The Bastard Sings the Sweetest Song (Christy Garland) plunks the camera into the lives of a struggling family in Georgetown, Guyana, and comes out with cinematic gold. Muscle is trying to save his family from poverty and his mother, Mary, from herself. He does the former by selling fighting cocks (the titular bastard is a species of bird) and the latter by confining Mary in the house so she doesn't drink herself to death. Mostly, he wants to break the cycle of violence that's driven his mother, a skilled poet, to alcohol in the first place. The film unfolds slowly, disclosing insights and information in a way that maximizes their impact. Garland shoots Mary and the caged birds - an effective metaphor - in tight close-up, but occasionally heads into the streets of Georgetown to illuminate small-town life. This one really creeps up on you. Some subtitles. 71 min.
Rating: NNNN (SGC)
Opens Jan 18. See here for times.
The Last Stand (Kim Jee-woon) delivers inventive, energetic thrills for a couple of hours, and it makes Arnold Schwarzenegger a convincing action star at 65. What else could you possibly want? The premise is dead simple, with Schwarzenegger's Arizona sheriff and scrappy deputies facing off against the small army of a fugitive Mexican cartel kingpin (Eduardo Noriega) bent on heading home through their little border town. The supporting characters are efficiently drawn, and the movie engages with the idea of an aging hero more honestly than either of Sylvester Stallone's Expendables movies. Director Kim takes the same demented pleasure in the laws of physics that he did in his knockout 2008 action-comedy The Good, The Bad, The Weird. Every sequence plays like it could be the movie's climax; every firefight is imaginatively choreographed to play out on at least two different levels. An incidental bit of car-chase action between the villain's souped-up Corvette and two very large SUVs is ingenious in its simplicity. Way more fun than the marketing would have you believe. 107 min.
Rating: NNNN (NW)
Opens Jan 18 at 401 & Morningside, Carlton Cinema, Coliseum Mississauga, Coliseum Scarborough, Colossus, Courtney Park 16, Eglinton Town Centre, Empire Theatres at Empress Walk, Grande - Steeles, Queensway, Rainbow Woodbine, Scotiabank Theatre, SilverCity Fairview, SilverCity Yonge. See here for times.
Mekong Hotel (Apichatpong Weerasethakul) feels like a companion piece to Apichatpong's amazing Palme d'Or-winning fantasy Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. Once again, the settings are picturesque but mundane - here, it's the Sam-Oar resort hotel in Nong Khai, on the Mekong River - but the events skew toward the supernatural, as a young man (Sakda Kaewbuadee) meets a young woman (Maiyatan Techaparn) and chats obliquely about his disembowelled dog. Later, the young woman sits with her mother (Jenjira Pongpas) in a hotel room and says she's missed her for hundreds of years. Are these actors rehearsing a script? Or is there something more complex happening? Either interpretation is as valid as the other; Apichatpong seems even less concerned with making his world accessible to newcomers than he did on Boonmee. He's just following his bliss, drifting along the river, showing us what he sees. (Screening at TIFF Bell Lightbox with Athina Rachel Tsangari's surreal short The Capsule.) Subtitled. 57 min.
Rating: NNNN (NW)
Opens Jan 18 at TIFF Bell Lightbox. See here for times.
The Waiting Room (Peter Nicks) doesn't offer any narration or commentary on the stories that unfold within it; it just watches as the overtaxed staff of the Highland Hospital in Oakland, California, deal with a constant stream of patients in distress. The emergency room attracts some 250 patients a day, most of them uninsured - so potentially controllable conditions aren't addressed until they blow up into life-threatening situations, like a little girl's raging strep throat. It's the rare documentary that mixes moment-to-moment intensity with sober social commentary. And it'll make an excellent teaching tool for your relatives who keep yammering on about privatizing medicine. 81 min.
Rating: NNNN (NW)
Opens Jan 18. See here for times.
Mama (Andy Muschietti) bears many of executive producer Guillermo del Toro's favourite fairy-tale elements: lost children, unquiet spirits, rational adults suddenly confronted with a primal force in which they'd long stopped believing. This one's better paced and more consistently involving than his last attempt, the 2011 remake of Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark, but it's still hampered by a structure that doesn't let anything actually happen for more than an hour of screen time. (Not that there's anything wrong with a slow build, but Mama essentially requires its characters to sit around and wait to be scared for its entire second act.) But even when it threatens to bog down, Mama features some effectively slithery images and yet another terrific performance by Jessica Chastain, who downplays the supernatural stuff in favour of a flinty, very human turn as a woman trying just a little too hard to put up a punk front while caring for two young girls. 100 min.
