If you like poutine a lot-a, and getting caught in the rain

Sunday night was a fun kick-off for this year’s Worldwide Short Film Festival! Last night, the Canadian Film Centre (CFC) hosted its first “Square Party” at Toronto’s Yonge & Dundas Square to launch the festival. I attended with my brother and sister, and in addition to enjoying some video art on the funky Mega-Cube (like a 3D jumbo-tron), we took in a few rounds of Steamwhistle and free apps from Jack Astor’s (consensus: the Lobster-thing on cucumber slices was best). There was also live music by DJ TLO, The Wooden Sky, and Kids & Explosions. Special mention goes out to The Wooden Sky for keeping everyone’s spirit going at the event after the rain/thunderstorm hit!


A Tired Joke

Rubber ★★½
(France/Angola, 82 min.)
Written and directed by Quentin Dupieux
Starring: Robert the Tire, Stephen Spinella, Jack Plotnick, Wings Hauser.
Did you ever What’s up, Tiger Lily? that 1966 Woody Allen movie? In Tiger Lily, Allen takes a B-level Japanese action movie and re-dubs it with American voices and cheesy dialogue. It’s one really good joke that sustains itself surprisingly well for an 80-minute runtime. Much like Allen’s film, Rubber tries to stretch a great premise across a feature length film. Rubber is not nearly as successful as What’s up, Tiger Lily? but it makes a good try at it nonetheless.

Rubber is an absurd send-off to the horror genre. This time, the menacing killer is Robert, a self-aware tire that preys upon small animals and quickly learns to kill humans by using his awesome telekinetic power. Right…


Recycled Raunch

The Hangover Part II ★★★
(USA, 102 min.)
Dir: Todd Phillips; Writ: Craig Mazin, Scot Armstrong, Todd Phillips.
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, Ken Jeong, Justin Bartha.
This will just be a quick one since there isn’t a whole lot to say about The Hangover Part II. It’s a bit of a disappointment, frankly. Sure, it’s a lot of fun to see the Wolfpack back together again, but while their drunk and disorderly conduct still provides a chuckle, this follow-up to the 2009 smash hit just isn’t up to snuff with the original.

New Whistleblower Trailer!!!

A new trailer for The Whistleblower surfaced online today. It's the same one that I saw attached to The Bang Bang Club last week. I'm really glad this film is finally getting some promotion - I saw it at TIFF last year and REALLY LIKED IT (review here). Rachel Weisz gives an Oscar-worthy performance as real-life whistleblower Kathy Bolkovac, who exposed a sex-trafficking operation involving all kinds of top level people. The Whistleblower is a strong and compelling debut by Canadian director Larysa Kondracki. It opens in theatres August 5th: see it, see it, see it!!!

*Also on the note of new trailers, there's a teaser for Fincher's remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo playing with The Hangover Part II in Canadian theatres (apparently not in the US, though). It looks crazy! (Although I still have reservations that Rooney Mara can't out Lisbeth Noomi Rapace...)


A Big Warm Hug

Modra ★★★★
(Canada/Slovakia, 80 min.)
Written and directed by Ingrid Veninger.
Starring: Hallie Switzer, Alexander Gammal.
I’ve wanted to see Modra since it was named among Canada’s Top Ten films of 2010. Unfortunately, the film didn’t receive a theatrical release in Ottawa, save for a single screening at the Canadian Film Institute in February, which conflicted with the class I was TA-ing. Modra arrived on DVD last week, so I rushed out to my local Blockbuster to rent it… and of course, they didn’t get it.

After tweeting my irritation at Blockbuster’s lack of support for #cdnfilm, I received some sound advice that the film was also available for purchase. Not wanting to be a hashtag hypocrite, I moseyed on over to HMV and picked up the copy they had in stock. It was also a more economically sound choice, too, if one factors in the price of gas it would have taken for two trips to rent/return the movie at Bank and Heron, which was the closest place to rent Modra, when gas was priced near $1.30/litre. It was also a smarter move because I liked Modra so much that I would have bought it anyways.


It's Summer Movie Season!

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides ★★★
(USA, 137 min.)
Dir: Rob Marshall; Writ: Ted Elliot & Terry Rossio.
Starring: Johnny Depp, Penélope Cruz, Geoffrey Rush, Ian McShane.
Summer Movie Season gets its official launch with the fourth instalment (fourquel?) of The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. As far as blatant cash-grabs go, I have seen far worse than this (and I suspect we will see plenty with the unprecedented number of follow-ups hitting the big-screen in the upcoming months). On Stranger Tides certainly redeems the franchise from the inanity of At World’s End, and as Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush et al. swashbuckle to the jovial theme of the series, this Pirates lives up to the aim of its predecessors and provides pure escapism that the whole family can enjoy.

'Bang' is a Bit Off Target

The Bang Bang Club ★★★
(Canada/South Africa, 106 min.)
Written and directed by Steven Silver
Starring: Ryan Phillippe, Malin Akerman, Taylor Kitsch.
The Bang Bang Club is one of those movies that squeak by with a recommendation mainly because it is based on a true story. The film gives a quick snippet of the lives of a quartet of South African photojournalists whose ground-breaking and influential photographs garnered attention to worthy causes and in turn earned the photogs wide acclaim under the nickname “The Bang Bang Club”. The drama focuses primarily on two of the four Bang Bangs, Greg Marinovich (Ryan Phillippe) and Kevin Carter (Taylor Kitsch), and it chronicles their passionate efforts to put themselves into the heat of mass riots and violence in order to capture the truth on film.


