Guest column: Mark Breslin, Thom Ernst, The Critics Are Wrong!

Original-Cin welcomes guest columnists Mark Breslin and Thom Ernst - respectively the founder of Yuk Yuk’s comedy chain and the former host of TVO’s Saturday Night at the Movies – and an occasional feature called The Critics Are Wrong!

MARK: First, Thom, let’s let our readers know what this column is all about.

THOM:  Excellent.  I’ll try to follow along since I can’t honestly say I’m all that clear on it myself. 

MARK: We’re here to rescue movies from critics who overpraised them or undervalued them. It’s unlikely that a one star movie is a classic or that a five star movie is worthless, but we think some movies need a second look. And Thom and I will not always agree!

THOM:  Like, for example I would never end a sentence with an exclamation mark. 

Armie Hammer and Timothee Chalomet sloowwly seducing each other in Call Me By Your Name

Armie Hammer and Timothee Chalomet sloowwly seducing each other in Call Me By Your Name

MARK: I am completely flummoxed at the universal admiration for Call Me By Your Name. An Oscar nomination for best picture, 96% approval on Rotten Tomatoes, but to me it’s a gutted version of Death In Venice.  The seduction between these two guys is so slow I kept hoping Aziz Ansari would show up and speed things along.

Critics, like Bill Goodykoontz of the Arizona Republic claim the film is beautifully shot and the performances are outstanding” But his name is Goodykoontz so I can’t take him seriously.

And the movie, which takes place in Northern Italy, actually feels like it needs a good coat of paint, but I guess some audiences like faded stucco. Can’t help wondering if this movie would be quite so revered if it took place in Mimico.

So, not a five star, not a one star either. With good acting and a lot of authentic preppy button downs it’s a three star on a horny day. Thom?

THOM: First off – Goodykoontz is the pet name my wife has for me so…careful.  

Now, I don’t get much of a chance to read the Arizona Republic anymore, at least not since we stopped having it delivered. I didn’t actually read Goodykoontz review of Call Me By My Real Name but if the review is favourable, I’ll have to assume that Goodykoontz  nails it.  I’ll give you this much, Death in Venice is a fine comparison.  The two films have a great deal in common except that CMBYRN has 80% more dialogue and 100% less beach tents.  And there’s a little Maurice in here too – perhaps because the script is penned by James Ivory, the senior statesman of Edwardian Romance – a man whose characters are consistently faced with having to knock the stuffing out of a stuffy civilized oppression.    

Yes, rave about the performances.  Why wouldn’t you? Armie Hammer and Timothée Chalamet approach their roles without the needless self-congratulatory backslapping that so often comes whenever actors know they're taking on a character that defies their public persona.  

Nominated for best picture, yes.  Will it win?  Well, that ranges from a “Not likely” to “Of course not”.  But is it one of the year’s best films – absolutely.  And that would still be the case even if it were to take place in Mimico.  (Can’t wait to hear the kind of letters your going to get from Mimiconians).

MARK: Now let’s talk about The Commuter, the perfectly serviceable thriller starring Liam Neeson But did you see Calum Marsh’s rave in the National Post? He called it, “…a marvellous train-bound thriller worthy of Hitchcock.”

Hitchcock? You mean the guy who made North by Northwest, Psycho, The Birds, and another thirty masterpieces? I enjoyed the movie, as I do most thrillers shot in one location (always amps up the tension) but it wasn’t any better than the other films in the genre like Air Force One, Dead Calm, etc. It’s true that for much of the running time I was on the edge of my seat, but that’s only because I have a bad back.

Other critics seemed to have a more sober response to the flick, but Marsh’s stood out and demanded attention. 

Liam Neeson in The Commuter. 'I'm ready for my close-up, Mr. Hitchcock.'

Liam Neeson in The Commuter. 'I'm ready for my close-up, Mr. Hitchcock.'

