• This Week's Film Reviews (June 3, 2011)

    Opening this week is the prequel of prequels X MEN: FIRST CLASS.

    Also in Toronto at the TIFF Bell Lightbox is the screening of Terrence Malick 4 films.

    GOOD NEIGHBOURS (Canada 2010) ***
    Directed by Jacob Tierney

    Set in 1995 in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, a decidedly rundown Montreal neighbourhood with some very unusual inhabitants, GOOD NEIGHBOURS is writer/director Jacob Tierney’s follow-up to his last TROTSKY, also starring Jay Burachel.

    Again, Jay Burachel plays a man trying desperately hard to blend into his social surroundings.  Victor (Jay Baruchel) is an overly friendly elementary school teacher who’s desperate for human contact when moving into his new apartment building.  His neighbours include Louise (Emily Hampshire), a waitress in an otherwise empty Chinese restaurant, has a rather unhealthy attachment to her cats and wheelchair bound Spencer (Scott Speedman), a caustic widower distraught after losing his wife in a car accident.  In the mean time, a serial killer is making his rounds raping and killing innocent women in the village.

    But GOOD NEIGHBOURS is less a thriller than a drama.  The tension of Victor the new intruder who disturbs the status quo of the building tenants causes havoc.  Spencer takes a dislike to Victor while he falls for Louise.  Her cats really annoy a grouchy cursing tenant who poisons them.  As the serial killings escalate, Louise takes vengeance in her own hands.

    If all the incidents sound really twisted, writer/director ups the angst be creating an even more morbid atmosphere.  The colours, lighting and sets always look grim.  The characters are all down right nasty.  Even the nurse who tends to Spencer is a nosy busybody who is despised by her patient.  The landlady is a gossip; Louise is always irritated and Victor is too annoying friendly.  Even the cats are mean spirited, with one finishing off the fish in an aquarium.

    Tierney keeps his humour in tow.  The rare funny bit has Louise complain that the serial killer could have a silly name like Roland, only to have the detective later handing her his calling card that bears the first name of Roland.

    Tierney could have sped up the pace of the film’s climax which included a fight scene.  His film is too monotonously paced.  Though set in Montreal, the film would be more conveniently set in an English speaking Canadian city.  The film is largely in English except for a very few French lines.  One would wonder that the curse word ‘tabernacle’ is so commonly used!

    There is nothing really wrong with GOOD NEIGHBOURS.  The film is well made and Tierney achieves what he wishes his film to accomplish.  However, GOOD NEIGHBOURS, or what would be more appropriately called BAD NEIGHBOURS would be recommended to those who like their entertainment really bleak, like with a dash of cyanide!

    MIDNIGHT IN PARIS (USA/Spain 2011) ****

    Directed by Woody Allen

    In the words of Woody Allen himself, his films (his last two films VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA and YOU WILL MEET A TALL DARK STRANGER, for example) are almost always about unfaithful men who cheat and the poor ladies that have to cope.

    In MIDNIGHT IN PARIS, the protagonist, Gil (Owen Wilson) cancels his engagement at the end of the film, but Allen is more sympathetic this time.  Gil is perfectly justified in it.  His fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams) scoffs at his ambitions, ignores his thoughts and even cheats first with an old friend, Paul (Michael Sheen). MIDNIGHT IS PARIS is different Allen. It is a fantasy film for the inner Allen.  Gil, the writer like Allen, is successful at film scripts but his first novel lacks the insight and forcefulness of a strong character.

    MIDNIGHT is a romantic comedy about an engaged couple, Gil and Inez in Paris.  They accompany Inez’s parents on business to Paris.  Gil is struggling to write his first novel while Inez wants to party with her friends.  Gil ends up taking a walk after midnight on his own, when he is transported into the fantasy land of the roaring twenties.  He meets and is enchanted by Adriana (Marion Cotillard).

    Allen must really adore Paris.  The first ten minutes of the film are devoted to the familiar sights around Paris that include the Seine, the Sorbonne, the arc de triomphe, the Eiffle Tower (naturally), the Pigalle area, the parks and other arrondissements.  The titles say that daytime in Paris is enchanting and charming but after midnight, Paris is magic.

    It is indeed magical in the movie.  Most of the action takes place after midnight when Gil enters into the new fantasy world of the roaring twenties meeting famous literary icons as Hemingway (Corey Stoll), Dali (Adrien Brody in fine comedic form), Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston) and Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates).

    But it is Gil’s discovery of himself that makes the film most interesting.

    In recent interviews with Sight and Sound and Film Comment, Allen said that his present films are more matured and better than his early ones.  This can be seen clearly with MIDNIGHT.  In MANHATTAN, for example Mariel Hemmingway leaves Allen to fly to London for her studies.  Insecure, he wonders to her if she would find someone else.  Her reply: “Have a little faith in people!”  In MIDNIGHT, Allen takes his insecure lead character to a whole journey of new experiences thus discovering himself and his shortcomings.  MIDNIGHT can also be looked at as the antithesis of THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO. The characters in the film come out from the screen to affect the life of the Mia Farrow character.  In MIDNIGHT, the opposite occurs as Gil enters the new world instead.

    Allen is in more disciplined mode with MIDNIGHT.  There is less useless banter and less humour.  The jokes are more controlled.  This allows Allen to focus more clearly on Gil’s character.  The result is a more overall satisfying and focussed film.  Though MIDNIGHT may appear trivial, the film is almost faultlessly crafted and is one of Allen’s best films.

    LA PRINCESSE DE MONTPENSIER (France 2011) ****
    Directed by Bertrand Tavernier

    It must be great to have three handsome men at your feet courting you - especially more so if they were royalty.

    Marie de Mézières (Mélanie Thierry), a beautiful young aristocrat is in such a ‘predicament’, and the rakish Henri de Guise (Gaspard Ulliel), fall in love, but Marie''s father has promised her hand in to Philippe de Montpensier (Gregoire Leprince-Ringuet) who she eventually marries.

    The story is based on the 17th century novella by Madame de La Fayette.  The story centres on Marie (Melanie Thierry), the teenage daughter of one of the country’s wealthiest nobleman.  She is in love with warrior Henri de Guise (Gaspard Ulliel).  A forced marriage to ensure the family’s wealth and fights during the 17th century religious wars leaves her with a 2 year absence of sex and want.  When the wars are over, she finds herself the target of several lovers despite her marriage.

    Set in France, 1562, against a background of the savage Catholic/Protestant wars and directed by veteran French director Betrand Tavernier (COUP DE TORCHON and L’HORLOGER DE SAINT PAUL), this is French romantic swashbuckling adventure at its best, complete with dialogue (not lost in translation) as polished as in Patrice Leconte’s RIDICULE.

    All the actors and actresses playing the leads are young, beautiful and handsome.  Their passions are tender and fierce.  The jealousy fight between the Guise (Ulliel), the love interest from A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT) and Philippe is savage and true and matches nothing seen in Hollywood romantic conflicts.  The battle scenes are excitingly choreographed with sufficient and not too much violence.  Costumes, setting and art direction are close to perfect.

    Running a bit long at over 2 hours, Tavernier’s film flies and is pure delight, establishing himself once again as France’s most respected directors.  The film was originally screened at last year’s Cannes film festival.

    The film is specially screened at the TIFF Bell Lightbox this week.

    LE QUATTRO VOLTE (THE FOUR TIMES) (Italy 2010) ***

    Directed by Michelangelo Frammartino

    THE FOUR TIMES is an Italian film set in the southern region of Calabria where the director lives.  Simple looking yet complex in theme, the film traces the revolving cycles of existence through the daily rituals of life.

    Frammartino’s film centres on an old goatherd (Giuseppe Fuda).  He is sick and finds his medication in the dust on the church floor.  When he dies, he is reincarnated in several forms from a baby goat, a fir tree and a lump of coal.  If all this does not make sense, it does not matter as Frammartino’s spiritual film is a pensive, spiritual journey unique in its execution and pleasure.

    The film consists of many long takes giving it an artistic look.  The humour though slight is present Frammartino style, as in the goatherd’s dog who steals the limelight.

    LE QUATTRO VOLTE won the Cannes director’s fortnight prize for Best European film.

    X MEN: FIRST CLASS (USA 2011) ***1/2

    Directed by Matthew Vaughn

    The fifth of the X MEN films and the prequel, X MEN: FIRST CLASS is brave enough to tell the story of the origins of the mutant heroes.

    The film begins with two highly charged scenes set in 1944. A young Eric (Bill Milner) witnesses his mother shot by a Nazi officer which unleashes his power for the first time.  This is followed by a scene of a very young Charles Xavier (Lawrence Belcher) meeting reading the thoughts of another mutant stealing food from his fridge.  Eric and Charles are the older Magento (Michael Fassbender) and Professor X (James McAvoy) of the future.  They become good friends and save the world before having their differences that will be magnified in the future X MEN films.

    Set in the 60’s, the script by Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz and Jane Goldman ties in the current events of the 60’s.  The Soviets and U.S. are having their missile war and the villain of the piece, mutant Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) intends to bring both to annihilate each other so that the human race can be exterminated and mutants grow stronger.  Most of the action is left to the last part of the film.  But the super powers of the mutants are on display and they learn to harness their powers and train to defeat Shaw.

    This X Men is pretty tame in terms of sex and language.  The only scene with the ‘f’ word is the cameo one with Hugh Jackman as Wolverine.

    Whether die hard fans will be disappointed or pleased, one cannot complain that this film does not have a good solid story and strong human emotional elements.  And it is these elements that often make a good film like this one.

    Best Film Opening This Week: Midnight in Paris

    Best Film Playing: Hanna
    Best Horror: Insidious
    Best Family: Hop
    Best Documentary: Bobby Fischer Against the World
    Best Foreign: Potiche
    Avoid: Last Night

  • TIFF BELL Lightbox presents - Terrence Malick

    All the Films of Terrence Malick

    Terrence Malick’s new film THE TREE OF LIFE which also won this year’s Cannes Palme D’Or Award Will be screened from June 17th at TIFF Bell Lightbox.  Working in accordance of this new film is TIFF’s retrospect of Malick films beginning June 3rd with BADLANDS.

    Malick has made only 5 films in his career and this is the chance to watch all of them.  His recurring favourite themes of death, new beginnings and the mysteries of life and death can be witnessed in all the films.

    TREE OF LIFE is reviewed in the review section of the site (will be posted on opening day) and the other 4 films are capsule reviewed below.

    For complete showtimes, schedule of the films, check the Cinematheque Ontario website at:

    Capsule Reviews:-

    BADLANDS (USA 1973) ***
    Directed by Terrence Malick
    Malick’s first film is rough on the edges but shows his potential as a great director as in his later films after.  Made for a measly $300,000 compared to his next film DAYS OF HEAVEN in which he went deadly over-budget, BADLANDS is an efficiently made film, full of atmosphere, period and drama.  Narrated by the young Holly (Sissy Spacek), giving it a perspective, the story follows her and her new found beau, Kit (Martin Sheen) who both go on a killing spree after he (Kit) shoots her father (Warren Oates) for refusing her to see him.  Kit’s appetite for violence contrasts with Holly’s romantic desires.  The BADLANDS of the title refers of the terrain in South Dakota where Holy’s father had decided to settle.  Like the land, the characters of the story are destroyed by the past like the terrain destroyed by past wind and water.  Sheen and Spacek give excellent performances as the two on the run.  Based on a true story!

    DAYS OF HEAVEN (USA 1978) ****
    Directed by Terrence Malick
    DAYS OF HEAVEN is the story of Bill (Richard Gere), his girlfriend Abby (Brooke Adams) and her sister Linda (Linda Mantz) working as seasonal labourers for a rich farmer (Sam Shepard) in Texas, Panhandle 1916.  These are hard times.  The farmer learns he is supposed to die within a year but falls for Abby. Bill, posing as Abby’s brother to everyone tells her to marry him to inherit the fortune.  But the farmer remains healthy and he eventually learns of the con.  DAYS OF HEAVEN is about disaster of human relations, disaster of the depression times and of the land.  A locust swarm destroys the farm at the end.  Malick’s film is stunning to look at, having hired two of the world’s best cinematographers to work on this movie – Nester Almendros and Haskall Wexler (after Almendros had to leave for another film).  The visuals take over the story telling.  From the shots of the red hot molten metal, the combine harvesters, the train carriages carrying the people on the top to the fire in the fields, Malick’s film is a true knock-out.  The story is put into perspective by the voice over of the young Linda, creating an innocent yet revealing outlook on the occurring events.

    THE NEW WORLD (USA 2005) **
    Directed by Terrence Malick
    Ambitious, overlong at 2 and a half hours, stunning and eventually defeating, Malick’s NEW WORLD is a romantic adventure that traces the loves of Pocahontas (O’orianka Kilcher) to Captain John Smith (Colin Farrell).  The setting is the founding of the Jamestown, Virgina settlement.  The film begins with the arrival of 3 ships sent by England to found a new colony.  When things fail, Smith is sent by Captain New port (Christopher Plummer) to lead an expedition to trade with the ‘naturals’.  He and his group are captured but he lives with the naturals and falls for Pocahontas.  Malick’s visuals are again nothing short of stunning from the sunlight shining through the tall trees, to the clear river waters and the sight of the boats rowing upstream.  The native dances and practices are believable and the desperation and hardships of the men adapting to a new place and effectively captured on film.  But the film slacks after Smith and Pocahontas depart.  The film fails to interest after the other Englishman John Rolfe (Christian Bale) comes into the picture and falls for Pocahontas.  The shift in the voice over from Smith’s to Rolfe’s does not help focus the narrative either.

    THE THIN RED LINE (USA 1998) ****
    Directed by Terrence Malick
    The critically successful THIN RED LINE marks Malick’s next film 20 years after DAYS OF HEAVEN.  The film did not do that well at the American box office, likely due competition from the other war movie SAVING PRIVATE RYAN.  Malick’s war film also highlights the horrors and futility of war – though in a different way.  Here, the enemy (the Japs) are hardly ever seen, and the tension rises from not knowing what is out there.  But the film has its gory scenes with blown up body parts.  Malick has assembled a great cast that includes Sean Penn, Adrien Brody, Ben Chaplin, John Travolta of which Jim Caviezel, Elias Koteas and Nick Nolte stand out.  The action takes place on a South Pacific island where the soldiers are ordered to take out the Japanese who have grounded themselves well on a hillside bunker.  With the American casualties increasing, the tensions and emotions mount.  But Malick also infuses the beauty of nature (colourful parrots, a soldier discovering the touch-me-not plant), conflicting with the undergoing war.  THE THIN RED LINE is one of the most gripping war dramas in the past decades.

  • This Week's Film Reviews (May 27, 2011)

    2 sequels KUNG FU PANDA 2and HANGOVER 2 make their rounds this weekend.

    Two French films LES LETITS MOUCHOIRS and L’AMOUR FOU also open.

    L’AMOUR FOU (France 2011) ***

    Directed by Pierre Thoretton

    The documentary on French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent begins at the end of his career and funeral where he is admired by the whole of France for his contribution to haute couture and then backtracks to his life and work.

    Director Pierre Thoretton who pieced the film together is an artist and photographer who understands the fashion world.  Though the hard times of Laurent are also depicted, it is mainly his success that is highlighted.  Especially shown is the immense multi-million dollar collection of art objects including paintings by Picasso and Matisse.  Most of these are on show on screen, and observing them is well worth the price of the ticket.

    Narrated mainly by Saint Laurent’s long time lover and partner, Pierre Bergé, the relationship of some 50 years is recorded.  These are put together primarily from photo stills.  One wishes there would be more film footage of Laurent.  But the film is well put together by Thoretton, chronologically when Saint Laurent was fired by House of Dior in 1960.  Bergé and Saint Laurent founded their own house, where Saint Laurent rocked the
    fashion world not only by creating such designs as Mondrian shifts, but also by becoming the first haute couturier to introduce a prêt-à-porter line.

    The climax and highlight of Saint Laurent’s career is the huge fashion show displayed at the end of the movie featuring 300 world wide models.  The cheesy parts include a performance of the song YMCA by the Village People.

    L’AMOUR FOU is a worthy tribute to Yves Saint Laurent, his genius and his collection of objets d’arts.  The bad stuff is kept to a minimum, but one wishes more would be known of the man’s character than just the drugs and alcohol he indulged in.


    Directed by Liz Garbus

    BOBBY FSICHER AGAINST THE WORLD is a documentary of the troubled life of the most famous and notorious chess champion of the world.  If the most interesting subjects make the most interesting films, it is no doubt that Liz Garbus has created one such film.

    The height of Bobby Fischer’s fame is his world championship match with Russian Boris Spassky.  Reasonably, director Garbus devotes a fair portion of the film’s running time to the match, as seen in archival footage.  She recaptures the tension, excitement and madness of the match.

    Interviewees include those involved with Fischer in the world competition, his mother and friends.  Fischer though camera shy, appears in the majority of the footage, thus giving the film the feel of a complete whole.

    Though Fischer missed a few matches, Garbus makes a point that Spassky did the same.  Though more collected, she hints that Spassky suffers for his genius as well.  Spassky thinks that the Americans are radiating bad vibes at him during the competition.

    But Garbus has great respect for Fischer, her subject.  She never judges him, and always allows him to offer an excuse for his behaviour.

    Garbus’ film is well researched, thorough in execution and well laid out.  Yet something seems amiss and her film comes across as a brilliant account with little insight into the man’s illness.  She hints that all geniuses suffer from some form of madness and his loneliness stemming from his mother’s lack of devotion.  No messages or lessons to be learnt are provided either, except that a strong family unit is essential to sanity and a meaning in life.


    KUNG FU PANDA 2 (USA 2011) ***1/2

    Directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson

    KUNG FU PANDA 2 is the sequel to the computer animated 2008 hit KUNG FU PANDA and it retains most of the original voice characterizations as well as being delivered in the 3D format.

    Not that KUNG FU PANDA 2 requires 3D.  The first 10 minutes of the film looks absolutely stunning and unique, because of the Chinese drawings of palaces, costumes and sets.  It helps too that the main character then is a gorgeous looking peacock (Gary Oldman).  The first scenes resemble the antique Indonesian puppetry seldom seen anymore.

    Po, the kung fu panda (Jack Black) is now enjoying his statues as a dragon warrior.  With his fellow kung fu masters, the Furious Five – Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Crane, Mantis, Viper and Monkey, they save villages from plunderers.  But  Master Villain, Lord Shen develops a weapon and aims at capturing China and end Kung Fu once and for all.  So, Po and his Furious Five have to save the day, but not without him finding out where his roots are as well as discovering inner peace.

    As far as sequels go, KUNG FU PANDA 2 delivers with lots of action, high hilarity and even more amazing animation.

    Jack Black, one of the most annoying actors around (see GULLIVER’S TRAVELS and THE PICK OF DESTINY as prime examples) succeeds as Po, as the animation of the cutesy panda hides his irritating behaviour.  As for the other voice characterizations, Jackie Chan and Michelle Yeoh will likely be recognized by Asians, but others like Seth Rogen, Lucy Lui, David Cross and Jean-Claude Van Damme hardly make a dent with their work.

    First time director Nelson, who worked on the first film, does a good job the sequel.  It is good to see Hollywood Studios take a chance with new talent.

    Directed by Todd Phillips

    Following the formula of the highly successful 2009 comedy THE HANGOVER, PART 2 follows the misadventures of a wedding party as they wake up (again) after a good drunk to decide what had happened and to make good to attend the wedding ceremony.

    This time around, the action takes place in Thailand.  Phil (Bradley Cooper), Alan (Zach Galifianakis) and Doug  (Justin Bartha) travel to Thailand for their friend, Stu’s (Ed Helms) wedding.  After the last trouble in Las Vegas, Stu opts for a safe, subdued pre-wedding brunch. However, things do not go as planned after they lose the 16-year-old brother, Teddy (Mason Lee, actual son of director Ang Lee) of the bride’s fiancé and somehow wake up in Bangkok.  They have to find Teddy and make it back in time for the wedding.  Which of course they do!

    Phillips’ film is not that funny.  Drunken escapades are only funny for those who can relate.  The misadventures include babysitting a drug dealing/smoking monkey, aiding a high profile undercover agent (Paul Giamatti), encounters with the Thai underworld like a tattoo artist (Nick Cassavettes) and prostitutes, female and lady boys.  The antics are inventive enough but it would help if they were milked for humour.  The best analogy can be made to the speedboat segment where the three drive the expensive boat aground right in front of the wedding ceremony.  The segment is well planned and executed but hardly generated any laughter.

    Ken Jeong as Leslie Chow is the funniest of the characters.  Cooper is the straight lead and Galifianakis the troublemaker is downright annoying.

    Like BRIDESMAIDS, HANGOVE 2 lacks a climatic ending.  Both opt for a similar ending with an upbeat musical number.  In BRIDESMAIDS, the Wilson Phillips Band sung live at the wedding and in HANGOVER 2, Mike Tyson sings the Murray Head song “One Night in Bangkok”.

    But unlike BRIDESMAIDS which was totally hilarious, spontaneous and entertaining. HANGOBER 2 is muddled, all over the place, also crass but generally unfunny.  The ladies have proven that they can do better than the guys in an all out gross wedding comedy.


    THE INVISIBLE EYE is an extremely tense, allegorical drama set against the backdrop of Argentina’s military regime in the early 1980s.

    The focus is on Maria (Julieta Zylberberg), a lonely and repressed (both sexually and socially) assistant teacher at an elite Buenos Aires private school.  Her troubles at home include an ailing mother who constantly annoys her with her drinking, smoking and lack of table manners.  Her need for control extends to her school where eager to please the head professor, a patriotic disciplinarian who utters ominous warnings about the “cancer of subversion” she agrees to start spying on her students.   She hides in the boys’ washroom to find out who’s been smoking.   As her supervisor who has a crush for her says, “She has to stand among shit and piss to do the job”.

