Rep Cinema This Week: E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Dead Ringers, Porch Stories
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Rep Cinema This Week: E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Dead Ringers, Porch Stories

The best repertory and art-house screenings, special presentations, lectures, and limited engagements in Toronto.

Still from E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.

At rep cinemas this week: Steven Spielberg’s family classic, David Cronenberg’s tragic psycho-drama about twin gynaecologists, and Sarah Goodman’s Toronto-set comedy-drama.

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Directed by Steven Spielberg

The Royal (608 College Street)
Sunday, August 9, 2 p.m.

Hollywood cinema doesn’t get any better than E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Steven Spielberg’s gorgeous, streamlined, and indelible young adult classic. Though its reputation has dipped in recent years—thanks in part to Spielberg’s George Lucas–like digital revisions for the 20th anniversary re-release, which placed walkie-talkies in the hands of the gun-toting baddies—on rewatch the film holds up as a keenly empathetic piece of storytelling about a young boy and his marooned alien friend.

If Spielberg’s first blockbuster, Jaws, is about the horror of the unfamiliar Other scaling the figurative walls of a closed community, E.T. is a gentler affair about the possibilities afforded by reaching across species boundary to play host to a stranger who just needs a way station before he can go home. More than its effective allegorical component, though, which universalizes a child’s grief amidst his parents’ divorce and father’s absence, the film impresses for its solid formal construction—effortlessly shifting from quiet domestic scenes to wondrous set pieces, including the infamous shot (so good that Spielberg nearly re-stages it minutes later) of Elliott (Henry Thomas) and E.T. cycling past a full moon as they evade any number of faceless government agents.

Where the director would falter in losing control of a sprawling cast of untrained kids in 1991’s Hook, here he also mines rich performances out of the young leads, especially in the frankly upsetting stretch (still a trial for young viewers) where Eliott and E.T.’s spiritual and bodily kinship results in a mutual hospital stay. Spielberg is as manipulative as ever here but to genuinely moving effect: all the tears he wrings are earned in sensitive character building and some of the earthiest visual effects work we’ve ever seen.

Dead Ringers
Directed by David Cronenberg
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TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King Street West)
Saturday, August 8, 7 p.m.

When Jeremy Irons won his Oscar for Reversal of Fortune, he saved his last words of thanks for David Cronenberg, who had directed him to a career high in Dead Ringers just a few years earlier. It isn’t hard to see why the movie was such a turning point in Irons’s career. He gives two distinct, powerful performances as Elliot and Bev, a pair of identical-twin gynecologists with diametrically opposed personalities—the one as slick as the other is bumbling. In lesser hands, this story of twins who get involved with the same woman (Geneviève Bujold) and find their bond unravelling might come off as farce, but Cronenberg plays this potentially saucy material as the stuff of an earnest melodrama about frayed family ties.

Dead Ringers marked something of a turn in Cronenberg’s career, from the more grotesque (if still intellectually rigorous) body horror of Videodrome and The Fly into relatively conventional psychological dramas like Spider and A History of Violence. But it’s impossible to mistake Bev’s transformation into a drug-addled paranoid mess—prepping, in one horrifying sequence, to use his own modified gynecological instruments in surgery—for the work of any other director.

Saturday’s free screening will be introduced by co-writer Norman Snider.

Porch Stories
Directed by Sarah Goodman

The Royal (608 College Street)

Toronto filmmaker Sarah Goodman puts to work her documentary chops from observing the lives of others and her good ear for the rhythms of conversation in Porch Stories, a charming, unfussy romantic comedy–drama set around a Victorian home in Little Portugal. Shot in digital black-and-white and starring a number of local actors and musicians, the film is a modest but affecting and tidily constructed look at the lives held together by geography and happenstance in one Toronto neighbourhood.

Hidden Cameras band member Laura Barrett anchors the film with her understated lead performance as Emma, a grieving musician whose plans to settle down with her fiancé and hang up her kalimba are complicated by an unexpected visit from her couch-surfing former lover and bandmate Gabriel (By Divine Right vocalist José Miguel Contreras). While Emma’s drama plays out on her porch steps, she’s observed by an old married Portuguese couple (Uerania Silveira and Sergio Sarmento) across the street and called on for advice by a neighbour and fellow artist (Hallie Switzer) wrapped up in her own romantic conundrum.

Goodman’s delicate touch is exactly right for this material, which is complicated without being convoluted. Even if the conceit of honing in on the love life of an entire neighbourhood is a bit too clever for its own good, there’s a humane quality to Goodman’s character portraits, and an emotional directness to the actors’ performances (perhaps bred by their musical backgrounds) that makes this a minor-key success.