It’s a busy weekend for Toronto area cinemas, and while we’ve covered a lot of the bigger titles opening, here are a whole whackload of other films competing for your box office dollars this week. There’s romance, music, crime, and a whole lot of everything in-between.
British rapper Plan B, here going by his real name of Ben Drew, continues his foray into film with a gritty crime saga straight from the streets of London’s Forest Gate. It’s an ambitious project following 8 various forms of criminals (some vastly more sympathetic than others) across a plot line that will watch most of their lives intersect at various points. It’s kind of like Crash combined with The Wire, but with even more soap opera styled elements and music video breaks. For what it’s worth, Drew is actually a pretty great director, but as a storyteller he stays on point only in parts rather than a whole. The film is at its most harrowing in sections involving a prostitute forced into degrading herself for misplacing a cell phone, a young man forced into performing his first hit to become a made member of a gang, and especially in the final quarter when the film’s protagonist by process of elimination, Aaron (Riz Ahmed from The Reluctant Fundamentalist – an MC in his own right), is forced into caring for an abandoned child. It takes about an hour for everything to even start coming together, but there’s no containment of these sprawling arcs. Like tracks on an album, there’s plenty of emotion in the best moments that almost make the filler more excusable.
Barbara Sukowa delivers a commanding leading performance in this biopic of the titular woman – professor, philosopher, and journalist – who coined the famous phrase “the banality of evil.” Herself a German Jew, Hannah transplanted herself to New York, not only to teach at The New School, but perhaps more famously and controversially cover the trial of Nazi SS leader Adolf Eichman. The phrase pertains to how she ultimately sympathized with Eichman, seeing him more as a patsy that was simply following orders in the same way that any army personnel in any country would have. It became a story that sparked immense outrage, and while Margarethe von Trotta’s film stumbles slightly in the actual portrayal of Eichman’s trial (actual footage with Eichman essentially playing himself adds little when paired against shots of Sukowska in the gallery), but the rest of it is solid work. The question of whether or not one person’s actions serve as a reflection of an entire system of beliefs is well stated in a way that would make the real Arendt proud, and von Trotta paints a picture of a flawed woman with boundless energy and immense conviction.
Fill the Void
First time filmmaker Rama Burshtein tells the slow moving and sorrowful story of an Orthodox Jewish family in Tel Aviv crumbling under the weight of tragedy and the rigid politics of arranged marriage. Following the death of her older sister on Purim during childbirth, 18 year old Shira (Hadas Yaron, in an excellent leading performance) is coaxed into marrying her sister’s widow, Yocham, so shame isn’t brought upon the family. Neither of them particularly wants to go through with it since Yocham is still far too heartbroken and trying to find his way as a father and Shira has already had one arranged marriage called off and she doesn’t seem too keen on rushing into one with her sister’s former lover. Burshtein has moments where the emotional weight of her situation hits home strongly, but ultimately even at 90 minutes the story is far too subdued even by Orthodox standards. The material suggests something the film just doesn’t deliver on in the end, especially when the conclusion is ultimately really shrug-worthy and ill fitting.
The Sheepdogs Have At It
With a title referring to the stripped down sound that Saskatchewan roots rockers The Sheepdogs bring to the table, this road and rock documentary follows a year in the life of a touring band just past the cusp of blowing up. After winning a contest to become the first unsigned band to grace the cover of Rolling Stone, the film asks what comes next for these musicians and how the pressure is greater than ever for them to follow through on such promise. It’s another one of those documentaries we’ve been getting in recent weeks around here that feels more like an EPK that anything else, but at least there’s some interesting insight here about the pressures of being anointed as the next big thing. Still, this one’s largely for fans only.
Female Eye Film Festival
Oh, there’s also a film festival this weekend, you guys! Although it officially kicked off on Wednesday, the Female Eye Festival (coming straight from the Carlton and the only showcase made up entirely of films from female filmmakers in Ontario) ramps up its screening schedule over the weekend with a variety of shorts, features, and documentaries from across numerous genres. Some standouts worth checking out include:
Shandi Mitchell’s powerful character drama THE DISAPPEARED (5:30pm, Friday, which also played the Canadian Film Fest earlier this year to raves and looks to have a theatrical release later this year) about fishermen trying to survive adrift in rowboats. It’s stark and depressing, but utterly fascinating.
Katrin Bowman’s RANDOM ACTS OF ROMANCE (8:00pm, Friday), a winning romantic comedy that’s purposefully sloppy to mimic just how crazed relationships truly are.
Donna Davies’ NIGHTMARE FACTORY (10:30pm, Friday), an immensely fun documentary and look behind the scenes of gore master Greg Nicotero’s KNB make up effects company. With tons of behind the scenes looks at Inglorious Basterds, The Walking Dead, Evil Dead 2, Pumpkinhead, and the Narnia films that won’t be seen anywhere else and interviews with a huge range of genre icons and analysts, it’s a must see for genre nuts.
Laura Paglin’s FACING FORWARD (Saturday, 10:00am) takes a look inside an inner city school in Ohio trying to implement an “all urban” focus that uses sometimes tough love (detention on the fist day for not paying FULL attention) and alternative methods to instil respect. It’s a no bullshit look at a new model for schooling that doesn’t shy away from asking the kids what they think of the new school, and for the most part they’re less than thrilled.
It should also be noted that the film’s opening night selection from this past Thursday, the comedy MARGARITA gets a full theatrical run at the Carlton, but it’s not really worthy of a recommendation. This Canadian indie, about titular lesbian Mexican nanny turned tutor (played gamely by a decent Nicola Correia Damude) facing deportation after her unhappy yuppie employers lose all their money, feels all over the place. It’s never sure if it wants to be a film about lesbian empowerment (replete with one of the most gratuitously out of place sex scenes of any sexuality), a film about broken families, or just an inspirational story. It has good performances, but a lot of the on the nose dialogue is howl and groan worthy and the parts never add up to a cohesive whole.