THOM: The Commuter confirms my suspicions that Liam Neeson is incapable of being any kind of passenger without getting into some mess. I seem to remember that in Unknown, he didn’t fare too well in a taxi. Then there was the unfortunate on-flight fiasco in Non-Stop, plus the obligatory chase through a New York subway train in Run All Night. Now here we are again, with Neeson frantically running up and down the aisle of a commuter train, drawing confused looks from fellow passengers who just want to get through the latest Sudoku.

I was intrigued by Marsh’s comparison to Hitchcock, if only because it meant that Neeson’s never-ending partnership with director Jaume Collet-Serra might have finally fostered something worth watching.  It’s Collet-Serra we can thank for Non-Stop, Run All Night, and Unknown. The Commuter is just another version of any one of these films. 

Marsh’s Hitchcock comparison is fair in that The Commuter touches on Hitchcock’s fondness for disrupting routine. And like many of Hitchcock's stories, The Commuter features an unsuspecting, family man forcibly caught up in some covert scheme that has nothing to do with him. Then there is a collective of players who may or may not be trusted. But Collet-Serra  lacks the irony, humour and timing needed to pull off a well-paced thriller – Hitchcock or otherwise. 

There’s more Hitchcock in David Koepp’s under-appreciated Premium Rush (2012) or Tony Scott’s final film, Unstoppable (2010).

You know, the more I talk about it, the less I like this film. 

Gerard Butler in Den Of Thieves: 'Derivative but watchable?'

Gerard Butler in Den Of Thieves: 'Derivative but watchable?'

MARK: I’m always fascinated by the gap between the critics’ ratings and the audience scores. For instance, Den of Thieves, a derivative but watchable heist movie, got a measly one and a half stars from Brad Wheeler at the Globe and many of his fellow critics would think he was being generous. But the audience scores were consistently above 70%. I admit the movie was no Heat, but the acting was good even if Gerard Butler looked like he was in line for the lead for a Joe Cocker biopic. And I appreciated the Usual Suspects twist ending.

So…power to the people!

THOM: If Den Of Thieves is striving for something deep and profound, but only manages to come up with something that’s “a derivative but watchable heist movie”  (It hurts me to throw your words back at you like that, but it has to be done) then the façade has to be revealed – which is exactly what Wheeler’s review does. 

Of course people can decide whether a film ranks a pitiful 1 ½ stars or if it’s worthy of 10. All Wheeler’s doing is arming them with a bit of knowledge-plus-insight – and BAM you got yourself a movie review.

'Wait. Breslin LIKED my movie?'

'Wait. Breslin LIKED my movie?'

Okay, what’s next?  I hope it’s something we can agree on.  I’m beginning to feel like a contrarian. 

MARK: I was lucky enough to see Louis C.K.’s I Love You Daddy at its only TIFF screening, which was only a few weeks before CK was accused, and admitted to indecent exposure. His career was put on hold, and with it, any chance of seeing the film soon.

After I saw it, I told everyone it was a dark comic masterpiece, beautifully shot, dealing with the hot button topic of inappropriate male desire. Then, Peter Howell from the Toronto Star, whose opinions I usually agree with, released this column, stating that, on second viewing... “it’s now an exercise in revulsion to watch the film again… CK seems cowardly and conniving in retrospect…a vain attempt to normalize his own deviancy… it should remain locked in the vault.”

Au contraire, Peter, it should be required viewing for anyone trying to understand toxic male behaviour, a story told by one who lives and struggles with his own twisted masculinity. They’re couldn’t be a more relevant movie for our times, suggesting that deviancy is actually quite normal. 5 stars.

THOM: Wow.  5 Stars.  Probably the highest rating a movie that’ll never be released will ever receive. 


Thom Ernst

Thom is a longtime broadcaster and film critic living in Toronto and is formerly the producer and host of TVOs Saturday Night at the Movies. Thom can be heard weekly on This Movie’s About You, available on iTunes.




Mark Breslin

Mark founded the Yuk Yuk's comedy club chain -  launching pad for the likes of Jim Carrey, Russell Peters and Norm Macdonald. A veteran TV producer and writer (Friday Night! With Ralph Benmergui, Kenny vs. Spenny), he  was artistic director of the Humber College Comedy program and a founder of the Canadian Comedy Awards.