Radio Free Albemuth
Over the last few months, you may have noticed the Royal getting a little weirder. Or a lot, really; it depends on the day.
That's because the College St. rep cinema's programming duties now rest in the capable hands of Colin Geddes - longtime programmer of TIFF's Midnight Madness and Vanguard series - and his partner Katarina Gligorijevic, whose dedication to the strange and unusual easily matches Colin's own. And their interests can't help but guide them when building the calendar.
This explains that demented but priceless double-bill of Borgman and Manborg that appeared on the marquee last Friday. It explains why the midnight screenings have got a lot more interesting in the last few months. And it explains why the Royal is hosting the Toronto premiere of that long-awaited digital restoration of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre next week, rather than some other house.
And it explains why Radio Free Albemuth is opening there this week. It's exactly Colin and Katarina's kind of weird ... though your mileage may vary.
Although it's based on a posthumously published novel by Philip K. Dick, Radio Free Albemuth feels more like a riff on the late author's entire body of work. Set in a 1985 that never really existed, it follows a couple of Berkeley buddies - one of whom, played by Shea Whigham, is an alternate-universe doppelganger of Dick - who are drawn into an elaborate and possibly extraterrestrial conspiracy to save America from a fascist oligarchy by writing a subversive pop song.
The tone is pitched somewhere between conspiracy thriller and slacker dramedy, and feels like the sort of movie best enjoyed in an altered state of consciousness. And that might be why it's taken almost seven years for Radio Free Albemuth to reach the screen; writer-director John Alan Simon shot Radio Free Albemuth in 2007 on a shoestring with a largely unknown cast, but financial trouble kept him from finishing the picture.
The movie surfaced on the festival circuit in 2011 as a work in progress; Simon ultimately crowd-funded the final stage of post-production, and now Radio Free Albemuth is out in the world. And the passage of time means that a number of its actors have become better known: Whigham went on to memorable roles in Boardwalk Empire, the Fast & Furious movies and American Hustle, while co-stars Katheryn Winnick and Ashley Greene landed Vikings and the Twilight saga, respectively.
The movie might not be better for their post-facto fame, necessarily, but it's more interesting for having them in it. You might want to check it out over the weekend - and if you do, tell Colin and Katarina I said hi.
And if you don't have anything to do Wednesday night (July 16), consider going down to Double Double Land in Kensington Market for another pay-what-you-can Canadian premiere presented by the fine gentlemen of MDFF, Daniel Montgomery and Kazak Radwinski.
This week's feature is Küf, Turkish director Ali Aydin's moody study of middle-aged Basri (Ercan Kesal, of Three Monkeys and Once Upon A Time In Anatolia), a man consumed by the disappearance of his son in Istanbul nearly two decades ago. He's been writing letters to the police ever since, but only now is his campaign beginning to see results - which the police would perhaps rather avoid.
It's a psychological drama that plays like a slow-motion thriller, with long, locked-off takes drawing us further and further into the mystery's core - and into Basri's soul. I can understand why this movie never found domestic distribution (though I'm still surprised TIFF didn't grab it last year), but I'm glad Dan and Kaz have given us a chance to see it.
Still, if Küf sounds a hair too grim, I'll be introducing a free screening of Clueless down at Harbourfront Centre that evening at 9 pm. So, y'know, flip a coin.