In Revue: Weirdos Not Even the Best Mechanic Could Fix
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In Revue: Weirdos Not Even the Best Mechanic Could Fix

Because Toronto’s more movie obsessed than a Quentin Tarantino screenplay (yuk yuk), Torontoist brings you In Revue, a weekly roundup of new releases.

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Jason Statham fixes all your problems, or at least the ones about people being not quite dead enough, in The Mechanic. Illustration by Chloe Cushman/Torontoist.

Another nice week in Toronto. A tough-as-nails ass-kicker extraordinaire is back in Simon West’s remake of The Mechanic, which is pretty good. (And speaking of which: hey, Simon West, sorry about that time we wrote you off as a one-hit wonder.) There’s also some more new stuff out of Greece at The Royal and a doc about everyone’s favourite musical-genius-slash-second-degree-murderer, Phil Spector, which some of you may want to “Da-Doo-Run-Run” to the theatre for. See what we did there? It was a pun, based on the title off the Phil Spector–produced Crystals single “Da-Doo-Ron-Ron.” Pretty clever, eh? Eh?

The Mechanic

Directed by Simon West
3 ½ STARS


The main problem with this new remake of The Mechanic is that it’s not a remake of Albert Camus’s The Stranger, like Michael Winner’s The Mechanic (1972) kind of was. Winner’s film cast stone-faced, squinting Charles Bronson as Arthur Bishop—a role reprised here by stone-faced, smug Jason Statham—an unconscionable contract killer. Bronson’s Bishop killed not for money or vengeance, but to distinguish himself from a world he had no feelings toward, “to stand apart from it all” as he tells his enthusiastic protégé (Jan-Michael Vincent).
Both Statham’s Bishop and his scruffy ward (Ben Foster) stand outside of nothing. They live in a world peopled almost exclusively by hit men and hucksters, where sex, death, and salvation are nickel-and-dime transactions. It’s slightly less cartoony than the noxious everyone’s-a-gangster universe of the Smokin’ Aces films. But only slightly. And in this respect, this Mechanic is a remake in name only. It gets some of the details right but fails to capture the self-destructive spirit of the original.
Following the beats of Winner’s film, Statham takes Foster’s wannabe hatchet man under his wing after icing his father (Donald Sutherland). Foster provides the film’s most welcome touch, playing a grubby fatalist with convincing abandon, even if his personal mantra—“I don’t give a shit”—rings false. West capably pulls off a handful of high-octane action scenes (a meticulously choreographed bit of vehicular carnage, Foster versus a lecherous brick shithouse killer) and one true blue nail-biter (Foster and Statham stealthily infiltrating a hotel room via concealed crawlspaces, then not-so-stealthily absconding). His sensibility is considerably more old-school than the bulk of contemporary action-flick hacks.
It’s not nearly as spellbinding as Winner’s original—which, for all its broad existential pandering, is the kind of austere, artful action flick that became impossible to make after Die Hard reified the form—but West’s Mechanic, like his earlier Con Air, is the kind of satisfying fare that may quickly enter the canon of sixth grade sleepover-party viewing. Eleven-year-old boys, after all, tend to be less bothered by things like ham-handed happy endings or an unsatisfactory commitment to nihilism. It also has the best single bad-guy line since Eric Roberts barked, “I’d have paid you double…to go fishing!” in this summer’s excellent The Expendables. We’re tempted, but we won’t spoil it for you.
The Mechanic opens Friday, January 28, in wide release. Click here for showtimes.

Dogtooth

Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos
4 STARS


Set on a secluded, fortress-like estate somewhere in exurban Greece, Dogtooth pitches itself somewhere between the lightweight domestic horrors of Todd Solondz and the more stinging satire of Luis Buñuel. In a sprawling, well-upholstered house, three children in their late teens and early twenties live in enforced isolation from the outside. Their mother (Michele Valley) educates them with homemade vocabulary tapes, intentionally misinforming them about what certain words mean (sea=chair; telephone=salt shaker; et cetera). Their father (Christos Stergioglou) is the only one who leaves the house, to work his breadwinning day job, shop, and collect Christina (Anna Kalaitzidou), a young woman employed to grin and bear the sexual needs of the family’s son (Hristos Passalis).
Garnering a slew of awards since it took Un Certain Regard at Cannes in 2009, Dogtooth’s particularities resound universally. Lanthimos crafts a strictly hermetic world, not just in his vision of one family’s residential prison, but also in the guiding logic of the film itself. Echoing its very precisely uneducated youngsters, Dogtooth strong-arms the viewer into redefining hardened concepts of family, sexuality, and perversion. Can taboos—and, spoiler alert, the film broaches the so-called “last” taboo—exist among people who have no sense of civilization or culture? Are the non-erotic bonds between siblings transformed when sexual urges cannot be triangulated to an outside party? Can a woman give birth to a dog?
That the answers to such questions may seem obvious speaks to how gratifyingly credible, if a bit despairing and nasty, Dogtooth is. As in Buñuel’s The Exterminating Angel—in which a mob of aristocratic upper crusters find themselves psychologically, though not physically, imprisoned in a well-upholstered music room—Lanthimos ensnares his characters in a topsy-turvy narrative world of his own design. Audiences are likely to find themselves similarly rapt.
Dogtooth opens Friday, January 28, for a limited run at The Royal (608 College Street). Click here for showtimes.

The Agony and Ecstasy of Phil Spector

Directed by Vikram Jayanti
3 STARS


Shooting a woman in the face with a gun can seriously colour the public’s perception of you. Or you’d think so, at least. Maybe it doesn’t apply to self-professed geniuses with martyr complexes like Phil Spector.
Vikram Jayanti’s Spector doc occupies an odd, interstitial space in the virtuoso music producer’s career. Granted unprecedented access to Spector (who exists as the sole, dead-eyed, chop-licking interview subject), Jayanti’s film positions us in uncomfortably close medium-shot proximity. Spector proves incredibly candid—in the way that paranoid delusional sociopaths can be candid—and hearing him preach about his music has an otherworldly quality, something like the lucid sermonizing of Frank Zappa crossed with the cuckoo religious tirades of Charles Manson. It’d all be super interesting in a Behind The Music freak-show kind of way, were it not for that niggling detail—that in 2009 Spector was convicted by a jury of his peers for the second-degree murder of actress Lana Clarkson.
Filmed over the course of Spector’s first trial (which was dismissed), Agony and Ecstasy operates on a weird and since-debunked assumption of innocence. As Spector rambles on about his genius, his “Wall of Sound” production techniques, and his kinship with Da Vinci and Galileo, we’re made to feel safe in our assumptions that he’s kind of insane. (By his own admission, Spector is “relatively insane.”) But murderously so? Naw. Jayanti presents us with a freak, but an acquitted, somewhat guileless freak. The audience’s knowledge of Spector’s conviction (given short shrift in the wrap-up credits) creates a weird disjoint between them and the film, further complicating the existent disconnection to the loopy Spector. The result is unsettling, if unintentionally so. Sometimes probing, though frequently tasteless, Jayanti’s intimate profile of maladjusted musical genius doubles as a more detached study of madness.
The Agony and the Ecstasy of Phil Spector opened Thursday, January 27, for a limited run at TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King Street West). Click here for showtimes.

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