(Shasha Nakhai, Rich Williamson)
The adaptation of Catherine Hernandez’s novel is competing for best Canadian film at both the Toronto Film Critics Association and Canadian Screen Awards. It’s easy to see why. Scarborough is wrenching, uplifting and sadly groundbreaking, representing the vital and vibrant east end whose stories have for too long been shafted in favour of the emotional hang-ups of the Annex crowd.
Filmmakers Nakhai and Williamson and screenwriter Hernandez, all making their feature debuts, adapt the scrappy and loose story about three children and the adults in their orbits who form a community in Galloway while coping with precarious living conditions. The film’s best moments are playful, keeping up with its adorable young cast as they run circles in apartments, plazas, the local literacy drop-in and other neighbourhood spots.
Nakhai and Williamson often reach for those whispery Malick vibes while the kids carve out bits of joy in hard times. The runtime can be wearying, a flaw rooted in Scarborough’s affection for the characters. It’s as if the filmmakers just couldn’t bear letting go of these fleeting moments in a story about loss, growth and a space that people are finally recognizing just as it’s being gentrified into the void. 136 min. Now playing in theatres. (Radheyan Simonpillai)
Staring down a delivery deadline and completely out of ideas, Dave Grohl decides to record Foo Fighters’ next album in a house on the Hollywood Hills that’s famous for hosting great bands back in the day. It’s just that there’s also this thing about a curse that drove the last band to murder each other back in the '90s… and the same thing might be happening to Dave.
At its best, Studio 666 feels like something Foo Fighters made so they could watch it on the bus later: a go-for-broke mashup of The Shining and This Is Spinal Tap that lets the audience share the pleasure Grohl and his bandmates are taking in the whole thing.
The in-jokes about Grohl’s enthusiasm for impossibly complex projects (and the technical difficulties that creates) feel loving rather than broad; director McDonnell’s gross-out practical effects are a similarly affectionate callback to the movies he and the band grew up watching; and there are cameos from Jeff Garlin, Whitney Cummings and John freaking Carpenter. You can’t take it any of it seriously, but that’s kind of the point. And the music? Pretty damn good. 104 min. Now playing in theatres. (Norman Wilner)
An adaptation of Erica Schmidt’s 2018 stage musical, Cyrano offers a new perspective on the story, starring Peter Dinklage as Edmond Rostand’s self-loathing romantic hero, Haley Bennett as his Roxanne, Kelvin Harrison Jr. as the lovestruck Christian—for whom Cyrano channels his own affections for Roxanne into ghost-written letters—and Ben Mendelsohn as the noble who schemes to possess Roxanne himself.
Dinklage and Bennett played these parts off-Broadway, and they’re lovely to watch together, creating a tender calm that lets us see their mutual connection even if they themselves can’t realize it. Producer/director Wright (Atonement, Hanna, Darkest Hour) overdirects every scene, as usual, but his customary embrace of excess is suited to the musical genre; it’s strange to realize that Cyrano is his first.
The songs aren’t the liveliest, as Matt Berninger and Carin Besser favour the same droning approach they bring to their work as the National. But given the trajectory of the story, it all works, the gravitas of the music pulling us ever closer to the final number—which lands like a sledgehammer. 124 min. Now playing in theatres. (NW)
Maybe it’s that my expectations were low thanks to its muted theatrical reception last month, but this globetrotting spy epic plays just fine at home. (After the mess that was Kinberg’s Dark Phoenix, I’m simply glad to see him make something coherent.)
If all you’re after is a couple of hours where Jessica Chastain, Diane Kruger, Lupita Nyong’o, Penélope Cruz and Fan Bingbing kick, punch, stab and shoot a series of bland henchfolk in and around some exotic locations, The 355 delivers that.
It’s unapologetically generic, content to build its story—about rivals from different espionage agencies forced to work together to stop a doomsday drive from falling into the wrong hands—out of familiar Bond/Mission: Impossible beats rather than try even one new thing. And the very last scene feels like it was reshot to please a focus group somewhere. But the action is engaging, the actors are having fun—particularly Chastain and Cruz—and Sebastian Stan and Édgar Ramirez turn up in small but energetic roles. 122 min. Some subtitles. Now available on demand. (NW)
Available this week
Jessica Chastain, Diane Kruger, Lupita Nyong’o; directed by Simon Kinberg
Big Gold Brick
Oscar Isaac, Megan Fox, Lucy Hale; directed by Brian Petsos
Léa Seydoux, Blanche Gardin, Benjamin Biolay; directed by Bruno Dumont
Kentucker Audley, Grace Glowicki, Reed Birney; directed by Albert Birney and Kentucker Audley
Everything on streaming platforms this month:
Disc of the week
Alligator (Scream Factory, 4K)
Just a week after releasing an Ultra High Definition disc of The Howling, Shout! Factory drops a super-special edition of another beloved John Sayles-scripted creature feature—which now boasts even more cinephile cred than ever. Lewis Teague’s low-budget 1980 programmer shamelessly mashed up Steven Spielberg’s Jaws with the eco-horror movies that followed it, added a healthy dollop of urban-legend silliness and set the whole thing in a grimy, casually corrupt metropolis, with Robert Forster perfectly underplaying the burnt-out cop who finds himself the unlikely hero of the story. (That’s right, long before Quentin Tarantino cast Forster in Jackie Brown, Sayles and Teague gave the guy the role of his career.)
It’s the textbook example of a B-picture and a pleasure from start to finish, and Shout! Factory’s special edition is long overdue. The new 4K master is better than any presentation of Alligator has any right to be; not good as new, exactly, but with far less wear and tear than I would have expected. (I had to fight the impulse to reach out and wipe the dirt off my screen in two separate sequences.) The mono soundtrack has been remastered in DTS-HD in similar fashion; it’s clear and clean, and still very much a 40-year-old mix.
The supplemental material makes the film feel even more like a miracle. The elements carried over from Lionsgate’s DVD release 15 years ago are still treasures: an audio commentary from Teague and Forster feels a fun chat between two pals who haven’t hung out in forever, while an interview with Sayles finds the screenwriter downright fond of his creature-feature days, and particularly proud of the work he did on Alligator’s characters and background elements.
But the new stuff—video interviews with Teague, co-star Robin Riker, effects artist Robert Short and some nobody production assistant named Bryan Cranston, who’d end up working with Forster decades later on the final season of Breaking Bad—cements the film’s rep as a project so silly that everyone wound up taking it just seriously enough to turn it into a classic. (Still galleries and trailers are also included to give modern viewers a sense of just how it was sold back in the day.) I’m as surprised as anyone, but somehow, Alligator endures. (NW)