use that word to describe someone who kills a person with a blender, is a woman. So often in these movies women are the scream queens while the men do the heavy lifting. Here, the only person with any self-preservation instincts is female.
MB: I think a blender is a perfect murder weapon for a woman-very Martha Stewart, in fact. Yes, this movie does have a strong woman at its centre, and it’s set up nicely in the beginning, with the family sneering at her for her survivalist training.