    However, when her surveillance (the invisible eye) starts feeding an unhealthy obsession with one of her students, discipline begins to break down and the rumblings of popular rebellion from the streets start to enter the classroom.

    THE INVISIBLE EYE is Lerman’s third film and he exercises full control of his movie from the start when the pupils March in line with fixed distance apart.  He builds the film to a terrifying climax in which Maria has to defend herself the best way she can, to the audience’s shock.  Maria’s personal life is effectively contrasted with the political unrest that is going on in the background.  The end credits reinforce the facts.

    Based on Martin Kohan’s award-winning novel Moral Sciencesis, an incisive, politically astute portrait of how dictatorship affects even the most intimate aspects of life, THE INVISIBLE EYE clearly hits its mark.

    Directed by Guillaume Canet

    LITTLE WHITE LIES is an ensemble piece, both sad and funny, of a group of friends gathering on their annual summer holiday by the beach at Cap Ferret, on the south west coast of France.

    The title derives from the little white lies each has for each other.  Every one is hiding something from the other, even from a wife or husband.  It is not that they are sleeping around with each other, but the lack of honesty rears its ugly head at the end, as an old friend, the oyster farmer Jean Louis (Joel Dupuch) screams out loud during the last meeting.

    The ensemble cast consists of around 10 or so French actors, the most notable ones outside of France being Francois Cluzet and Oscar winner Marion Cotillard.  Running at 2 over two and a half hours, the time flies as the characters, when not arguing, are having a good time, which rubs off on the audience.  The boat trips, water-skiing and great holiday beach scenery helps as well.

    The serious bits involve one married male, Vincent (Benoit Magimel) declaring his love for Max (Cluzet), who owns the holiday house though he insists it is not a gay thing.  Two other guests Antoine (Laurent Lafitte) and Eric (Gilles Lellouche) have girl problems and the girls are not showing up at the house.  But it is Max that is totally under stress.  All this is made worse with their best friend and sort of father figure (though never shown on screen why), Ludo (Jean  Dujardin) being in critical condition at the hospital due to a moped accident, while everyone is else is having a good time.

    As the melodrama unfolds one incident after another, one wonders how writer/director Canet would end his movie.  He pulls a good climatic surprise with the sudden death of Ludo at the hospital.  In fact Canet is expert at pulling little surprises like Vincent’s confession and Ludo’s accident at the film’s start.  But the overwrought and overlong eulogy diminishes the film’s effect to the point that the audience wonders when it will all end.

    Still, LITTLE WHITE LIES is an entirely watchable ensemble romantic comedy/drama piece.  This is the type of film Hollywood has attempted to do ever so often and have never been successful.


    Best Film Opening This Week: Les Petits Mouchoirs (Little White Lies)

    Best Film Playing: Hanna
    Best Horror: Insidious
    Best Family: Hop
    Best Documentary: Bobby Fischer Against the World
    Best Foreign: Potiche
    Avoid: Last Night

  • This Week's Film Reviews (May 20, 2011)

    PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES in 3D is the big one opening this week.

    Toronto sees the 21st INSIDE OUT film festival opening for 11 days.

    FIRST GRADER (UK 2010) ***

    Directed by Justin Chadwick

    When the government of Kenya announces it will offer free primary education for the first time, an eighty-four-year-old man, Kimani N''gan''ga Maruge (Oliver Litondo), shows up on the doorstep of a rural school, ready for class.  He is the first grader of the film title.                                                                                                                                             After a few rejections, the teacher makes an executive decision to let him study.  It turns out that Maruge’s family were slaughtered by the British.  When he incites the children to cry freedom and hits a bully and it is revealed on radio that an old man is studying in a primary school, the authorities give him the boot.  The teacher takes it upon herself to fight for Maruge to stay in school.                                                                                  Chadwick’s film is not overdramatic and the story unfolds as a tale of oppression and a fight for doing what is right.  Appropriate counter arguments are offered both wys on why and why not Maruge should stay in school.  Most of the violence is minimized and showed in flashbacks in this effective tale of human rights.

    FORKS OVER KNIVES (USA 2009) ***

    Directed by Lee Fulkerson

    The title FORKS OVER KNIVES implies the use of these utensils with a change in the food platter of vegetables over meat at the dinner table.

    There is a lot of research and painful documentation undergone in bringing this film to the screen – full credit to award winning documentarian director Fulkerson.  FORKS OVER KNIVES examines the profound claim that most, if not all, of the so-called “diseases of affluence” that afflict us can be controlled, or even reversed, by rejecting our present menu of animal-based and processed foods. Two major storylines in the film trace the personal journeys of a pair of pioneering yet under-appreciated researchers, Dr. Colin Campbell and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn.

    Dr. Colin is a nutritional scientist from Cornell University and Dr. Caldwell is a former top surgeon at the world renowned Cleveland Clinic.

    Most effective in the film is the laying out of the material in plain everyman layman’s terms.  Milk and animal products are bad and plant protein is just as good, if not better.  Lots of statistical data and evidence is also provided to convince the audience of the facts.

    No one can dispute the benefits of this movie as well as its effectiveness.  But Fulkerson’s film seems at times like an educational TV piece, the sort students are forced to listen to at school.  Still FORKS OVER KNIVES is definitely worth a look!

    LAST NIGHT (USA/France 2010) *
    Directed by Massy Tadjedin

    The theme of writer/director Massy Tadjedin is infidelity.  The story, set in New York City concerns a happily married couple, Michael (Sam Worthington) and Joanna Reed (Kiera Knightley) put to the test when Michael travels abroad on a business trip with his new sexy colleague (Eve Mendes) while Joanna meets up with an old flame (Guillaume Canet).  No one is totally innocent.

    Director Massy Tadjedin teases the audience with which one will (or will not) commit the act of adultery.  Actress Knightley is terribly annoying with her facial expressions and Worthington is as wooden as wood can act.  Who really cares whether the couple stay faithful to each other or not?  Then Tadjedin questions which is worse?  Meaningless sex or no sex or a meaningful kiss?  Really?

    The result is an extremely boring pretentious exercise about good looking wealthy people who most audiences cannot relate to or care about.  Forget about the ‘uppy’ ending.

    THE NATIONAL PARKS PROJECT (Canada 2010) ***

    Various directors

    In the tradition of the Group of Seven, Margaret Atwood’s Survivaland other touchstones of Canadian culture, the National Parks Project (NPP) aims to explore the ways in which the wilderness shapes our cultural imagination.

    From May to October 2010, the NPP sent groups comprised of one filmmaker and three musicians to a park in each province and territory, to capture their experience in a short film and soundtrack. Each quartet was chosen with the aim of putting together people that had never worked together before. Musicians and filmmakers from across the artistic spectrum were selected – arena rockers are represented beside avant-garde experimentalists, and directors range from 30-year veterans to young, up-and-coming filmmakers. Out of these collaborations, true artistic expressions were created, including 13 short films combined into one documentary feature that translates our country’s rugged wilderness into cinematic form.

    Some of the highly acclaimed Canadian media artists involved in the NPP include filmmakers Zacharias Kunuk (Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner), Daniel Cockburn (You Are Here), Peter Lynch (Project Grizzly) and Kevin McMahon (Waterlife). Musicians include Sam Roberts, Sarah Harmer, Kathleen Edwards, Matt Mays, Andrew Whiteman (Broken Social Scene), Shad, Ian D’sa (Billy Talent), John K. Samson (The Weakerthans) and Bry Webb (Constantines). A complete list of participating filmmakers and musicians is available on request.

    The result is a meditative piece (or pieces) with little or no dialogue, just as most of the lands are untouched by human footings.  This is an artistic ensemble film not unlike what one would normally see in the cinemas.

    (Special screening begins this week may 20, 2011 at the Royal Cinema, Toronto)


    Directed by Rob Marshall

    The fourth of the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN series and the first in 3D, the title ON STRANGER TIDES derives from the novel by Tim Powers.  Loosely based on it, Captain Jack Sparrow’s (Johnny Depp) adventures take him to discover Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth.

    Jack’s partner in crime is his love interest Angelica (Penelope Cruz) who forces him to board her father, Blackbeard’s (Ian McShane) ship.  The journey involves mermaids and zombies and lots of swashbuckling fights.

    The best part of this film is its first 15 minutes in which Jack Sparrow escapes execution.  But the best thing about the film is Richard Griffith’s cameo as a wheezing over-weight King of England, King George II who propositions Sparrow to search for the fountain of youth.

    Despite all the effort and execution, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES comes across as a tired and laboured piece.  From the first scene when Penelope Cruz appears, the film goes right downhill.  Besides the familiarity of the series, this one lacks a true villain and a proper climax.  The romantic interest between Crux and Depp being the main concern juts does not cut it, as neither did Depp’s last THE TOURIST.

    The film can pretty much be summarized in the sword duel scene between Depp and Cruz (who is dressed as Depp in that scene).  The choreography is interesting enough, but there is no tension and no one cares (and it does not matter) who wins that fight or not.

    Johnny Depp claims that it there is going to be a No.7 in the pirates series, he will be in it.  Depp seems to be having a lot of fun in this one.  I am glad at least someone is.  The biggest battle in ON STRANGER TIDES is me trying not to doze off during the film.


    Best Film Opening This Week: First Grader
    Best Film Playing: Hanna
    Best Horror: Insidious
    Best Family: Hop
    Best Documentary: Bill Cunnigham: New York
    Best Foreign: Potiche

    Avoid: Last Night

  • Inside Out 2011 - Film Reviews

    Weekend Box Office

    21st Annual
    Inside Out Toronto LGBT Film and Video Festival
    Presenting Sponsor – RBC Royal Bank

    May 19 - 29, 2011
    Check the above link for the full program schedule and film descriptions.

    Tickets can be purchased:
    online http://www.insideout.ca
    on the phone 416-599-8433 or 1-888-599-8433
    in-person (10am – 10 pm) TIFF Bell Lightbox (TBLB) 350 King Street West.
    Senior, Student and Youth Discounts Available.

    Cinemaeye is proud to present capsule reviews for some of the films screened at Inside Out.

    Capsule Reviews:

    L’AMOUR FOU (France 2011) ***
    Directed by Pierre Thoretton
    The documentary on French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent begins at the end of his career and funeral where he is admired by the whole of France for his contribution to haute couture and then backtracks to his life and work.  Narrated mainly by Saint Laurent’s long time lover and partner, Pierre Bergé, the relationship of some 50 years is recorded.  These are put together primarily from photo stills.  One wishes there would be more film footage of Laurent.  But the film is well put together by Thoretton, chronologically when Saint Laurent was fired by House of Dior in 1960.  The climax and highlight of Saint Laurent’s career is the huge fashion show displayed at the end of the movie featuring 300 world wide models.  The cheesy parts include a performance of the song YMCA by the Village People.  L’AMOUR FOU is a worthy tribute to Yves Saint Laurent, his genius and his collection of objets d’arts.  The bad stuff is kept to a minimum, but one wishes more would be known of the man’s character than just the drugs and alcohol he indulged in.

    ANOTHER MOVIE ABOUT LOVE (Chile 2010) **
    Directed by Edwin Oyarce
    If there is a film that teases, this is the one.  Director Edwin Oyarce is a film about the reconnection of two childhood friends Diego and Sebastian.  They swim, strip, get drunk but nothing really transpires.  The boys are very good looking.  Will love develop?  Will there be a hot sex scene?  The only way to find out is to sit through the entire 110 minutes of sexual tension – Oyarce style.  Not that there is anything wrong with the film – the film is beautifully shot, well acted and laid out, but the film is downright boring since nothing happens. The only break comes from the character of Deigo’s half crazed mother, who provides a bit of the much needed humour. A subplot involves a neighbour in a coma, as situation again in which everyone is waiting for something to happen.

    BUFFERING (UK 2010) **
    Directed by Christian Martin and Darren Flaxstone
    A British gay sex comedy in which a very much in love couple Seb and Aaron decide to webcam their love making acts and upload it on the internet when they have monetary problems.  Seb is the one more uncomfortable with the arrangements but goes along with it as long as all this stops when the bills are paid.  One thing leads to another and to make more money, they introduce toys and a third into the love act.  Seb disappears, unable to take the pressure.  This predictable plot is well intentioned and not too dirty.  But the directors are desperate for laughs as observed in a few jokes that come up of nowhere (the window tire pumping segment; the bouncing dildo) and have nothing to do with the plot.  But these are not really funny enough and neither is the film.  Come to think of it, the premise is not something really out of the blue either.  The audience have seen something similar to BUFFERING in straight films like CALENDAR GILRS, THE FULL MONTY) where the broke

    attempt something naughty to pay the bills.

    Directed by David Sigal
    FLORENT: QUEEN OF THE MEAT MARKET is a breezy, easy-going feel-good comedy that is as bright and cheerful as its lead character named FLORENT, a French restaurateur that made it really big with his 24/7 diner in the meat packing district of New York City.  The film charts, chronologically, the opening of the resturarant/diner, its growth through the 80’s particularly through its sad closing owing to increased rent that Florent is unable to pay.  Odd as it is his diner that increased the real estate value of the property to 4 million dollars.  Florent reasons out the consequences if he had himself bought the property.  The doc reveals shots of the various clients (Julianne Moore, various drag queens, ballerinas, tranny hookers and businessmen) as well as stories told by the staff (waiters and hosts) of very funny incidents (including a jello covered naked customer, a kid running in after getting a blow job) that occur during the diner’s days.  But Sigal leaves most of what has to be said by FLORENT the owner.  Florent, diagnosed HIV positive in 87, has lived up to this day as cheerful and encouraging as Sigal’s movie.

    GUN HILL ROAD (USA 2011) ***
    Directed by Rashaad Ernesto Green
    The film begins with Enrique confined to 90 days solitary confinement in prison after exacting a revenge on a fellow inmate.  Pretty tough s**.  The next scene has his release where at his homecoming party, reunites with his family.  But the wife Angela (Ruby Reyes) has another lover and his son, Michael (Harmony Santana) is exploring his gender identity, identifying himself as a transsexual.  So, what is a macho man like Enrique to do?  His parole officer is keeping an eye on him while Enrique tries to make sense of whatever life has become for him.  As his wife Angela says at one point in the lovie: “I am fed up of life!” - words that wring so true to each character in the film.  Ernesto Green’s film packs a power punch in the first half aided by a breakout performance by the young Harmony Santana.  But the film is less successful in its second half with both Enrique failing just as the film fails to provide a satisfactory ending.

    HOUSE OF BOYS (Lux/Germ 2009) ***
    Directed by Jean-Claude Schlim
    What begins as a gay runaway plot turn into a love story and ends in an over-ambitious statement on the AIDS epidemic.  Writer/director Jean-Claude Schlim’s HOUSE OF BOYS is all over the place, but credit must be given to him for trying and succeeding at least in drawing out the tears in the audience.  Set in 1984 initially, pre-AUDS, starry-eyed, young and gorgeous Luxembourger Frank (Layke Anderson) decides to leave home for Amsterdam and joins a strip club called HOUSE OF BOYS.  He meets and falls for the tip dancer, Jake (Ben Northeover).  A love affair blossoms.  Jake comes down with AIDS and Sclim’s film takes a melodramatic turn.  Though Schlim’s film has its flaws, HOUSE OF BOYS contain enough guilty pleasures such as the erotic sex scene between the house’s two best looking boys, the most (deliberately) awful drag show and of course, the highly sex-charged strip shows.  The gay audience should not complain!  British veteran Stephen Fry has a cameo as the compassionate Dr. Marsh.

    HOUSE OF BOYS (Lux/Germ 2009) ***
    Directed by Jean-Claude Schlim
    What begins as a gay runaway plot turn into a love story and ends in an over-ambitious statement on the AIDS epidemic.  Writer/director Jean-Claude Schlim’s HOUSE OF BOYS is all over the place, but credit must be given to him for trying and succeeding at least in drawing out the tears in the audience.  Set in 1984 initially, pre-AUDS, starry-eyed, young and gorgeous Luxembourger Frank (Layke Anderson) decides to leave home for Amsterdam and joins a strip club called HOUSE OF BOYS.  He meets and falls for the tip dancer, Jake (Ben Northeover).  A love affair blossoms.  Jake comes down with AIDS and Sclim’s film takes a melodramatic turn.  Though Schlim’s film has its flaws, HOUSE OF BOYS contain enough guilty pleasures such as the erotic sex scene between the house’s two best looking boys, the most (deliberately) awful drag show and of course, the highly sex-charged strip shows.  The gay audience should not complain!  British veteran Stephen Fry has a cameo as the compassionate Dr. Marsh.

    LOOSE CANNONS (MINE VAGANTI) (Italy 2010) ***
    Directed by Ferzan Ozpetek
    Turkish born but Italian bred Ferzan Ozpertek’s Inside Out opening film LOOSE CANNON, a hit on the U.K. last year is a breezy Italian comedy centering on a wealthy pasta family.  The Patriarch is Vincenzo (the excellent Ennio Fantstichini) who wants to hand down control of the pasta factory to his two sons.  The younger, Tommaso (Riccardo Scamarcio), who is supposedly to be studying business in Rome, has returned home.  Home is the picturesque city of Lecce, a seaside town with lush trees, blue sky and the golden hue of sun-bleached stone.  But he confesses to his elder brother Antonio (Alessandro Preziosi), who is already working at the factory, two things.  Firstly, he has been studying writing not business and secondly that he is gay.  But at the big family dinner, Antonio beats Tommaso to it, confessing that he himself is gay.  As a result Vincenzo kicks Antonio out and suffers a heart attack.  Tommaso is bound by family bond to keep quiet about his secret and aid the family pasta business.  LOOSE CANNONS is very entertaining and funny.  It includes a Priscilla style dance sequence by Tomasso’s four friends in their swimming briefs.  Ozpetek’ blends in comedy with Italian mores.

    THE REAL ANNE LISTER (UK 2010) ****
    Directed by Matthew Hill
    This engrossing documentary reveals the life of Anne Lister, landowner and lesbian who lived in Victorian England.  Her mysteries are found in her written 4 million secretly coded word diary.  It took historians great pains and time to decode the dairy.  Comedian Sue Perkin, fascinated with Anne’s story brings Anne Lister’s story to light.  Perkin travels across England from Yorkshire where Lister was born to York and other areas where she grew up.  Lister is presented with sympathy and authenticity.  She is shown as a lady who gets her ways, but also as one who had to fight to get it.  Perkin is full of energy and so is the film she presents.  The film is a compelling watch from start to finish, and has a atmospheric feel from the setting, music and costumes.  Lister is given in fair due by director Mathew Hill and Perkin.

    WEEKEND (UK 2011) ***
    Directed by Andrew Haigh
    As the title implies, WEEKEND is a British Friday-to-Sunday that unfolds in all its poignancy and emotion.  It all begins in all its insecure, messy, drunken glory and ends at something that could have been a possible long term relationship.  Russell (Tom Cullen) at last orders, drunk and horny, picks up Glen (Chris New) and brings him home.  Turns out Glen is an emerging artist but departing the city soon for his art.  Everything develops in the weekend in this reality tale.  Haigh’s film is totally believable, but whether one would love this film depends on a lot of factors, primarily if one could relate (or not) to the characters.  The film is sort of minimal and the dialogue mostly inconsequential gibberish, like what one would hear at a pub.  Watching the film is like listening to a friend talk about his weekend affair.  Walk away if it appears boring and unconnected or listen attentively if it seems affective!  Leads Cullen and New are endearing and their sex scene erotically charged!

  • This Week's Film Reviews (May 13, 2011)

    Opening this week are PRIEST 3D (no review as there was no press screening) and BRIDESMAIDS.

    Francois Ozon''s POTICHE which also opens is pure delight!

    BEAT THE WORLD (Canada 2010) **

    Directed by Robert Adetuyi

    The third instalment of the YOU GOT SERVED movies, BEAT THE WORLD really stands on its own as another dance competition movie.  Perhaps that is the reason the original title YOU GOT SERVED: BEAT THE WORLD was shortened.  Typical with such films, the choreography is out of this world but everything else sucks.

    Robert Adetuyi’s (who also wrote the script) film centres on three teams that battle at the international Beat the World competition in Detroit. In the final showdown to become world champions lifelong hopes, dreams and even lives, are at stake.  The first team is based in Detroit and led by Yuson (Tyrone Brown).  He is having issues with his girlfriend Maya (Mishael Morgan) who wants more dedication to her needs.  He hires a Brit named Justin (Chase Armstrong) to train his teammates.  Easy is faced with reluctance but this white man knows how to handle himself.  Another team is based in Brazil in which the leader, Carlos (Shane LoClair) needs the winning money to cover debts.  The third team is the ‘bad’ one headed by a rather womanizing villain and based in Berlin and the winner of competition the year before.

    The melodrama associated with each team is more ridiculous than clichéd.  The most annoying is the romance between Maya and Yuson, dragged right from the start to the every end of the film. If that is not enough, Adetuyi adds in another involving a teammate and a girl from the Brazilian group. Adetuyi dishes problems with each team as if there is no tomorrow.  There is only one winner to the $100,000 cash prize and the losing teams are left hanging with their monetary problems.  Also, with Yuson facing monetary problems, how can he afford to hire a Brit to train his team?

    The choreography is fast, exciting and loud.  The dance off at the climax should not disappoint dance fans.  So, who really needs to know about the silly made-up baggage associated with each team that pulls this movie way down in entertaining value?  BEAT THE WORLD is the film so far this year to have the best bodies (both male and female) on display on screen.

    BRIDESMAIDS (USA 2011) ****
    Directed by Paul Feig

    I usually do not look forward to romantic comedies or chick flicks but Paul Feig’s BRIDESMAIDS is pure unadulterated delight and the funniest film to hit the screens this year.

