The best repertory and art-house screenings, special presentations, lectures, and limited engagements in Toronto.
At rep cinemas this week: a humane comedy about two trans sex workers on a mission in L.A., an austere crime drama presented entirely in unsubtitled Ukrainian sign language, and a pretty good Bond movie.
Directed by Sean Baker
Carlton Cinema (20 Carlton Street)
Sean Baker turns what could have been a technological gimmick into the most inspired, humane ensemble comedy in years with Tangerine, his fast-paced and whip-smart follow-up to Starlet. Shot entirely on smartphones—in true guerrilla fashion—around Santa Monica, the film follows the exploits of Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez), a trans sex worker who comes out of a 28-day stint in prison to find out from her friend and colleague Alexandra (Mya Taylor) that her beloved Chester (The Wire’s James Ransone) has been cheating on her with Dinah (Mickey O’Hagan). The news sets the women off on a breakneck tour through the neighbourhood, intersecting with the daily route of Razmik (Karren Karagulian), a cab driver with a messy home life and a crush on Sin-Dee.
Though its hyper-cranked aesthetic and whirlwind run through a single day and night resembles films as disparate as After Hours and Chungking Express (and, why not, Crank), Tangerine is an original. That’s partly thanks to Baker’s unusual method of shooting everything on phones in compositions that range from gorgeously laboured-over to impromptu and on-the-fly. And it’s also thanks to the impeccable cast, whose screwball timing and easy rapport are the sort of thing you wish you could bottle. It’s rare to see trans women of colour snag leading roles this rich, and Rodriguez and Taylor make the most of the opportunity, giving a beating heart to Baker’s warm, shaggy-dog script about outsiders with bad jobs warily circling each other, then gently connecting in donut shops and parking lots.
Directed by Miroslav Slaboshpitsky
TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King Street West)
It’s hard to think of a feature debut that is bolder, more ostentatious, and, regrettably, more obnoxious than Miroslav Slaboshpitsky’s The Tribe. Presented entirely in untranslated Ukrainian sign language—presumably a device to create an aesthetic distance between spectator and image that has us watch more closely, but in practice a smug oversimplification of a complex language to its most basic signifiers—the film might best be read as a parodic coming-of-age story, tracking the rise and fall of cipher protagonist Serhiy (Grygoriy Fesenko) as he is initiated into a boarding school for the deaf that doubles as a sex trafficking den.
It’s plain to see that Slaboshpitsky has talent, and he knows it. The film unfolds entirely through annoyingly well-crafted long takes with effortless camera glides walking us through violent diorama after diorama, the all-deaf cast’s balletic bodily gestures expertly choreographed to resemble something out of West Side Story. Too bad, then, about the hokey crime plot and the Michael Haneke–inspired miserablism, which reduces every young woman to a weak fawn waiting to be viciously exploited onscreen—in long takes, for the sake of realism, no doubt—and every innocent young man to a wolf in training. The less said about the garish, hamfistedly symbolic last act, the better. All of this is to say that this is an astonishingly accomplished but deeply flawed debut from a filmmaker we’re not sure we’d care to follow.
For Your Eyes Only
Directed by John Glen
The Royal (608 College Street)
After the extravagant silliness of Moonraker, For Your Eyes Only was to be Roger Moore’s first proper (which is to say, Earthbound) take on James Bond, and a return to Sean Connery’s earlier characterization in films like From Russia with Love. That sobering approach more or less bears out, making this Moore’s best entry in the venerable series—though you have to plow through the goofy prologue to get to the good parts. (It’s the equivalent of a dutiful holiday visit to a miserable relative.)
The best Bond movies approach the formula with just the right mix of respect and subversion, and For Your Eyes Only doesn’t quite nail the balance. Where the film stumbles, at least, it isn’t for lack of trying. Dispatching MI6’s best to the depths of the Mediterranean in search of a lost missile-targeting system was a smart narrative gamble after the space heroics of the previous entry, even if it makes for a bloated series of underwater fist fights with a guy in a diving bell. And Bill Conti is an inspired choice for the score—John Barry, the usual Bond composer at the time, wasn’t keen on returning to the UK, for tax reasons—even if his disco notes are all wrong for the more straightforward direction of John Glen, in the driver’s seat for the first of five films.
Bond would eventually have a much more convincing turn to the dark side with 2006’s Daniel Craig reboot Casino Royale, but the usually fatuous Moore is surprisingly effective in action in this film. It helps that he’s surrounded by some of the best stunt work and set pieces in the series, including an extreme-sports chase that makes ingenious use of the clunkiness of ski gear, and a brutish hockey punch-out. The Eton-educated 007 is hardly an NHL bruiser, but it’s fun to see him give it the old college try.