The best repertory and art-house screenings, special presentations, lectures, and limited engagements in Toronto.
At rep cinemas this week: a personal look at France’s electronic dance music scene in the 1990s, Paul Verhoeven’s ultra-violent action classic, and a definitive Howard Hawks musical.
Directed by Mia Hansen-Løve
TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King Street West)
Mia Hansen-Løve follows up on her tender, sharply observed Goodbye First Love with Eden, another personal film, but a marked departure for the French filmmaker. Co-written with her brother Sven, whose formative years at ground zero for the electronic dance music scene in France are the film’s subject, Hansen-Løve’s newest is a strange sort of epic, spanning 20 years in the life of an emotionally distant second-stringer who partied with but never quite became Daft Punk.
Eden is a remote project for Hansen-Løve, whose earlier films are more affecting and direct; that’s especially curious given that it’s a biopic of her brother. Paradoxically, it’s also her most accomplished work as a filmmaker, full of energetic, effortlessly staged club scenes and snappy travelling montages that put latter-day Scorsese to shame while still experimenting, as in her other films, with how to capture the passing of time. For our money, it also has the best soundtrack of the year, letting deep-ish cuts from Daft Punk and company do the heavy-lifting when the characters can’t.
Directed by Paul Verhoeven
The Royal (608 College Street)
Hollywood cinema has never been as subversive as it was during the heyday of Paul Verhoeven, who conquered the box office before the commercial failure (and eventual cult rebirth) of Showgirls. If Total Recall was the the Dutch provocateur’s biggest international hit, and Showgirls has ended up having the longest critical shelf life, RoboCop is still his best for our money—a savage, prescient satire of American avarice, gentrification, and the police state, which doubles as a mean, efficient little action thriller with no fat on its bones.
Peter Weller stars as Alex Murphy, a fresh-faced Detroit beat cop who nearly loses his life (and all of his limbs) in the course of a routine arrest. Before long he’s resurrected by the corporatized police force, a robot-human hybrid programmed to uphold the law and clean up the streets, counter to his more human inclinations to reunite with his not-quite widowed wife and child.
RoboCop’s brevity is either an asset or a deficit, depending on how you look at it: at a brisk 100 minutes, it’s either one of the leanest ultra-violent action films of the notoriously bloated 1980s or one of the slimmest political allegories. However you read it, it’s a fascinating film, as visceral and grotesque as it is funny, and, thanks to Weller’s moving performance as the reborn cyborg who dreamed he was a man, surprisingly moving.
RoboCop screens as part of the Royal’s Robots vs. Unicorns series, as the first half of a double bill with James Cameron’s The Terminator.
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
Directed by Howard Hawks
TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King Street West)
You can’t really go wrong with Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Howard Hawks’s technicolor 1953 adaptation of the Broadway musical. Though it’s best remembered today for featuring one of Marilyn Monroe’s definitive performances—down to her oft-imitated rendition of “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend”—seen again with about 60 years of hindsight, it remains just as impressive for Hawks’s signature direction of the snappy dialogue and for Jake Cole’s understated jazz dance choreography.
Monroe stars as Lorelei Lee, a showgirl from Little Rock, Arkansas who wants nothing more than to snag herself a well-heeled man to keep her in diamonds through to the grave, while her more serious-minded colleague and loyal friend Dorothy Shaw (a very funny Jane Russell) wants to spend her time with more authentic (read: poorer and handsomer) sorts. Before long, the women find themselves aboard a ship bound for France, where Lorelei would be off to get married to moneybags Gus (Tommy Noonan), if his skeptical father hadn’t banned him from joining and sent a private investigator (Elliott Reid) on Lorelei’s trail instead.
Everything here goes about the way you’d expect and, predictably, certain aspects of the film’s gender and sexual politics haven’t held up so well. But Monroe’s work as the alternately dunderheaded and preternaturally savvy blonde is just this side of sublime, and Russell’s witty repartee with Reid is worthy of comparison to Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell’s sparring in Hawks’s His Girl Friday.
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes screens as part of TIFF Cinematheque’s Dreaming in Technicolor series.