    BRIDESMAIDS is goofy and deliberately gross (lots of barf and shit jokes – ladies style) and the type of film in which the ladies go all out dirty crazy but which both sexes (especially the fairer) can enjoy.  Think THE HANGOVER made for the ladies.  It also features a lead character that has totally lost it, in terms of everything, that makes it after all with a good message thrown in for good measure.

    Annie (Kristen Wiig), insecure with an irritating lover full of himself (Jon Hamm) and a failed bakery business, is given the role of maid of honour for her best friend Lillian’s (Maya Rudolph) wedding.  But her organizational skills are tested when Lillian’s other best friend and maid of honour wannabe, Helen (Rose Byrne) enters the picture.  All hell breaks lose when Annie gets fired from the prestigious position and Helen takes her place.  She goes mental before getting literally, beaten back to her senses.

    Wiig is marvellously funny as Annie and the supporting cast are uniformly excellent.  Best, however is Jill Clayburgh (her last role, having passed away from cancer last November) as Annie’s slightly crazed mother with even crazier advice.

    The best joke is also cinematically beautiful.  The scene has the bride in her white wedding dress taking a dump in the middle of the street after a severe case of food poisoning.  The other best scene has Annie losing it having a giant cookie crumble all over herself after she has already made a total fool of herself.  Because of the loose narrative, Feig and Stiig (who partially wrote the script) keep the hilarity going – fast and furious.  The jokes do tie in loosely with the main plot and Feig knows how to keep a running gag going, like the one where Annie tries to get the attention of the Officer Rhodes (Chris O’Dowd).

    Most of the jokes work because of both timing and acute observations of marriage and other (American) institutions.  Take the scene in which Helen introduces her kids as “these are my husband’s children,” followed by her asking them if they want a ride back.  “F**k off, Helen,” retorts the eldest.  The segment in which the bridesmaids group get kicked out of the airline en route to Vegas is also laugh-out loud funny.  The uptight flight attendant, the flight rules (including an undercover air marshal passenger) are all present.  Despite the standard storyline of good friends falling apart and reuniting at the end, BRIDESMAIDS still delivers in the gags department.

    But Feig’s film also has a sweet component as witnessed in Annie’s romance with a well-meaning cop.

    As in all wedding films, the climax is the wedding itself.  Though there is no funniest comedic setup, the performances by the Wilson Phillips Band tie the climax neatly together.  As in the words of Officer Rhodes at one point in the movie when he is having a ‘fun’ time with Annie’ “I am so glad this is happening.” His words definitely echo in the minds of the audience.

    POTICHE (France 2010) *****
    Directed by Francois Ozon

    Trust gay director Francois Ozon to make a French farce that is so delightful and charming that it ends with Catherine Deneuve performing a musical number.

    The family in question is the dysfunctional Pujol family.  Set in 1977 where the woman’s place is in the home, Father runs the umbrella factory with an iron fist so that a strike is under way.  When he suffers a heart attack, the trophy housewife, nicknamed the Queen of Kitchen Appliances (Deneuve) takes over and is so successful at it, calming the working and making record profits at the same time.  She employs artistic son, Laurent (Jeremie Reiner) and daughter as well.  But when hubby (Fabrice Luchini) returns to take back control, Mrs Pujol decides to hold her ground.

    Ozon’s feel-good film has a gay ring to it all around from the totally winning 70’s atmosphere and look (the wardrobe, talk, cars, everything) to the musical numbers and fabulousness – mais oui, fabulousness. Gerard Depardieu does a welcome turn as Mr’s Pujol’s old fling, the mayor but it is Deneuve who steals the show from start to finish. Whether wearing her furs, work outfit or blur or red track suits, she has never looked so radiant!


    Best Film Opening This Week: Potiche and Bridesmaids

    Best Film Playing: Hanna

    Best Horror: Insidious

    Best Family: Hop

    Best Documentary: Bill Cunnigham: New York

    Best Foreign: Potiche

    Avoid: (nothing too awful playing right now)

  • This Week's Film Reviews (May 6, 2011)

    Opening this week are THOR, JUMPING THE BROOM and the romantic comedy SOMETHING BORROWED.

    The new Spanish film EVEN THE RAINis worth a look.

    THE BANG BANG CLUB (USA 2009) ***
    Directed by Steven Silver

    THE BANG BANG club is another film about death risk taking photographers in dangerous countries.  Films in this genre are not new, with the most famous THE YEARS OF LIVING DANGEROUSLY coming immediately to mind.  Others like HOTEL RWANDA have protagonists in other occupations (a hotel manager) taking risks to find the truth or save those in peril.

    Thus when THE BANG BANG CLUB opens, various scenes are familiar especially those with the photographers dodging bullets to get a good shot.  But THE BANG BANG CLUB is a true story of 4 active photographers in the townships of South Africa during the Apartheid period. The main four are Kevin Carter, Greg Marinovich, Ken Osterbroek and Joao Silva who form what they were eventually came to known as – THE BANG BANG CLUB.

    Director Silver’s film is exciting enough with a little romance thrown in as well, and it helps that the audience knows that what happens on screen is true.  More sympathetic too, is the act that Kevin Carter (Taylor Kitsch) actually committed suicide (overlooked in the film) after the South African elections when Silver chooses to end his film.  Ken (Frank Rautenbach) is shot dead while in action at the end of the movie.

    It is strange then that the lead character appears to be Greg (Ryan Philippe) though the film shifts focus at many times to the other 3 characters.  Silver (Neels Van Jaarsveld), the most volatile of the group, has the least screen presence, though he would more likely make a more interesting character.  This seems to be the film’s problem with the film indecisive on who is the most important of the four.  The result is a film that lacks the punch that should be delivered from a story with a stronger, focused narrative.

    Phillippe appears to have donned a South African accent (how good he is, I am no expert), but the script fails to mention where his character comes from.  Silver’s film picks up during the second half when the four work together as a team.

    Both Carter and Marinovich won Pulitzer prizes for their work.  One segment explains the logic behind Maronovich’s win but Carter’s win is sort of frowned upon, which is interesting to note.

    The film ends predictably (this tactic used far too often) with shots of the real life characters posing besides the actors during the end credits.  The ending also serves to enforce the point that director Silver has had good material in his hands that would have fared better in a more inventive film.


    EVEN THE RAIN (TAMBIEN LA LLUVIA) (Spain 2010) ****

    Directed Iciar Bollain

    This Spanish Best Foreign Film Academy Award nominee is an ambitious complex film that ties together a timely related theme as a film crew shoots the conquest of Latin America in the South American Bolivia.  Bollan’s (a Spanish actress by profession) film works majestically as she understands the troubles of the poverty stricken Bolivians as well as the hypocritical white man filmmaking process.

    A Spanish film crew helmed by idealistic director Sebastian (Gael García Bernal) and his cynical producer Costa (Luis Tosar) come to Bolivia to make a revisionist epic about the conquest of Latin America - on the cheap. Carlos Aduviri is dynamic as “Daniel,” a local Bolivian cast as a 16th century native in the film within a film. When the make-up and loin cloth come off, Daniel sails into action protesting his community’s deprivation of water at the hands of multi-national corporations.

    But the fight is a fight for life.  The Bolivians hardly make enough to pay for the water and the families will perish in poverty as a result.  When riots break out in Cochabamba, protesting excessive fees for water, production is interrupted and the convictions of the crew members are challenged. Sebastian and Costa are forced to make an unexpected emotional journey in opposite directions.  Bollain’s film captures effectively both as aspects of the fight and the filming.

    At the same time, the film demonstrates the Spanish imperialism (the stories of the stories of 16th century priests, Fathers Bartolome de las Casas and Antonio Montesinos, the first radical voices of conscience against an Empire) that resonates as problematic as it was in the Columbus days as it does at present.  At one point in the film, Costa is confronted with the importent decision of whether to do the film or help Daniel.

    EVEN THE RAIN could have also worked as a documentary on water rights but Bellain has incorporated fiction into a marvellous tale that also tells the ugly truth of what multi-corporations continue to do to harm the planet.

    Directed by Luke Greenfield

    Based on the book of the same name by Emily Giffin, SOMETHING BORROWED is a romantic comedy so predictable that anyone who has watched the trailer can guess correctly the outcome of the story.

    Rachel White (Ginnifer Goodwin) is an unhappy, single, talented attorney working in a New York law firm. Rachel drinks too much on her 30th birthday and wakes up to find herself in bed with Dex (Colin Egglesfield), the man whom she has had a crush on since law school. The problem is that he is also her best friend Darcy''s (Kate Hudson) fiance. Relationships are tested while a long-time trusted friend, Ethan (John Krasinski), stands by Rachel with a secret of his own.

    SOMETHING BORROWED feels really lame in the first quarter with silly jokes, unbelievable situations and clichéd dialogue.  But once director Greenfield’s film gets going, the real-to-life characters oddly spring to life, but still not enough tos ave the movie.  Despite the predictable storyline, the script occasionally contains clever lines, especially those penned for Ethan.  The parts where Ethan tires to convince Rachel to wake up and make Dex act as a man to declare his love for her (the result is actually the opposite with her declaring her love for him) is especially endearing.  The song and dance number choreographed and performed by Hudson and Goodwin (there is always one in movies of this sort) to demonstrate their friendship (to the tune of Pump It Up) is at least watchable.

    THOR (USA 2011) ***1/2

    Directed by Kenneth Branagh

    THOR derives from the Marvel comic The Mighty Thor that spans The epic adventure "Thor" spans the Marvel Universe from present day Earth to the mystical realm of Asgard. At the center of the story is The Mighty Thor, a powerful but arrogant warrior whose reckless actions reignite an ancient war. As a result,... present day Earth to the mystical realm of another world, Asgard.

    The story is relatively simple.  The Mighty Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is a powerful but arrogant warrior whose reckless actions reignite an ancient war in Asgard. As a result, Thor is banished to Earth by his father (Anthony Hopkins), where he is forced to live among humans. So Thor has to redeem himself save Earth as well as Asgard. The chief villain is his calculating sibling called Loki (Tom Hiddleston).

    Surprisingly, THOR works as a mighty adventure, very loud in sound with lots of special effects, grand fights and even louder explosions.  Director Branagh, best known for his Shakespearean acting roles (Henry V and Hamlet) directs THOR as if it were a Shakespearean epic.  In fact THOR is, as it involves the usurping of a Kingdom by a nasty sibling and the restoration of good vs. evil, very much like Shakespeare’s THE TEMPEST.

    The action is well balanced by genuine humour, mainly provided in the segments where THOR is stripped of his superhuman powers and forced to live, in all places, New Mexico. There is an old fashioned mud fight as well.  Fortunately, there are funny encounters with three earthlings, one of whom he falls deeply in love with, Jane (Natalie Portman).

    The 3D effects are nothing that special, and one wonders about the subjects of Asgard who are never seen, except in one sequence during the feast.  Costumes are impressive, especially the villain’s. The scene with the flying THOR with the hammer held high, the trademark of the comic, should appear more often.  For a violent comic book (the comic book is banned in Singapore where this critic comes from), Branagh’s film is quite tame.  There are no heads bashed in from Thor’s hammer.

    Don’t expect any life lessons to be learnt or major discoveries from THOR.  If one is to take what is seen tongue in cheek, like as the king’s message: “A wise king never seeks war but must always be ready,”  THOR is more than passable entertainment.



    Best Film Opening This Week: Even the Rain

    Best Film Playing: Hanna
    Best Horror: Insidious
    Best Family: Hop
    Best Documentary: The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls
    Best Foreign: Winter in Wartime
    Avoid: The Warring States

  • This Week's Film Reviews (Apr 29, 2011)

    Finally opening is HOODWINKED TOO! HOOD VS. EVIL, after major studio disputes.

    Also opening is WATER FOR ELEPHANTS.

    The Hot Docs film festival begins in Toronto.

    THE CONSPIRATOR (USA 2010) ***1/2

    Directed by Robert Redford

    THE CONSPIRATOR is good courtroom drama but nothing really that audiences have not seen before.  An underdog lawyer Frederick Aiken (James McAvoy) defends an innocent that everyone else once hung.  The innocent in this case is the mother of a collaborator of Abraham Lincoln’s assassin.

    In the defence, he loses his girlfriend but fights for honour, his conscience and the constitution.   Though this is no TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD and James McAvoy is no Gregory Peck, Redford’s story is relevant to today’s headlines as it is still a story of a nation thirsty for revenge.  In THE CONSPIRATOR, President Abraham Lincoln has just been assassinated by John Booth, and the public wants Mary Surratt (Robin Wright Penn), mother of John Surratt, suspected of collaborating with Booth found guilty and hung.  The generals in the military court do more than oblige preventing the innocent mother the right of a fair trial.

    Director Redford pushes the right buttons, invoking the audience’ anger with just enough sentiment and guilt to make THE CONSPIRATOR a satisfying entertaining drama.  Tom Wilkinson steals the show as Aiken’s mentor in a film in which performances are excellent all round.

    EVEN THE RAIN (TAMBIEN LA LLUVIA) (Spain 2010) ****

    Directed Iciar Bollain

    This Spanish Best Foreign Film Academy Award nominee is an ambitious complex film that ties together a timely related theme as a film crew shoots the conquest of Latin America in the South American Bolivia.  Bollan’s (a Spanish actress by profession) film works majestically as she understands the troubles of the poverty stricken Bolivians as well as the hypocritical white man filmmaking process.

    A Spanish film crew helmed by idealistic director Sebastian (Gael García Bernal) and his cynical producer Costa (Luis Tosar) come to Bolivia to make a revisionist epic about the conquest of Latin America - on the cheap. Carlos Aduviri is dynamic as “Daniel,” a local Bolivian cast as a 16th century native in the film within a film. When the make-up and loin cloth come off, Daniel sails into action protesting his community’s deprivation of water at the hands of multi-national corporations.

    But the fight is a fight for life.  The Bolivians hardly make enough to pay for the water and the families will perish in poverty as a result.  When riots break out in Cochabamba, protesting excessive fees for water, production is interrupted and the convictions of the crew members are challenged. Sebastian and Costa are forced to make an unexpected emotional journey in opposite directions.  Bollain’s film captures effectively both as aspects of the fight and the filming.

    At the same time, the film demonstrates the Spanish imperialism (the stories of the stories of 16th century priests, Fathers Bartolome de las Casas and Antonio Montesinos, the first radical voices of conscience against an Empire) that resonates as problematic as it was in the Columbus days as it does at present.  At one point in the film, Costa is confronted with the importent decision of whether to do the film or help Daniel.

    EVEN THE RAIN could have also worked as a documentary on water rights but Bellain has incorporated fiction into a marvellous tale that also tells the ugly truth of what multi-corporations continue to do to harm the planet.


    Directed by Mike Disa

    Written by the same writers Tony Leech Cory and Todd Edwards and directed by the same director Mike Disa as the original HOODWINKED, the sequel should not displease fans of the original.                                                                                                          The plot is simple enough.  Red (Haydsen Panettiere from SCRE4M, taking over Anne Hathaway) is in training for the Sister Hoods.  Now, teaming with Wolf (Patrick Warburton), Red must investigate the mysterious disappearance of Hansel and Gretel (Bill Hader and Amy Poehler).

    Red and the wolf’s adventures are as manic as they come.  These involve stuff like killer grannies, huge explosions, giant German babies and of course lots of farts and brown stuff.  Disa’s film is undoubtedly very, very funny and given its manic pace, one will not notice the missed jokes.  If the audience can forgive the film’s silly plot and lack of story and message, HOODWINKED TOO! delivers what the original gave, with lots more crazy humour – of course a lot making no sense at all.

    The voice characterizations are very good, all around though a few like Wolf’s and the squirrel (or is it chipmunk?) are hard to decipher.

    HOODWINKED TOO!  took an extra year for its release due to company disputes.  The wait is worthwhile for the original’s fans and surely, many new converts.

    Directed by Francis Lawrence

    Based on Sara Gruen’s novel of the same name, WATER FOR ELEPHANTS is the romantic adventure told by a 90-year old Jacob Jankowski (Hal Holbrook) of his early days at the circus of the Benzini Brothers.

    As an adventure, WATER FOR ELEPHANTS tells quite the incredible story.  As a young man, Jacob Jankowski (Robert Pattinson sans TWILIGHT makeup) was tossed by circus.  It was the early part of the Great Depression, and for Jacob both his salvation and a living hell. A veterinary student just shy of a degree, he was put in charge of caring for the circus menagerie.

    Salvation in that it provided him a job, at first clearing dung and later on as a vet for the animals, particularly the main act of Rosie a bull elephant.  Romance budded in the form of Rosie’s rider, Marlena (Rosenbluth).  The living hell occurs mainly in the form of circus owner August Rosenbluth (Christophe Waltz reprising another psychotic ultra violent character after INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS), who also happens to be Marlena’s jealous husband.

    As a romantic drama, director Lawrence provides all the drama and suspense in the form of psychotic August.  The romance between Pattinson and Witherspoon looks ok, so long as they are not making love or kissing when the segments look uncomfortably false.  Something also seems amiss in this circus adventure.  Too much is concentrated on the romantic pair.  A subplot or two involving the other circus performers would help.

    But the elephant training and climatic stampede scene is spectacular though it can nowhere be compared to the train wreck scene of Cecil B. DeMille’s THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH.

    Though WATER FOR ELEPHANTS is no GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH (an extremely hard act to follow), Lawrence’s (IAM AM LEGEND, CONSTANTINE) film has its moments and it is good to see a romantic drama in a different environment and time setting for a change.  Full credit for Lawrence for his hard work and his best film so far!

    Best Film Opening This Week: Even the Rain

      Best Film Playing: Hanna
    Best Horror: Insidious
    Best Family: Hop
    Best Documentary: The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls
    Best Foreign: Winter in Wartime
    Avoid: The Warring States

  • Hot Docs 2011 (Capsule Film Reviews)


    Weekend Box Office

    HOT DOCS 2011

    Hot Docs in Toronto is arguable the largest documentary festival in North America.  It is impossible to see all the films screened, so the capsule reviews on selected films below will aid you in your choice picks.

    The festival runs from April 28th to May 8th 2011.

    For the complete listing and program of the films, check the hot docs website at:

    The spotlight this year is Italy in the made in Italy series.
    The other subjects include:
    • Women & Women’s Issues
    • Art & Artists
    • Big Business & Capitalism
    • Central and South Asian Cultures & Issues
    • Drugs & Addiction
    • Fame & Celebrity
    • Health & Mental Health
    • Jewish Interest
    • Middle Eastern Cultures & Issues
    • Russian Culture & Issues
    • Terrorism & The War on Terror
    • Urban Cultures & Issues
    • War & Conflict
    • Writers

    Capsule reviews on Selected Films:

    BECOMING CHAZ (USA 2010) ***
    Directed by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato
    A no holes barred show everything (breast before and after surgery removal) documentary, BECOMING CHAZ, as its title implies, documents the full transition from Chastity to Chaz – female to male.  This involves the clinical aspects such as testosterone shots and top surgery which are humanized by intimate, confessional reflections on identity and gender.  Directors Bailey and Barbuto let Chaz has her/his say before anyone else.  The anyone else includes Chaz’s lover and most importantly, her celebrity mother Cher.  Though the honesty, charm and warmth emanate from the screen, one can probably see the reason as Chaz is the executive producer of this documentary.  But the main message comes across with Chaz championing an all support group for future children acing the dilemma of being born in the wrong gendered body.

    BURY THE HATCHET (USA 2010) **
    Directed by Aaron Walker
    BURY THE HATCHET is a documentary celebrating the hidden culture of the New Orleans Mardi Gras.  The descendents of the runaway slaves given shelter by the native Americans of the Louisiana bayous now dress up in elaborate costumes, all meticulously handmade to battle which chief has the best.  Director Walker spreads his story among over three Big Chiefs Alfred Doucette, Victor Harris and Monk Boudreaux over the course of five years, both pre and post Hurricane Katrina.  The film also tackles, besides, an exploration of their art and philosophies, other key issues such as the struggles within their communities: harassment by the police, violence amongst themselves, gentrification of their neighborhoods, disinterested youth, old age and natural disaster.  If all these sounds like too much too handle, it unfortunately is, with the result of Walker just skimming the surface instead of delving deeper into each issue.  One also wonders why the native Americans are noticeable absent from this film.  Do the three chiefs derive from original native tribes or did they form they own?  These questions are never addressed leaving this otherwise colourful film meaningless.

    ECO-PIRATE: THE STORY OF PAUL WTSON (Canada 2010) ***1/2
    Directed by Trish Dolman
    If you have seen documentaries on overfishing, the name of Paul Watson would be familiar.  Captain Paul Watson has been on a crusade to save the oceans for 40 years and he isn’t about to stop now. Through the life and convictions of this notorious often over zealous activist, Trish Dolman crafts an epic tale of the birth of the modern environmental movement, and the founding of Greenpeace and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.  The audience is taken on a high-octane adventure aboard Warson’s ship, together with the crew, and follows them as they hunt down a Japanese whaling fleet in the vast expanse and stunning beauty of Antarctica’s Southern Ocean, and seamlessly segues in and out of a wealth of archival footage from decades of confrontational activism around the world. Dolman intercuts in-depth interviews with Watson, his wife, Bob Hunter, Patrick Moore and Farley Mowat, among others, capture the heroics, the ego, the disputed tactics and the urgency of Watson’s mission. Dolman also brings out the bad side of Watson in the failure of his marriages, especially his first one.

    FIGHTVILLE (USA 2011) ****
    Directed by Michael Tucker and Petra Epperlein
    Brutal. Bloody. Beautiful. FIGHTVILLE throws you into the cage with some of the Ultimate Fighting Championship competitors to reveal the raw power and focused determination it takes to emerge a champion.  Directors Tucker and Epperlein focuses on the training and fights of two talented boxers, one who makes it, Dustin and the other, Albert distracted by his troubled life.  Both have troubled backgrounds and fighting appears the best option to release their anger.  But winning involves dedication, training, discipline and bloody beatings.  Their trainer takes no nonsense and the film reveals the trials each of the men involved in caged fighting have to go through.  The directors succeed remarkably in drawing the audience to their subject.  The film works like a ROCKY type film, complete with a climax where Dustin takes to the ring in a championship match.  Exciting and insightful, FIGHTVILLE is the real FIGHT CLUB!

