Is Toronto Broken? Movies Reviewed: This Movie is Broken, Thomas Pynchon: a Journey into the Mind of P

Do you ever get the feeling the city is broken? That everything is splitting apart at the seams? A honking parade of cars promoting exuberant football nationalism every time a ball enters a net half a world away, bringing traffic to a halt for a half a day with whistles, buzzing vuvuzelas and rhythmic car horns. And south of there, something more sinister: rows of riot police securitizing the crowned heads from potential cherry bombs, demanding photo ID’s from subway riders and arresting people as they come out for resembling someone “described in an anonymous phone call, ma’am”.

And making sure nobody gets too close to the downtown Freedom Fence. Yup, the G-20 is in town. Aah… I love the smell of teargas in the morning.

What to do? Well, you can always rub that magic lantern and end up at a movie. And if you’re feeling really rebellious, go to an indie movie in an underground movie theatre. Escapism does have a purpose after all.

One movie that seems especially appropriate is called “This Movie is Broken: a Rock Show Romance”, directed by Bruce McDonald (who did Road Kill, Hard Core Logo, and Pontypool), and written by Don McKellar. I caught it at last week’s NXNE music festival.

This is a totally Toronto movie, a concert film shot last summer, featuring Broken Social Scene, with a bunch of guest musicians all up on a stage at Harbourfront. But it’s also a very low key “boy meets girl” story.

The guy (Greg Calderone) tells his best buddy that he just woke up in bed, not with just anyone, but with the woman he had a crush on as a nine year old. His ultimate crush. Pretty, sophisticated Caroline (Georgina Reilly) is studying anthropology in Paris. Can you believe it? His blonde bearded buddy (played by Kerr Hewitt, wearing what a friend of mine refers to as an ironic hat) gets him to play up his status. When Caroline says she’s too busy to hang out that night, he casually says that’s too bad, cause I coulda got us a back stage pass at the Broken Social Scene concert. Oh yeah? says Caroline. That’s what I’m busy doing tonight. Oops. So he has to somehow get her into the concert by hook or by crook. Like I said, it’s a concert movie and a lightweight romance.

But I thought it went together perfectly. I’m not a follower of the band, so as an outsider – not a music critic or a fan of the group – I really enjoyed, and was totally entranced by the performances. This is one of those cases where just the story would have been too silly, and just the concert would have been too concert-y for me, but the sum total was just right.

Interestingly, the movie was shot last summer during the contract dispute (between the city government and the public workers, when no garbage was collected and it was deposited instead in city parks and baseball diamonds, with the garbage mountains reaching epic proportions). So it’s good, gritty, scenic Toronto. Since we survived that we can survive this, too.

Another movie I stumbled upon at NXNE, that should be easy to find online — it was made nine years ago. It’s a German/Swiss documentary: “Thomas Pynchon: a Journey into the Mind of P.”, directed by Donatello and Fosco Dubini.

This is a weird one! Pynchon is the guy who wrote the momentous tome Gravity’s Rainbow, and the more compact novel with the shorter name V. His books, and the movie itself, covers the huge, disturbing themes and incidents that obsessed people in the 69’s and 70’s: The Cuban Missile Crisis, the cold war, The assassination of JFK, the Vietnam war, LSD, the CIA, rockets to the moon… stuff like that. So, naturally, an obsessive cult has sprung up around this writer. What does he look like? Where does he live? Pynchon is known as a recluse who has never had his picture taken and whose personal information is kept, well, private.

So, apparently, urban legends about the guy abound. Did he use to dress up as a woman to go to bookstores unrecognized? Did he meet Lee Harvey Oswald on a crucial airplane trip? What’s his real connection to Timothy Leary? And the CIA? And who really showed up to accept the National Book Award for Gravity’s Rainbow?

And in the background to all these strange unexplained mysteries is footage of subway rides sped up, and music slowed down featuring The Replacements. Warped 60’s pop hits slowed down and distorted till they sounds like this: Yummy Yummy yummy I’ve got love in my tummy… and C’mon baby light my fire… but stuck in tar. And then a train goes into a tunnel… I wonder that means? It’s a strange, low-budget, pop culture documentary about the followers of the Pynchon cult, and worth seeing.

But if you want some real escapism, to get away from it all, there are two new places in Toronto to do that. First, there will be two days of free movies at Carlton and Yonge street in the theatre there. It used to be the Cineplex Carlton, but closed a while back, and is now being re-opened as the Magic Lantern Carlton Theatre. It’s part of the same chain that operates the Rainbow Theatres, which are a little cheesy but a lot of fun, and always packed with students on a budget – they charge lower prices than the big chains, but show first-run movies on the old Cineplex-style small screens.

So now’s your chance to see all the ones you wanted to catch – academy award nominees, good kids movies, foreign films – all at one place. You can see Sarah Polley’s movie Away from Her, based on an Alice Munroe story about Alzheimers, the really great animated Fantastic Mr Fox, The Japanese movie Departures, about funerals, Atom Egoyan’s Chloe, and even How to Train your Dragon – an animated kids movie about a Viking kid who meets a dragon, but a really good one that all ages can enjoy.

I liked it.

Another movie theatre that recently opened downtown is the aptly named Toronto Underground Cinema. I last went to that theatre when it was the Golden Harvest, one of the last Chinese language movie houses – it’s at 186 Spadina, north of Queen. I still remember watching a Hong Kong zombie comedy (zom-com) where they put on the third reel of the film right after the first reel – and no one noticed for a while, everyone just thought the plot was a bit jumpy.

The theatre still has that slightly off-beat, don’t-know-what-to-expect feel about it. The Toronto Underground is deep underground, literally. It’s a nice big place, good stage and screen, popcorn, and cool old plumbing fixtures. The three guys who run this theatre program everything from amazing documentaries like “Gasland”, to cult classics like “Lady Terminator”, to present-day schlock like “MacGruber”.

They seem to be reviving the double feature – putting together two good movies that go together. If you’re in the mood this weekend, and really want to escape, what could be better than “Hot Tub Time Machine” matched with “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure”. Toronto Underground is another theatre that attracts noisy and fun audiences ready to hoot and holler at the good parts.

This city is not broken at all  —  you just have to know where to go.

2 Responses

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  1. Rick Chung said, on June 27, 2010 at 5:57 pm

    THIS MOVIE IS BROKEN review :: http://j.mp/bssmovie

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