Canadian horror — and I don’t mean when a Zamboni breaks down just before your ice time, but the kind of scary movies we make — tends to go against the grain. Movies like Ginger Snaps, Cannibal Girls and the squirmy body terror of David Cronenberg bring fresh points of view to established mythologies to breathe new life into old genres.
In 2008 director Bruce McDonald did just that with the bio-terror freakout, Pontypool. The story of a God Bug that turns people into zombies barely gives us a glimpse of the walking dead, instead replacing the gore with brain matter, making it one of the smartest undead movies in years.
He’s genre-bending again, this time in Hellions, a home invasion survival tale with a demonic twist. McDonald says Canadian filmmakers mess with traditional formulas for two reasons. The first is practical.
“The script, when I first read it, read easily like a 40-day shoot, $5-million movie,” he says. “But then you get the news that you only have 20 days and less money. There’s no choice but to subvert and say, ‘We have to now begin with this established premise and show a world we kind of know, but subtly we have to make some different kinds of choices.’
“Hellions was much more of an action picture, in a sense, but you need time to make action. A sequence will work much better in 25 shots than in three shots. That’s the practical nature of handmade Canadian cinema. We don’t have the big machine but we do have some smart people and we know how to do it. That does create a spin on things. You’re outside the gates of Hollywood and when the parents are away the kids will play.”
The second reason? “Canadians are naturally mischievous and like to f— with people,” he laughs.
McDonald’s extensive resume includes Canadian classics like Hard Core Logo and Highway 61, but it’s not heavily weighted to horror, even though he says Oct. 31 gave him his “Mr. Entertainment Gene.”
“I have loved Halloween more than any other holiday since I was young,” he says. “I think it was my first theatre. My first way into this entertainment world I love so much. I wasn’t Catholic so I didn’t get to the ceremonies of the Catholic Church and the robes and the incense and the priests and visions of hell. For a little Protestant kid from the suburbs, Halloween was the best.”
What would you do if Robert De Niro cut short your conversation with a quick, “I’m not doing this, darling,” and exited? If you’re Radio Times journalist Emma Brockes you write about it and watch your article go viral.
As unpleasant as the encounter may have been — he objected to the “negative inference” of her questions, she called him condescending — it did exactly what it was meant to do, generate buzz for De Niro’s upcoming film The Intern.
Who won? I’ll give the edge to Brockes who, when faced with a bad situation, turned De Niro’s lemons into lemonade and earned just as much press as the touchy actor.
De Niro took some blowback for his behaviour. Daily Mail columnist Piers Morgan wrote, “If I’d been her, I’d have slapped him ’round his smug little chops,” adding the Goodfellas star is “renowned as the rudest, most difficult and frankly obnoxious star to interview, possibly in the history of planet Earth.”
I think Morgan overstates his case. De Niro isn’t the worst — anyone who has ever done a movie junket knows Tommy Lee Jones is the crankiest, most soul destroying interview ever — he’s just a reticent interview, who, according to director Nancy Myers, doesn’t want “to expose himself all the time.”
De Niro isn’t alone in the chat-and-dash sweepstakes. Robert Downey Jr. and Quentin Tarantino bolted on Krishnan Guru-Murthy with the Avengers: Age of Ultron actor later calling the Channel 4 news presenter a “syphilitic parasite.” Robert Pattinson, Naomi Campbell and Russell Crowe have also done runners on the press.
So why submit to promotional interviews at all? Contractual obligation has much to do with it, but beyond that, they’re good for the movie. Daniel Radcliffe, star of Harry Potter, Horns and the upcoming Victor Frankenstein, once told me no matter how famous the actor, anyone who doesn’t get out and pump their film up to the press is making a huge mistake.
As a result everyone does them and while it’s easy to look at De Niro or Downey as spoiled brats, I’m surprised walkouts don’t happen more often.
It must get brutally dull answering the same questions over and over, particularly when they are of the “Of all your leading ladies who was the best kisser?” variety.
How bad can it get in the interview suites?
Once a talking head proudly told me she wrote new lyrics for Beyoncé’s hit song Survivor… “My name’s Beyoncé/ I’m in Goldmember/ You’re watching blah blah on blah blah blah…” and asked the superstar to sing them as a promo for her television station. If I were Beyoncé I would have exited stage left without a song on my lips.
I remember one “reporter” asking George Lucas “whether Dark Vader was a good guy or a bad guy.” If I were Lucas I would have hitched a Millennium Falcon ride out of there.
Recently I heard Tom Cruise try and answer the question, “What kind of stunt would you do to impress a girl?” If I were Cruise I would have grabbed the side of the nearest plane and jetted out of there.
