The Man From Toronto
Enjoy your moment, Toronto. Our city’s name has achieved a level of mystique, fitting for an international assassin played by Woody Harrelson, who, as you may know, actually loves Toronto. Harrelson represents us Torontonians well. His character, who just goes by Toronto, lives in a sleek condo hidden inside a factory space; it’s in a desolate lot but has that Junction vibe. Toronto settles contracts (with a knife) but really wants to be a chef. He whips himself up a breakfast of golden fried Durian fruit while negotiating $2 million for data extraction. If only this were a satire on the new Toronto yuppie.
Instead, it’s just another low-brow action comedy (from the director of the two turgid Hitman’s Bodyguard movies) pairing Harrelson’s Toronto with Kevin Hart’s hapless entrepreneur Teddy, who commits violence every time he hits the second “t” hard in our city’s name. Hart and Harrelson put in the work to liven things up. By now you should be familiar with Hart’s banter in movies like this. When working with such witless material, his improvisational gags can land like comfort food. 112 min. Now streaming on Netflix. NN
Innuksuk’s long-awaited, Goonies-inspired romp is the latest Indigenous movie to grapple with colonialism through genre tropes. It’s about aliens snatching bodies in Pangnirtung, a hamlet in Nunavut, and a young band of Inuit girls fighting back to protect their land using hunting skills passed down from generations. The movie has enough of those moments where the rawness of its first-time actors and director shows, especially since they’re going for something incredibly ambitious with big tentacled creatures and zombie-like polar bears. But the charming cast and depictions of navigating daily life in a harsh but strikingly beautiful climate make the whole thing worthwhile. 86 min. Now playing at the Fox Theatre and VOD platforms including Digital TIFF Bell Lightbox. NNN
Listen to Nyla Innuksuk discuss Slash/Back on the NOW What podcast here.
Never before has a movie spent such a disproportionate amount of time on a white man doing nothing about the civil rights movement. There are just so many scenes in Baz Luhrmann’s appropriately gaudy and periodically dazzling authorized biopic where Elvis Presley (Austin Butler) watches segregation at work or stares at a TV set mournfully processing Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination, painting Presley as a quiet and emotionally torn ally.
The movie tackles the cultural appropriation issue head-on but also tries to make it go down easy by painting the Heartbreak Hotel crooner as a bleeding heart for Black America. In a segregated United States, Black talents like Nat King Cole and BB King are kept on the margins. Presley sings their songs, learns their groove and their moves, all to excite and titillate white girls from the stage with a swivel of his hips and become christened the “King of Rock and Roll.” He succeeded on the backs of Black talent but did nothing to fight on their behalf. If he had at least marched or made some sort of political or activist statement, we would know about it. He’s Elvis Presley, after all.
Elvis pegs Presley’s inaction on his vampiric manager, Colonel Tom Parker (a cartoonish Tom Hanks). Every flaw in the singer’s legacy is projected onto the latter, which leaves the character played by the talented Butler stripped of agency and human dimension. He’s a figurine with a smouldering pout.
And because such a thin characterization can’t do much to stir our emotions, Elvis uses the civil rights movement as a shorthand towards emotional impact and greater relevance, exploiting Black struggle in the same way Presley did Black music. 159 min. Now playing in theatres everywhere. NN
The Black Phone
Director Scott Derrickson and Ethan Hawke reteam for another Blumhouse horror movie a decade after Sinister. The results aren’t quite as chilling. Derrickson goes for an aura of taut and down-to-basics horror filmmaking that wisely keeps the performances by an exceptional cast front-and-centre. But his return to this genre – after a run in the Marvel universe directing Doctor Strange and departing from its sequel over creative differences – is strangely hollow.
Hawke plays a serial child abductor known as The Grabber. Mason Thames stars as his latest victim Finney, who starts receiving calls from a disconnected phone. The Grabber’s former victims are calling Finney from beyond the grave, talking him through an escape plan. Meanwhile, Finney’s sister Gwen (Madeline McGraw) uses her hidden telepathic powers to try and find her brother. For such a basic abduction premise, there are a lot of moving parts and details that either don’t go anywhere or lead to a whimper of a payoff.
Disturbing depictions of child abuse feel especially egregious for that reason. But the movie is perhaps worth seeing just for McGraw. She elevates the whole enterprise with an expert mix of charm, grit and comic timing. 102 min. Now playing in theatres everywhere. NNN
Also opening theatrically this week
Penelope Cruz, Antonio Banderas, Oscar Martínez; directed by Mariano Cohn and Gastón Duprat
Everything on streaming platforms this month: