Don Cheadle puts in a fine performance in a quasi-biography that gives Toronto another chance to play Washington, D.C.
Toronto’s extensive work on the silver screen reveals that, while we have the chameleonic ability to look like anywhere from New York City to Moscow, the disguise doesn’t always hold up to scrutiny. Reel Toronto revels in digging up and displaying the films that attempt to mask, hide, or—in rare cases—proudly display our city.
Many films fall by the wayside on the long road to Oscar-dom, and Talk to Me is one of those. Oh, it’s not a terrible film, and indeed it won several indie awards, but you can just tell it wanted to be an important film of some kind and there, sadly, it falls short.
The Oscars love a good biography, and this flick has the always-great Don Cheadle playing Petey Greene, a Washington, D.C. deejay who was an important civil rights activist in the late ’60s. (He wasn’t such a huge celebrity up here, where the movie was filmed.) It’s also got Taraji P. Henson, who was nominated for her supporting role in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and Chiwetel Ejiofor, who is almost certain to get an Oscar of his own this year, for 12 Years a Slave.
It all adds up to an 82 per cent Rotten Tomatoes rating and a movie you probably hadn’t heard of until just now.
If we were totally superficial, we’d point out how awesome these retro threads are, and how awesome Don Cheadle is in them. But no, we can do even better.
Dig that fake, retro “Pizza Pizza” behind Cheadle! This is supposed to be Washington, but it doesn’t look much like Their Nation’s Capital, and it doesn’t look much like Ontario’s capital either. Well, it turns out that: a) this is a real Pizza Pizza (just dressed retro for the movie) and b) we’re actually in Hamilton, at the corner of King Street and John Street.
(As a side note: if Pizza Pizza really looked like that, the pizza would still taste crappy but we might eat there more often just for the vibes).
Indeed, this little stretch of Hamilton is an important setting that we see a few times. Here, for example, is a big protest in the adjacent Gore Park.
One more cool shot of the same intersection, given the late-’60s treatment…
…and a final one, showing it in the middle of a cinematic riot. Burn, Pizza Pizza, burn!
We also have some good smokey bar scenes, like this one, which we think was shot at the now-defunct Stoopy’s, out on Dundas Street East. In its day, it was a classic dive bar and it had a pretty impressive filmography, hosting the likes of A History of Violence and The Ref.
This bar, in which Ejiofor and Cheadle engage in a game of pool, is the Silver Cue billiards joint out on the Danforth, which seems to have since gone the way of the dodo.
Truth be told, there isn’t a ton of Toronto to spot, but here’s a bit more—a concert (a fake James Brown concert no less!) shot at the Phoenix.
The film ends (spoiler?) with the massive memorial held for Greene, presumably on the National Mall. But, hmm, that building back there looks familiar. Could we be at U of T?
Oh, yup. We’re smack in the middle of King’s College Circle, with the Washington Monument randomly added about where the CN Tower should be. (Or, on second thought, possibly we’re giving them too much credit and that is the CN Tower, but merely cropped so you might think it’s the monument? Which scenario is more indicative of a quality production?)
Wikipedia always has great trivia like, “The film has been criticized for allegedly not being true to the details of his life and career and for inventing incidents and rearranging locations…In response to these criticisms, producer Joe Fries responded that the film was merely ‘inspired by’ Greene and not a factual recounting of his life.” Well, isn’t that convenient, Mr. Fries.
So, it’s a well-made movie about a guy you’ve never heard of, and it’s not even entirely accurate, but since you’d never heard of him in the first place, that’s not such a big deal, right? So, we can probably safely say it’s worth a watch, because you don’t often see American landmarks plopped down in the middle of obviously-in-Toronto shots and, hey, you might just learn something along the way.