The best repertory and art-house screenings, special presentations, lectures, and limited engagements in Toronto.
At rep cinemas this week: a profile of a magician turned psychic-debunker, a Canadian black comedy, and Tom Cruise’s sci-fi apocalypse.
An Honest Liar
Directed by Tyler Measom and Justin Weinstein
Bloor Hot Docs Cinema (506 Bloor Street West)
Magicians, James “The Amazing” Randi explains early on in An Honest Liar, are essentially criminal types—con men and women who lack the follow-through to do anything truly transgressive. You might expect that snarky assessment from a law enforcement officer, but the great advantage of Tyler Measom and Justin Weinstein’s documentary about Randi’s long career is that their subject has been on both sides of the profession. A skilled magician and escape artist turned full-time debunker of psychics and faith healers, Randi, now in his 80s, has made it his life’s work to expose the methods of the two-bit phoneys who chock their illusionist tricks up to higher powers and persuade people to part ways with their money in the process.
As a portrait of a professional skeptic who paradoxically revels in the joys of a good hoodwinking, An Honest Liar is absorbing stuff—a multi-faceted biography of a man with a clear ethos about the kinds of ends to which parlour tricks should be put. Its secondary narrative, about how Randi has himself fallen prey to the deceptions of Jose Alvarez, his partner of more than two decades, feels less organic: Alvarez’s identity fraud is a coincidence that the filmmakers lean upon too heavily, as if it is of some cosmic significance. On balance though, this is a smartly constructed film that fleetly walks us through a history of magic and mentalism in popular culture while doubling as a profile of one of the most interesting figures in each area.
It Was You Charlie
Directed by Emmanuel Shirinian
TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King Street West)
A black comedy in the vein of Richard Ayoade’s The Double (and Terry Gilliam’s Brazil before it), Emmanuel Shirinian’s debut feature It Was You Charlie should serve as a nice calling card for the Toronto filmmaker. Michael D. Cohen stars as Abner, a diminutive doorman and former college art professor haunted by his role in a fatal car accident a year back, and prone to all sorts of hapless suicide attempts.
If that material seems an odd subject for an absurdist comedy, well, it is. Despite a fine lead performance by Cohen and some layered supporting work by actors such as Aaron Abrams as Abner’s estranged brother and Alon Nashman as an unhinged coworker, the film’s tonal shifts from black comedy to heavy drama can be disorienting in ways Shirinian doesn’t seem to intend. A side plot (and predictable twist) involving Emma Fleury’s standard-issue manic pixie dream girl Zoe is better left undiscussed. But there’s a lot to appreciate here, from Shirinian’s steely compositions and precise minimalist style to Cohen and Abrams’s obvious chemistry as siblings who fall into old rhythms whenever they come into one other’s orbits.
Edge of Tomorrow
Directed by Doug Liman
The Royal (608 College Street)
His couch-hopping fiasco on Oprah and his Today-show antics aside, Tom Cruise has long been one of the savviest of Hollywood stars, always taking (and in many cases producing) projects that let his peculiar manic star shine a little brighter. Even for such a self-aware celebrity, who has effectively either played himself or radical subversions of himself throughout his career, Doug Liman’s Edge of Tomorrow feels like a new benchmark, a film that makes its star’s trademark confidence its subject.
Cruise plays Cage, a military spin doctor who unwittingly finds himself enlisted in humankind’s international war effort against a nasty alien species called mimics—squid-like creatures so-named for their ability to casually adapt to any offensive tactic the humans can throw at them. A P.R. specialist with no combat skills, Cage is killed almost instantly, then promptly reborn 24 hours prior,fated to relive the day of his death over and over until, with the help of war hero and previous time traveller Rita (Emily Blunt), he figures out how to rewrite his fate.
Liman gets a lot of mileage out of his goofy sci-fi conceit, revelling in the opportunity to kill off his star a hundred different ways with no consequences, and playing with our limited sense of what day we’re seeing by only gradually revealing Cage’s skills, acquired through the baptism-by-fire of war. But what really makes Edge of Tomorrow special is the fun it has with Cruise’s image as an impossibly qualified, preternaturally calm operator, burning it down with Cage’s utter incompetence the first round through, and rebuilding it as Cage learns how to game the system. The result is both a sharp action comedy and a weird sort of coming-of-age story, with Cruise essentially playing a man who, through hard-earned wisdom and experience, becomes Tom Cruise.