Thursday, March 31, 2011

Which is Better?

Wes Anderson
Bottle Rocket
The Royal Tenenbaums
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
The Darjeeling Limited
Fantastic Mr. Fox


Darren Aronofsky
Requiem for a Dream
The Fountain
The Wrestler
Black Swan

Which do you prefer? Let me know in the comments section

Reminder: The One Minute Film & Video Festival Returns Tonight!

This is a reminder that The One Minute Film & Video Festival takes place tonight at 7 p.m. at the Toronto Underground Cinema.

Thirty new works will be presented under the joint theme of our most recent calls
for submission, social/media. As in previous years, each film is required to be exactly sixty seconds in length – no more, no less – and filmmakers have been
encouraged to interpret the theme social/media as broadly as they wish, in
whatever manner they choose.

A jury of Toronto film professionals will select their favourites among the new
works presented at the 2011 One Minute Film & Video Festival, the results of
which will be announced at the screening. The jurors for the 2011 screening are:
Daniel Cockburn, director of Jay Scott Prize-winning feature film You Are Here;
Katarina Gligorijevic, writer and movie nerd; and Henry Wong, festival director of
Toronto Youth Shorts.

The One Minute Film & Video Festival screens tonight at
the Toronto Underground Cinema (186 Spadina Avenue), starting at 7 p.m.
Tickets are $10 at the door.

The One Minute Film & Video Festival is made possible through the generous
support of the Toronto Arts Council and Ontario Arts Council.
Media inquiries and accreditation requests can be made to Matt Brown, Festival
Director, at or by phone at 647-772-5827

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Adventures in Podcasting: Midnight Movie Club Episode 9 Season 2

I stop by the Midnight Movie Club podcast to take part in their “Three of the Best” segment. I share my thoughts on “Three of the Best Die Hard Films Not Named Die Hard.” Also in the episode, Lee and Dan, the show’s hosts, review the film From Dust Till Dawn. Make sure you check out the show and share your feedback with the Midnight Movie Club crew.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Sucker Punch Causes Confusion but Not A Knockout

Sucker Punch

I recently read an article that mentioned that action films with female driven protagonist do not do well at the box-office. According to the article, unless the film stars Angelina Jolie, interest from both men and women is low. The piece seems to allude that, in general, audiences to not care to see women kicking butt so to speak. I think the problem has more to do with the poor scripts and the blatant sexualization of the leads than it does with the public’s lack of interest. Zack Snyder’s latest film Sucker Punch is a perfect example of this.

Sucker Punch revolves around Baby Doll (Emily Browning), who after the death of her mother and sister, is unjustly sent to the Lennox House mental institution for women by her lecherous stepfather. Striking a deal with a crooked worker, Blue Jones (Oscar Isaac), at the institution, Baby Doll’s father arranges for his stepdaughter to be lobotomized in five days. This will ensure that Baby Doll cannot tell of his misdoings to the police or anyone else. To cope with the horror of being locked away at Lennox House, Baby Doll learns from therapist Dr. Vera Gorski (Carla Gugino) to channel her fears into creating an imaginary world where she is a fierce warrior. Drifting between the real world and the imaginary world, and with the clock ticking, Baby Doll designs a plan to escape the institution. In order for the plan to work she must enlist the help of Rocket (Jena Malone), Rocket’s sister Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), Amber (Jamie Chung), and Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens). Guided by the instructions of a mysterious Wise Man (Scott Glenn), the women embark on an adventure that will be far more challenging than they ever imagined.

To say Sucker Punch does not make a lick of sense is a major understatement. The audience spends the majority of the film trying to decipher what is going on and how is everything is connected? Part of the problem is that the audience is shown very little of “real life” is like in the institution. Everything they are shown is from Baby Doll’s imaginative view. Which brings up one of the questionable aspects to the film, why would Baby Doll’s envision the institution as a 1950’s style brothel? While there is one scene in the last fifteen minutes of the film where the guards allude to abusing the girls in some way, nothing else in the film offers any further explanation. Why is the “brothel world” even in the film at all? One would assume that Baby Doll should be able to go from the “real world” to the “warrior world” without even needing to go through the “brothel world” first.

On their own, each of the three worlds that inhabit Sucker Punch could have served as an interesting movie in its own right. The “real world” could have been a stylized female version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. As a film onto itself, the “brothel world” could have been a decent tale with rich and fully realized characters. Lastly the centrepiece of the film, the “warrior world” could have been a fun, and over-the-top, fantasy film that really let the female heroes let loose and have fun. Honestly it is perplexing why Snyder did not set the film in this world entirely. Judging by the level of action in the film, not to mention the overall marketing and animated short films teasers, it is clear that Snyder wanted this section to be the focal point.

While the visuals in the “warrior world” are nice at times, for the most part they are just glossy and hollow. This is due to the fact that the audience does not have any connection to either the characters, or the world. Besides Baby Doll being abused, and Rocket and Sweet Pea running away from home, there is nothing really unique or interesting about the characters. So watching attractive women, who the audience cares nothing about, fighting hoards of nameless creatures who have no ties to the main plot does not generate the excitement Snyder is hoping for. It also does not help that there is rarely any level of consequence in this world. The women can get punched through walls and still comeback looking like they just stepped out of the salon. As a result, the ”warrior world” is nothing more than big screen Manga comic that features buxom women and is poorly written.

Sucker Punch wants to be an action film that wants to make a smart commentary on how women are sexualized in action films and in the world in general. Unfortunately, the message gets lost since Snyder’s film is designed to appeal to teenage boys. It is “girl power” as seen through a man’s eyes. For all its talk about females finding the strength within them, being the controllers of their own fate, men being evil, etc. this film still manages to cater to a male demographic instead of a female one. This is most evident when Sucker Punch makes a point early on to clearly state that Baby Doll is twenty years-old. Besides Sweet Pea, and possibly Rocket, all the other women in the film look like teenage girls in lingerie. The fact that Baby Doll can only get to the “warrior world” via a raw sexually-charged dance, which the audience never sees, is not something that would get most females running to the theatre on opening day.

Zach Snyder is a director who usually knows how to balance glossy visuals, interesting characters, and entertaining plots. Yet Sucker Punch is a major misstep in an otherwise strong body of work. It is a film that should have been both a thrilling tale and a major step forward for solidifying females as viable action leads. Unfortunately, the film fails on both parts, it ends up being a film that is both insulting to popcorn movie fans and women in general. Those hoping to find strong female characters on par with Ripley in Aliens or Sarah Connor in the Terminator series will be sadly disappointed. To put it bluntly, Sucker Punch is one of the worst movies to hit theatres in recent years.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Movie Marketing Monday

The Greatest Movie Ever Sold

Documentary filmmaker, Morgan Spurlock, looks to be back in Super Size Me form with this fascinating approach to deconstructing marketing.

Mr. Popper’s Penguins

Jim Carrey takes on another beloved children’s story. I like what Carrey did with Lemony Snicket so hopefully he can bring that same energy to this film.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Reel Asian Now Accepting Submissions for 2011 Festival

Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival's 2011 Call for Submissions is now open! First deadline: April 1 (no fee). Final deadline: June 1 ($20 fee). Get your work into Canada's premier pan-Asian international film festival taking place Nov 8-13 (Toronto) and Nov 18-19 (Richmond Hill). For more info on submission guidelines, visit

Reel Asian is Canada’s largest and longest-running showcase dedicated to contemporary Asian cinema and media arts from Asia, North America and all over the world. Annually, the festival attracts thousands of attendees to six exciting days of screenings, industry events and gala.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The One Minute Film & Video Festival Returns

The One Minute Film & Video Festival is back! After a 2-year hiatus, the One
Minute Film & Video Festival presents our latest programme on Thursday, March
31 at 7 p.m. at the Toronto Underground Cinema.

Thirty new works will be presented under the joint theme of our most recent calls
for submission, social/media. As in previous years, each film is required to be exactly sixty seconds in length – no more, no less – and filmmakers have been
encouraged to interpret the theme social/media as broadly as they wish, in
whatever manner they choose.

In addition to new works from filmmakers in Toronto and around Canada, the
2011 One Minute Film & Video Festival features new films from Japan, Italy,
Australia, Germany, Poland, Romania, South Africa, and the United States,
offering a complete, international film festival experience in a single screening.
Festival Director Matt Brown has also put together a programme of thirty
personal favourites from the first five seasons of the One Minute Film & Video
Festival. This retrospective will screen jointly with the new works presented in the
social/media programme on March 31. A total of sixty one-minute films (thirty
new, thirty old) will screen starting at 7 p.m. at the Toronto Underground Cinema.

