Going In Review: 6ixploitation – A New Era of Toronto Filmmaking

Get into your DeLorean and make the trip back to 1989 Toronto. SkyDome is brand spanking new, giving us the redefined skyline we now know, and the city is hopeful and edgy, and, in this universe, plagued with a drug problem called Pearl. Pearl leaves the drug-using population in a catatonic state; the eyes of the users are left with a pearl finish and the design is effectively creepy. This is where the story begins and where the heart of it lies. Actually, the story of the making of the film begins with Evan Rissi, writer, director, and co-star of this picture and its GoFundMe campaign with proof-of-concept short – an exciting and successful endeavour that has brought us here.

Though the central buddies – Leslie Booth (Evan Rissi) and Reuben Goldstein (Ira Goldman) – begin the story as estranged, their renewed friendship becomes the beating heart, and the foundation it rests on is the city of Toronto. There is an understanding that they led a wayward and tumultuous existence together in the past. Leslie, a straitlaced and now-sober professor, has stepped away from his bad-boy ways and is in a habitual cycle of work, girlfriend, and squash games (80s movie shorthand to show a bro friendship). He lives in a cool and dusky bachelor apartment reminiscent of Woods’s apartment in Cronenberg’s Videodrome (1983). But Leslie is no 80s Woods. He is bespectacled with dishevelled hair, beige and tweed-clad – a white nebbish who is about to be disturbed by a familiar face set on upturning his studious, sober, and mundane lifestyle. Rissi plays his character understated, dedicated to an underlying frustration, then on the edge of tipping into Detective Riggs energy.

Reuben, the man doing the upturning, is cool. He is almost permanently in gold-rimmed shades of that era, but at the same time he is timeless. He is stylish and wants people to know that he is. He dresses entirely in black most of the time, a nod to African American Black Panthers, an oversized Star of David hanging from his neck, and an afro hi-top fade (popular from the 80s into the 90s and recently making a comeback for the most daring), all indicators of his multicultural background. His long black trench fits the style of the most badass, vengeful, and mysterious of the population. His overall style could fit in cinematically in almost any time. Though Going In is set ten years before the release of The Matrix (1999), costume designer Kealan Sullivan makes a definite salute to another mysterious and dogged Black man: Morpheus. The choice is familiar but slick, like many of the ‘fit’ choices throughout the picture. Goldman’s portrayal meets Sullivan’s costume brief with a stoicism that is bleak at times. Though his journey is an uphill battle he plays it with more determination than desperation to protect his loved ones.

Reuben wants to reconcile with his former BFF, whose outside-the-box thinking matched with Reuben’s brawn has the potential to help him navigate the ins and outs of the city’s underground, to find Reuben’s little brother. The brother is wrapped up with Feng, a Chinese gangster pushing the nefarious drug, Pearl. But there is a catch (of course): Feng runs a mysterious biannual underground tournament in the vein of the Kumite tournament Jean-Claude Van Damme tries his hands at in Bloodsport (1988). Leslie resists falling off the proverbial wagon, but their oath of brotherhood leads to several obstacles between them and Reuben’s brother; from trash-talking on the blacktop to the dance hall, the two are tested in a gauntlet threaded through enough montages to push Rocky IV limits. The duo is representative of a throwback to 80s buddy flicks like Black Rain (1989), which came out the year this movie is set (look out for a specific easter egg that calls it back). The cinematography, excessive noodle eating, and other showdowns in the film are a nod to Ridley Scott’s cop picture, too, though with their own spin.

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Though far from a parody, Going In tips its hat to everything from Kid n’ Play to Lethal Weapon (1987), but it cheekily highlights the unrealistic and irresponsible nature of these characters in movies; when Leslie stops going in to work, a colleague tells him “You didn’t call. Or tell anyone. Or do anything.” Those spotlights sprinkled through the picture (and in the active credit sequence) don’t take away from the drama of the film and are in fact little humourous gifts to a knowledgeable audience that will pick up on the subtle references; they are steeped with authenticity, particularly with the addition of archival footage. At times the flick does a spot-on impression of a cult crime movie that you and your friends found in a bin in the corner of a Jumbo Video.

We are already well acquainted with the tone. The Matthew Chalmers score helps to place you there with its 80s synth that we admired in neon-soaked cinema such as Mann’s Thief (1981) with its Tangerine Dream soundtrack. It’s persistent but complementary; it never swallows up the momentum, and it does a wonderful job carrying along the audience and keeping us in the era. It’s out of line just enough for us to believe that as Leslie and Reuben move through life, they too can hear it – at a low volume as the soundtrack of their lives, a part of their reunification.

Could we as a filmmaking culture be on the precipice of a new movement:  a “6ixploitation,” if you will? One where the up-and-coming auteurs of our proud city of ‘Hollywood North’ have been so submerged in the filmmaking happening in our city, the audience of our illustrious Toronto International Film Festival, and thriving rep cinema scene that we have become one the most sophisticated and knowledgeable audiences on the planet?

Are we now making films that we want to be explicitly Torontonian, but are also injected with hyper homages to cinema history to a meta degree? After being dressed up as ‘anywhere but here’ for so long, Going In screams “TORONTO!” in almost every scene, with our Chinatown, with Reuben’s Judaism and Caribbean accent, with our colourful money, with our Blue Jays, with our verbal cadence. Could Evan Rissi’s Going In be the beginning of what this writer can only refer to as 6ixploitation? If that’s the case, I welcome it. As a first-generation Canadian Black Caribbean woman who grew up in the neighbourhoods of this city, and a film buff, I want more Rissi and filmmakers like him in this new era.

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Going In screens at Toronto’s Revue Cinema on April 2 at 6:45 pm



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