The best repertory and art-house screenings, special presentations, lectures, and limited engagements in Toronto.
At rep cinemas this week: Pixar’s glimpse into the emotional life of a young girl, Woody Allen’s umpteenth take on crime and punishment, and Mad Max and Furiosa’s feminist apocalypse.
Directed by Pete Docter
Fox Theatre (2236 Queen Street East)
After making only the faintest impression with Monsters University, Pixar lands a harder punch with Inside Out, the studio’s 15th feature. Billed as a rare study of the little voices inside your head, the sweet but naggingly insubstantial film delves into the psyche of Riley, an average preteen girl whose life is governed by a team of personified emotions, led by Joy (voiced by Amy Poehler, naturally), a doggedly cheerful and insufferable captain who can’t bear to see her young charge increasingly fall under the sway of sullen teammate Sadness (a note-perfect Phyllis Smith).
Like Pixar’s finest—Wall-E and Finding Nemo—Inside Out plays host to some ingenious design work, best showcased in the architectural marvel that constitutes Riley’s memory storehouse and in the spooky dreamworld Joy and Sadness find themselves traversing in order to set things right. And as in Brave, the film’s focus on the complex emotional life of a girl is also a welcome respite from the male-driven landscape of its animated brethren. The film is so impressive at its best that one can’t help but feel let down by its ultimately superficial vision of emotional imbalance as well as the cipher at the story’s centre. The voice work of Poehler and Smith—not to mention the indelible supporting work of character actors like Richard Kind as Riley’s long-forgotten imaginary friend Bing Bong—is so distinctive that it bears bafflingly little resemblance to the puppet the incarnated emotions are supposed to be piloting, a dead-eyed non-entity who might as well be called Human Girl.
Directed by Woody Allen
TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King Street West)
Woody Allen waffles his way through his 51st film in Irrational Man, another of the director’s signature pictures about the slippery nature of crime and punishment. That’s probably the last thing you’d want to hear about from a man who is himself accused of unforgivable crimes, but Irrational Man is nevertheless an uncharacteristically compelling late film from an artist whose recent work has been uninspired to say the least.
Joaquin Phoenix plays Abe Lucas, a depressed philosophy professor who drags his dark thoughts and expanding potbelly to a visiting professorship at a New England college for one fateful summer. There, he strikes up an initially platonic relationship with plucky A-student Jill (Emma Stone, much more alive than in Allen’s moribund Magic in the Moonlight) and more age-appropriate love interest and fellow professor Rita (Parker Posey). For reasons best left unspoiled, Abe finds a new lease on life after a walk on the dark side sees him trading in his political theories for a radically unorthodox practice.
In the lead-up to the film’s release, much was made of the film’s ostensibly hackneyed, offensive story, another variation on the plot of an older man redeemed by the love of a young woman, which filmmakers like Allen have already driven well into the ground. It’s a pleasant surprise, then, that Irrational Man splinters off into a rather different direction around the halfway mark, becoming a keenly insightful, warts-and-all portrait of a sociopath who turns his thought experiments into monstrous actions. For all the typically wonky dialogue—the auteur has not gotten any better at depicting academics or philosophy since his lousy portraits of same in otherwise solid films like Annie Hall and Manhattan—Allen also proves himself a more than capable genre director, nicely steering the plot into thriller territory with some expertly crafted set pieces, and mining an exciting, unpredictable performance from Phoenix, who gives one of the few credible male lead performances in the filmmaker’s recent oeuvre.
Mad Max: Fury Road
Directed by George Miller
Revue Cinema (400 Roncesvalles Avenue)
George Miller returns to the franchise that kickstarted his career with Mad Max: Fury Road, the most frenetic action movie in years, and arguably the most trenchant dystopian allegory. Tom Hardy picks up where Mel Gibson left off as the taciturn eponymous hero, a drifter and sometimes vigilante whose home is a post-apocalyptic desert where blood, gasoline, and water are the hottest commodities. Max is a survivor, but it isn’t long before he’s captured by a group of cancer-addled War Boys, operating under the auspices of patriarchal tyrant Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, who also played the villain in the first Mad Max). Turned into a blood bank for sickly War Boy Nux (a very fine Nicholas Hoult), Max finds a new purpose when he’s intercepted by Joe’s renegade lieutenant Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), who bails on her gasoline run to escort the tyrant’s precious wives to a promised land where they can be more than breeders.
Much has been made of the film’s breathless pacing, gorgeous lensing (by semi-retired DP John Seale), and impressive practical stunt work, but Miller’s greatest coup here might be in envisioning Max as a handmaiden to Furiosa, a proper heroine where Max is at best a self-effacing ally. Theron is fantastic as the film’s stoic and hard-charging stealth lead, a character who’s sure to inspire any number of spinoffs, comic books, and action figures, and the film does right by her, subordinating her male colleagues’ redemption narratives to her revolutionary quest to free the women under Joe’s oppressive rule and establish a matriarchal alternative. It’s progressive storytelling writ large, and if it’s a bit hammy, it still hits hard.