The best repertory and art-house screenings, special presentations, lectures, and limited engagements in Toronto.
At rep cinemas this week: a lively primer on Alfred Hitchcock’s best work, another Steve Jobs biopic (a little better than the last), and an American indie breakthrough about illness and loss.
Directed by Kent Jones
TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King Street West)
Anyone seeking an easygoing primer to the endlessly imitated work of Alfred Hitchcock would do well to take in Hitchcock/Truffaut, a smooth, informative, and expertly assembled documentary by film critic and Kent Jones,the New York Film Festival programmer turned filmmaker. Though it ostensibly focuses on the French filmmaker and critic’s weeklong interview with the American master in 1962, the basis for Truffaut’s titular publication, a landmark in film writing, the film works best as an unpretentious survey of contemporary filmmakers’ lingering affection for Hitchcock. It gives a welcome platform to usual suspects like Martin Scorsese, David Fincher, and James Gray—but disappointingly, no women or filmmakers of colour—who offer smart if fairly standard readings of major scenes from Hitchcock’s oeuvre.
Befitting its status as the first feature of a programmer, who spends much of his professional life contextualizing major works, Hitchcock/Truffaut provides an introductory feel. That might disappoint more advanced viewers, especially those coming in with a film history background and an expectation of learning more about the talks that led to the publication of Truffaut’s book. (The audio snippets we get from the interview are mostly played for laughs, as Hitchcock expounds on his infamous view that actors are like cattle, or exhorts his interviewer to turn off the tape so he can say what he really thinks.) But Jones’ survey has a real lightness of touch, and his subjects—especially more academically minded luminaries like French auteur Olivier Assayas—turn up some fresh insights, turning what might have been a staid project into something with a bit of life.
Directed by Danny Boyle
Revue Cinema (400 Roncesvalles Avenue)
Poor Steve Jobs, the billionaire corporate giant and self-invented Gatsby type, whose legacy must now endure two middling biopics about his genius and prickly personality. Where Ashton Kutcher mostly floundered as the Apple founder in Jobs, Michael Fassbender at least musters some energy (and nails that slightly high-pitched uptalk) in the even less evocatively titled Steve Jobs, an ambitious but equally flawed effort from screenwriter Aaron Sorkin and director Danny Boyle.
Boyle is an inspiredly uninspired choice to play handmaiden to Sorkin, insofar as his slick commercial aesthetic has always proven malleable to the particular needs of his writers. Sorkin’s endlessly talky, self-congratulatory script—structured as a three-act stage play that follows its subject in the moments before three major product launches—basically requires the director to pop in for the odd period-establishing pop culture montage between set pieces and then pull back and let the actors bounce off each other in confined spaces, and Boyle is more or less up to the job. It’s a pity, though, that Sorkin can’t get near his rich (and possibly self-lacerating) critique of beta male insecurity in The Social Network.
Steve Jobs feels like the pop psychology b-side to The Social Network’s keen intelligence about the way innovative but entitled men operate in a world that is largely of their making. To its credit, it’s smart about the way Jobs plays his collaborators (like Kate Winslet, as longtime confidante Joanna Hoffman, and Seth Rogen as Jiminy Cricket surrogate Steve Wozniack) like an orchestra. But it’s dumb about pretty much everything else, insisting upon reducing Jobs’ accomplishments to his frayed relationship with his former girlfriend (a wispy Katherine Waterston) and disinherited daughter, only to reconcile them in a trite redemptive coda that attributes the impending birth of the iPod to one bad dad’s desire to get his estranged daughter a fancy new Walkman.
Directed by Josh Mond
TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King Street West)
Josh Mond makes an impressive directorial debut with the moving and understated James White, which reads like a heartwarming Sundance drama and plays like an accomplished outtake from France’s Dardenne brothers. Former Girls star Christopher Abbott plays the titular troubled man, a late twenty-something writer who spends his days clubbing and caring for his terminally ill mother Gail (Cynthia Nixon) in the wake of his father’s death.
You wouldn’t think there’d be much to recommend the film on the strength of its premise alone, given that the American independent scene has thoroughly mapped out the grief of wayward young men like James. But this is a raw, unassuming, and surprisingly rich character piece, beautifully acted by Abbott and Nixon, who resist all the tropes of illness narratives by imbuing Gail with equal parts anger and dignity. We’ve seen people like James grieve before, to be sure, but there’s something singular about his loving and mutually challenging dynamic with Gail, who emerges as a person rather than the transitional aid toward a young man’s maturation you might expect from the title.
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