The Mad Man of Documentary

Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold ★★★½
(USA, 90 min)
Dir: Morgan Spurlock; Writ: Morgan Spurlock and Jeremy Chilnick.
Is product placement or embedded market in film and television a bad thing? When I think about the novelty of noticing Carmela’s big Yahoo coffee mug on The Sopranos or appreciating how much the latest BMW roadster helps James Bond save the day, it seems that the odd endorsement harms nobody. In some cases, product placement actually helps – case in point being the “Junior Mint” episode of Seinfeld. “The Junior Mint” shows that not only is a small chocolate-coated peppermint patty very refreshing, it’s also a great comedic ploy when mixed with an open surgical cavity.

The mutually beneficial relationship between art and commerce serves as the premise for the latest meta-documentary by Super Size Me director Morgan Spurlock. In Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, Spurlock examines the ins and outs of brand integration and product placement within the film industry. Like he does in Super Size Me, Spurlock puts himself as the subject of his own inquiry in Pom Wonderful, and he interrogates the pros and cons of product placement by selling his own film to advertisers. As a result, sponsors pay a premium to have them and their products depicted favourably and figure prominently in the film. 


No Great Dane

In a Better World ★★½
(Denmark/Sweden, 119 min)
Dir: Susanne Bier; Writ: Anders Thomas Jensen
Starring: Mikael Persbrandt, William Johnk Nielsen, Ulrich Thomsen, Markus Rygaard, Trine Dyrlhom.
In a better world, there would not be any bullying. In a better world, there would not be any violence or discrimination. In a better world, everyone would be friends and dance happily around the meadows in celebration of the fact that we are all the same. Such plucky idealism seems to be the manifesto of Susanne Bier’s surprisingly overwrought examination of today’s youth as they grow up in a rapidly changing world.

In a Better World focuses on two children, Christian (William Johnk Nielsen) and Elias (Markus Rygaard), who befriend one another after a run-in with the schoolyard bully, Sofus. Elias is a meek child who passively accepts the constant torment; however, Christian is new to the school and refuses to become the new pariah. He fights back against Sofus, so violently in fact that he and Elias no longer have anything to fear. Christian’s rage, however, seems bubbling to the point of combustion and can barely be satisfied by all of the violent video games that he plays.


Sisterhood of the Side-Splitting Gags

Bridesmaids ★★★★
(USA, 125 min.)
Dir: Paul Feig, Writ: Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo
Starring: Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph Rose Byrne, Melissa McCarthy, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Ellie Kemper, Chris O’Dowd, Jill Clayburgh.
A riotous bitch slap in the face of fluffy pink Chick Flicks, Bridesmaids is one fun night at the movies! In fact, one scene of Bridesmaids is so funny that a woman sitting near me in the theatre actually so hard she farted. (They must have heard that in the back row!) Bridesmaids is coarse, but it's also cuddly, and it strongly blends ribald physical humour with rom-com sweetness. The script by Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo balances the two modes of comedy quite well, so Bridesmaids succeeds in its execution of crossover comedy. It’s fearlessly bawdy, without straying too far into vulgarity… and this is a film that features diarrhoea in a sink.


A Beaver Tale

The Beaver ★★★★
(USA, 91 min.)
Dir: Jodie Foster; Writ: Kyle Killen.
Starring: Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster, Anton Yelchin, Jennifer Lawrence, Cherry Jones.
It’s no secret that everyone has one question on their mind when approaching The Beaver: is it possible to watch Mel Gibson act crazy after he himself has gone nuts? The answer is a pleasantly surprising, “yes.” However, it’s also a bit of “no” as well. The reason why one must play Devil’s advocate with Jodie Foster’s Beaver is that the film is great stuff, but it’s arguably a completely different event than it would have been had Gibson stayed sane. If anything, though, Gibson’s notoriety adds to the film experience of The Beaver, much like how one gets a cheap thrill in watching Robert Blake in David Lynch’s Lost Highway after he was charged with the murder of his wife. 

It's Not the Size of Film Strip, It's How You Use It...

***Note: I posted this yesterday, but it was lost to the recent Blogger outage.***
Scenes from the Suburbs
I’m excited to report that I attended my first press conference yesterday. It was for the announcement of the Official Selection and other programs for the 17th annual Worldwide Short Film Festival (WSFF) put on by the Canadian Film Centre. (Thanks for the invite!) The CFC held a swanky launch for the fest at Sassafraz, the trendy Yorkville restaurant, and it was a lively event best summed up with three words: “Tom Hardy naked” (more on that later). WSFF 2011 has a lot to offer for both serious and casual moviegoers who happen to be in Toronto from May 31 - June 5. Full details on films, tickets, and programs can be found at www.shorterisbetter.com. If you need some help planning your weekend, here are ten shorts that are grabbed my eye:


Saw some Hot Docs This Week!

Best of the Fest is James Marsh's breath-taking Project Nim
Spent five wonderful days at Hot Docs in Toronto! Here's a recap of what I saw:

Day 1

Matchmaking Mayor ★★★½
(Slovakia/Czech Republic, 80 min.)
Dir: Erika Hnikova

Two’s a Crowd ★★★★
(USA, 20 min)
Dir: Jim Isler, Tom Isler

My first trip to Hot Docs had a wonderful start. After my brother cooked a tasty duck for dinner, we went with some friends to see Matchmaking Mayor. Matchmaking Mayor is a hilarious film about a small town in Slovakia called Zemplinske Hamre where the mayor (a former general) has decided that too many of his townsfolk are unmarried. To solve this problem, the mayor and his assistant plan a big party for all the singles in hope of creating some pairs. The mayor defends his choice to enter the private lives of his citizens by arguing that it is his duty as mayor to ensure the ongoing growth and survival of Zemplinske Hamre.