As for De Niro, Brockes graciously says she has sympathy for him “because nobody wants to be there for these choreographed junket interviews.”
De Niro wasn’t quite as kind, but at least he called her “darling” and not “syphilitic parasite.”
“The Intern” is a Nancy Meyers odd couple / buddy movie about a “senior” intern, played by Robert De Niro, working for Anne Hathaway’s whirlwind of an internet start up boss. Expect jokes like, “This job ages you, which in your case isn’t a good thing,” lots of lifestyle porn and a good dollop of sentimentality.
Hathaway is Jules Ostin, owner operator of About the Fit, a website specializing in upscale women’s clothes. In just eighteen months she has turned it into a going concern, with over two hundred employees and thousands of orders a day. Despite her success—and eighteen-hour work days—the company is growing so quickly her investors want to bring in an experienced CEO to grow the business.
Enter Ben Whittaker, a seventy-year-old widower who applies for a job as senior intern to help pass the time. After a shaky start the pair bond as Jules comes to regard Ben as a calming influence and a bottomless font of advice. De Niro’s back to playing “The Godfather”… but the magical fairy godfather who becomes Uncle Ben to everyone in the office, teaching the boys to be men and Jules to enjoy life.
A mix of slapstick and sentimentality “The Intern” is clearly designed to be a crowd pleaser, the kind of movie that moves along with few speed bumps along the way. But there are speed bumps. Take for example a woefully conceived house break-in scene that must be one of the worst action scenes ever committed to film. Or an infidelity subplot that rears its ugly head in the final third and does little except to raise the dramatic stakes, but it’s clumsy and feels tagged on. How about the film’s murky stance on women having a career and a family?
Juxtaposing Millennials and Baby Boomers should mine a rich vein of comedy and there are a few gags sprinkled throughout “The Intern,” but it feels aimed at an older audience who might find sitcom gags like a young guy walking in on what he thinks is a sex act, but is actually completely innocent. Cue the laugh track.
“The Intern” relies on charm rather than knee slappers. De Niro and Hathaway have good chemistry and can effortlessly bound between mawkish melodrama and comedy. Is this one of De Niro’s more memorable characters? Nope. Ben Whittaker and Travis Bickle will never be mentioned on the same breath but his work here could be considered a companion piece to “Meet the Fockers.”
“We don’t have time for zingers!” says Count Dracula (Adam Sandler) midway through “Hotel Transylvania 2.” No time for zingers, indeed. The sequel to the 2012 kid friendly animated horror comedy is short on laughs but long on sentiment.
Like all of Sandler’s movies—no matter how outrageous the characters—the new one is all about family. It picks up after Drac’s daughter, vampiress Mavis (voice of Selena Gomez) married human Jonathan (Andy Samberg). In a twist on “Twilight,” the vampire mother and human father soon have a child, Dennis (Asher Blinkoff). The question is, which side of the family will it take after, the monster or human?
“Human. Monster. Unicorn. As long as you’re happy,” Drac says to his daughter, while secretly hoping the child will inherit the vampire genes. On the eve of the child’s fifth birthday the boy still hasn’t shoed any signs of vampiric behaviour—“He’s not human,” says the Prince of Darkness, “he’s just a late fanger!”—so Drac and friends—Frankenstein (Kevin James), Wayne the Werewolf (Steve Buscemi), the Invisible Man (David Spade) and Murray the Mummy (Keegan-Michael Key)—take Dennis to their old haunts to teach him their scary skills.
“Hotel Transylvania 2” features great kid friendly monsters designs (that will make equally cool toys) like zombie bellhops and Blobby, a gelatine creature that looks like Grandma’s Gazpacho Aspic come to life but the creativity that went into the creatures didn’t extend to the script.
It’s a sweet enough, amiable story about acceptance and family, but the jokes barely rise to the level of the “101 Halloween Jokes for Kids” book I had when I was ten-years-old. If calling Murray the Mummy “talking toilet paper” makes you giggle, then perhaps this is for you, but by the time they have explained why Drac is called “Vampa” for the second time, you get the idea that Sandler and co-writer Robert Smigel know they should have driven a stake through the heart of this script.
The appearance of Mel Brooks as Great Vampa Vlad simply brings to mind “Young Frankenstein,” one of the funniest horror comedies of all time.
The biggest laughs come from the background, the sight gags that keep things visually frenetic in the first hour.
“Hotel Transylvania 2’s” family friendly scares won’t give kids any nightmares, but it won’t make them laugh either.