The One Minute Film & Video Festival was formed in 2003 as a result of a dare
between lapsed-filmmaker friends, who decided to make one-minute movies on
the theme of “neighbours” in a variety of genres and formats. Each year brings a
new theme, including “firsts” (2004), “intersections” (2005), “growth” (2006), and
“secrets” (2007). The theme for 2011, social/media, was selected to address the
growing collision of media, creativity, privacy, and our online identities.

A jury of Toronto film professionals will select their favourites among the new
works presented at the 2011 One Minute Film & Video Festival, the results of
which will be announced at the screening. The jurors for the 2011 screening are:
Daniel Cockburn, director of Jay Scott Prize-winning feature film You Are Here;
Katarina Gligorijevic, writer and movie nerd; and Henry Wong, festival director of
Toronto Youth Shorts.

The One Minute Film & Video Festival screens on Thursday, March 31 2011 at
the Toronto Underground Cinema (186 Spadina Avenue), starting at 7 p.m.
Tickets are $10 at the door.

The One Minute Film & Video Festival is made possible through the generous
support of the Toronto Arts Council and Ontario Arts Council.
Media inquiries and accreditation requests can be made to Matt Brown, Festival
Director, at or by phone at 647-772-5827

Friday, March 25, 2011

Sharing the Blogging Love

Wondering what bloggers have been chatting about this week?

Here is Your Reading Schedule for Today:

10 am: In Episode 8 of the second season of the Midnight Movie Club podcast, the guys discuss the John Woo/Van Damme film Hard Target.

11 am: Hatter has a nice piece on what it is like to experience Gremlins again through a child’s eye.

12 pm: Episode 39 of the Reel Insight podcast highlights the career of Alan Rickman.

1 pm: Sasha shares her thoughts on Sucker Punch. A film I hope to catch this weekend.

2 pm: Aiden take a trip to the Connery era of James Bond with You Only Live Twice.

3 pm: Custard looks at the films that shaped his twenties.

4 pm: Anders reviews The Mechanic.

5 pm: Paolo has some additional questions regarding the film Limitless.

6 pm: As a special treat, below is a cinematic dance montage that was created by Bob from the blog Eternal Sunshine of the Logical Mind. Many thanks go out to Bob for granting me permission to share the video on this site. Be sure to stop by his blog and share your thoughts on the montage.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

M Kills the Rest of the Alphabet


Recently I decided to breakdown and sign up for the Netflix Canada free trial. Upon first glance I was excited to see films like In the Mood For Love, and Requiem for a Dream staring back at me. Yet as I delved deeper into Netflix I became perturbed by the randomness of the selection of films offered. While it was great that I can now catch up on films made by Miike (e.g. Audition, Ichi the Killer), I found it odd that none of the classic Clint Eastwood westerns were available. Regardless, one thing that peaked my interest was the small selection of Criterion films available (i.e. Jules et Jim, Cronos, Hidden Fortress, etc.).

To christen my Netflix account, I decided to revisit the classic Fritz Lang film, M, which was featured in the Criterion section. As the film began I suddenly came to the realization that I never got past the first ten minute in my original viewing. Although I have fond memories of my university roommates and I renting both Lang’s Metropolis and M, I somehow managed to block out the fact that I had fallen asleep during the second movie of our Fritz Lang double-bill.

Fortunately I was wide awake this time around and the film ended up being quite a treat. Made in 1931, M has often been cited as one of the first films to feature a serial killer prominently in its plot. Set in a German town the film documents the mounting paranoia and hysteria that arises when someone starts abducting and murdering the local children. With the only clue being a handwritten note, the police are unable to locate any other information that would lead them to the killer. As a result, they are forced to expand their relentless search into the areas were most of the criminals dwell. The increase police presence starts to hinder criminal activity to the point where the criminals decided to conduct their own manhunt for the killer so they can get back to business.

The thing I absolutely loved about M is how it alters my view of the killer, Hans Beckert (Peter Lorre), constantly throughout the film. While Lang clearly states that Beckert is a sick man, there are moments in the second half of the film where I could not help but root for Beckert. Although he is a disgusting man in his own right, I could not help but feel sorry for him in the moments when the criminals were closing in on him. I am not saying that I did not want him to answer for his many crimes, but I merely wanted it to be at the hands of the law opposed to men who were villains themselves.

This reaction is clearly a result of Peter Lorre’s wonderful performance as Hans Beckert. Lorre manages to make Beckert both a sniveling childlike man and a creepy monster all at the same time. This is most evident in the mock trial scene where Beckert tries to pawn himself off as an innocent bystander who has been mistaken for the killer, only to turn around moments later and deliver an eerie speech in which he tries to explain what motivates him to kill.

