The best repertory and art-house screenings, special presentations, lectures, and limited engagements in Toronto.
At rep cinemas this week: a documentary about an Icelandic museum dedicated to penises, a cult classic about a ninja-fighting rock act, and Italy’s Oscar contender.
The Final Member
Directed by Jonah Bekhor and Zach Math
Bloor Hot Docs Cinema (506 Bloor Street West)
As self-destructive competitions go, there’s the nuclear arms race and then there’s the bizarre contest laid out in Jonah Bekhor and Zach Math’s documentary The Final Member. The film profiles the work of Sigurdur Hjartarson, a former teacher who now runs the Icelandic Phallological Museum, home to the world’s largest collection of penises and penile parts from the animal kingdom and beyond. The filmmakers find him settling comfortably into his old age, bothered only by the fact that he has yet to secure a human specimen for the museum. Enter Pall Arason, a nonagenarian Icelandic explorer on the last leg of life, and Tom Mitchell, an eccentric middle-aged American who dreams of making a name for his penis, which he speaks of as a sentient being named Elmo.
Despite a rocky start, replete with animated infographics and whimsical music cues that seem to come out of a reservoir of quirky documentary tropes, the film hits its stride once it reveals itself as an earnest and funny character portrait of these three eccentrics, each anxious about securing his legacy in his own way. It’s admittedly difficult at times to square that comic tone with Mitchell’s pathological fixation on Elmo’s stardom, but on the whole, this is a gentle and unassuming documentary about the tendency of quixotic males to tilt at windmills phallus-first.
Directed by Directed by Woo-sang Park and Y.K. Kim
The Royal (608 College Street)
You could argue that Miami Connection owes its status as a cult phenomenon mostly to the efforts of Alamo Drafthouse programmer Zack Carlson, who in 2009 first brought the 1987-made martial arts curio to the genre-hungry audience it always deserved. It would be a crime, though, to downplay the efforts of directors Woo-sang Park and Y.K. Kim in bringing this moony-eyed baby to life. Tempting as it is to celebrate the strange fruit of their labour as transcendentally bad storytelling, only the worst cynic could deny their good spirit and their savant-like genius for comic set pieces.
A martial-arts musical about a showdown between Orlando-based Taekwondo-fighting musical artists and some motorcycle-riding ninjas with a grip on the city’s cocaine trade, Miami Connection feels like a bizarre mirror image of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Kim, credited as a grandmaster, stars as the nigh-incomprehensible leader of the good-guy pack, a multiracial synth-rock troupe known as Dragon Sound, whose members devote their off-nights to cleaning up the streets in the name of of nonviolence.
Of course, one might wonder how that message squares with Dragon Sound’s preferred method of peacekeeping: systematically maiming their enemies. But it’s a testament to the directors’ and stars’ guilelessness and lightness of tone that you never really ask the question. More than anything, this is a sweet movie with a sublime soundtrack, including the standout cut, a mind-numbingly repetitive but infectious anthem about the protagonists’ abiding friendship, which sticks “through thick and thin”—and presumably also through ninja offensives. It’s a song about loyalty, which is all too fitting given the kind of sincere devotion the film inspires among its followers.
The Great Beauty
Directed by Paolo Sorrentino
TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King Street West)
Clocking in at a punishing 142 minutes, The Great Beauty is the sort of stylistically over-cranked, vapid movie that insists upon its importance, holding all who find themselves immune to its immodest charms hostage until they say uncle. Italian auteur Paolo Sorrentino has made a name for himself on the festival circuit for his brashness—his last film starred Sean Penn as a Robert Smith lookalike turned Nazi hunter—but his newest has little to show for its self-confidence beyond its closet full of gorgeous designer suits.
Toni Servillo, who was impressive as Giulio Andreotti in Sorrentino’s earlier film Il Divo, stars as Gambardella, a bored novelist who, his best work long behind him, spends his nights mourning his youth and hectoring female artists at gauche parties, captured via hyperactive montages, fish-eye lenses, and the like. Part disapproving essay on Berlusconi’s dissipated Italy, and part nostalgic reverie for the self-indulgent, sexist spectacles of Federico Fellini, the film never reconciles its conservative impulses with its alleged criticism of the jet-setting life it spends most of its running time patting on the back.