    THE FUTURE IS NOW! (Canada 2011) ***1/2
    Directed by Gary Burns and Jim Brown
    It is weird that THE FUTURE IS NOW! is screened as a documentary as it clearly is a non-fiction film containing no documentary elements like interviews or the recording of real events.  The film references the 1949 French film, La Vie Commence Demain.  But Gary Burns and Jim Brown’s innovative film feels like one the way the camera follows the protagonist from start to end of the film.  It all begins when he is caught on an interview by an optimistic journalist (Liane Balaban) giving a pessimistic view of the world and that mankind is hopeless.  She convinces him to go on a journey to enlighten his views beginning with a poetry reading.  When asks for his name, refuses to give it asking her to call him ‘the man of today’, to which she counteracts by having him call hr the woman of tomorrow.  The journey takes Paul (his real name) to Europe and the U.S. where he sees humanity in a different light.  THE FUTURE IS NOW! works well as it has fascinating characters, enlightening debates and more than interesting social issues.  Humour (Gary Burns films like waydowntown and KITCHEN PARTY are very funny) is well blended with the drama making this film an engrossing watch from start to finish.

    Directed by Brent Green
    A Louisville man builds his home into a kind of healing machine to try to save his wife diagnose with cancer; years later, a filmmaker reconstructs the house and its deeply romantic story with striking creativity and passion.  But the wife did die and the title of the film is so called because the man died falling off the roof.  Once the wife died, the man hoped the house would bring the wife back or at least have her give some visible sign to him.  The trouble with Green’s film is his subject.  No audience would like to root for losers or loners and Green does not make any attempt to connect the audience to him.  Green also shoots his film in short stops with images flickering giving his film an experimental feel.  The images are often blurry and parts of the house can hardly be distinguished.  Green does not give a reason for why a particular room or construction was built a certain way except his own musings, which are unconvincing.  After 10 minutes or so into the film, Green loses his audience.  The film is not really a documentary either with actors re-enacting all the scenes of the film.  I would have walked out of this one except that I fell asleep.

    GRINDERS (Canada 2011) ***
    Directed by Matt Gallagher
    As described in the documentary on GRINDERS, grinders are poker players that rely totally on the winnings of poker gambling for a living.  They have no other job and make maybe about $500 a day average to survive.  Director Gallagher, an out of job moviemaker is a grinder.  His film documents the lives of several grinders such as Andre (loud, overconfident and a little obnoxious), Daniel (with a wife and daughters who make it with a backer to Vegas for the world tournament) and a poor soul, Lawrence who operates a grinder house.  For a subject of poker which is not so popular with mass audiences, Gallagher achieves the feat of slowly drawing ones interest to the subject and the colourful characters.  The picture of the grinders lifestyle is not a pretty one but the film is fascinating as a poker win.

    LIMELIGHT (USA 2011) ***
    Directed by Billy Corben
    The Limelight was one of New York’s most famous nightclubs, but beneath its glamour and celebrity was an underworld of drugs, betrayal and murder. Billy Corben’s latest documentary LIMELIGHT is less about this nightclub but more about its creator Peter Gatien through his career and the business of clubbing that nearly destroyed him.  Corben traces Gatien’s history, beginning with his early career in Canada, and captures the historical role the Limelight played in New York’s music and dance scene.  While Gatien kept a low profile, his club became a hotbed for drugs and a focal point for the NYPD. With countless raids and drug busts, and the murder conviction of Limelight’s party promoter, Michael Alig, the Limelight’s days were numbered. Gatien became the centre of a federal investigation that unearthed a dramatic string of corruption and lies leading all the way to the police force. It is clear from the movie that Corben is on Gatien’s side, where his movie proves that the New York judicial system is inapt at nailing Gatien.  But one important point that Corben brings out is that Gatien disd not, in any way profit from the sale of any drugs.  The film puts more emphasis on Gatien’s trials than on club culture or how a club of this stature operates.  The film puts the man high on the pedestal of successful nightclub creator.  It is not surprising then that nothing is mentioned of his failed club Circa in Toronto, after he was banished from the U.S.

    MAGIC TRIP (USA 2011) ***
    Directed by Alison Ellwood and Alex Gibney
    MAGIC TRIP is the LSD documentary about a group of friends that travel the US on a bus high on the drug.  The group leader is well renowned author Ken Kesey of ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST and SOMETIMES A GREAT NOTION, both of which were made into films.  They filmed the trip but after all these years, they have not been able to put their film together.  Problems like dialogue synchronization and blurred images are some of them.  Until directors Ellwood and Gibney come along and construct together their road trip film with additional footage.  The additional footage is the only informative bit of the doc informing on the origin of the drug as well as the misuse and misinformation by the government.  The trip just shows the friends doing the stuff of the 60’s like free loving and tripping out.  MAGIC TRIP is quite disjointed but one cannot argue that the film captures the spirit of the group as well as bring back memories of what it was like tripping on acid.

    PROJECT NIM (USA 2010) ***
    Directed by James Marsh
    Acclaimed director, James Marsh of MAN ON WIRE tackles a total different subject in PROJECT NIM.  Marsh tells the tale of a chimp that was taken from its mother and raised in a human family just like a human baby; the experimenters were attempting to show that language is not unique to our species. The question of success of the project depends on the definition of the term language.  If language be just the communication of intention or the ability to form a sentence from words or phrases, then the degree of success of failure would be different.  Director Marsh identifies the issue but his documentary is not concerned on the project but rather on the inhumanities performed on NIM, the chimp.  This is one film that depicts (almost) all the human beings as bad and that the human race is basically quite f***ed up.

    RECESSIONALIZE (Canada 2010) **
    Directed by Jamie Kastner
    RECESSIONALIZE or how to survive the recession in 15 steps is director Jamie Kastner’s version of how to make it as shown in his film divided into 15 parts.  The film takes the audience all over the world.  Berlin prostitutes offer eco-discounts, a French hotel promises a hamster experience, Camp Millionaire opens for kids: When times get tough, businesspeople get inventive.  But this film is more fun (Kastner’s fun than anyone else), so take all the non financial advice with a pinch of salt.  But the premise wears itself thin quite early, and very soon one is counting the steps for the film to end.  The only one that is likely going to make money from all this is Kastner himself.

  • Opening the Week of Apr 22, 2011

    The only big Hollywood film opening this week is AFRICAN CATS.

    The Bell Lightbox in Toronto is having a limited run of Wong Kar-wei’s classic CHUNGKING EXPRESS.  Cinematographer Chris Doyle will be present.  A don’t-miss event!

    AFRICAN CATS (USA 2011) ***

    Directed by Keith Scholey

    Another Disney wildlife adventure opens April 22 to coincide with Earth Day 2011.  AFRICAN CATS is more entertaining and gripping than the other water Disney films (OCEANS and EARTH) as AFRCIAN CATS has a stronger narrative with a plot involving a mother keeping a family together.

    ‘Mother and child’ appears to be the theme in AFRICAN CATS. The stories intertwine between two cat families in Africa.  One is Mara and her aging lion mother as they strive to be accepted in their pride of lions while the other is a single mother cheetah, Sita priming her cubs for survival.  The dedication of the mothers is extremely moving.

    As in all wild life films, the killing of another animal (predator versus prey) comes into question.  In AFRICAN CATS, the impact is lessened with the reason that food is needed for the cubs or the cubs will starve.  Scholey also keeps the blood mainly off screen.  One killing of a gazelle occurs behind a mound, and if any blood need be shown, it is only around the mouths of the lions.

    Most of the scary parts appear off screen as well. When the voiceover informs that mother Sita has lost three cubs to the hyenas (not shown at all) or that Kali, the fierce lion will return for another fight, the audience can only sit back in fear.

    Scholey’s film contains a few scenes with birds dancing.  But generally, there are fewer detached distractions that in the other Disneynature films EARTH and OCEANS.

    Oscar nominee Samuel L. Jackson narrates with a full resonating voice, carefully pronouncing all his syllables, sometimes too obviously.

    AFRICAN CATS is entirely shot in the reserved national park of Kenya where they live and breed.  Scholey’s film is pretty serious stuff.  The only humour occurs at the end with a few childish mock end credits.


    Directed by Richard Press

    The beginning of Richard Press’ documentary sees an 80+ year-old man photographing beautiful women at random on the streets of New York.  To the unfamiliar, he might appear to be a dirty old man, but he is in reality Bill Cunningham, famous New York Times photographer and fashion writer.

    For decades, Schwinn-riding cultural anthropologist Bill Cunningham has been obsessively and inventively chronicling fashion trends and high society charity soirées for the Times Style section in his columns "On the Street" and "Evening Hours." Director Press paints an informative homage to this man and shows too, his true qualities as a human being dedicated to his work.  Press reveals Bill as a vocal yet very private man.  One can likely guess that Bill did not want too much of his background (like family, love life) on display.  That works too for the film as the film’s intent to illustrate the man’s work and genius with as few distractions as possible.

    Interviewees chosen to speak their love for Bill include Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, author Tom Wolfe, actress Brooke Astor and David Rockefeller.  But the most fascinating part of Bill is his principles.  He takes no money as he believes that being paid takes away his freedom to do what he wants with his work.  When evicted, he says that as long as his new place does not interfere with his work, he is satisfied.  The dozens of rows of filing cabinets storing all his photographs and negatives in his one room apartment attest to both the man’s dedication and eccentricity.

    Many documentaries are as fascinating as its subject.  Fortunately, Press’ subject is a lively, charismatic, totally likeable and humble genius.  Press allows the material to flow freely and the film works as both entertainment and education.

    CHUNGKING EXPRESS (Hong Kong 1994) *****

    Directed by Wong Kar-wei

    CHUNGKING EXPRESS is the film that inspired filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino and it is not difficult to see why.  Director Wong breaks all the rules to deliver this giddy colourful palette of cinematic mastery combined with a mesmerizing soundtrack of old hits and a crazy story (in fact two stories).

    The two stories are told in complete sequence, once after another, with little connection, except that if one is attentive enough, one will see three characters in the second story appear briefly in the first.  Both stories are of cops falling out of love.

    The first is cop, He Qiwu, also known as Cop 223 (Takeshi Kaneshiro) Qiwu''s girlfriend May (never shown on screen) broke up with him on April 1.  He chooses to wait for May for a month before moving on. Every day he buys a tin of pineapple with an expiration date of May 1. By the end of this time, he feels that he will either be rejoined with his love or that it will have expired forever.  If all this does not make any sense, it gives Wong an excuse to film him roaming around the streets.  But best is the unrelated story of a woman in a blonde wig (Brigitte Lin) surviving in the drug underworld after a cocaine smuggling operation goes sour. Again this story makes no sense but it gives way to one of the most enormously satisfying chase on screen.  At first using hand held camera, then stop motion, the images on screen are nothing less than stunning.  The colour of the woman’s bright yellow dress as she outruns her predators intermingled with the neon lights and signs of the underground is also pure cinematic delight.

    The second story involving an unnamed Cop 633 (Tony Leung) similarly deals with a breakup, this time with a flight attendant (shown on screen this time as Valerie Chow). He meets Faye, the new girl at the snack bar (Faye Wong) who secretly falls for him. Here, Wong uses the song California Dreaming to enhance the story of the two new lovers.  The second story has a stronger narrative but lacks the cinematic energy of the first.

    CHUNGKING EXPRESS, has been said to require multiple viewings and this is correct.  Cinematographer Chris Doyle who has worked with Wong in many of his films will be present for a Q and A for a special presentation of this film at the TIFF Lightbox.  Needless to say, this event is not to be missed!

    THE HIGH COST OF LIVING (Canada 2010) **
    Directed by Deborah Chow

    Drug dealer hit and runs pregnant woman causing her to lose her child.  Torn with guilt, he meets up with her and consoles her over the loss of her child and breakup of her marriage.  She finally finds out and he declares his love for her though she cannot forgive him.

    That simply is the story for Deborah Chow’s debut feature THE HIGH COST OF LIVING.  Not that the whole story is given away in the review, but one can guess exactly where the movie is heading after the very first 10 minutes.

    As the film title implies, there is a high cost (emotionally) involved in living.  Each character has his or won demons to exorcise and to director Chow’s credit, she allows each character to have their say before letting the audience take sides.

    Chow’s film is eclectically shot in French and English with Zach Braff from GARDEN STATE playing Henry opposite Quebecois actors Isabelle Blais and Patrick Lubbe.  Production values are impressive from the cinematography (especially the night shots), music and sets.

    But the trouble of the film, besides its predictability is its depressing theme.  It doesn’t help that Chow’s script is devoid of humour.  The characters smile a bit, but that does not really count.  No one wants to spend money or an evening out watching a depressing film.  The fact that the film won the Best Canadian First Feature Prize at the Toronto International Film Festival last year and that the film was voted top 10 Canadian films might help bring in more box-office revenue.

    LOST JOURNEY (Canada 2010) **

    Directed by Ant Horasanli

    Arriving in Toronto from Iran, 19-year-old Pedram Abasi embarks on a journey shared by millions of people every year, adapting to a new language and culture. His aunt and uncle take him in and are delighted by his progress, until he meets Nima and Chrissy, who introduce him to a world of all night raves, promiscuous sex, and taking Ecstasy till sunrise.

    As the title implies, it is a lost journey for Pedram, unless he can recover and put his life back in track.  His spirit is willing but his flash is also weak leaving the film with a sad rather than a predictable happy ending.  It is a dilemma for director/writer Horsasanli which ending would have been worse.

    But it is not the ending of the film that is the problem.  The film is disjointed in parts.  The film’s start set in Iran where Pedram is saved from drowning has little to do with what takes place in Toronto.  The film also stereotypes clubbing, but at least it points out the fact that Pedram has made the choice to do pills and quite his career goals.  However, the clubbing that Pedram attends at the Warehouse where world famous D.J. Tiesto spins (in fact, he just spun at the place Thursday Apr 21) is a world completely different from any that Iranians have seen.  To say that all 10,000 or so attendees at this trance party are bad does not make any sense.

    The club segment and music are well shot as well as the family confrontations.

    It is clear the message that Horasanli wishes to deliver – the evil of drugs, drinking and clubbing and the failure of human beings. But he forgets too, that the human spirit is often stronger and more resilient and will more often than not, prevail.  If only he and his film had more faith.

    LE RAFLE (THE ROUND UP (France/Germ/Hun 2009) ***
    Directed by Roselyne Bosch

    LE RAFLE is the true story of the round up of Jews at the Winter Veldrome before being shipped to various concentration camps.  Of the children taken in, only a handful survived.

    Director Roselyne Bosch read the letters thrown onto the tracks by children being sent to Auschwitz and watched Eva Braun''s "home movies". The events and anecdotes recounted in the film are all true, whether they are directly linked to the round-up and deportation of Jews or not. For example, Michel Muller''s brother Jean really did leave him waiting outside his primary school, just as Nono has to wait for his brother Simon in the film. Similarly, their sister, Annette Muller, received permission to go buy a comb and remembers seeing her mother on her knees begging policemen not to take her

    children. Thus blending these certain incidents and fiction together, Bosch creates a documentary like feel to her account of the roundup.

    The story is told from the point of view of young Jo (Hugo Leverdez) who cheated death by escaping the transition camp before the train arrived to ship all the children to be gassed.  But the main characters are the protestant nurse (Melanie Laurent) working under a Jewish doctor (Jean Reno).

    The creation of this piece of history is still disturbing.  The faces of the children separated from their mothers have an astounding effect though most are put on by actors in the film.  Bosch goes a bit overboard with the separation segment as in the end segment with the war over and the nurse looking for lost ones.  The sets and atmosphere of the camps, Velodrome are impressive aided by the costumes and music.

    But LE RAFLE offers no new insight of the proceedings except mere hints at who the responsible were.  Still LE RAFLE is a harrowing piece of history well captured on screen.

    REPEATERS (Canada 2010) **
    Directed By Carl Bessai

    Director Carl Bessai’s (EMILE, NORMAL) story concerns three residents in a rehab centre in Mission, B.C. They are granted a rare one-day-pass on a Wednesday to venture back into the world and make amends with those they have wronged.

    Kyle (Dustin Milligan) reaches out to his kid sister, who refuses to speak to him. Sonia (Amanda Crew) decides not to confront her ailing, abusive father in the hospital, only to learn later in the day that he has died. Meanwhile, Weeks (Richard de Klerk) is left feeling powerless and quietly enraged after visiting his violent father in prison.  But on the Wednesday, the three get electrocuted during a storm which results in them waking up the next day, repeating the Wednesday they had just gone through – a sort of GROUNDHOG DAY.

    The three discover that no matter what they do, they will wake up again on the Wednesday.  So, Kyle and Sonia try to mend their lives while Weeks does the reverse.  Does this film work?  Sadly no!  The film’s premise sounds more interesting on paper.  Would you go see a film about a dysfunctional family set in a futuristic society?  There is no point, just as drama does not work in a GROUNDHOG DAY situation.  It is a pity as the three main lead actors are pretty good!  One would imagine the three waking up everyday wishing a good film will come their way.

    THE WARRING STATES (China 2010) *

    Directed by Jin Chen

    THE WARRING STATES, set during China’s Warring States Period, will center on the rivalry between military strategists Sun Bin (Honglei Sun) and Pang Juan (Francis Ng), historical figures that shared an infamous rivalry that involved bitter jealousy, accusations of treason against the state and severe criminal repercussions.

    Helmed by former Xi’an Film Studio director Jin Chen, whose credits include Love in the Internet Generation andCrossing Over, The Warring States is a grand historical epic shot in the northern Henan province of China with a cast of pan-Asian stars.

    All of the above sounds grand on paper.  But in execution of Jin Cheng’s film is a complete narrative mess.  The message of his film is clear at least, that the states should be at peace.  The result is that the military strategist Sun Bin’s book is totally destroyed or banned.  (As if that would solve wars!)

    The film is also an example of CGI gone mad.  In once scene, tens of thousands of soldiers stand face to face in CGI mastery.  But later in the film when attacks are made to the gate of the state of Qui, it looks like the walls can only hold a thousand people at most.  Other ridiculous segments exist, such as an earthquake scene occurring just so that Sun Bin is saved from his suicide drowning in a pool.  One could hear the audience commenting in the theatre in the equivalent of a Cantonese: “Really?”  The chase scene is even more unbelievable for its sheer silliness.

    The costumes, sets are art decoration at least are impressive, especially the make-up of the main lead actresses , though it should make one wonder if such make up existed 200 years b.c.

    Running at over 2 hours, the filmmakers must have thought they must have come up with a real winner.  THE WARRING STATES comes a close second to the worst film this year, which also hails from China, Zhang Yimou’s A WOMAN, A GUN AND A NOODLE SHOP.

    Best Bets of the Week:-

    Best Film Opening This Week: Chungking Express

    Best Film Playing: Hanna
    Best Horror: Insidious
    Best Family: Hop
    Best Documentary: The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls
    Best Foreign: Winter in Wartime
    Avoid: The Warring States

  • Cinematheque Ontario presents – Gregg Araki


    The Films of Gregg Araki

    As signalled by a recent, lengthy feature article in The New York Times penned by influential critic Dennis Lim, unrepentantly iconoclastic filmmaker Gregg Araki has passed into a more respectable stage in his fascinating, often misunderstood career.

    His tenth theatrical feature, Kaboom (one of the unquestionable hits of last year’s Cannes Film Festival) arrived in theatres glowing with near-universal praise—a rarity for Araki, whose twenty-year career has seen him in combat with many of his key constituencies. Although he was labeled early on as a part of the New Queer Cinema movement and has continued to engage in radical explorations of sex, gender, sexual violence and the “queer underground,” his films have never really been embraced by the majority of the gay and lesbian community: they are simply too dark a vision of gay life, too extreme in their expectation of violence around sexuality and too gleeful in thumbing their nose at the community’s bourgeois aspirations. He also enjoys championing a fluid sexuality that neatly denies same-sex exceptionalism and questions the very idea of a community based strictly around sexual preference. (The last straw likely came when Araki quite publicly shacked up with Beverly Hills 90210 star Kathleen Robertson.)

    If the gay community has been habitually unsupportive of Araki, critics have been little better, if not worse: many (male) mainstream journalists found it difficult to even watch the (now rather tame) sex scenes in Araki’s breakthrough film The Living End. More than this, though, critics have often been baffled by the unique dialectic that makes Araki’s films so tough to read. Araki’s films are driven by great passion, often concerning romantic love at its most tragic and populated by alienated youth set against the background of post-punk anthems. At the same time, they delight in coining hyper-stylized Valley Girl vocabulary, often culminating in infantile contests to name various sex organs and acts, revel in kooky outfits and visual design and include a panoply of B-list-and-below celebrities acting dumb. Unlike the highly analytical, intellectually precise (and largely unfunny) films of Araki’s New Queer Cinema compatriot Todd Haynes, critics often couldn’t figure out which side of Araki they should be reviewing—overlooking the fact that it is precisely the interweaving of these elements that defines Araki’s approach.

    Aesthetically, Araki presents the same challenges. Ridiculously low-budget (his first four features cost less than $50,000 combined), his early work often looks chaotic and murky at first glance, but this lack of surface sheen belies how astutely Araki has digested and reinterpreted Godard’s framing strategies and editing tropes or Warhol’s ability to make the throwaway moment utterly profound. And even those (and there are more recently) who do see Araki as a crucial connection between contemporary American and 1960s European art cinema find his other major influence—the Hollywood screwball comedies of the 1930s— tough to integrate into his genealogy. Araki’s loving dedication to Los Angeles also bucks the unofficial cross-media consensus that the city should only be represented as a kind of dystopian metaphor: resisting the urge to universalize his characters and stories, Araki revels in local idiosyncracies and the highly specific urban landscapes of southern California.

