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.
Guten Monday, cine-folk! And after a crummy, rainy weekend, we’re almost happy to see a new week. So spring ahead into some quality moviegoing, why don’t ya? This week we’ve got a few certified classics from everyone’s favourite decade, the 1980s. We’ve also got some throwback horror violence courtesy of one Robert Zombie, and some classic Matthau action. If that’s not enough to get you out of the house then, well, there’s no hope for you.
Oh, Christian Slater. What became of you? For a while there in the late ’80s and early ’90s, you were a cultural icon. A sometimes-smarmy, sometimes-nervous, always-twitchy next gen Jack Nicholson with a big sweaty forehead and eyebrows like Spock. You were cool, man. You were like John Cusack except we actually wanted to be you. You pumped up the volume. You interviewed a vampire. You bade us to buy into the verity of romance itself. (We’d learn better, but you’re not to blame.) And before all this, you rode around on a motorcycle and murdered a bunch of girls named Heather with Winona Ryder in Heathers.
An unapologetically dark comedy, Heathers follows a high-school girl, Veronica (Ryder), as she struggles to extricate herself from her malicious clique. After meeting up with terminal bad boy J.D. (Slater), the two plot a ghastly series of murders, picking off the school’s hen-pecking Heathers one by one. Laying the groundwork for more compromising films like Clueless and Mean Girls, Heathers captured prickly high-school politics at the peak of their late-’80s vacuity. It also captured Christian Slater at a time well before he started appearing in sequels to Hollow Man and narrating documentaries about dinosaurs. Remember why you love him, 7 p.m. on Monday, March 14 at the Bloor.
Over the next few weeks, the Revue will be showcasing the work of Toronto-based effects artist Gordon Smith as part of its new series, Bodies of Work. Smith has done everything from giving life to the trashy vampires in Near Dark to realizing the famous Marvel comics mutants in the first two X-Men films, and getting all the ghastly wartime details of Vietnam right in Platoon. But perhaps his greatest accomplishment was faithfully restaging the assassination of John F. Kennedy in Oliver Stone’s JFK, starring the late Walter Matthau as U.S. Senator Russell B. Long. That had to be a pretty interesting project. And there are so many unanswered questions. How does one give new life to something that people have seen again and again via the Zapruder film? How does the artist charged with believably blowing off the back of Jack Kennedy’s head not feel a bit tasteless about it? What was Walter Matthau like in real life?
Well, why don’t you ask Smith yourself?
Smith will pop in at a screening of Stone’s conspiratorial epic Wednesday, March 16 at 7 p.m., where he’s bound to offer his insights on his effects work for the film. Apparently he conducted his own forensic study to get the details right. That’s pretty interesting! And even better, Smith is bringing the actual Kennedy replica to the Revue. So you can get a picture with it! Hey, you better bring a “second shooter” if you want to make sure your photo op goes off without a hitch. And don’t ask Smith who really killed Kennedy. He probably gets that a lot. But then again, he probably has some pretty compelling theories on the subject.
If a lengthy historical potboiler isn’t your bag and Rob Zombie is, then you’d be better off checking out The Devil’s Rejects, screening Wednesday, March 16 at 7 p.m. at the Underground. Now, even though we all love White Zombie, and know all the words to “Dragula” and “Living Dead Girl” by heart, it can be easy to hate on Rob Zombie. He’s dressed like an asshole, for one, walking around looking like what The Undertaker would look like if he was a member of Little Feat. And, for the most part, his movies are stupid. While his greatest contribution to the cinema remains his hand in sculpting the peyote hallucination scene in Beavis and Butt-head Do America, Devil’s Rejects qualifies as his second-best work.
It’s astonishing that Rejects is any good at all, given that it’s a sequel (or at least tangentially related) to Zombie’s dismal debut House of 1000 Corpses. But where Corpses was just a Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 rehash with Dutch angles and neon, Rejects more faithfully apprehends the aesthetics of crummy ‘70s exploitation films. Following the family of serial killing badasses from Corpses as they play cat-and-mouse with a comparably badass lawman (William Forsythe), Rejects is an accomplished mix of badlands road movie and grisly serial killer violence. So if you’re a sicko, and love climatic shoot-outs set to Lynyrd Skynyrd songs, save the date and join the rest of your perverse breed at the Underground this week.
TIFF’s Back to the ’80s series prattles on this week with one of the best films ever made on the dangers of midnight snacking, Joe Dante’s Gremlins (1984). Often imitated (by Critters, Ghoulies, Munchies, et al.) but never duplicated (except for Gremlins 2: The New Batch), Dante’s film is a classic throwback creature feature about things that go bump in the night. The story of a struggling inventor (Hoyt Axton) who buys his son (Zach Galligan) a cute li’l critter called a Mogwai from some Old Oriental Stereotype (probably the same guy who sells Uncle Frank the Lament Configuration in Hellraiser), which then spawns into nasty, noticeably less cute monsters, Gremlins mixes classic Warner Bros. cartoon violence with satirical cheekiness and awkward teenage romance.
It’s also one of those films, much less rare in the ’80s, that bridged the gap between parents and kids (Ghostbusters was another great example, as was the original Batman). Though Gremlins seems to be pitched at kids, there’s also a good deal of blood and guts, or at least goo and guts. In fact, it’s one of the films that pushed the MPAA to introduce the PG-13 rating. With the ostensible exception of some Pixar fare, much of which is too heavy in places to appeal to kids at all, films that strike the tone between kids movie and grown-ups movie are much harder to come by. It’s also proof that those of us who were kids in the ’80s have much tougher stomachs than kids today, who would probably freak out if they ever saw a gremlin explode in a microwave. So call up your dad (or your son…or your daughter…or your mom) and head to TIFF Bell Lightbox at 2 p.m. this Saturday, March 19.