Despite being made in the 1930’s M holds up surprising well. In fact it looks better, and is far more convincing, than many of the serial killer flicks released today. The debate that Lang raises the film regarding whether or not people who have skeletons in their own closets, in this case the criminals, should decide what is acceptable is still very relevant today. M does not need gore and fast edits to make Beckert menacing, just a simple but effective story that stays with you long after the film ends.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Screaming Man Guilty of More than Just Noise Violation

A Screaming Man

If there is one movie genre that I find myself drawn to it is dysfunctional family units. I am not talking about outlandish and comedic dysfunction, but more the kind that take a deep look at the inner workings of family dynamics; especially films that explore tension and jealousy between a father and child. This is probably why Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s film A Screaming Man, which is opened this past weekend, was one of the films I had to see at TIFF last year.

The film looks at how jealousy between a father and son can lead to tragic results. Adam (Youssouf Djaoro) is a former swimming champion who works as the head attendant of the pool at a luxury resort in Chad. Adam’s son Abdel (Diouc Koma) also works at the pool running a lot of the daily activities. When new management takes over the resort, several major cuts are made and Adam is shocked to find out that he has been fired in favour of his son. Clouded by his anger, Adam makes a rash decision that will not only affect his son but also his son’s girlfriend, Djeneba (Djeneba Kone) in ways that will haunt him forever.

Although heart-wrenching at times, A Screaming Man did not move me the way I was hoping it would. The film is not bad by any means, but it was missing that special something that I cannot quite place. I can see why A Screaming Man won a special jury prize at Cannes 2010, as it has many elements that are award worthy. Yet as a whole, it was merely a decent film and not a great one. I think part of the problem stems from the fact that I did not find the interactions with Abdel’s girlfriend all that interesting. I understand why she is necessary to the plot, but Haroun does not bring anything new to the character that has not been done better in other films.

Where A Screaming Man soars is in Djaoro’s depiction of Adam. As a man clinging to past glories, Adam sees the pool as the place that defines him. All the other workers, and several folks involved in the civil war movement still refer to him as “Champ.” Djaoro does a great job of slowly conveying Adam’s transition from jealousy to anger to unbearable guilt. It is his performance that really brings this film to life. One of the most hard-hitting scenes in the film is when Adam decides tries to stop the events that he has already set in motion. Although Adam sees this as a moment of strength and action, Haroun’s skilled direction shows that these actions, though valiant, come far too late.

As I mentioned earlier, A Screaming Man is a decent film that has many strong moments. Yet it did not provide me with the impact I was ultimately expecting. I am not sure if it was the pacing or the girlfriend arc, but it was missing that special something to make it great.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Adventures in Podcasting: LAMBcast # 60

Once again I visit the LAMBcast podcast! This time I discuss The Adjustment Bureau as well as test my knowledge of Mel Gibson and Woody Allen movies in the Last LAMB Standing competition. Give it a listen and let The LAMB know what you thought of the episode.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Movie Marketing Monday

Larry Crowne

Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts reunite for the first time since Charlie Wilson’s War. While this film does not look as strong , Tom Hanks is usually Mr. Consistency when it comes to making hits out of the most unlikely premises.


I am big fan of Kristen Wiig’s style of comedy, so I am hoping this will wash away the awful memories I have of the film Bride Wars. Hopefully this film will cement Wiig as a legitimate leading lady in Hollywood. I could see her having a similar career path to Sandra Bullock.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Sharing the Blogging Love

Wondering what bloggers have been chatting about this week?

Here is Your Reading Schedule for Today:

10 am: I recently made an appearance on Episode 59 of the LAMBcast podcast . In the episode the panel discussed the films Vulgar, Wayne’s World, Network, Dead Girl, Gone with the Wind amongst others. Be sure to give it a listen and let the folks over at the LAMB know what you thought of the episode.

11 am: Jamie reviews the X-Files movie Fight the Future.

12 pm: RTM unveils part two of her list of most anticipated films of 2011.

1 pm: Fletch is organizing a summer blockbuster March Madness-style pool. Make sure you sign up to play!

2 pm: Episode 36 of the Frankly My Dear podcast looks at Clint Eastwood’s The Outlaw Josey Wales.

3 pm: M. Carter compares the latest Red Riding Hood film to PG-13 porn.

