The best repertory and art-house screenings, special presentations, lectures, and limited engagements in Toronto.
At rep cinemas this week: Lukas Moodysson’s raucous all-girl punk comedy, John Carpenter’s anti-consumerist sucker punch, and Jim Jarmusch’s tale of lovelorn rock vampires.
We Are the Best!
Directed by Lukas Moodysson
TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King Street West)
“Do you even have any instruments?” a floppy-haired rock kid snarls at 13-year-old nascent Swedish punks Bobo (Mira Barkhammar) and Klara (Mira Grosin) early in Lukas Moodysson’s sweet, wise, early-’80s-set We Are the Best!. They don’t have them just yet, incidentally, but as long as they’ve got angst and energy to spare, the film suggests, who needs them?
Moodysson has made his career out of tender portraits of bored teen girls in the throes of life-changing friendships, so it’s no surprise that We Are the Best! is as incisive as it is at capturing the alternately prickly and warm dynamic between Bobo and Klara and newcomer Hedvig (Liv LeMoyne) as they turn from punk (and in Hedvig’s case, folk) aficionados into a full-blown punk act, screaming about putting a stop to gym in small-town community assemblies. The wonderful cast lives up to the title even if their music isn’t quite there. The upshot is this rare, rich ensemble piece fronted entirely by young women with their own budding ideas.
Directed by John Carpenter
Revue Cinema (400 Roncesvalles Avenue)
In The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology, psychoanalyst and certified theory rockstar Slavoj Žižek singles out John Carpenter’s They Live as “one of the forgotten masterpieces of the Hollywood Left.” Masterpiece might be a slight overstatement, but we’re also fans of the Carpenter curiosity, an unabashedly anti-consumerist bit of agitprop smuggled into a pulpy action thriller.
Wrestler “Rowdy” Roddy Piper plays John Nada, an L.A. drifter who takes up odd construction jobs and copes with the weird world around him, where helicopters are constantly flying overhead and TV signals are always on the fritz. Everything changes when he comes across an unusual pair of sunglasses that lets him see the world in black and white and as it really is. When he dons his specs, John sees the secret totalitarian messages flowing like currents through every magazine ad, billboard, and TV transmission— messages like “OBEY” and “CONSUME,” which later inspired street artist Shepard Fairey—and finds the wealthy are in fact grotesque zombies in nifty suits.
They Live takes its time to get cooking, and some will inevitably find the ham-fisted messaging about how ads keep us sedated a bit much. But there’s great joy in watching Piper (along with sidekick Keith David) turned into an avenging angel for the working class, even if the idea behind it is less than sophisticated—and there are some truly awe-inspiring set pieces, most famously a goofy alley fight that seems to go on for an eternity.
Only Lovers Left Alive
Directed by Jim Jarmusch
The Royal (608 College Street)
Jim Jarmusch’s answer to the pleasantly rumpled nostalgia of Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris is Only Lovers Left Alive, a romantic and mournful yarn about globe-trotting vampires with a taste for rock and roll and Renaissance verse. Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton play the titular pair, a couple of weary ex-libertines and sometime musicians who live out the sad 21st century in sun-blocked basement apartments, hiding from the humans they call “zombies” and tapping out the blood banks of their neighbourhood hospitals.
Jarmusch’s last film, The Limits of Control, felt at times like a members-only affair, designed strictly for those already on his trademark cool wavelength. For what it’s worth, Only Lovers Left Alive is as universally appealing as his filmmaking gets, grounded by likable performances, a fantastic soundtrack, and lyrical reminiscences of fallen cities such as Detroit, viewed through the eyes of a pair of lonely bloodsuckers who’ve seen it all.