    Apart from Splendor, his wild, one-off riff on Preston Sturges, Araki’s films are best understood as matched, symbiotic pairs. The first two films, Three Bewildered People in the Night and The Long Weekend (o’ Despair) privilege art-school pansexual angst and a hyper-grainy 16mm aesthetic, tropes which have become such a cliché of American independent cinema that one forgets how radical the films were at the time in their updating of Warholian disaffection to the alienated eighties. Next comes the early masterpieces The Living End and Totally F***ed Up, angry, prescient films about how American society marginalizes and destroys its most vulnerable outsiders. Although Araki eschews any political agenda in interviews, these are still among the strongest statements about how homophobia insidiously destroys lives, and not just gay ones. The Doom Generation and Nowhere are candy-coloured explosions that deepen his exploration of how America functions around sex and violence; largely dismissed (with palpable disgust) upon release, their gore-laced, go-for-broke aesthetics have had a huge impact on an emerging generation of filmmakers and musicians. (Araki himself connects Totally F***ed Up with these two films as a “Teen Apocalypse Trilogy,” but the earlier film’s touching melancholy and pseudo-documentary aesthetic feels at odds with the hyper-stylized garishness of the later duo.) After an unhappy detour into television, Araki re-emerged with the yin-yang duo of Mysterious Skin (a discomfiting sexual abuse drama that was Araki’s first unqualified critical success) and the slap-happy stoner comedy Smiley Face, cleaving the contradictory elements of his earlier films into neatly coherent halves. With its alternately raunchy and affecting portrait of freshman sexual experimentation coupled with whispers of conspiracy and apocalypse, Kaboom now sews those halves back together, attesting once again to the invaluable unpredictability of Araki’s urgent and indispensable cinema.

    (Full description above from Cinematheque Ontario write-up)

    Capsule review of Selected Films:

    THE LIVING END (USA 1992) ****
    Directed by Greg Araki
    As the lead character Luke (Mike Dytri) says at the film’s start: “This is the first day of the rest of your life!”
    These words have more essence as applied to Luke as he has just been diagnosed with AIDS.  The doctor gives his customary advice which seems appropriately funny given Luke’s attitude and what the audience knows about the disease 15 years now into the future.  But the result of the medical test is a Luke running amok creating havoc in everything, especially in the life of Jon (Craig Gilmore) a movie critic who he has just met.

    Araki’s few wheeling film also point a finger at film critics.  Those who can’t do teach and those who can’t teach (i.e. us film critics) tear to shreds other people’s work.  That would be a dare for a reviewer then to tear this film apart.

    Fortunately, THE LIVING END is an energetic anarchic little film, full of life (or should we say death) and unexpectancies.  There are touches of BONNIE AND CLYE (Luke robbing a bank when the ATM is broken) and the free spiritness of countless classics like THELMA AND LOUISE, A BOUT DE SOUFFLE and BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID.  The film also makes total sense.  If one is diagnosed with a terminal disease, wouldn’t one want to change ones life and take full revenge?  For Luke, this involves killing a cop, shooting dead three gay bashers, splitting the head open of a homophobe among other nasties.  Luke gets his gun from two lesbians Daisy (Mary and Woronov) and Fern (Johanna Went) who had picked him up as a hitchhiker and then decided to kill him.

    The film’s title comes from a song by The Jesus and Mary Chain, and a cover version of the JAMC song is performed by Braindead Soundmachine during the film’s credits. Early in the movie, Luke is seen wearing a JAMC shirt.

    Though Luke’s character may seem the more interesting one, it is Jon’s.  Jon, also HIV positive does not share Luke’s enthusiasm and hovers between living his part and Like’s free spiritness.  Director Araki has a good grasp of what he wants to reveal of their characters and the message he wants to put across.  The climax of THE LIVING END is the confrontation of the two men which brings the film to a conclusion.  This is one of Araki’s best films.

    MYSTERIOUS SKIN (USA/Nethrlamnds 2004) ****
    Directed by Gregg Araki
    Bad gay boy Gregg Araki (THE DOOM GENERATION, ALL F***CKED UP, THE LIVING END) returns after a 5-year absence with a more polished and matured piece MYSTERIOUS SKIN based on the acclaimed novel by Scott Heim. Araki’s films are marked by his maverick, often disjointed but highly energetic devil-may-care style, which in the case of MYSTERIOUS SKIN works to the director’s advantage.

    Take the film’s awesome starting image. A blank white screen! As the camera pulls back, the viewer notices white flakes that could very well be snow or cotton but turns out to be sugar puffs. That segment actually traces the start of a child molestation segment – the key issue of Araki’s new film.

    For one it is good to see Araki back in gay territory as his straight films were going straight (sorry - couldn’t resist using the pun) downhill. MYSTERIOUS SKIN alternates between two protagonists. What they share in common (besides being gay) is the child sex abuse they endured while under training as kids with the same baseball coach. One survives, the other barely. Araki interweaves the two stories together the way he knows best, creating humour (mostly dead-pan) in the oddest of moments and sympathy often when needed most. Grotesqueness is balanced with sensitivity but the Araki’s viewers must possess a fortitude just as much as his most long-suffering victim has to endure. Compared to the many recent films (BAD EDUCATION, MYSTIC RIVER) dealing with child abuse, Araki’s never judges or offers any solutions. The protagonists eventually have to come to terms with the truth – but in that achievement alone lies a certain peace.

    SMILEY FACE (USA/Germany 2007) ****
    Directed by Gregg Araki
    SMILEY FACE begins at the end of the day, as Jane (Anna Faris) talks to the narrator of the story (Roscoe Lee Brown in his last film) while sitting on a ferris wheel, then flashes back to that morning where it all started.  The narrator goes on in a dead serious fashion on how by fate, chance or whatever a person goes from Point A to Point Z.  Point A is the start of the day when Jane gets the most stoned she had ever been in her life as a result of eating cupcakes laced with cannabis.  But she leaves the house after making ‘a plan’ and begins a series of hilarious adventures that lead her through an audition, her first bus trip ever and the theft of the original Karl Marx communist manifesto.  Never mind if nothing makes sense.  Don’t worry about any message (who knows, there might be one hidden) or climax or plot in all this.  Just sit back, relax and enjoy this stoner comedy which is the funniest thing I have seen in 2007 and this year so far.  The film is even funnier if you can relate to the characters.

    TOTALLY F***ED UP (USA 1993) ***
    Directed by Gregg Araki
    One of Araki’s most serious films in the series, TOTALLY F***ED UP, is described by Araki himself as a rag-tag story of the fag-and-dyke teen underground....a kinda cross between avant-garde experimental cinema and a queer John Hughes flick.  It tells the story of the daily routines, thoughts and ‘aspirations’ of 6 gay teens, 4 males and 2 females overcoming obstacles created by a prejudiced straight society that includes rejection, homophobia among other issues.  Though the film looks like a documentary with the characters often speaking to the camera, the film is actually written by Araki with actors, including his regular James Duval (as Andy) playing the 6 teens.  The present is quite a ways off from 1993, and the 1992 angst appears dated.  The much needed humour is primarily provided by the 2 dykes, but it is quite a chore to listen to teens grumble and complain throughout a full hour and a half, despite at that time, timely relevance.


  • This Week's Film Reviews (Apr 15, 2011)

    Opening this week are SCRE4M and RIO.

    The Oscar winner for Best Foreign Film IN A BETTER WORLD also begins its run.

    IN A BETTER WORLD (Denmark 2010) ****

    Directed by Suzanne Bier

    Life is filled with problems.  The film title IN A BETTER WORLD ironically hints at each of the film’s characters striving to achieve this impossibility, and yet with disastrous results.

    Anton (Mikael Persbrandt) is a doctor who commutes to war-torn Africa, where he confronts a steady stream of tragedy.  Back home in Denmark, Anton’s estranged wife (Trine Dyrholm) is concerned about their 10-year-old son Elias (Markus Rygaard) getting picked on by a class bully.  But when Elias befriends a new boy Christian (William Johnk Nielsen) in class, their alliance threatens to destroy the town idyll forever.

    Bier chooses to tell her tale from the point of view of Christian.  The move is a correct one with the film building in intensity from start to finish.  The drama that connects the brutal life in an African refugee camp is contrasted with the everyday routine of a sleepy Danish town.  But both share the common problem of what to do when one is totally bullied.

    Director Bier must like the underdog.  In the film too, there is a racial comment about the Swedes (she is one) being inferior to the Danes as the story is set in Denmark.  That comment is never challenged, which goes with the flow of the film where it is a better person not to provoke a fight.

    Of all the actors, it is William Johnk Nielsen that steals the movie.  With his angelic blue eyes and blond hair, he embodies the perfect looking, intelligent Danish boy, reminding one immediately of Damien in THE OMEN films.  IN A BETTER WORLD follows this horror structure in a way, and in fact this could be argued to be a horror film.

    One main flaw about the film is the way Bier sensationalizes (if that be the right word used) two key scenes.  When Christian (William Johnk Nielsen) takes the bicycle pump to bloody up the school bully, the segment is so effective that it would not be surprising I the audience stood up an cheered.  The other is when Anton, bringing along the 3 children, confronts the car mechanic who had slapped him in the face to ask for an apology.  The confrontation results in three more slaps in the face.  Anton drags the kids out telling them that the mechanic is the big jerk and loser for not apologising.  But Anton clearly looks the coward and the one lacking the respect of the children who hilariously start changing the term Anton used for the mechanic to biggest as*hole and biggest pr*ck.  For a film whose message is pacifism as opposed to violent revenge is clearly compromised with these two, ironically, very dramatic segments.

    The film won both the 2011 Academy Award and the 2011 Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film.  It is clear to see why.  The film deals with pacifism, hot current world issues in Africa and is a moving riveting film from start to finish.  But flaws and all, there is no argument that IN A BETTER WORLD is a gripping film with not a dull moment.

    RIO (USA 2011) ***
    Directed by Carlos Saldhana

    Who would dislike like an animated film about colourful singing birds?  To add to the film’s box-office potential, Fox sets the film in Rio (Rio de Janeiro), the capital of Brazil during Carnival, the largest street celebration in the world.

    The result is a very colourful film, especially in its visuals and CGI effects made even more invigorating by being shot in 3D format.  But the film is catered to the younger crowd with the adults basically having to tolerate a bit more in RIO.  RIO is also filled with many colourful characters, in fact too many, with many wasted ones ending up making no impart (like Wanda Sykes as a Canadian goose).  The potential for humour is not fully tapped.  RIO is not as funny as the recent animated features RANGO or HOP, but in terms of animation (for example, in the details and colour), RIO more than makes up for it.  The best sequence is the Rio carnival parade where the climax is set.

    The colour begins with the title character called Blu (Jason Eisenberg), a rare blue macaw captured by illegal smugglers from the jungles of Brazil and brought to Minnesota where he is domesticated by Linda (Leslie Mann).  A scientist and love interest for Linda, Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro) convinces the two to travel back to Rio to breed with a female macaw (Anne Hathaway) or the species will be ended.  The story is no marvel.  The two lovebirds are captured by other smugglers but with the help of an assorted group of birds providing some humour and guest voice characterizations, the smugglers are caught and the two set free to breed.  But not before a great escape during the Rio carnival.

    RIO ends up typical family entertainment with more colourful and better animation than recent entries despite its slant towards a younger audience.

    Directed by Colin Serreau

    BAD FOOD, GOOD FOOD (English title) is a riveting documentary about the devastation that industrialized agriculture has inflicted on traditional farming.  It is directed by one of my favorite French directors Coline Serreau.

    The documentary is standard in structure.  Serreau makes her point, often working the audience into a frenzy and offers viable solutions.  Her film has scenes illustrating her points and includes world renowned scientists and agriculturalists.

    As a documentary, Serreau injects many segments that keep it intriguing.  Her film shows and explains why pigs eat each other’s tails, why featherless chickens were created and then undone and mind boggling statistics of 200,000 Indian farmers committing suicide, many by drinking pesticide.

    Her interviewees are impressively chosen and just as spirited.  Indian physicist Vandana Shiva looks ready to murder those responsible for killing the earth.  French microbiologists Claude and Bourguignon magnify a clump of organic earth that shows
    live organisms aerating the soil and turning it into a “couscous” texture.  Her film moves across France to India, Brazil, Morocco and to the Ukraine.

    There has been an absence of Serreau’s films in North America.  I have seen three of hr fiction films 3 HOMMES ET UN COUFFIN (3 MEN AND A BABY), LA CRISE and ROMUALD ET JULIETTE.  Her films are very original, funny and inventive but share the same trait that they are very spirited.  A key scene in LA CRISE occurs when the wife of a typical family brings home her taxi driver lover for the family dinner. The husband and hr kids chide her.  But the wife breaks down saying with full convincing emotions; O really don’t care!  He makes me happy and that is all that matters!”  It is of great pleasure to see Serreau tackle in a documentary a key global issue and devote her spirit, emotions and care to make her point.  It is a very important step to get the planet to rejuvenate itself again.

    SCRE4M (USA 2011) ***
    Directed by Wes Craven

    After what was decided to be a trilogy, producer Bob Weinstein decided, with reason, for a 4th instalment.  Combing once again the talents of director Wes Craven (SCREAM, NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, THE HILLS HAVE EYES) and writer Kevin Williamson (SCREAM and SCREAM 2), SCRE4M holds the spirit in terms of scares and fun of the best of the SCREAM films.

    SCRE4M is one above the normal slasher films in that besides the blood and gore killings, there is the whodunit element.  The identity of the killer behind the mask of ghostface is revealed at the very end with a neat plot twist.  This film is supposed to rewrite the rules of the slasher film – i.e. gays and virgins can now die but what is also cool and not mentioned is the fact that in this film, the lead victim never dies and keeps popping up, instead of the killer.  Audiences and fans of the SCREAM series would die to know if the survivors would be done away in this one, as things are supposed to done differently.  Well, all that can be divulged is that Williamson has engineered a smart, manipulative script.                                                                                                              The story takes place several years after the events of the last SCREAM movie.  Celebrity Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) returns to her home town of Woodsboro on the 15th anniversary of the murders for a tour of her new self-help book, where she encounters former allies now Sheriff Dewey Riley (David Arquette, looking better than in the other films – this actor has been working out!) and entertainment journalist Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox), as well as her younger cousin Jill Roberts (Emma Roberts), her best friend Kirby Reed (Hayden Panettiere), aunt Kate Roberts (Mary McDonnell), and several of Jill''s high school friends. However, with her return to Woodsboro also comes the return of past slasher-killer, who is starting to stalk and kill Jill''s friends and several other people in the Woodsboro area. The killer is now taking reference from horror-movie remakes by basing their murders on those similar to ones committed in the movie STAB, only with more twists on the 21st-century horror movie: in order to survive, Sidney, Dewey, Gale, Jill, and her friends must band together and follow the conventions of 21st-century horror films to determine who the killer is and stop them before the murders spiral out of their control.

    Most of the original stars have been recruited for SCRE4M.  Kristen Bell and Anna Paquin have guest roles of teens done away before the credits roll.  Newcomer Hayden Panettiere, looking like a young Tippi Hedren steals the show.  The best and most amusing parts of the film actually occur before the opening credits.

    For a film so detailed and accurate on the horror film genre, one would expect dialogue uttered by the characters to be grammatically correct.  In the parking garage scene, the killer ends his sentence incorrectly with the words, “…..you doesn’t”.

    SCRE4M is still entertaining cheeky fun.  It will definitely do a good turn (almost everyone I know wants to see it) for both horror writer Williamson are desperate for a hit after directing the disastrous TEACHING MISS TINGLE and Bob Weinstein who could do with another hit for his company.

    Best Bets of the Week:-

    Best Film Opening This Week: In a Better World

    Best Film Playing: Hanna
    Best Horror: Insidious
    Best Family: Hop
    Best Documentary: Solutions Locales pour un Desordre Global
    Best Foreign: Winter in Wartime

    Avoid: The Dilemma

  • This Week's Film Reviews (Apr 8, 2011)

    This week sees the opening of a number of excellent 4star an above films.  These include HANNA by ATONEMENT’s Joe Wright and Greg Araki’s KABOOM which opens a retrospective of his films at the TIFF Lightbox.

    TIFF Sprockets opens this week in Toronto.

    Film Reviews:

    THE BEND (Canada 2010) **
    Directed by Jennifer Kierans

    THE BEND is where teen bipolar Mike Campbell (Ryan Kennedy) drowned himself after his prom.  THE BEND is a family drama dealing with the reason(s) for the suicide.  A year after, the family hold a memorandum service ending with the Mike’s ashes scattered at THE BEND.

    Brother Jason (Adam Butcher) recruits his best pal, Scott (Tommy Lioutas) and brother’s girlfriend, Kelly (Sophie Traub) to re-enact that night with the hope of understanding why the death occurred.  Director Kierans’ film is a long, tedious journey and provides all the answers at the end (rather too conveniently) but her film plods on without piquing the audience’s interest.  The audience is dished a plate full of confrontations between father and mother, the 3 friends and everyone else for that matter.

    For a film about bipolar disease and for a director who had a sibling with a mental illness, it is surprising that Kierans does not provide more light into the illness.  One would also expect the family to be more versed with it, as it obvious that it had something to do with Mike’s death.  The film hints at medication, behaviour (irritation and slumber) and likely hereditary roots – but that’s about it.

    Kieran’s film looks good but the flashbacks are clumsy and expected just before they appear.  It is very noticeable that the music soundtrack always comes on when the actors start speaking and stops right away when the dialogue continues.  The same occurs right before the end credits come up.

    Though the film moves at the pace of an art film, the youngsters are fairly believable in their roles.  One could do more with the father character as Peter Keleghan portrays him as a disturbed man who could harbour a secret or two.  Leah Pinsent who plays the mother appears to be doing Dianne Wiest impressions.

    All goes back to normal after that enactment night.  Would things have been any different if no questions were answered?

    HANNA (UK/USA/Germany 2011) Top 10 *****
    Directed by Joe Wright

    The title character HANNA (Saoirse Ronan) is a teenage girl with the strength, stamina, and smarts of a soldier; these come from being raised by her father (Eric Bana), an ex-CIA agent, in the wilds of Finland.  The film was actually shot in sub-zero temperatures there.

    Her upbringing and training have been one and the same, all geared to making her the perfect assassin.  The film traces her escape back into human society while being hunted down by a most ruthless intelligence operative, Marissa (Cate Blancett). As she nears her ultimate target, Hanna faces even more startling revelations about her existence and unexpected questions about her humanity.

    With a story as simple and bare as this one, most directors would fail to hold an audience’s attention throughout the film.  But director Joe Wright is no such failure as evident in one of the best films in the last decade ATONEMENT which also starred Ronan.  In ATONEMENT, Ronan played an innocent who destroyed the lives of two lovers by a lie.  In HANNA, she also plays an innocent but one whose life has been destroyed by the lies of others.  Ironically, she has to adapt or die.

    The film takes its time to establish a sure footing.  This occurs once Ronan meets up with a family and makes her first human best friend.  From then on, it is her journey of discovery meeting up again with her father and then killing off her predators.  Story is that simple.  But Wright’s film is a power punch from images, cinematic poetry, emotions, characterizations down to the awesome stringy music and sounds by the Chemical Brothers.  At one point in the film, Hanna questions: “What is music?”  The answer is realized in the music form of the Brothers!

    Wright demonstrated his cinematic poetry in one key segment in ATONEMENT. In one single long take of the British soldiers waiting aimlessly in Dunkirk, France to go home, Wright’s camera swept through a chorus of singing soldiers, flogging of a horse, drinking soldiers in a pub to a merry-go-round.  In HANNA, Wright contrasts the emptiness of the human soul to that of a deserted amusement (Grimm’s fairy tale) park with broken animal fixtures and with a gaping mouth through which a roller coaster would exit.  Another unforgettable scene has Hanna enter a house to have the image all turn red as she discovers the horror of a corpse hanging in front of her.  Wright claims loving David Lynch films like BLUE VELVET and THE ELEPHANT MAN and the influences are clear here (sample: the flickering fluorescent lights in a Moroccan house.)

    Ronan plays her role straight as does Bana while most of the other cast appear to having a fine time hamming it up.  Blanchett goes over the top in her wicked witch role (she enjoys drawing blood from cleaning hr teeth) and Brit Tom Hollander does a really scary turn as a sadistic hired killer with the creepiest smile (and a haunting nursery rhyme tune to match whenever his character appears) to be seen on screen for a while.

    HANNA should be seen for what talent can still achieve with a minimal story.  The result is pure cinematic bliss!


    KABOOM (USA 2011) ****
    Directed by Gregg Araki

    Awarded at Cannes for the first time for its contribution to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues, KABOOM (the sound of an explosion) is likely the coolest film one would see this year.  Sample the first 15 minutes of the unforgettable mind blowing opening dream and fantasy sequence in the film, and one would know what I mean.

    KABOOM is a science fiction film that will keep you totally glued to the screen for its inventiveness - never mind its occasional silliness in plot or ending.  The film’s set-ups, characters and dialogue are so spot-on and insightful that no one could come up with anything cooler.  The story centres on Smith (Thomas Dekker), an 18-year-old film student who identifies sexually as "undeclared"with a strong sexual appetite, swinging both ways, though mainly gay.  Though a girl is slaughtered on campus by figures wearing animal heads, Smith still finds time to watch porn, fantasize over his roommate, internet date and have sex with an assorted group of newcomers.  Araki’s film is very funny, fresh and full of highs.