4 pm: Colin gives Confessions top marks.

5 pm: Jack has a great post on the works of Andrei Tarkovsky. A director whose works I need to catch up on.

6 pm: Episode 34 of the A Fistful of Popcorn podcast dissect Battle: Los Angeles.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Who Spiked My Lee?

This month The LAMBs in the Director’s Chair series is highlighting the works of Spike Lee. Over the years Spike Lee’s talents as a director have been overshadowed by his public comments about Quentin Tarantino’s use of the “N word” in films and Clint Eastwood’s lack of colour in his World War II films. Despite the media mishaps, Spike Lee has always been a director I admire. When I first started to pay attentions to films on a more serious level, Lee was one of the first mainstream directors I can remember whose films predominantly featured a cast that looked like me. Most importantly he has made many memorable films that still resonate with audiences years later. He are ten of Spike Lee’s film that I particularly enjoy:

Do the Right Thing – Hands down Spike Lee’s best films. I would even say it is one of the best films ever made. It easily ranks in the top 100 of any list, and if you do not have it there then you need to readjust your list. No other film to come out since has been able to capture racial tension the way this film does. This is a must see for any cinephile.

Sucker Free City – I saw this film, which was a pilot for a show that was never developed, at TIFF a few years back. I remember listening to Anthony Mackie talk about the film and what a pleasure it was to work with Lee. Besides featuring Mackie and another actor I really like, Ken Leung, Sucker Free City featured a really interesting premise that would have made for a great show. Similar to Martin Scorsese’s pilot for Boardwalk Empire, Lee not only establishes his main characters but sets up a few storylines all in a short running time.

Jungle Fever – While nowhere near Lee’s best works, this is the one film I find myself re-watching the most. The film is uneven at times because Lee has some ideas that are never quite realized. The thing that brings me back to this film the most though is the wonderful performances by Ossie Davis and Samuel L. Jackson as Wesley Snipe’s father and crack head brother respectively. The scene between Davis and Jackson towards the end of the film is just riveting to watch.

When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts – I was completely riveted with Lee’s four hour documentary on the events surrounding Hurricane Katrina. It was the last documentary to make me both angry and extremely sad. I still get infuriated when I think of both the film and the events of Katrina. Some will argue that the film did not need to be four hours. I would argue that four hours is not enough.

She’s Gotta Have It – An independent, and sexually liberated, young woman who does not want to be tied down by anyone man? Sounds like a pilot for a Sex in the City spinoff. Yet Spike was already tackling these issues back in the 80’s. What I really liked about the film was how he framed this love triangle. You are never quite sure who Nora will finally choose. I also like that he shows African-American women as both smart and sexual beings, which is a stark contrast to what you see in most urban music videos nowadays.

Bamboozled – Controversial? You bet! Yet once you get past the initial shock of the “black face” debate the smart satire of the film begins to shine through. Lee provides an accurate commentary on television stations, like “B.E.T” and music videos that are causing a whole generation to take a step backwards. Yes the film is flawed, especially towards the end, yet Lee does succeed in generating discussion.

Inside Man – Several folks in the industry claimed that Lee did not know how to make a film that makes money (i.e. a commercial feature). This film is Spike Lee proving them all wrong. The Inside Man may not be a groundbreaking heist film but it is an entertaining one. Lee not only proved that he could get mainstream audiences into the theatre but also that he could direct a high profile cast (i.e. Jodie Foster, Clive Owen, and Lee regular Denzel Washington).

Malcolm X - The fact that this film only received two Academy Award nominations (best actor and best costume design) in 1993 is baffling. I understand that this was back when only five films could be nominated for best picture but was A Few Good Men really better than this? I think this is still Lee’s most ambitious film to date. He made a bio-pic on a figure that still polarizes many people to this day, yet managed to bring a level of humanity to the character that few see. While I think the film runs a little longer, it was still deserving of more praise than it received.

He Got Game – The whole imprisoned father who wants to reconnect with his son is a well worn genre. While the film never reaches the level of other similar stories, South Central for example, Denzel gives a strong performance and Ray Allen does a decent job in his first acting gig. Again, not Lee’s best film but one that I quite enjoy.

