OPENING THIS WEEK
See expanded reviews at nowtoronto.com/movies.
RULES DON’T APPLY (Warren Beatty) is a stunning disappointment from producer/ director/co-writer Beatty, a toothless dramedy about the unbalanced love triangle formed by two young people (Alden Ehrenreich, Lily Collins) and their employer, Howard Hughes (Beatty), in 50s Hollywood. It’s tonally incoherent and unforgivably sloppy, and Beatty doesn’t even seem to know what story he wants to tell. The film’s first movement plays as perky puppy-love romance, the second as a darker drama about Hughes’s ambition and creeping dementia, and the third is a complete tonal mess of half-formed ideas and ill-explained rivalries, with Martin Sheen, Alec Baldwin, Oliver Platt and Steve Coogan popping up to make us wonder how substantial their roles might have been in earlier cuts. Beatty directed the epic Reds, the playful Dick Tracy and the scathing Bulworth; this doesn’t even feel like it was made by the same person. 127 min. N (Norman Wilner)
MANCHESTER BY THE SEA (Kenneth ñ
Lonergan) is another drama about complicated relationships from writer/ director Lonergan. It’s the powerful story of Lee (Casey Affleck, totally Oscarworthy), a broken man forced to return to the site of his biggest mistake after his brother (Kyle Chandler) dies. When he learns that his edgy teenaged nephew (Lucas Hedges) has been made his ward, the two engage in a wrestling match of emotions. Lonergan expertly constructs the story, slowly revealing information, and crafts scenes that have achingly real rhythms and dialogue. A devastating scene between Lee and his ex (Michelle Williams) is one of the best-written and -performed sequences I’ve ever seen on film. One of the best movies of the year. 136 min. Rating: NNNN (Susan G. Cole)
MOANA (John Musker, Ron ñ
Clements) is a delight from beginning to end, a cinematic Broadway musical from the filmmakers who perfected the form in The Little Mermaid, Aladdin and Hercules. The plot is the usual hero’s quest – teenage islander Moana (voiced by newcomer Auli’i Cravalho) sets sail to recruit the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson, perfectly cast) on a mission to save her people and the world – but the movie works as a sly remix of the usual Disney mechanisms, realized so enthusiastically that you’ll feel you’re seeing them for the first time. And the songs, instantly recognizable as the work of Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, will never leave your brain. You’re welcome. 113 min. NNNN (NW)
ALLIED (Robert Zemeckis) casts Brad Pitt as a spy during the Second World War who falls for his partner (Marion Cotillard) during a mission in Casablanca, brings her back to England as his wife and ultimately learns his superiors suspect her of being a German mole. Pitt’s terrific as a good man crumbling under the weight of his doubts, and Cotillard is quite good as well, though Steven Knight’s script won’t let her be much more than enigmatic and alluring for long stretches. Director Zemeckis doesn’t do such a great job of contrasting the personal stakes against the larger stage of the war. As in Contact and Flight, his insistence on over-complicated, digitally augmented flourishes only underlines how fake the whole endeavour is. 124 min. Some subtitles. NNN (NW)
ANATOMY OF VIOLENCE (Deepa Mehta) is ñ
a unique take on the infamous 2012 gang rape of a young woman on a Delhi bus with her fiancé, delving into the backgrounds of the perpetrators to ask what led them to become violators. Workshopped by her excellent cast of unknowns and stars, it points the finger at a rigid class system, trauma, poverty and the patriarchal values that breed violent misogyny. These men are profoundly oppressed people. In sharp contrast, a canny – and risky – sequence shows the subway filled with well-dressed upwardly mobile women on their way to work. Mehta is careful not to suggest that these young men should not be accountable for their crime. But she takes an uncommonly compassionate approach to these unsavoury characters. The film is clear-eyed and hard-hitting, but note that the assault itself is never shown. 92 min. NNNN (SGC)
BAD SANTA 2 (Mark Waters) puts Billy Bob Thornton back in his red cap for more creatively compounded swearing and slapstick alcoholism. For reasons too convoluted to explain, Billy Bob’s Willie reunites with his short partner in crime, Marcus (Tony Cox), to rob a holiday charity. Kathy Bates pops up as Willie’s equally foul-mouthed career criminal mother, and Thurman Merman (Brett Kelly) inexplicably returns as a human punchline. Unfortunately, as in all comedy sequels, the plot feels forced and most of the jokes are reruns. Yet while Mean Girls director Waters might not offer the pathos or exaggerated underground comic aesthetic of Terry Zwigoff’s original, he can deliver a decent fart or fuck joke with ease, and his cast is overqualified. The sequel is amusing enough and certainly better than any of the schmaltzy holiday claptrap the studios clog up the multiplexes with this time of year. 92 min. NN (Phil Brown)
QUEBEC: MY COUNTRY, MON PAYS (John ñ
Walker) is a quietly personal work from documentarian Walker that looks at the history of Quebec’s distinct society. As an anglophone born and raised in Montreal, Walker has a specific perspective on the traditions, Catholic and otherwise, that shaped la belle province’s sense of itself as a perpetually beleaguered minority state. With context and commentary from fellow directors Denys Arcand and Jacques Godbout, screenwriter Louise Pelletier and critic Paul Warren – speaking in French and English – Walker finds a province (and a nation) struggling to transcend its deeply conservative wiring to build a better future. I hope we get there. 89 min. Some subtitles. NNNN (NW) WAIT TIL HELEN COMES (Dominic James) is a horror film about a family living in a converted church in the country.
CELTIC SOUL (Michael McNamara) tags along with actor Jay Baruchel and sports journalist Eoin O’Callaghan – a Torontonian and a Montrealer who’ve bonded over their love of Glasgow’s Celtic Football Club – on a week-long jaunt to Ireland and Scotland to see Celtic play in Glasgow at the stadium fans call Paradise. It’s a charming if lightweight documentary (which, honestly, we kinda need right now), and director McNamara makes the most of the sequences in which Baruchel explores his own Irish ancestry. It’s also just plain fun to watch Baruchel and O’Callaghan get so caught up in a match that they forget they’re being filmed and just explode with emotion. Football will do that to you, I’m told. 86 min. NNN(NW) DAUGHTERS OF THE DUST (Julie Dash) is a re-release of Dash’s influential film set off the coast of South Carolina and Georgia. 112 min.