    His best friend Stella (Haley Bennett), a lesbian, is every bit as eager to obtain new partners, always has the right thing to say and knows 100% what is happening around her.  Except for her relationship, which is totally f**cked up.  What was initially a 5 hour sexual orgasm turns into a nightmare as her lover with supernatural powers will not let her go.  Smith begins having recurring dreams featuring two beautiful women, one dark and one with red hair. The women from his dreams begin appearing in his waking life, leading Smith to wonder whether he has discovered a potentially world altering conspiracy, or is just dealing with the consequences of hallucinogenic cookies he ate at a party.

    Araki’s actors are all gorgeous to look at from Dekker as Smith to Chris Zylka as Thor, who looks like the God Thor, only more beautiful.  His hunks are hunks, girls and boys all poster pinups.  His staple actor James Duval, from his previous films has a small role as the Messiah

    A blend between his last serious MYSTERIOUS SKIN and his absurdist less disciplined earlier works (THE DOOM GENERATION and TOTALLY F***ED UP), KABOOM shows Araki at his playful best while continuing to show off his talent as an excellent filmmaker.

    RUBBER (France 2010) *

    Directed by Quentin Dupieux

    A sort of road movie about a killer tire, perhaps director Dupieiux thought his film might begin his film career like DUEL did for Steven Speilberg. He pays a nod to Spielberg at the start of his film – perhaps for good luck!

    The film begins with a patrolman delivering a 5 minute spill to the audience.  Why is E.T. brown?  Why are the two leads madly in love with each other in LOVE STORY?  The answer – no reason!  The audience learns at the end of the too-lengthy monologue is that the film is a homage to ‘No Reason’.

    RUBBER is a quirky thriller comedy about a killer tire.  The story is set in the California desert.  A group of people have been recruited to watch a film out here.  But is it really a film?  Or is it actually a real event?   Armed with binoculars, the onlookers spot an old rubber tire that’s half-buried in the sand.  The tire (which is credited as “Robert”) manages to free itself and, after a few wobbles, gets rolling along.  It turns out that the tire possesses psycho-kinetic powers that allow it to blow up anything that gets in its way – including a beer bottle, a rabbit, a crow and, before long, human heads.  When it becomes attracted to a pretty young woman (Roxanne Mesquida), the tire follows her to
    a motel, where it holes up in a room, watching TV and taking a shower – that
    is, until the maid discovers it.  The tire has just begun its path of destruction.  All this might sound really cool on paper, but the film is so slow and badly edited, he film comes out as downright boring with poor looking production values.

    Mostly eschewing CGI effects, Dupieux apparently achieved the tire’s actions
    by two methods.  In many scenes, the tire is a puppet that’s manipulated much
    like a regular hand puppet.  In the rolling scenes, it’s a remote-controlled tire.

    Is the tire destroyed at the end?  Well, Dupieux sets the audience for (Heaven help us) sequel!  Worst of all, he does not know when to end his film and the film just goes rolling on and on and on.  One of his characters says at the end of the film, that the tire should be quickly blown up with no silly delays and plots.  If only Dupieux heeded this piece of advice.

    RUBBER ‘wears’ its novelty premise out very early.  Neither funny, scary or the last bit entertaining, one wonders how this film got made in the first place.  No reason!

    SOUL SURFER (USA 2011) ***
    Directed by Sean McNamara

    SOULD SURFER is a sports injury drama which documents the comeback to fame and winning after teen surfer Bethany Hamilton (AnnaSophia Robb) loses an arm in a shark attack.  The phrase ‘based on a true story’ flashes on the screen implying that the filmmakers have taken certain liberties (which we can only guess) with the story.

    This is the kind of film many would avoid – I definitely being one of them.  Predictable, clichéd, over melodramatic and manipulative, films of this genre are the most brutal for a reviewer to sit through.  For SOUL SURFER, writer/director McNamara has surprisingly done quite a good job with the material aided by very enthusiastic performances by stars as Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt playing Bethany’s surfing parents, who besides donning hard bodies perform surfing stunts as well.

    SOUL SURFER only suffers during its ending one third when the audience knows that Bethany has to make her comeback with the film documenting her comeback, complete with the typical lines, as “Your family is behind you”, “You cannot give up” and the like.  The first half of the film when McNamara is given free reign of the material is the most interesting with him charting the daily routine of the surfer family.  Who can complain of a film containing great surfing segments filled with sexy hard bodies of both sexes?  The logic of Beth insisting of surfing with one arm, coming from such a lifestyle is totally convincing.  The 15 minute sequence following the shark attack is executed film text book style with blurred images, jittery camera, a combination of slow and fast motion and odd disturbing music.  The surfing and underwater sequences are impressive and exciting enough even for the seasoned surfer.

    The film contains sequences of the Hamilton family attending church services, saying grace during dinner and Bethany attending a mission training session.  One can see the strength of Christianity playing a great part in Bethany’s comeback but this part is played down (example: there are no scenes o the family or Bethany praying to the Lord) considerable, possibly for the film to reach a larger audience.

    As expected in films of this sort, the end credits show the real life Bethany Hamilton with the real Hamilton family.  Unsurprisingly, the real family looks quite similar to the actors in the film.  SOUL SURFER is a credible enough film that shows how a family can bond and help a member in dire distress.  And with the help of Christianity too!

    YOUR HIGHNESS (USA 2011) **
    Directed by David Gordon Green

    As the film YOUR HIGHNESS begins, the voiceover announces: “Throughout history, tales of chivalry have burnished the legends of brave, handsome knights who rescue fair damsels, slay dragons and conquer evil…. and all that sh**”.  It becomes clear with that opening and a few bad unfunny jokes as starters (involving animated credits); director Green is desperate and drawing at anything (even Monty Pythonesque) for a laugh or two.

    YOUR HIGHNESS (unimaginative title hints at film being bad) is a medieval comedy fantasy centering on Thadeous (Danny McBride) an arrogant prince who, with his brother Fabious (James Franco), must go on an epic quest in order to save their father''s kingdom.  They are saved at one point by Isabel (Natalie Portman), a warrior princess who becomes the lazy prince''s love interest.  In fact any female walking on two legs is the lazy prince’s love interest.  Leezar (Justin Theroux), an evil wizard who kidnaps Belladonna (Zooey Deschanel), Fabious’ virginal bride.

    The best thing about the film is the action set pieces.  The fights, especially with monsters are impressive well executed complete with pyrotechnic special effects.  On the characterizations and comedy departments, the film does not do that well.  The jokes are more miss than hits (there were only 2 laugh out loud moments for this reviewer) and the lazy humour always bordering on Thadeous’ laziness gets more annoying.  Also, it is hard to root for a character with so few redeeming qualities.  James Franco does much better outshining McBride, just as he did outdo his co-star Seth Rogen in PINEAPPLE EXPRESS, a much, much funnier film also directed by Green.  The romance between Portman and McBride is more embarrassing that Thadeous’ rubber Minotaur dick worn around his neck.

    YOUR HIGHNESS is not really bad as an action fantasy film.  The story is good and the plot solid with sufficient novel ideas (like the monster dragon hand puppet).  But as a comedy which is what YOUR HIGHNESS is supposed to be, the film fails miserably with infantile (the Yoda pervert) and gross (the minotaur’s penis) stoner (Thaddeus is seen smoking up about half dozen times) jokes.


    Best Film Opening This Week: Hanna
    Best Film Playing: Hanna
    Best Horror: Insidious
    Best Family: Hop
    Best Documentary: Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls
    Best Foreign: Winter in Wartime

    Avoid: The Dilemma

  • Sprockets: Engaging, educating and entertaining youth through film


    Sprockets, the annual Toronto International Film Festival for Children and Youth launched this week. Running from April 5-17, the 14th annual Sprockets festival, the biggest programme yet, will screen more than 100 films, from 28 countries and in 20 languages. A combination of screenings and on-site activities at TIFF Bell Lightbox, Sprockets seeks to engage, educate and entertain youth of all ages through the magic of cinema. Particularly focusing on children aged 3 through 18, the festival is an interactive and hands-on experience which establishes concrete interactions between youth, educators, filmmakers and the craft of cinema.

    Throughout its existence, Sprockets has featured films addressing a variety of contemporary social issues confronting youth from around the world. “We’re very pleased to be able to offer our programming over two weekends this year. Themes range from bullying and childhood obesity to dreams of car racing, circus performing and making it big,” says Elizabeth Muskala, Director of Festivals and Events, TIFF.

    Two films AfroToronto.com wishes to highlight amid this year’s impressive programme are: Louder Than a Bomb (99 minutes, USA, 2010) and Soul Boy (60 minutes, Kenya/Germany, 2010).

    The power of spoken word

    Selected by Oprah Winfrey’s "OWN Documentary Club", Louder Than a Bomb is a critically-acclaimed documentary film about the world’s largest youth poetry slam event held annually in Chicago. Founded in 2001, the Louder Than a Bomb competition attracts in excess of six hundred teenagers from over sixty Chicago area schools. It’s the only festival of its kind and scope in the United-States. From its inception, the slam event has been focused around team performances.


    The film makes an important statement about the transforming nature of a cohesive team spirit. We follow a group of very inspiring young people who face various odds. The filmmakers take us into the everyday lives of several students. We find out about their family and personal struggles and delve into how slam poetry helps them to navigate through treacherous waters and make it to the other side.

    Be ready to have established conceptions and stereotypes about spoken word poetry taken to task. Louder Than a Bomb crosses racial, gender, religious and class lines to teach us about the universality of creative expression through spoken word.

    The boy with a manly soul

    Another film we recommend that you catch at the 14th annual Sprockets Festival is Soul Boy. Set in Kenya’s impoverished slum of Kibera, Soul Boy is the story of a 14-year-old boy, Abila, who is tasked with the daunting task of saving his father’s soul.

    Abila was surprised to find his father dazed, confused and bed-ridden with a mysterious illness. His mother brushes it off as a simple hangover but Abila takes his father’s seemingly incoherent blabbering seriously. He finds out that his father’s soul had been stolen by a Nyawawa, a female spirit.


    Abila sets out to find the spiritual woman his father was with on the drunken night when he gambled his soul away. When Abila finds the woman, she tells him that he is just a boy and so can’t do anything to save his father’s soul. But Abila shows tremendous strength of character and insists on taking on the challenges to redeem his father’s flawed soul.

    Admiring the young boy’s courage, the spiritual woman gives him a series of seven tasks to accomplish. If he is successful in completing all of them by a set time, he will ensure the return of his father’s soul.

    Remarkably complete in just six weeks, Soul Boy was written by local Kenyan writer Billy Kahora and co-directed by Kenyan-Ghanaian Hawa Essuman and German director Tom Tykwer (of Run Lola Run, fame). The pace of film is indeed reminiscent of Run Lola Run as the young Abila moves from one challenge to the other. It is considered by many critics as one of the best films to come out of Kenya.


    All screenings and on-site activities take place at TIFF Bell Lightbox, Reitman Square, 350 King St. West, Toronto.

    Visit tiff.net/sprockets,call 416-599-TIFF(toll free 1-888-599-TIFF) or visit the Box Officeat TIFF Bell Lightbox, 350 King Street West, Toronto.Tickets are priced at Adult $12.00, Student/Senior $9.50 and Children (12 and under) $8.50. Family packets of 10 tickets are available for $75.00. Visa is the only credit card accepted by TIFF. 

  • This Week's Film Reviews (Apr 1, 2011)

    April marks Easter and the Easter animated live action HOP opens everywhere this weekend.

    Also opening are SOURCE CODE and the excellent war coming of age movie WINTER IN WARTIME.

    HOP (USA 2011) ***1/2

    Directed by Tim Hill

    HOP is directed by Tim Hill who also directed the so-so ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS but storyboarded the excellent SPONGEBOB AND SQUAREPANTS movie and series.  At its worst, HOP descends into Chipmunks territory with E.B. like Alvin the chipmunk being babysat by Dave and in this case, human Fred O’Hare (James Marsden) but the film gets only better and better.  Fortunately!

    E.B. (Russell Brand), a teen rabbit, on the eve of taking over from his father, the Easter Bunny (Hugh Laurie), leaves his home in Napa Rui, in Easter Island for Hollywood to pursue his dream of becoming a drummer.  But hit by Fred O''Hare (James Marsden), an out of work slacker who was driving to the house, E.N. is then the caretaker of. Feigning injury, E.B. manipulates Fred to take him in as he recovers. E.B. causes trouble in the home and at Fred''s job interview.

    Up to this point, the film starts lagging with unfunny jokes and annoying situations.  But a villain in the form of Head Chick Carlos appears and saves the movie with his scheme of taking over Easter.  With a good solid plot and an impressive climax, HOP finally delivers.  Easter Chick Carlos (Hank Azaria doing the best voice characterization of the cast), disappointed that he is not allowed to take E.B.''s place, revolts against and imprisons E.B.''s father. Fred and E.B. are brought back and imprisoned by the Pink Berets, but they manage to break free and suppress the revolt, and E.B.''s father appoints them to co-workers as Easter Bunnies, thus saving Easter.

    HOP tells twin stories of two failing sons having to prove themselves.  At the end, both succeed beyond their father’s expectations so, there are double fell-good emotions.

    Most of the songs work well into the story.  There are no original ones but a few like I WANT CANDY were re-written for the movie.  AMERICANA is perfectly used for the segment (looks like a music video) where the two sons are on training for the Easter Bunny job.

    For an animated feature, the filmmakers have taken the care to offer the film some accuracy.  Like the start of the film being at a place that actually exists, Napa Rui, Easter Island.  One other scene has E.B. complaining that what’s going on is enough to make him puke – but he can’t as rabbits don’t.  For youngsters, it would be good to learn that rabbits can only vomit internally.  Another neat trick has the real Russell Brand appearing in person cueing E.N. on stage.

    The film’s message is relevant and not drummed into the audience.  E.N. sacrifices his big chance at drumming for his friend but ends up using his talent to save the day.  It is loyalty – family and friendship – that ultimately counts in this Easter season.

    INSIDIOUS (USA 2011) ****
    Directed by James Wan

    INSIDIOUS is small budget horror film directed by James Wan and written by Lee Whannell who have collaborated in PARANORMAL ACTIVITY and the SAW movies.

    Thankfully, INSIDIOUS is closer to the first film and the audience is delivered genuine scares and spared the tacky gore and violence of the SAW movies.  INSIDIOUS is a very scary movie.  It deals with a family, Josh (Patrick Wilson) and Renai’s (Rose Byrne) account of saving their haunted boy, Dalton (Ty Simpkins).  The story is simple enough.  Dalton goes into a coma without the normal comatose signs.  A medium (the excellent Lin Shaye) discloses the fact that Dalton is haunted and his body is in a place called the Further.  Josh has to bring him back before Dalton gets possessed by the demon with the fire face.

    All this sounds like rally scary stuff and director James Wan knows how to deliver the scares.

    Wan’s pacing is close to perfect.  For a horror film which demands lots of explanation and which contains lots of scary jump- out of your seats scenes, the tendency is often for parts of the audience to burst out with laughter.  No such thing in INSIDUOUS.  The auditorium was silent throughout with no unintentional laughter – a great feat, I thought!

    But what is enormously scary about this film is that what has occurred to the family deals with common fears.  I recall being scared for years as a child watching a Twilight Zone episode in which a child wandered into another dimension through the wall by his bed and had to be pulled back by a medium.  In this similar plotted film, Dalton the child is lost (though through a different means) into another space and time called The Further. (The filmmakers originally wanted to title this film The Further.).  When father enters The Further to bring back Dalton, the place is seen as one of total darkness filled with ghostly creatures.  Wan has a field day scaring the audience at this point, using a combination of eerie music, camera angles, creatures with dolly painted faces and scenes that suddenly burst out on the screen.

    Wan has not forgotten to infuse humour into his film either, in the form of the interaction of two experts in paranormal activity.

    For INISDIOUS, Wan and writer Whannell were given full artistic freedom in the film’s final cut as the film is also Wan’s lowest budget.  This explains the reason the film not having a happy ending (not revealed here) but one that is genuinely shocking.

    At the promotional screening, director Wan and Whannell expressed their wish to the audience that this film would be the scariest or at least one of the scariest films they would have ever seen.  Judging from the response during the screening, their wish is not far from true.

    LOVE ETC. (USA 2010) **

    Directed by Jill Andresevic



    Executive produced by Jonathan Tisch, LOVE ETC. was inspired by the day Tisch and his fiancée Lizzie spent waiting in line for their marriage license at the City Hall Marriage Bureau, surrounded by an incredible diversity of couples. LOVE ETC. is a witty and poignant exploration of the universal stages of love, depicted through five real stories filmed over the course of one year in New York City.   The topics include first love, divorce, marriage among others.

    The problem with this movie is the over easy flowingness of the material.  For one, who made Tisch or director Andresevic experts on this topic?  Shouldn’t thy talk to real experts, maybe psychologists or counselors on what really love is?  The five couples could have behave in any way and the film would have been left the way it is.  What occurs on screen is occasionally interesting enough – whatever happens in real life is never boring – and Andresevic’s film is moving at times, especially in the gay man’s determination to have children.  But the Indian Wedding and divorcee segments turn out the most boring.  But the audience could very well observe other couples in the process.  And have learnt just as little!

    MONOGAMY (USA 2010) **

    Directed by Dana Adam Shapiro

    The film begins with the lead character Theo (Chris Messina) working his gumshoot, a service which his clients pay for him to stalk and photography them unknowingly.

    As the film progresses, it turns out that Theo is a bored professional wedding photographer engaged to be wed to Nat (Rashida Jones) who seem to be of perfect character compared to Theo.  Director Shapiro reveals Theo to be a voyeur with dirty intentions (his stalking of ‘subgirl’ played with subdued sexiness by Meital Dohan), non-committal to his job (he uses his cell during shooting of the wedding shots) among other faults.

    For a film centred on Theo and Nat, Shapiro does not draw the audience to his characters.  Worst still that Theo is not that likeable and in fact quite a bit of an as*hole, but Shapiro seldom highlights his good points.  Worst still, Nat seems to just grin and bare him.

    Though the sets ups are believable enough, the end result is still a film where the characters are too annoying or listless with them and the film ending up as something the audience does not care about!

    LA NOSTRA VITA (Italy/France 2010) ***

    Directed by Daniele Luchetti

    Debuting at Cannes in last year, this Italian family drama is known for its actor Elio Germano sharing the Best Actor prize with Xavier Bardem.

    LA NOSTRA VITA (OUR LIFE) is an award-winning drama about life and love tells the story of a working-class man, Claudio (Elio Germano) from the suburbs of Rome.  In order to keep his job and support his growing family, he conceals a shocking secret. However, when tragedy turns his world upside-down, he must come face-to-face with his past, and look to the help of friends and family to triumph against the odds.

    The film begins with the family having the perfect life.  Claudio is in perfect harmony with the love of his life – his wife and the family get along famously.  She is expecting a third and disaster strikes.  The audience can expect something to happen when all goes too smoothly.  She dies giving birth and things get worse for Claudio.  He runs into debt and also conceals the secret accidental death of an immigrant worker while looking after the immigrant’s son, Ari (Luca Zingaraetti).

    The film is largely shot with hand held camera giving the audience a certain anxiousness as it does its lead character throughout the film.

    Director Luchetti has worked and got his training from Nanni Moretti and the film shows as their films share as easy flowing authentic style.  The trouble with LA NOSTRA VISRA is its predictability.  The audience can guess that family will help and Claudio will make it in the end.  It does not make sense for the film with a likeable well-meaning hero not to have a happy ending.  Still, the film has a likeable charm and Luchetti directs with a firm hand like Claudio supervising his construction workers.  And actor Germano is quietly attractive and totally watchable, deserrvong his prize in the acting department.

    SOURCE CODE (USA 2011) ***

    Directed by Duncan Jones

    When the lead character wakes up with the identity of an unknown man, the idea of the recent film UNKNOWN springs to mind.  With SOURCE CODE, the upcoming LIMITLESS and last year’s INCEPTION, suspense thrillers involving the brain and the mind appears the in thing in Hollywood movies.

    This is a good thing as films of this genre play mind games with the audience and forces the audience to think in order to enjoy their movies.  In SOURCE CODE, a thriller variation of GROUNDHOG DAY, decorated soldier Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) repeatedly wakes up in the body of an unknown man after dying in a train bombing.   He discovers he''s part of a mission to find the bomber of the Chicago commuter train. In an assignment unlike any he''s ever known, he learns he''s part of a government experiment called the "Source Code," a program that enables him to cross over into another man''s identity in the last 8 minutes of his life.

    With a second, much larger target threatening to kill millions in downtown Chicago, Colter re-lives the incident over and over again, gathering clues each time, until he can solve the mystery of who is behind the bombs and prevent the next attack.  Only then is he allowed by the agency to die.

    Filled with mind-boggling twists and heart-pounding suspense, SOURCE CODE is a smart action-thriller directed by Duncan Jones who has proven his mettle at suspense thrillers with his last smaller budget film MOON.  Gyllenhaal is convincing as the desperate soldier but top acting honours goes to Vera Farmiga who plays Goodwin, a sympathetic soldier who aids Colter in his mission.  For a boring character role that demands mainly her speaking to Colter on a video screen, Farminga brings emotion, tension and spark.

    The films special effects are excellent, especially the exploding train.  The recurring segments are as much fun to watch as they are brain teasers.  Though the story is quite novel, the script sinks into clichéd territory with characters like the evil agency head (Jeffrey Wright) who will stop at nothing to further his career on the pretext of doing good for humankind.  Having him walk with a limp and a cane (I found this hilarious) reminds one of a James Bond villain.

    The film ends, obviously with Colter completing his mission.  But the script has a twist that tags on an unbelievable happy ending that is somewhat unsatisfying for that very reason.  Films that do not have a happy ending like CASABLANCA can turn out to be better films.