Rating: NNN (NW)
Opens Jan 18 at 401 & Morningside, Coliseum Mississauga, Coliseum Scarborough, Colossus, Courtney Park 16, Eglinton Town Centre, Empire Theatres at Empress Walk, Grande - Steeles, Queensway, Rainbow Woodbine, SilverCity Fairview, SilverCity Yonge, SilverCity Yorkdale, Yonge & Dundas 24. See here for times.
Quartet (Dustin Hoffman) is a harmless bit of cinematic hokum sure to please the same demographic that made The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel such a hit. Newly arrived at a fictional retirement home for opera singers, legendary soprano Jean Horton (Maggie Smith) finds herself amidst old colleagues (Billy Connolly, Pauline Collins) and her bitter ex-husband (Tom Courtenay). Will the three convince the terribly proud Jean to sing at the upcoming annual benefit celebrating Verdi's birthday? Like Marigold, the film's really just a showcase for great acting. There are snatches of opera (nice touch to have real soprano Gwyneth Jones playing Jean's nemesis), but director Hoffman lets us down in the climactic concert. The most heartfelt moment comes during the closing credits, where we see how many actual musicians were involved and get glimpses of the actors in their prime. 98 min.
Rating: NNN (GS)
Opens Jan 18 at Canada Square, Eglinton Town Centre, Grande - Yonge, Queensway, SilverCity Mississauga, Varsity. See here for times.
On the Road (Walter Salles) brings Jack Kerouac's seminal beat work to the screen with its wide-open sexuality and most of the drug use intact. But by reducing the book to its events and dialogue and eliminating Kerouac's vivid prose, director Salles and screenwriter José Rivera (Letters To Juliet) turn it into an endless road trip about insufferable people driving back and forth across America, convinced they're being rebels when they're really just acting out. Sam Riley spends most of the movie in watchful mode as Kerouac surrogate Sal Paradise, while Garrett Hedlund is appropriately seedy and handsome as Dean Moriarty. Kristen Stewart and Kirsten Dunst stand around looking sour as Moriarty's perpetually neglected lovers. Salles never finds a way to bring the story to life the way he did Ché Guevara's The Motorcycle Diaries, which was an even more episodic text; he just moves from one bacchanal to the next, hoping we'll catch a contact high. 125 min.
Rating: NN (NW)
Opens Jan 18 at Grande - Yonge, TIFF Bell Lightbox. See here for times.
Broken City (Allen Hughes) is a crime thriller about an ex-cop (Mark Wahlberg) who's seeking revenge on the corrupt mayor (Russell Crowe) who burned him. Screened after press time - see review January 19 at nowtoronto.com/movies. 109 min.
Opens Jan 18 at 401 & Morningside, Canada Square, Carlton Cinema, Coliseum Scarborough, Colossus, Courtney Park 16, Eglinton Town Centre, Grande - Yonge, Queensway, Rainbow Market Square, Rainbow Promenade, Rainbow Woodbine, Scotiabank Theatre, SilverCity Mississauga, SilverCity Yorkdale. See here for times.
The Metropolitan Opera: Maria Stuarda Live is a live high-def broadcast from the Met of Donizetti's historical opera, starring mezzo Joyce DiDonato in the title role. Subtitled. 200 min.
Opens Jan 19 at Beach Cinemas, Coliseum Mississauga, Coliseum Scarborough, Colossus, Eglinton Town Centre, Grande - Yonge, Queensway, Scotiabank Theatre, SilverCity Fairview, SilverCity Mississauga, SilverCity Yonge. See here for times.
National Theatre Live: The Magistrate is a high-def broadcast of a farce starring John Lithgow and Nancy Carroll, from London's acclaimed theatre company. 165 min.
Opens Jan 17 at Coliseum Mississauga, Coliseum Scarborough, Grande - Yonge, Queensway, Scotiabank Theatre, SilverCity Yonge. See here for times.
U2 3D (Catherine Owens, Mark Pellington) brings U2 to the big screen in three dimensions, a stunt justified by the band's IMAX-size ego and massive fan following. The 3-D photography nearly perfectly captures U2's epic theatricality while adding depth and intimacy to concert footage from the Vertigo tour. Sure, the newer songs mostly suck, and the group's sloppy delivery of some of the older hits suggests they're a little bored with their back catalogue, but that's easy to overlook when Bono's jumping out of the screen and into the row in front of you, dripping his messianic sweat into your popcorn. 85 min.
Opens Jan 23 at Colossus, Courtney Park 16, Eglinton Town Centre, Queensway, SilverCity Fairview, Yonge & Dundas 24. See here for times.