The best repertory and art-house screenings, special presentations, lectures, and limited engagements in Toronto.
At rep cinemas this week: a refined Steven Spielberg drama, James Cameron’s sci-fi slasher, and Stanley Kubrick’s space odyssey in 70 mm.
Bridge of Spies
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Revue Cinema (400 Roncesvalles Avenue)
Steven Spielberg comfortably settles into his late period with Bridge of Spies, a sturdy, talky, well-told piece of Americana that should sit nicely next to Lincoln once the dust settles. Having thoroughly left his mark on the Second World War, the master of form and sentiment turns to the Cold War. Spielberg tells the unlikely story of New York insurance lawyer James Donovan (Tom Hanks), who turns the unenviable task of defending alleged KGB spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) into a boon, eventually orchestrating to trade the dignified spook for two American hostages purely through his skills at negotiation.
Spielberg has been routinely mocked in some circles for emphasizing spectacle over character, but this is as intimate and well observed as prestige historical dramas get. In Rylance, Spielberg gets one of his most quiet, understated performances. And in Hanks he gets one of his most charismatic. Hanks has been on autopilot for some time now, but he’s as vital as he’s ever been here, proving that sometimes there’s nothing as thrilling as watching a good talker work his magic over a nice sit and a drink.
Directed by James Cameron
TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King Street West)
Long before James Cameron became a two-time global box office champion (and made the racial politics of The Phantom Menace seem merely quaint by comparison) with Avatar, he made his mainstream debut with The Terminator, a pitch-black, low-budget, ultra-violent spectacle that ranks among the strongest American films of the 1980s. Where the more palatable sequel, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, positions itself as a respectable humanist drama with explosions, its predecessor is content to deliver as a lean but surprisingly sophisticated sci-fi riff on the slasher film.
To that end, Cameron’s film introduces Arnold Schwarzenegger’s eponymous time-travelling death machine as an implacable force in the vein of Michael Myers, hellbent on stopping waitress Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) from giving birth to her not-yet son John, who will apparently go on to serve as humanity’s last great hope in the apocalyptic future. Enter Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), sent from the front lines of the war on machines by a grown-up military general John either to prevent his in-utero assassination or to secure his conception, depending on how you look at it.
The thin, paradox-laden premise might work best as an action set piece generator, but Cameron is surprisingly good at wringing real emotion from his outmatched human leads, prefiguring his success at dramatizing woeful human efforts to endure in the face of catastrophe in Titanic. That’s thanks in large part to Hamilton’s rich, varied performance as a woman who goes from meek to durable over the course of the film. Though many of Sarah Connor’s heroics are saved for the sequel, her transformation here convincingly sets her up as the quintessential Cameron lead, a vulnerable but hard-assed survivor.
2001: A Space Odyssey
Directed by Stanley Kubrick
TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King Street West)
It’s long been a habit of a certain type of sci-fi aficionado to set Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey off against George Lucas’s Star Wars in a nerdy cage match, as if the only way to appreciate their respective contributions to the genre is to pit the former’s modernist difficulty against the latter’s goofy affability and see what happens. What that approach misses, besides nuance, is the fact that despite his reputation as a cerebral trickster figure, Kubrick was in some ways just as maximal and big-picture a filmmaker as Lucas, or indeed, as a contemporary inheritor such as Christopher Nolan. 2001: A Space Odyssey is the most quintessential product of Kubrick’s showman tendencies—a rigorously composed, unabashedly pretentious, and symphonic epic about human nature, whose effects work still rates as some of the best in modern studio filmmaking.
While a lot of Canadians of a certain age first watched 2001 on mediocre televisions in its annual New Year’s broadcasts on Bravo, the best place to see it and take in its ambition and scale is inarguably the cinema. That’s especially true of TIFF Bell Lightbox’s 70-mm print, which ought to recreate the near-religious (but still secular-humanist) experience Kubrick intended.