    WINTER IN WARTIME (Netherlands 2008) ***** Top 10

    Directed by Martin Koolhoven

    A Dutch war film based on the novel of the same name by Jan Terlouv based on his war experiences; WINTER IN WARTIME is a combination coming-of-age and adventure story of one 14 year old Dutch boy in the midst of WWII.

    Told from the point of view of a young boy named Michiel van Beusekom (Martijn Lakemeier), the film begins with his witnessing of a crashed plane from his bedroom window.  He meets the downed and injured pilot Jack (Jamie Campbell Bower).  As he befriends Jack, he comes to terms with family loyalty, guilt and doing the right thing.  Michiel hates the Germans and dislikes his father, the town major for being neutral instead of helping the Resistance like his Uncle Ben.  But nothing is what it seems as Michiel finds out the hard way.  His sister Erica (Melody Klaver), a nurse is forced to aid and falls in love with Jack.  Circumstances lead to Jack killing a German soldier. The result is the Germans shooting the town major unless the culprit owns up.  Finally Michiel and Ertica aid Jack escape in a very suspenseful segment reminiscent of Hitchcock’s TORN CURTAIN.

    The winter cinematography is stunning with the screen covered in beautiful white most of the time.  From the snow of the countryside down to the frigid cold freezing water of the pond that Michiel falls in, WINTER IN WARTIME is gorgeous to look at, especially the bright red blood dripping on the white snow.  The music by Pinio Donnagio especially at the end is chilling, like the score Bernard Herrmann used to churn out in the Hitchcock films.

    The most satisfying element in the film is the story’s irony.  As much as Michiel hates the Germans, it is a German soldier that saves him and pulls him out of the frozen pond.  Michiel is torn between loyalty to his family (particularly his father) or to the allies.  The film has a neat twist towards the end that sets all things right.

    WINTER IN WARTIME is a rare adventure film that comfortably blends in the human element. The emotions and feeling of the young boy are reflected in his dealings with the enemy, strangers, his family as well as the shady characters.

    But WINTER IN WARTIME is primarily a true exercise in suspense.  Koolhoven utilizes many Hitchcock tactics – like the boy looking through the binoculars and then having them snatched by his sister’s so hat the audience has what they see suddenly taken away from them. He does this again at the end when Jack is making his escape by climbing under the bridge.

    This film was a major box-office hit in the Netherlands when it opened. WINTER IN WARTIME was also chosen by the Dutch Critics as the best Dutch film of 2008 and it won the PZC Audience Award (best movie based on a novel), three Rembrandt Awards and three Golden Calf awards. It was chosen Best Film by the Young Jury (14-18 years) at the Rome Film Festival and was shortlisted (with 8 other movies) at the Oscars for Best Foreign Film. It took 3 years to reach North America but the film is well worth the wait.

    WRECKED (USA 2010) **

    Directed by Michael Greenspan

    WRECKED is yet another thriller like UNKNOWN and SOURCE CODE where the protagonist wakes up not remembering who his and how he got there.

    The plot of WRECKED, however, is overtly simple.  A man, simply called ''Man'', (Oscar winner Adrien Brody) who wakes up in a car after an accident, covered in blood and with no recollection of who he is or what he''s done before. When he goes through the contents of the car wreck he starts to suspect he has committed an armed robbery gone bad.  The rest of the film documents his escape to safety amidst several obstacles that include his leg trapped in the car and a hungry menacing wild cat.

    No, thankfully, man need not have to cut his leg (as in 27 HOURS) to get free.  But WRECKED similar to one man movies like BURIED suffers the same problems.  The writer puts in the story isolated objects that will be used to aid the escape.  In BURIED, the one in the coffin for no reason had matches and a cell phone.  In WRECKED, man has a lighter and cell phone.  The script conveniently had the cell not work because of poor signal strength till later on.  Also, at the film’s climax when man is approached by the wild cat, there is conveniently a dead body by his side for man to feed and satisfy the wild cat.  When watching the film, there is no suspense and one knows that the writer will put in some object to save man.

    The success of films of this sort depends largely on the lead’s performance.  Brody, who has already won an Oscar for THE PIANIST is good, but he has already proven the point.  In fact Brody gets really annoying during the second half of the film.

    At the end of the film, flashbacks suddenly occur revealing the circumstances behind man being in the wreckage.  Again, how convenient!  WRECKED was shot in just 18 days!  And it shows!


    Best Film Opening This Week: Winter in Wartime
    Best Film Playing: Winter in Wartime
    Best Family: Hop
    Best Documentary: Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls
    Best Foreign: Winter in Wartime

    Avoid: The Dilemma

  • Single with Baggage From Jersey to Montreal

    I really needed a break, a get away from it all travel by myself mini vacation kind of trip. I decided to go to Elizabeth, NJ (right next to Newark) for three days because Air Canada had a great seat sale and then to take VIA Rail to Montreal for the weekend.

    The great thing about Elizabeth, New Jersey is that they have a shopping mall with over 200 outlet stores called Jersey Gardens. Jersey Gardens has high end stores like Saks Fifth Avenue and Ambercrombie & Fitch to stores like Marshalls and Rainbow. I went there armed with a list of what I really needed as opposed to just buying things for the sake of it. I really needed a new down winter coat that was very warm, and I ended up getting a coat and a jacket (Michael Kors) for a super reasonable price because of the time of year.

    I stayed at the Country Inn Suites for 3 nights because: a. it’s super reasonable, b. they have a free shuttle from the Newark Airport and a free shuttle to and from Jersey Gardens Mall, c. they only charge $10.00 a night for incidentals, d. they have a free breakfast every morning from 6am-9am, e. if you miss the free breakfast they are right next door to IHOP and Ruby Tuesdays, f. it’s clean and nice, and g. the staff are very accommodating and friendly. Of course I never book any hotel without reading the reviews Trip Advisor first.

    If you are a single traveller like me and you want to experience more than just shopping in Jersey Gardens, I would suggest that you take the local NJ Transit 111 or the 115 bus form Jersey Gardens Mall straight into Port Authority in Manhattan. A local bus is only $6.50/each way. There are other shuttles and coaches that cost much more, but why pay that when you don’t have to. I was only in New York for an hour. I came out of Port Authority, went into the clothing store Strawberry to look around, headed out on the street and began my familiar walk, and then my knee and foot gave out…BOOM CHAKA… and so I could not go to my favourite pizza joint and ended up having a not so great slice of chicken pizza and then I limped by Madame Toussaint’s Wax museum and Morgan Freeman was the figure on display outside, and then I walked behind a lady talking on her cell phone about an appointment with a woman to communicate with the dead. I LOVE NEW YORK CITY… but I had to head back to Jersey because by this time I was limping.

    No offence to Newark Tourism but if you are travelling on your own you probably should not venture to downtown Newark on your own…it is an experience that well, it’s an experience is all I can say.

    On my last night I went to my favourite place to eat in America; TGIF Fridays and they had a special on three course meals for only $16.99. I chose the Spinach flatbreads as an appetizer, and my favourite meal the Jack Daniels Chicken and Shrimp Combo and the Brownie Supreme for dessert.

    I returned to Toronto after 3 days to start the next leg of my trip; VIA Rail to Montreal, Quebec for the weekend. I booked at the Maritime Plaza Hotel.

    I’m on the train now, and have not been on VIA Rail since 2004, and they have really changed for the better…real comfy seats, internet, who could ask for more.

    Well, of course that little description was before the darn train started. It is quite a bumpy ride…good thing I have strong insides…I don’t know how those people managed to sleep so well with all of that bumping and hard jerking of the train, but somehow they did it.

    I arrived at my hotel and told the front desk staff how they had good reviews on line (perhaps I spoke too soon). I went to my room and um well let’s just say I could not stay there.  It was damp and dank, and the carpet was not clean and the sheets had some stains and hairs and things.  So, I called the front desk to let them know. I was given a key to an upgrade (at no extra cost of course) and was sent to the Executive Suites. This room was cleaner and nicer it was no Omni or Westin, but I was definitely more comfortable.

    In the evening I set out to find somewhere to have dinner. I found a bar on Crescent that looked super popular for their menu but they weren’t too nice to me at the door, so I left. As I was walking I tried to remember the name of a Mexican restaurant I used to go to all the time, but the name escaped me. And then as if by chance, I looked up and there it was, 3 Amigos. I ordered the grilled salmon, tiger shrimp, rice and mixed veggies; it was filling and pretty awesome.  There was loud festive Mexican music in the background with a dash of reggae, great service and they had St. Patrick’s Day decorations mixed in with the multi coloured Mexican décor. I ate chocolate mousse for dessert (though I swear I ordered the bailey’s cheesecake) all for $30.00 (no more American prices for big meals). I asked the manager to take a picture of me by the front door, but I have a new camera and didn’t know how to get it to work. The manager was like… “When you figure it out come and get me and I will take the picture.” It took some time but I finally figured it out, and he actually came back and took a picture of me grinning by their front door.

    On my final morning in Montreal, I ate a nice full breakfast at the train station and then boarded the train. This time it was open seating and they boarded the train much earlier than the specified time. By the time I got on the train there was only one seat left beside a man who tried to ignore me and had his jacket on the chair. Let’s just say this, the train that I took back to Toronto was not as spacious or modern as the one I left in. the man beside me was very rude and had his arm and elbow on the arm rest and very much into my private space. I spent a lot of the trip sighing and leaning way out into the aisle to move away from his legs and arms.  He was quite rude and though I was upset to the 1000th power, I kept my thoughts to myself. To make matters worse out of all the things to order he ordered crackers and tuna in a can (sigh).  I never said a word but I wrote in my notebook how angry I was at the inconsiderate man beside me (something I always tell the youth I work with to do). The only thing that made me smile a little bit was what happened when I got up to let him go to the bathroom.  When he returned I stood up to let him sit down and he yelled, “NO NO NO DON’T GET UP YET!!”  I was thinking to myself, “Lord please give me strength.” And then when he finally decided to sit down he banged his head so hard on the way back down to his seat, I thought to myself, “Now see, what happens when you are mean to people on the train.”

    I arrived safe and sound back in Toronto and I can say that once again that being Single With Baggage really is not so bad, unless of course you sit by a rude man eating tuna and crackers for 6 hours on a train.

    This trip is rated:

  • Cinefranco 2011


    14th Cinefranco 2011

    March 23rd, 2011 by Gilbert Seah


    14th Cinefranco a Toronto

    Cinéfranco, English Canada’s largest celebration of international francophone cinema is celebrating its fourteenth year in Toronto from Friday, March 25 – Sunday, April 3, 2011 at Toronto’s new centre for film lovers

    - the TIFF Bell Lightbox as well as the NFB Mediatheque.  Cinéfranco 2011 is an oasis for lovers of francophone cinema with 7 North American Premieres, 3 Canadian Premieres, and 10 English Canadian Premieres and a showcase of 27 features, 7 documentaries and 10 shorts.

    Marcelle Lean, Founder/Artistic & Executive Director of Cinéfranco says of this year’s festival, “Family is the thread that runs through much of this year’s Cinéfranco program.  From ‘policiers’ to comedies and thrillers, to adventures, documentaries and dramas - films from Algeria, Belgium, Canada (Quebec, Ontario, New Brunswick), France, Morocco and Switzerland by master filmmakers with stars like Gérard Depardieu, Natalie Baye, Patrick Bruel, Isabelle Huppert, Canada’s Saul Rubinek, and Sabine Azema explore the ties of blood, as well as families created by need or circumstance.”

    Cinéfranco’s 2011’s Opening Night film (English Canada Premiere) is a psychological drama in the tradition of Hitchcock.  Impasse du désir directed by Michel Rodde and starring Quebec superstar Rémy Girard, is a Swiss film with an international cast including Natacha Regnier, the Belgian actress in the role of Carole Block, who cheats on her older husband (Rémy Girard).  Robert (Girard), a psychiatrist is obsessed with the situation, preventing him from concentrating on his patients until he meets Leo Debod, a depressive and psychotic bachelor who Robert realizes will provide him with the perfect means of relieving his suffering……………

    Director Michel Rodde will present his film Impasse du désir at Cinéfranco.
    Quebec actor Rémy Girard will be in attendance at Cinéfranco with two films:
    The Swiss thriller, Impasse du désir and Quebecois comedy Y’en aura pas de facile (Tough Luck).

    This year’s Closing Night film, Comme les 5 doigts de la main (5 Brothers) is an English Canadian Premiere by French director Alexandre Arcady.  Well known for his sagas of North African (Pieds Noirs) Jewish families, Arcady combines the drama of a complex family and the discovery of a secret that will tear the brothers apart.  A captivating thriller, 5 Brothers features a cast of renowned French actors including Patrick Bruel, Pascal Elbé (also seen in Tête de Turc/Turk’s Head), Eric Caravaca (also seen at Cinéfranco in La Petite chambre/The Little Room), Vincent Elbaz (also seen at Cinéfranco in Tellement proches/Happy Together), Françoise Fabian, and Michel Aumont (also seen at Cinéfranco in Les Invités de mon père/My Father’s Guests).

    Guests at Cinefranco 2011:

    Rémy Girard (Impasse du désir/ Y en aura pas de facile)
    Michel Rodde, filmmaker (Impasse du désir)
    Marc André Lavoie et Esther Long (Y’en aura pas de facile)
    Guy A. Lepage (L’Appât)
    François Delisle (2 fois une femme)
    Mirianne Brûlé (2 frogs dans l’Ouest)
    Jessica Malka (2 frogs dans l’Ouest)
    Driss Chouika (Destins croisés)
    Saul Rubinek (Kill Me Please)
    Dany Chiasson (Ma Jeanne d’Arc)
    Maxime Desmons (D’une rive à l’autre)
    Fadel Saleh (Les Conspirationnistes)
    Vital Kosongo (L’épopée de Sumbu Kalambay)
    Zefred (Morteterre)
    Suzy Cohen (Symphonia)
    Jocelyn Forgues (Mémoires d’un Magasin general)
    Suzanne Chiasson (Donald McGraw et le cercle des chefs)* (TBC)
    Guy A. Lepage (L’Appât)
    Dominic Desjardins (panelist)
    Jean-Marc Larivière (panelist)
    Eric Cader (presenter)
    Professor Eric Jennings (U of T)

    Cinéfranco 2011 Box Office information:
    Tickets: $12 Students and seniors (Age 60 +): $10; Up to 18: ($8 proof of ID required); Festival Pass (10 tickets): $99
    Walkup: 10am to 10 pm daily –TIFF Bell Lightbox, Reitman Square, 350 King Street West Online*: cinefranco.com
    By phone*: 10 am to 7 pm daily 416-599-TIFF (8433) or toll free 1-888-599-8433
    *Surcharge on tickets purchased online or by phone
    The presence of guests may be subject to last minute changes, which is not Cinéfranco’s responsibility.

    For box office, ticketing, schedule and program info please go to:  http://www.cinefranco.com

    For information on Cinefranco 2011 films in English & French, please go to website: http://www.cinefranco.com/page/2011-festival
    (Please note: on the upper right hand corner icon – indicates ENGLISH or FRENCH version of film information; just hit icon)

    All films at Cinéfranco are screened with English subtitles

    Capsule Reviews for Selected Films:

    ENSEMBLE C’EST TROP (France 2010) **
    Directed by Lea Fazer
    The French usually come up with great ideas for their comedies.  In Lea Fazer’s ENSEMBLE C’EST TROP, a career oriented husband Sebastien finds that his father (Pierre Arditi) has cheated on his mother getting his much younger mistress pregnant.  The mother, Marie-France (Natahlie Baye) is all distraught and ends up staying with Sebastien’s family that includes three children.  As the title implies this ensemble is too much – much sad to say also for the audience.  For one this idea is not that novel and is stretched way too far.  The film includes the delivery of the mistress’ baby and much more.  The audience would hardly care what happens for the fact that all the characters are tres annoying down to the kids.  Audiences might wish to catch this flick for the performances of veteran French stars Arditi and Baye but the film is essentially good actors playing annoying characters in a not-so-funny comedy!

    FAIR IS FAIR (DONNANT DONNANT) (France 2009) ***
    Directed by Isabelle Mergault
    The third film by Isabelle Mergault proves a delight from the fact that she has a keen eye for observations, eliciting humour from every situation.  The plot involves an escaped convict, Constant Billot (Daniel Auteuil who proves he is apt enough in comedy) taking shelter in a barge.  He is blackmailed by Silvia to kill her adopted mother (Sabine Azema).  His good nature causes him to save mother’s life instead of killing her with, yes, a sledgehammer.  But the mother falls for him and he falls for Silvia.  If the story sounds pretty serious, Mergault’s film is actually pure comedy from start to finish.  Billot suffers for a stroke causing him to mispronounce his words – a running joke throughout the movie.  The funniest laugh out loud bits involves Billot having his medical tests.  FAIR IS FAIR though predictable is quite entertaining delight.

    IMPASSE DU DESIR (Switzerland 2010) ***1/2
    Directed by Michel Rodde

    This dark psychological murder drama reminds one immediately of the suspense films French master Claude Chabrol used to turn out in the 60’s and 70’s.  In the true tradition of Chabrol, IMPASSE DU DESIR has a plot that involves suspense, mirder, jealousy and a ménage a trios.  Canadian actor Remy Girard plays a successful practising psychiatrist who transforms into a monster worse than many of his patients when he discovers his wife and the love of his life, the much younger Natacha Regnier has an affair with another man of her age.  He meets apsyhotic unstable patient played by Laurent Lucas who he uses as an instrument to further his compulsive means.  When the wife finally decides to leave him, the doctor loses it with murderous consequences.  All the elements of textbook descent into craziness is here and director Rodde achieves the best performances of his actors especially Girard.  A Chabrol film usually has a fantastic twist or climax at the end but the ending here is a little o a disappointment considering that Rodde has taken his audience for quite the ride!

    IN GOLD WE TRUST (600 KILOS D’OR PUR) (France/Italy 2010) ***
    Directed by Eric Besnard
    A group of adventurers set out to rob a gold mine in the heart of Guyana. But the operation goes awry. 600 kilos of pure gold is a mighty loot when you have to lug it on your back!  Soon the thieves are chased down. Pushed into the hostile jungle, the runaways fend for their lives and their gold.  But one of them is a female, Camille (Audrey Dana) with a heart.  This is less a robbery film that an escape film through the jungle being pursued by the robbed.  They led the tide of the river carry them downstream to the sea where they hope to escape but it turns out they are travelling the wrong way.  The film takes a turn to being a human story with romance coming in and Camille risking her life for a pregnant native.  What stands out in this film is the attention to detail.  The escape through the treacherous jungle is what makes this movie.  But yes, there is a surprise happy ending.

    KILL ME PLEASE (France 2009) ***
    Directed by Olias Barco
    A medical institution operated by Dr. Kruger (Aurelien Recoing) offers, for a fee, rich terminal patients a chance to die with dignity, often holding a chance of champagne of after a sexual orgasm.  KILL ME PLEASE charts a few successful deaths but mostly the troubles the results that occur because in life (or death for that matter), nothing goes according to plan.  Patients demand to die first, the villagers around the institution stage a protest and a government official is sent to investigate the institution.  Director Olias Barco shoots his film in grainy black and white giving the film a documentary as well as a German old impressionist feel – probably inspired by the classic THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI.  KILL ME PLEASE is interesting enough with spikes of black humour but Braco’s keeps drumming too many times Dr. Kruger’s best intentions.  The climax of the film includes an all out shootout, guns and all.  An intriguing and different film with a weird sense of black humour!  Guest Canadian actor Saul Robinek plays a Canadian patient in the movie.

    THE LITTLE ROOM (LA PETITE CHAMBRE) (Luxembourg/Switz 2010) ***
    Directed by Stéphanie Chuat and Véronique Reymond
    LA PETITE CHAMBRE is a very fragile and emotional drama about a home care nurse, Rose (Florence Loiret-Caille) coping with the birth of a still born.  The little room of the title is the room reserved for the baby and has been untouched and decorated as a nursery.  One of Rose’s patients is an aging Emond (the excellent veteran French actor Michel Bouquet) whose son wants him put in a nursing home.  Rose helps him escape and he settles in the little room.  The film besides has some incredible sensitive touches as in a scene when Emond plays with two children.  The audience will sympathize with the two leads, Emond surviving old age and Rose with the tragedy.  The tacked on happy ending is a bit of a cop-out.
    MAMMUTH (France 2009) ***
    Directed by Gustave Kervern and Benoît Delépine
    MAMMUTH is a strange movie but often strange is good.  At the ripe age of 60, Serge (Gerard Depardieu) cannot get his pension because he is missing documents from his past jobs. His wife (twice Cesar winner for Best actress Yolande Moreau) tells him to go get his papers. Serge hits the road on his 1970 Mammuth bike. His trip across France is packed with realistic, humorous and sometimes strange encounters.  In this road trip movie, he discovers himself and returns with love to his wife at a point when she is shaving her armpits.  The encounters are just as strange, Serge getting robbed by a bimbo posing as a cripple, getting jerked off with and by his male cousin naked and falling in love with his niece.  The audience learns that Serge has never got over the love he lost (Isabelle Adjani) whose corpse keep appearing and telling him what to do.  Never boring and filled with strange surproses, MAMMUTH is a bike road trip movie with a difference.

    Directed by Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano
    Thirty something man-child Alain (Vincent Elbaz) cannot handle being a father. His wife Nathalie (Isabelle Carre) is always glued to her family: her brother, a lawyer who brags and owes everybody money; her sister in law who raises her daughter like a horse in a show and her other sister who has completely lost it… The film centres on a family dinner where everyone gets together.  The daughters perform playing horridly their musical instruments while the other kids run about amok.  While not screaming at the kids, the adults are shouting and arguing amidst any other cathastophes that can happen like lights going off or bad dinners or falling off seats.  This is a film about really annoying characters that no one cares about.  Their antics are childish and meaningless and totally irritating.  Nothing is remotely funny either.  What is the purpose of making such a movie is the biggest wonder.  Avoid this film at all costs.  Hearing your roomate’s blaring sound system is more enjoyable!

