The best repertory and art-house screenings, special presentations, lectures, and limited engagements in Toronto.
At rep cinemas this week: An American classic, a drug-war thriller from Quebec’s Denis Villeneuve, and two experimental low-fi films about filmmaking.
Dog Day Afternoon
Directed by Sidney Lumet
The Royal (608 College Street)
When critics wax poetic on American cinema from the 1970s, they’re often talking about Dog Day Afternoon, Sidney Lumet’s blisteringly smart and naturalistic crime drama about a bungled heist turned hostage situation and media circus. Al Pacino plays Sonny Wortzik, based on John Wojtowicz, who became the subject of a popular Life article after attempting to rob a Brooklyn bank to fund his partner’s sex-reassignment surgery. A first-time bank robber done in by his two touchy partners in crime and some bad decision making, Sonny finds himself in a rapidly worsening situation, surrounded by police at the same time as he’s becoming something of an anti-corporate Robin Hood figure to the unwashed masses watching the scene unfold outside and on TV.
Pacino would never surpass his fine-grained, surprisingly tender character work here as a decent guy in love and under pressure, but he’s matched by some lived-in, real performances from John Cazale as his twitchy associate Sal and Chris Sarandon as his wife, Leon. More impressively, though, this is incredibly controlled work from the still somehow underrated Lumet, who keeps the tension unbearable without ratcheting up the style or resorting to a manipulative score. This is minimalist, formally clean storytelling at the most compelling it’s ever been in American filmmaking.
Directed by Denis Villeneuve
Revue Cinema (400 Roncesvalles Avenue)
Emily Blunt learns a nasty thing or two about the drug trade in Sicario, Quebec filmmaker Denis Villeneuve’s second major swing at the rafters of Hollywood. The result is an incredibly well-oiled (and well-cast), old-fashioned thriller that hits its dramatic and action beats with precision, while telling a fairly mundane, borderline offensive story that fashions Mexico as a hell from which there is no escape for innocent American lasses.
Blunt plays Kate, a wet-behind-the-ears FBI operative whose tactical work at defusing hostage situations has lately been compromised by the cartels’ habit of leaving nothing but bodies and improvised explosive devices in their wake after business deals gone south. Enter Matt Graver (Josh Brolin), a supposed Department of Defense adviser probably working for the CIA, who recruits Kate to actually make a difference in the drug war, whisking her away to Juárez alongside his mysterious partner Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), a strong, silent type who seems to have his own scores to settle.
Reuniting with his Prisoners D.P. Roger Deakins, Villeneuve crafts some astonishingly efficient brute-force set pieces, especially as the group first enters Juárez with a rumbling accompaniment of machine gun equipped black Humvees. And unlike a lot of hotshot filmmakers transitioning to Hollywood and directing in English, Villeneuve is clearly an intuitive director of performers, getting nuanced, shady character work out of fine but sometimes wasted actors like Del Toro and Brolin. It’s a shame that he is so little of note to say about the drug war beyond the cynical truisms his characters have already spouted about the inevitability of violence in earlier films like Incendies and, well Prisoners.
Here’s to the Future! and Hit 2 Pass
Directed by Gina Telaroli and Kurt Walker
Camera Bar (1028 Queen Street West)
A team of filmmaking friends, including the director herself, take a couple dozen stabs at a single scene from Michael Curtiz’s 1932 drama The Cabin in the Cotton, in Gina Telaroli’s droll and conceptually daring Here’s To the Future! A Brooklyn-based artist who, as per a recent interview with Filmmaker Magazine, makes “accidental, found-footage movies.” Telaroli brings both a puckish spirit and a scholarly bearing to the pre-Code Hollywood film she’s adapting, dissecting, and opening up. Structured as a series of tonally varied riffs on that one dinnertime scene, the film finds a sprawling group of buddies and non-professional actors dipping into the wine and putting their imprint on specific lines and gestures time after time, surrounded by pots, pans, MacBooks and cameras. The result is like a warmer, more intimate variation on Lars von Trier and Jørgen Leth’s The Five Obstructions.
MDFF screens Telaroli’s film as part of a double bill with Vancouver filmmaker Kurt Walker’s equally joyous, homemade, and collaborative Hit 2 Pass. Hit 2 Pass, named after a demolition-derby car race in Prince George, B.C., where you literally have to hit to pass your fellow driver, is an indelible, mixed-media experiment that runs the gamut of documentary aesthetics, 8-bit video games, and a first-person memoir about what this country of scrap heaps means to the First Nations people who live there.