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.
Another fine week at your local movies houses, as your 2011 movie-going calendar continues to clip along. This week sees a few classic literary adaptations, one of the best films (or at least a film with one of the best performances) of last year, as well as one of our favourite Canadian films of 2010 slotted back into theatres. Bon Cinema!
For many, the definitive adaptation of John Steinbeck’s 1939 novel The Grapes of Wrath is the joke from The Simpsons where Nelson pulverizes a bunch of grapes with a mallet (“Yes, yes, very good wrath”). But the second-most definitive adaptation is likely John Ford’s 1940 film.
Starring two patriarchs of American acting dynasties—Henry Fonda as Tom Joad and John Carradine as Jim Casy—Ford’s film offers an interesting counterpoint to the original novel. For one thing, Ford rejigs things in favour of a (spoiler alert) happy ending. Much of this has to do with the controversy caused by Steinbeck’s depiction of the plight of the working and migrant poor, especially in the face of mounting anti-Communist sympathies in America at the time. These differences between Ford’s film and the source text make The Grapes of Wrath an apt choice for The Revue’s The Book Revue series, hosted by Toronto Star cultural critic Geoff Pevere. Join the discussion in the theatre at 6:45 p.m. on Tuesday, January 25.
Speaking of anti-communist American agitprop, Ray Bradbury’s novel Fahrenheit 451 was a pretty vicious, if unsubtle, indictment of censorship in American culture circa the turn of the last century. And who better to commit to the film than French New Wave golden boy François Truffaut?
Fahrenheit 451 casts Austrian actor Oskar Werner as Guy Montag, a futuristic “firefighter” whose job it is to burn books (451 degrees Fahrenheit is the temperature at which paper burns, wouldn’t you know). Truffaut’s film isn’t perfect. First of all, there’s the weird decision to cast Julie Christie (who, pretty though she may be, is no master thespian) in dual roles as Linda Montag and Clarisse McClellan. Then there’s the stilted tone, which renders much of the satire of Bradbury’s novel a little flat. But this solemnity makes the film pretty interesting. Maybe it’s because it was his first English-language film and he didn’t know how to make it sly, or maybe he just took the novel really seriously, but Truffaut seems to play everything earnestly. This 451 rings like an alarm bell, not a self-conscious satire, making it another fascinating study of how book-to-film adaptations can radically alter their source’s subtext. Fahrenheit 451 burns through the Bloor at 9:20 p.m. on Tuesday, January 25.
Winner of the Toronto Film Critics Association 2010 award for Best Actress, Jennifer Lawrence edged out Natalie Portman and Michelle Williams for her stunning performance in 2010’s Winter’s Bone. Based on a novel—again!—by Daniel Woodrell, Bone sees Lawrence playing Ree Dolly, a seventeen-year-old girl tasked with tracking down her derelict father through a network of seedy Ozark mountain meth labs.
Following some pretty undeviating narrative beats, Winter’s Bone may be a little by-the-book, but this also proves refreshing. As Lawrence’s Ree treks down the path to find her dad—who put up their family home as a bail bond before disappearing—she runs across a gaggle of middle-American grotesques. The linearity gives the performances (including a great supporting turn by John Hawkes) room to breathe. And seethe. Also, if you’re like us, and you’re into crime movies that explore shadowy criminal networks that aren’t explored to death (see: Michael Richie’s Kansas-based crime flick Prime Cut), then this is going to be right up your alley. Check it out Wednesday, January 26, at 7 p.m. at The Fox.
Despite pretty-okay reviews, Canadian director Vincenzo Natali’s creature feature Splice proved a resounding box office flop. Which is too bad. Picking up David Cronenberg’s unruly body-horror legacy, Splice pits rock star geneticists played by Adrian Brody and Sarah Polley against a genetically altered (or “spliced”) humanoid mashup in their lab.
Apart from all the twenty-first century pushing of “playing God” tropes and other Frankenstein-y stuff, Natali’s film amps up its psychosexual currents to the nth degree. It dabbles with all kinds of taboos: like hermaphroditism, incest, and having sex with a creature you manufactured in a lab setting, which, with the exception of android sex, is probably the twenty-first century taboo. All the weird sex and cheap spooks also make Splice a bold choice for TIFF’s Canada’s Top Ten programme. See it Thursday, January 27, at 3:15 p.m. at The Lightbox, and help Splice build the cult audience it deserves. It’s also the perfect movie for that first date with the genetically engineered intersex reptilian you’ve been eyeing.