  • This Week's Film Reviews (Mar 24, 2011)

    Quantity is the order of the week.  Despite 8 or so new films opening, the Cinefranco Toronto French film Festival and Arthur Penn retrospective at TIFF Lightbox also make their debut.


    HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN (Canada/USA 2011) ****

    Directed Jason Eisener

    HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN is the debut feature film of director Jason Eisener whose only other film credit is his Sundance Short Award Winner TREEVENGE in which Christmas trees take revenge on the holiday makers cutting them down. So, one would expect a strange experience from HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN.

    And Jason Eisener delivers.  Blood, guts innards, dismembered digits and all!  The plot involves a vigilante homeless man, the Hobo of the title (Rutger Hauer) pulling  into a new unnamed city and finds himself trapped in urban chaos, a city where crime rules and where the city''s crime boss reigns.   As this is basically a Canadian flick, the unnamed city could be in the U.S. as well thus giving the film a wider audience appeal.  The urban landscape is filled with armed robbers, corrupt cops, abused prostitutes and even a pedophile Santa jerking off in his car by a school (who of course gets his comeuppance).  The Hobo goes about bringing justice to the city the best way he knows how - with a 20-gauge shotgun. “You can’t solve all the world’s problems with a shotgun,” Abby (Molly Dunsworth) tells him.  His reply: “That’s all I know!”  Mayhem ensues when he tries to make things better for the future generation.

    The script by John Davies is filled with great quotes.  The best comes from Slick who is just about to have his dick blown off.  “Please don’t shoot my dick off!  I still have a lot of f**king left to do!” or perhaps from a crooked cop who tells Abby: “You are so hot, I will cut off my c**k and rub it on your titties!”.  Besides the choice dialogue, director Eisener fills his screen with lots of red, from blood to fire (to the tune of Burn, Baby, Burn) and to even more blood.

    The film is full of action with never a dull moment from start to finish.  The characters are screaming at the top of their lungs half the time so that no one can doze off.  The characters are down right nasty especially Drake (Brian Downey) the main villain of the piece down to his two sons (Gregory Smith and Nick Bateman), Tom Cruise RISKY BUSINESS look-alike complete with the shades and all.

    Eisener is unafraid to surprise his audience up to the very last reel.  If you think the heroine will get away unscathed, maybe she will but not till she loses her fingers, cut off by the blade of a lawnmower.

    HOBO WITH  SHOTGUN is inspired and energetic filmmaking that is also loads of fun.  But what is the message here?  There is one, but it is likely hidden in all the bloodied piled up body parts.

    HORS-LA-LOI (OUTSIDE THE LAW) (Fr/Tun/Alg/Bel 2010) **
    Directed by Rachid Bouchareb

    The direct follow-up though not a sequel of Bouchareb’s excellent INDIGENES (DAYS OF GLORY), OUTSIDE THE LAW takes place in time when the last film ended.  The story is completely different though both films share the same 3 stars.

    The story takes place between 1945 and 1962 and focuses on the lives of three Algerian brothers in France, set to the backdrop of the Algerian independence movement (the FLN) and the Algerian War.  (The first had the 3 stars as Algerians recruited to aid the French fight the Germans in WWII.)  While the first film was a feel-good film that displays the Algerians in good light, OUTSIDE THE LAW is the direct opposite.  It is a wonder that the film got French financing considering its dangerous theme  Bouchareb is dead serious with the theme and it shows throughout the film.  The portrayal of the 1945 Setif massacre which shows the French killing off Muslims without thought and pity is disturbing to watch.  The ease at which Muslim lives were destroyed also questions how much have been exaggerated on screen.  What also is noticeable in that the film is totally devoid of humour.  Bouchareb’s film is dead serious from start to end – too serious – and this creates a problem in the story’s flow and acceptance.

    The story concentrates on the beliefs and lives of the three brothers.  One is totally dedicated to the course, another but with restraint but the third sympathetic but more involved in his boxing scheme.  The narrative is split into three which weakens its strength especially with the three all feeling differently about the FLN.  The scene where brother is pitted against brother is moving but a bit difficult to take in.

    OUTSIDE THE LAW is well shot, acted but it is a pity that the film is so one sided.  Bouchareb is an excellent filmmaker with this film being his third nominated for the Best Foreign Film Academy Award.  He is currently making another period film with a similar there.  Hopefully, it will be more like DAYS OF GLORY than this one.

    SUCKER PUNCH (USA 2011) ***
    Directed by Zack Snyder

    Following in the reins of 300 and WATCHMEN, director Zack Snyder’s latest action fantasy flick is a more ambitious, artistic and poetic film with more sex, dragons and fights but with even more emotions added in.

    SUCKER PUNCH is a story of a girl’s fight for survival.  Set in the 1950s, Babydoll (Emily Downing) is sent to a mental institution in by her step-father.  With only her dreams and vivid imagination to provide an escape from her dark reality, she fights on.  Unrestrained by the boundaries of time and place, she is free to go where her mind takes her, blurring the lines between what''s real and what is imaginary.  She enlists four other young girls - the outspoken Rocket (Jean Malone), the street-smart Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens), the fiercely loyal Amber (Jamie Chung), and the reluctant Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish) — to band together and try to escape from their captors.

    The action segments take the girls into fantastical warfare against everything from samurai to serpents, with a virtual arsenal at their disposal. These are shot using CGI and are stunning to look at on screen.  The fights are just as exciting.  The only problem is that since the fights are mainly her fantasies, a bit of thrill and suspense is lost as the audience knows everything is not really real, though the lines are blurred.

    In the emotions department though there is no clumsy romance added in the plot. The reasons behind Babydoll entering the asylum is emotion enough – her love protecting her sister from the evils of their stepfather.

    Director Snyder ups the sex factor too.  At times, the film looks like a modern revamp of female prison films like CAGED HEAT, especially in the scene where Babydoll first enters the asylum and witnesses two pretty inmates wrestling on the floor pulling hair.  The scanty clad costumes add to the sexual angst.

    Though no original songs were used in the film, classics like “White Rabbit”, “Love is the Drug” and “Put Some Sugar on Me” were used when the girls are launched into fantasy land.

    If 300 and WATCHMEN are you cup of tea, SUCKER PUNCH delivers more than a punch.  But still once the actions starts, the film reduces back to nothing more than an emotionless action film with very little plot or story.


    Directed by Leanne Pooley


    The Topp Twins from Huntly, New Zealand are a folk singing sister duo who do comedy as well.  Famous in New Zealand especially for their live and television shows, the twins are also activists for just causes.  Pooley’s film shows as much as possible on the twins.

    Some things are difficult to reason.  As one interviewee put it in the film: “Who would believe that two yodelling lesbians singing country and western would make it so big”?  But the film clearly shows the audience why.  Jools and Lynda Topp are down to earth everyday wholesome girls with a cheerful, winning cheerful personality always laughing or singing and putting their audiences at ease with their performances.  Never intimidating and always fun, the Topp Twins are tops!

    Poole’s documentary takes the same amiable route.  In fact the film won the Toronto International Film Festival People’s Choice Award.  Light and enjoyable, Pooley often just lets the girls talk and entertain through her film. But she pulls in three surprises tactically laid out during the film.

    The first occurs a third way during the film when the twins openly declare that they are lesbians.  But as one character put it, lesbians were at that time depicted as twisted people who ended up murdered or committing suicide.  They were not cheerful wholesome girls like the Topps.  The film goes on to playfully discuss their coming out and their fight for gay and lesbian rights.  One twin said: “The other side lost because they were full of hate and made grave mistakes!”   The second surprise show the side of the twins as activists taking up several worthwhile causes like land rights and nuclear freedom.  The third and most shocking documents Jool’s fight and victory over breast cancer.

    With an agenda as moving and crowd pleasing as described, this documentary makes one of the best feel-good films of the year.  One also gets to see them perform a few wacky TV characters as Camp Mother and Camp Leader, the Bowling Ladies and Ken and Ken, tow cross dressers.  THE TOPP TWINS: UNTOUCHABLE GIRLS is pure delight!

    WEST IS WEST (UK 2010) ***
    Directed by Andy DeEmmony

    More than a decade has past since Pakistani George (Om Puri) and his English wife (Linda Basssett) entertained audiences with the very funny EAST IS EAST.  In that movie, George wants his children to keep the Pakistani tradition and arranges marriages for his two sons.  He tries initially but finds the eldest turning up gay.

    WEST IS WEST is a completely different bag of tricks with George going past his limit and taking the youngest Sajit home to Pakistan to learn and appreciate his roots.  But Sajit is brought up English and initially hates everything Pakistani.  The action is set primarily in Punjab, Pakistan as opposed to Salford in greater Manchester where parts of this film is shot.

    Sajit makes friends, learns about life and gets to understand his father.  Less funny and more sentimental, WEST IS WEST is still entertaining meticulously crafted fodder with lots of laugh out loud laughs as well as a few tears shed as well.  Om Puri and Linda Bassett are winning in their roles but it is the kid Aqib Khan who steals the show.  WEST IS WEST puts the other British comedies FOUR LIONS and THE INFIDEL to shame.

    Direted by John Gray

    At one point when the Brooklyn boys were offered some weed, one of them  replies: “we don’t do that or pills for we are WHITE IRISH DRINEKRS.  John Gray’s film is a Brooklyn tale of one such kid, torn between his mates and family with the decision to stay or leave Brooklyn

    The story takes place in the early autumn of 1975 in Brooklyn.  18-year-old Brian Leary (Nick Thurston) is killing time, pulling off petty crimes with his street tough older brother Danny (Geoff Wigdor), whom he both idolizes and fears. He doesn''t really want to be a criminal, but he doesn''t share the dreams of his old friends from their working class neighbourhood either. The Brooklyn boys all yearn for the culturally approved 9-to-5 Civil Service jobs with benefit packages that will carry them through weekends of beer into lazy retirement.  But Brian has a secret -- he''s a talented artist. In the basement of the bagel shop beneath his parent''s apartment, he creates impressionistic charcoal and watercolor images of the stifling city that surrounds him.  But he also has to deal with an abusive father (Stephen Lang).

    Gray’s film is as energetic as his young cast.  The dialogue is ripe with really excellent small talk.  Sample: The best thing about you is still dripping down your father’s leg!”  And “It still feels like yesterday that you kicked me in the balls!”  The highlight of the film is the Rolling Stones concert takes place at the theatre where Brian works as an usher.  Sanny wants to rob the place to escape Brooklyn and the owner (Peter Riegert) needs the cash to pay his debt to Jimmy (Jimmy Palumbo).

    In a film like this, one can tell the overall outcome.  Brian will leave to make a better life for himself.  But Gray, who also penned the script has major surprises on the way.  A good unexpected twist occurs at the concert climax as does the final confrontation between father and Brian.

    The actors are pretty good especially the relatively unknown Nick Thurston who plays the lead of Brian.  The romance is believable and blends comfortably into the story.  WHITE IRISH DRINKERS ends up as a solid period family drama with well though of characters.  Gray grew up in Brooklyn and it shows.

    WIN WIN (USA 2011) ****

    Directed by Thomas McCarthy

    Like director McCarthy’s previous films THE STATION AGENT and THE VISITOR, WIN WIN concerns how a down and out guy redeems himself.

    The protagonist in this case is a not so bad person, an attorney by the name of Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti), who loves his wife but is flat broke.  He takes money from a client Leo Poplar (Burt Young) to take care of him being unable to locate his daughter.  But he puts Leo in a home.  Leo’s grandson Kyle (Alex Schaffer) suddenly shows up, running away from his mother (Leo’s daughter) and compassionate Mike and his wife Jackie (Amy Ryan) take him in.  Turns out the boy, Kyle is a star wrestler and aids Mike in the wrestling team in which Mike is a coach.  Then the mother Cindy (Melanie Lynskey) shows up to take the boy and her father Leo home.  The boy finds out that Mike took the money and had put Leo in a home.

    This is where Mike does well and redeems himself helping everyone out including Leo’s family.  WIN WIN is not overtly hilarious and the film takes its time to enchant the viewer.  The first half hour introduces the characters and the situation with few laughs.  But this gem of a film is pure heart and reinforces the fact that there is good in all human beings.  Past mistakes can be corrected and the bad past can be redeemed.

    With these points as a theme, director McCarthy who also wrote the script has come up with a winner of a feel good film.  The film is also well acted and it is good to see actor Paul Giamatti in a good guy role instead of always seeing him in films (like BARRNEY’S VERSION) where he plays unlikeable characters.  Veteran actor Burt Young is as good as the newcomer boy Alex Schaffer.  The wrestling scenes are believable enough as is the drama of the situation.  Best of all there is no sappiness in McCarthy’s film.

    At one point of the film Mike questions the boy what it is like to be famous.  “Feels very good,” says the boy.  Director McCarthy should feel the same way with this winner of a movie.


    Best Film Opening This Week: Win Win
    Best Films Playing: The Social Network/The Illusionist/True Grit/Another Year
    Best Family: Rango
    Best Documentary: Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls
    Best Foreign: Incendies
    Avoid: The Dilemma

  • Cinematheque Ontario presents – Arthur Penn (Mar 24 - Apr 6, 2011)



    Night Moves: The Films of Arthur Penn
    March 24, 2011 – April 6, 2011
    TIFF Bell Lightbox, Toronto

    TIFF marks the passing of one of American cinema’s finest auteurs, Arthur Penn (1922–2010), with a select retrospective, which spans his career from his fine fifties western The Left Handed Gun (1958) to its elegiac counterpart two decades later, The Missouri Breaks (1976). Often credited with igniting the New American Cinema and for preparing the way for such directors as Coppola, Friedkin, Schrader, and Scorsese with Bonnie and Clyde (1967), Penn was an innovator from the outset. The Left Handed Gun replaced the mythic with the intensely psychological, and Mickey One (1965), his still astounding dark comedy from the mid-sixties, drew on the audacity of the French New Wave in its heady mixture of tone and genre.

    Penn was many things, all of them admirable: a severe critic of American values, a generous chronicler of moral dissent, a maverick who helped disassemble the studio system, and, perhaps above all, an actor’s director. The list of actors who found new freedom and gave among their best performances in Penn’s cinema runs to well over a dozen, including Marlon Brando, Robert Redford, Warren Beatty, Anne Bancroft, Paul Newman and Gene Hackman.

    The Arthur Penn retrospective is in my opinion, the best one containing the best films held by TIFF in the past 3 years!

    For complete information on showtimes, ticket pricing and list of films, check the TIFF Cinematheque Ontario website at:

    Capsule Reviews of Selected films from the Retrospective:

    BONNIE AND CLYDE (USA 1967) *****
    Directed by Arthur Penn
    A landmark gangster film in many ways from the violence to its sex and nudity!  The film begins with the meeting of Bonne Parker (Faye Dunaway) with bank robber Clyde Barrow (Warren Beatty) as she spots him while naked trying to steal her mother’s car.  From then on, it is one heel ride for the audience with director Penn glamorizing the lifestyle of BONNIE AND CLYDE.  The film is very stylish and the performances more than excellent, garnishing all four leads Academy Award nominations in the acting categories.  Estelle Parsons won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her portrayal of the immensely irritating screaming wife and sister-in-law of Clyde Barrow.  This highly successfully film made stars of all the leads including Michael J. Pollard as C.W. Moss the not too bright driver who parks the getaway car during one bank robbery.  The film also contains a very touching scene between Bonnie’s mother and her.  The depression era is stunningly captured on film with Burnett Guffery winning the Oscar for Best Cinematography.  BONNIE AND CLYDE is highly enjoyable, perfectly directed and a film to be viewed again and again.

    THE CHASE (USA 1966) *****
    Directed by Arthur Penn
    THE CHASE is overblown melodrama – Peyton Place style.  A whole series of events involving current (at that time) issues like racism, class system, the sexual revolution and vigilantism are ignited in small southern town by the escape from prison of a local, Bubber Reeves (the at the time unknown Robert Redford).  The sheriff Calder (Marlon Brando) wants Bubber’s wife, Anna (Jane Fonda) who is having an affair with Jason Rogers (James Fox) to convince him to turn himself in, as the town is out for blood.  The cinematography of the south and the southern small town atmosphere is effectively captured on screen.  Based on the play by and with the script written by Horton Foote (who wrote TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD) and Lillian Hellman, the suspense is carefully built up right to the climax.  The best scene has Calder beaten up by three white guys for protecting a Blackman.  Though the film opened to poor box-office receipts and mediocre critical acclaim, THE CHASE is exciting, compelling, drama throughout with an all star cast that also includes E.G. Marshall, Robert Duvall, Angie Dickinson, Martha Hyer, Miriam Hopkins and a glimpse of songwriter Paul Williams playing the guitar and the film’s climax.  I would not ask for anything more!

    THE MIRACLE WORKER (USA 1962) *****
    Directed by Arthur Penn
    If ever a film or story is more moving, THE MIRACLE WORKER is it.  Based on the stage play that was also directed by Arthur Penn and starring both its stars Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke, the film is autobiography of Helen Keller (Duke) left blind, deaf and mute as a result of a severe case of scarlet fever.  Unable to deal with the child, her terrified and helpless parents hire Annie Sullivan (Bancroft) to the Keller home to tutor the child. What ensues is a battle of wills as Annie breaks down Helen’s walls of silence and darkness through persistence, love, and sheer stubbornness.  The most riveting segment, which is almost unbearable to watch is the dining room battle scene, in which Annie tries to teach Helen proper table manners.  Both Bancroft and Duke wore padding beneath their costumes to prevent serious bruising during the intense physical skirmish. The nine-minute sequence required three cameras and took five days to film.  Both Bancroft and Duke came away with Academy Award Winners for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress respectively.  The only complaint here is the hard-to-follow flashback scenes explaining Annie’s background prior to teaching.

    Directed by Arthur Penn
    A huge commercial failure despite its two stars Marlon Brando and Jack Nicholson, THE MISSOURI BREAKS is nevertheless an intriguing film that is entirely watchable though for the wrong reasons.  One can easily see why this otherwise dead serious western about a horse thief slipped into silliness, thanks mainly to Brando’s performance that includes a scene where he kisses his horse after reciting poetry to it.  (Perhaps director Penn had his throat slit immediately after that scene as an inside joke!)
    THE MISSOURI BREAKS refer to the forlorn and rugged area of North Central Montana where over time, the river had made deep cuts into the land.  Here horses roam and ranches flourish.  Tom Logan (Nicholson) is a horse thief that buys a ranch as a holding ground but encounters ‘regulator’ Lee (Brando) who kills his men.  Logan finally guns him down and steals a feisty, local girl (Kathleen Lloyd).  The film is stunningly well shot, performances over the top but the film contains never a dull moment.  Sample this dialogue: “No I did not kill him, but I did empty his tub!” Logan confesses after first meeting Lee.

    NIGHT MOVES (USA 1975) ****
    Directed by Arthur Penn
    This at that time (1975) modern detective film noir follows Private Investigator Harry Moseby (Gene Hackman) as he finds and brings back trust funded daughter Grastner (Melanie Griffith) to ageing actress Arlene Iverson (Janet Ward).  His personal life problems complicate his feelings for the case as he cheats on his wife (Susan Clark) with Paula (a very younger now popular Jennifer Warren).  As the case gets more complicated, so does his personal life spiral out of control.  Moseby uses his investigative skills to track down his wife’s lover as he did his lost father many years ago.  Hackman is excellent as the pitiless p.i. in arguably director Penn’s best movie since BONNIE AND CLYDE.  A satisfying and compelling film noir from start to finish!

  • I Marcus Garvey

    Monserrat-born playwright Edgar Nkosi White’s play “I Marcus Garvey” has been enjoying a well-reviewed run at The Papermill Theatre (67 Pottery Road). Directed by Rhoma Spencer, this production, presented by Theatre Archipelago in association with b current, runs until this coming Sunday, March 27th.

    When she recently spoke to AfroToronto.com, director Rhoma Spencer said she spent the last eight years trying to make the production happen. It’s indeed a project that is close to her heart. A smaller version of the play was staged in February of last year at both Papermill Theatre and the U. of T.’s William Doo Auditorium. On the strength of the positive reception, she felt confident about giving birth to the current production.

    In Rhoma Spencer’s eye, Marcus Mosiah Garvey (1887-1940) was a true visionary who lived way ahead of his time. “Long before Barack Obama’s Audacity of Hope, we had Marcus Garvey inspiring people of African descent everywhere to strive towards a better future. Long before Kwanza, Garvey spoke of recognizing Pan-Africanism and the value of African principles.” Spencer also adds that at the time when the League of Nations (now the UN) was carving Africa, Garvey was saying: “Leave Africa for Africans.”

    As founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL), Garvey was pivotal figure of the Black Nationalism and Pan-Africanism movements. He was a strong believer in economic self-reliance and for the need to develop black-owned businesses.

    Rhoma Spencer remarks how the UNIA’s emblematic red black and green colours are today represented in the post-colonial national flags of several African countries.

    “I Marcus Garvey”, a North American premiere, recounts Marcus Garvey’s life journey through his activism in Jamaica, England, America and Canada. The play is skillfully complemented with live music. Bob Marley’s powerful “Redemption Song” goes a long way into conveying Garvey’s message.

    The timing of the play, as Rhoma Spence points out, is very appropriate since 2011 was declared by the United Nations as the International Year for People of African Descent.


    Show info:

    Location: Papermill Theatre (67 Pottery Road)

    Runs until: March 27, 2011

    Time: 08:00 PM to 10:30 PM, Sunday Matinee 2pm

    Admission $15-$35
    Students $25

    Tickets online at www.totix.ca or in person at the TO Tix Booth, Dundas Square.

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