As a means of rounding up Toronto’s various cinematic goings-on each week, Movie Mondays compiles the best rep cinema and art house screenings, special presentations, lectures, and limited engagements.
Happy Thanksgiving, turkeys! This week at the movies, we’ve got a doc profiling a famous mouthpiece comedienne and a special engagement with Isabella Rossellini. As Halloween nears, there’s also some more vampires, and the monthly installment of that movie that tears us apart so good.
Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg picked the perfect title for their recent documentary on raspy comedienne Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work. Besides suggesting the radical reconstructive plastic surgery procedures Rivers has subjected herself to, the title drives to the heart of her persona: she is, after all, a real piece of work. She’s managed to survive, tooth and nail, for forty years in showbiz, working as a gag writer, stand-up, Peewee’s Christmas Special guest star, and red carpet gadfly. That she’s sustained a career plying a form of show business hackery that the larger ebb of comedy and pop culture has washed over is itself pretty incredible. But then, as this documentary points out, Joan Rivers isn’t exactly known for turning down work.
Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work looks at how exactly the seventy-seven-year-old Rivers has managed to keep afloat these past forty years. Stand-ups have always served as fitting stand-ins for considering larger questions of human nature. Being typically tight-wound balls of frayed nerves that make a career out of plastering on a smile and cracking wise, they live the contradiction of life being an inherently painful thing that must be approached with pleasantness and good humour in order to be suffered.
And perhaps no comic embodies this cruel paradox like Rivers, who after four decades in the business is croaking out one-liners for dingy comedy clubs and whose range of facial emotiveness has been pinned in by just as many decades of cosmetic tampering. But as we watch her jetset around the U.S. for one or another engagement (read: paycheque), there’s a real sympathy that emerges. A Piece of Work succeeds not just in profiling a comic powerhouse struggling to stay relevant, but in its ability to compassionately strip away at Rivers’ well-manicured layers and reveal the base anxieties of one of American culture’s biggest punchlines. Check it out this week at The Revue (400 Roncesvalles Avenue), where a limited engagement kicks off at 9:25 p.m. on Tuesday.
You know who else is a real piece of work? That Isabella Rossellini.
Certainly, she’s preserved her beauty with a bit more grace than Joan Rivers, but her career is just as esoteric. So esoteric, in fact, that it’s bringing her to the far-flung berg of Toronto this week, for a rendezvous at the TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King Street West). On Tuesday night, Rossellini will be at the Lightbox introducing Voyage in Italy, directed by her father, Roberto Rossellini, and starring her mother, Ingrid Bergman, at 6:30 p.m ., followed by a pop-in for the screening of David Lynch’s Blue Velvet, which stars Rossellini as a lounge singer subject to the varied sexual perversions of Dennis Hopper and Kyle MacLachlan, at 10 p.m. And what’s more, before the screening of Voyage in Italy, Rossellini will present her tribute to her father, the Guy Maddin–directed My Dad Is 100 Years Old, which has Isabella playing her father, mother, David Selznick, and Alfred Hitchcock among others. It’s an Isabella Rossellini fest! So mark your calendars, all you Rossellini Heads!
When people consider the better films of the comic book canon—likely to include Iron Man, Spider-man 2, The Dark Knight, Ghost World, etc.—Guillermo del Toro’s Blade II tends to elude mention. Why is that? Is it because vampires have been so en vogue in the past decade that we forget that the Blade films are even based on comic books? Is it because all the undead slicing and dicing doesn’t resemble the more tame superhero theatrics we’ve come to associate with comic book movies?
In any event, Blade II is pretty awesome. Picking up where the original left off (as many sequels are wont to do), our daywalking half-vampire hero (Wesley Snipes) forges an uneasy alliance with the bloodsuckers he’s sworn to crucify in order to take down the Reapers, a mutated breed of extra-ugly vampires led by an even uglier Ron Perlman. Fast, stronger, and better than the original, Blade II follows the Lost Boys/Underworld thread of vampires as punk badasses and ups the badass factor with plenty of bulky Wesley Snipes action and arterial spray. Get into it Wednesday at 7 p.m. at The Underground (186 Spadina Avenue).
Last week, when we spoke with the director and star of the recently wide-released Troll 2 documentary Best Worst Movie, one movie kept bubbling back up to the surface of our conversation. And it wasn’t even Troll 2. It was Tommy Wiseau’s The Room, the rightful inheritor to Troll 2‘s so-bad-it’s-great legacy. That’s right. The test results are in: The Room is definitely popular! And if Tommy Wiseau ever pulls a Michael Stephenson and decides to make a documentary about the rabid cult of fandom surrounding The Room—we wouldn’t hold our breath, as that would require a) Wiseau actually understanding what has happened to his film; b) Wiseau figuring out how to use filmmaking equipment; c) Wiseau looking up the words “cult,” “fandom,” and “documentary” in a dictionary—Toronto would make a fine place to start.
The monthly screenings of The Room at The Royal have been well-attended for over a year, nurturing fans of a generation’s first legitimate cult classic. In fact, the screenings have become so popular that The Royal was recently profiled in a CBC News piece on bad movie culture in Canada. All the spoon-throwing, close-quarters football tossing, Gold Gate Bridge pan-cheering, and romantic tearing-apart continues this Friday at 11:30 p.m. when The Royal (608 College Street) screens The Room. Again! Still crazy after all this year!
Photos by Eugen Sakhnenko/Torontoist.