Marchant at TIFF, Day ThreeSeptember 10, 2018
Best Film of the Day: The Old Man & the Gun (pictured)
Gwen: This is no white-knuckle affair; it’s a red one. As in knuckles chapped and scraped until nearly bleeding. Wind plays a large atmospheric role in William McGregor’s unsettling drama, both as a constant background noise, and as a bleak visual metaphor for the pitiless sparseness of the land. Wales is shown to be both staggeringly beautiful, with its craggy mountains and rolling green hills, but also unwaveringly uninviting: You will not see a more overcast film this year. The story concerns a young woman (Eleanor Worthington-Cox), her kid sister; and her struggling mother (Maxine Peake), as they try to survive on their hardscrabble farm while Gwen’s father is out fighting in an unnamed war. As their farm gets more and more stricken by what seems like a curse — their sheep are slaughtered, their potatoes are fallow, and their horse breaks his leg — it slowly becomes clear that these are not supernatural forces at work, but rather the acts of a supremely callous and hateful capitalist, who’s after their land for his mind operation. The obvious comparison would be to Robert Egger’s deeply unnerving The Witch, but McGregor isn’t playing with devils and demonic curses, here, just the horror perpetrated by callous greed and disregard for humanity. The film’s unrelenting grimness could certainly be a deterrent for some audiences, but it does capture something both about the land, and the attitude of those who can survive it.
Donnybrook: As a longtime admirer of Jamie Bell (and not only because he was the voice of Tintin), I’m happy to see he’s branching out his roles and expanding his reach, as it were, I just wish he’d picked a better project than this grungy, exploitive action drama from Tim Sutton. Bell plays a dude named “Jarhead Earl,” a former Marine, and a dutiful fellow on the economic downswing, looking to make a pile of cash at the big midwestern, bare-knuckle brawl known as the “Brook.” With a wife (Dara Tiller), teetering on the edge of meth addiction, and two young kids, Earl stakes all his hope on the prospect of winning the Brook, and claiming the $100K prize. Meanwhile, many other unsavory characters flit about, including another vet-turned meth dealer, Angus (Frank Grillo), and his seriously deranged sister (Margaret Qualley), whose had to put up with years of her brother’s intense abuse and has had enough; and the local sheriff (James Badge Dale), who’s knee-deep in his own business with Angus, and is dirty as they come. The film is filed with flags, guns, fists, and blood, as well as a jacked sensibility that suggests a faint homage to Lynch, without any of his wit, creativity, or artistic merit. It is not intended as irony, to be sure, or if it is, no one informed the serious-as-death actors, who play this to the last drop of blood. It’s the kind of film where a tied and tortured middleman gets to have sex with a seriously beautiful woman, while still bound to a chair, and immediately after he reaches the highs of ecstasy, she tips him over and shoots him in the head.
The Old Man & the Gun: How would you follow up a film as utterly stunning as A Ghost Story, a powerhouse of a philosophical treatise on love, time, and human artistic legacy? Perhaps by approaching a similar topic from a vastly different direction. Based on a true story, David Lowery’s film follows the exploits of a man named Forest Tucker (Robert Redford), an elderly bank thief who simply cannot stop plying his trade. His approach, gentlemanly and smooth, matches the tone of the film’s opening two acts, as Forest hooks up with his two compadres (Danny Glover and Tom Waits), meets and woos a feisty widow (Sissy Spacek), and matches wits with the detective (Casey Affleck), whom he inadvertently humiliated during an earlier heist. By the film’s third act, however, as he gets closer to being caught, the film begins to take on a more melancholy air, as if sensing his mortality. He made a career out of springing himself from prisons (a series that gets lovingly highlighted near the end), but there is the sense he can’t escape his mortal prison, nor can he change spots and just settle down on a nice horse farm. A shot near the end, as the cops are sweeping in posits him as a kind of Don Quixote figure, sitting forlornly on his horse, looking down and defeated. Reportedly, this is Redford’s acting swansong, and if so, like Forest, he’s certainly going out on his own terms.
Halloween: Unofficially, there have been 700 bazillion sequels and remakes of John Carpenter’s 1978 slasher film classic, most of which have been derivative drivel, but with director David Gordon Green, working with longtime collaborator Danny McBride, you finally have a new vision for the venerable horror series. It’s been four decades – to the day – since Michael Myers terrorized a teenaged girl and murdered her friends. Since then, he has been locked up in an asylum, never uttering a word (the film smartly disavows all previous sequels). To the still-disturbed Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), however, the nightmare has never ended. Since surviving his original attack, she has dedicated her life to preparing for his eventual return, learning fighting/survival skills, fortifying her house, and arming herself to the teeth. This devotion to self-protection she imbued to her daughter (Judy Greer), and attempts to do so with her granddaughter (Andi Matichak), now the same age as Laurie was when she first met the Bogeyman. Things move along in typical Halloween fashion, with Michael escaping, donning the mask, and returning to Haddonfield to kill indiscriminately once again, only this time, he finds Laurie well-prepared and waiting for him. What ensues follows a similar pattern but with a major twist. In the film’s most exhilarating moments, the film gleefully twists and turns the tropes we have come to know so well – one such moment, setting up the film’s fiery climax, left the midnight TIFF audience laughing and cheering wildly – and morphs into, of all things, a feminist slasher flick. Naturally, the ending leaves things just ambiguous enough for another sequel (or six), but as a re-imagining of one of the seminal horror movies of the last 40 years, it’s got a lot of moxie. It might not have the actual scares of the original, but the film’s forward-thinking politics twist the butcher knife in very satisfying ways.
Tomorrow: A mix-and-match sort of day: In-between interviews, I’ll be checking out the militia-group thriller Standoff at Sparrow Creek; the harrowing sounding The Most Beautiful Couple; another Witch-like film in the horror/western The Wind, and, if I can stay awake, the brutal retelling of the Mumbai terrorist attack from 2008 in Hotel Mumbai.