The best repertory and art-house screenings, special presentations, lectures, and limited engagements in Toronto.
At rep cinemas this week: two of the best Toronto-centric films of the decade, and a CG dinosaur monstrosity.
Directed by Kazik Radwanski
The Royal (608 College Street)
Early in Kazik Radwanski’s Tower, a dentist tells Derek (Derek Bogart) that he has an impacted tooth coming in at a dangerous angle. Wisdom teeth, she reminds him, are usually removed before you turn 25, which makes Derek a late bloomer at 34, or “overdue,” as he puts it. That moment, which is simultaneously an awkward exchange between two people in an office, a harbinger of things to come, and a figurative nod to his state of arrested development—growing sideways into middle age—is typical of the way Radwanski packs rich detail into a deceptively simple story.
Directing his first feature after a number of well-received shorts, Radwanski keeps a tight focus on his protagonist, rarely straying from closeups of Bogart, an original who speaks with a childlike twang that’s part Revenge of the Nerds, part southern Ontarian civility. Derek is a single and more or less unemployed animator who’s spent the past few months grounded in his parents’ basement, completing 14 seconds of a short film about a little green hoarder whose possessions destroy him. (Before hearing the last part, his family dreams a little about the merchandising potential.) Surely his cartoon is a commitment-phobe’s self-portrait in green, but Derek’s not too fond of self-analysis, and to its credit, neither is the film.
Both director and star have a fine ear for how odd people with good manners talk, and Radwanski is just as attuned to Toronto’s constant background drones—among them, the soothing TTC voice and the click of an iPhone. As a character study, though, Tower belongs to Derek, a mesmerizing overgrown child with a scar between his eyes like an exclamation mark. Whether he’s weaseling out of a date or, in a great set piece towards the end, facing off against a raccoon that’s been greedily rummaging through the family garbage, he’s hard to look away from.
The film will be preceded by Andrew Cividino’s short film Sleeping Giant. Radwanski and Cividino will be present for a Q&A following the screening, moderated by filmmaker Matt Johnson.
Directed by Pavan Moondi and Brian Robertson
99 Sudbury (99 Sudbury Street)
July Talk frontwoman Leah Fay Goldstein stars as Edith, a struggling actress making her way through Hogtown’s toxic industry scene, in Diamond Tongues, the accomplished and very funny sophomore feature from Toronto filmmaker Pavan Moondi and Brian Robertson. While Edith faces a number of Job-like trials in her quest to find dignified work, Goldstein herself impresses easily as the tart, mischievous wannabe star who wants nothing more than to secure the envy of her friends.
Though it bears superficial resemblance to a number of recent comedies about ambitious but precariously employed young women ambling through busy cities—among them, Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha and Mistress America—Diamond Tongues has an edge that’s all its own. At bottom, it’s a fascinating, keenly observed portrait of a difficult person with complex desires that even she can’t always figure out. If the closing minutes are a bit redemptive for our tastes, and the soundtrack a bit busy between the Brendan Canning score and cuts from the likes of Sunset Rubdown, it’s still one of the sharpest and most enjoyable character studies we’ve seen in Canadian cinema since, well, Kazik Radwanski’s Tower.
The outdoor screening, which closes out the Open Roof Festival, is hosted by co-star Nick Flanagan, and will be preceded by a solo performance from Fay.
Directed by Colin Trevorrow
Fox Theatre (2236 Queen Street East)
Chris Pratt charms some raptors, mansplains to Bryce Dallas Howard, and mugs for the camera in Jurassic World, sophomore indie helmer Colin Trevorrow’s first big crack at Hollywood and the long-delayed fourth entry in the newly revived franchise. Not content to be one of the highest grossing films of all time—currently on the verge of passing Titanic in domestic box office—Jurassic World is also one of the smuggest, a derivative work of hack cinema that winks at its tired conceit as if its self-awareness makes up for its lack of imagination.
Pratt plays Owen, raptor trainer to the super-sized version of the theme park we saw Richard Attenborough fretting about in the original. All of the dinosaurs that ate a good third of the main cast that time are back here, along with some pterodactyls and a brand new thing, the Indominus, which finds itself at the top of the park’s food chain—including the human patrons whose dollars sustain it—soon after being hatched in the lab.
An ugly behemoth that’s the result of the genetic splicing of a grab bag of dinosaurs and other critters, the Indominus is a handy metaphor for the unnecessary Hollywood sequel, a coincidence Trevorrow makes sure we notice in speech after speech about late capitalism’s need to go bigger and dumber at all costs. That concept might be inspired if it was matched by anything resembling good storytelling. But alas, this is just a lazy rehash of Steven Spielberg’s still pretty decent sci-fi thriller, repeating the same dramatic beats and set pieces with little of the craftsmanship that set the first film apart.