4 Little Girls – Lee’s first full length documentary is an example of his masterful storytelling. Focusing on one of the key moments in the Civil Rights movement, Lee skilfully details the events leading up to the bombing of the 16th Street church in Alabama in which four innocent young girls were murdered. The film is not only a reminder of a history that we are not all that far removed from, but it also serves as a warning of the depths to which racism can go.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Battle Royale Takes Detention to a Whole New Level

Battle Royale

For centuries there has been a divide between youth culture and adult culture. Now more than ever it seems that gap has become larger. There is a genuine lack of respect that youth of today have for adults that was not as prevalent twenty years ago. Many kids are growing up not only disillusioned by the world around them but also distrusting of the adults who run it. It is this growing epidemic that director Kinji Fukasaku explores in his film Battle Royale.

Adapted from the novel of the same name by Kenta Fukasaku, Battle Royale is set in a society where the division between adults and youth has reached a breaking point. Tired of the fact that they are no longer shown any respect, the adults instill the Battle Royale Act to deal the delinquent and increasingly violent youth. The act allows the government to unruly youth and place them in a kill or be killed competition. The participants are each given a map, minimal food, and one weapon. Each weapon is different and the damage they inflict varies from non-existent to deadly. The last remaining survivor will be allowed to re-enter society. Unfortunately for Shuya Nanahara (Tatsuya Fujiwara), Noriko Nakagawa (Aki Maeda) and their entire ninth grade class, they have just been selected to play the game.

One thing that is never clearly conveyed in the film is whether or not the students actually know of the Battle Royale Act? The majority of the class seems stunned upon first hearing that they must take part in the game. Several students question if the whole thing is some sort of sick joke. Yet there is one character who willing signs up to compete in the game. Also, another character, who has played the game before, makes reference to the fact that there are always some people who sign up for the fun of it. This implies that the event has been well publicized for quite some time.

A minor squabble I had with the film is that it follows too many characters that are not really that important in the grand scheme of things. While I loved the fact that Kinji Fukasaku kept an onscreen death count when someone parishes, there is not enough character back story to make 40 deaths significant. The most we get is a lot characters professing love and/or longtime crushes to each other moments before they die. Although this touching the first time it occurs, after awhile the constant professions of love gets tedious.

Despite these moments, is a rather entertaining film whose concept is far more disturbing than the film itself. One of the things I really enjoyed about this film is how the high school dynamics are translated onto the battle field. The social cliques are still present as the popular, but mean, girls are the most dangerous of all; the nerds work together to build a bomb, etc. Another great aspect of Battle Royale is how the weapons assigned often fit the student’s personalities. I also liked how Fukasaku makes a point to show how every weapon, even if it is a pot lid, has its purpose in the battle.

While the majority of the performances by the young cast are decent, the real highlight of the film is Takeshi Kitano who plays the teacher of the class, Kitano. Takeshi Kitano provides a rare mix of comedy and heartbreak that you would not expect from this type of film. One minute he is exuberantly providing updates of the students who have died and the next he somberly laments on his non-existent relationship with his family. The scenes between Kitano and Maeda are some of the best in the entire film.

Battle Royale may not quite live up to the massive hype that surrounds the film, yet it is still very satisfying. I would definitely say that is a film people should at least see once. The action is fast paced and the concept is riveting enough to overcome some of the films shortcomings.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Waiting for Superman to Educate Us on School Kryptonite

Waiting for Superman

Recently I watched the documentary Waiting for Superman with a teacher friend of mine. I was really interested to see how a person who actually works in the school system, a Canadian one at that, viewed director David Guggenheim’s assessment of the American school system. So instead of writing a regular review for the film, I opted to document the discussion I had afterwards with my friend, who will I call Teachy McTeach, about the film.

CS: As a teacher, what are your initial thoughts on the film?

Teachy McTeach: It’s sad…those numbers [the literacy proficiencies and dropout rates] are staggering and shocking. I wonder how much of that translates to the Canadian system.

CS: Well, let us look at it from a Canadian stand point for a moment; did you see a lot of similarities? Or do you see it as vastly different?

Teachy McTeach: I definitely see a lot of similarities. I totally identified with what the film calls “The Dance of the Lemons”, where they swapped out the bad teachers from one school to another school. That happens here unfortunately. I also saw similarities with issues regarding the dropout rate as well, although nowadays kids have to be in school until they are eighteen. If there are issues with the student at sixteen [in regards to wanting to dropout] there are several avenues for them to explore. The most popular being a work placement program. The whole concept of the “charter” school system was new to me. Besides private schools, there are very few options to go to school outside your district.

CS: Waiting for Superman implies that the schools started to decline in the Bush era of “no child will be left behind.” I noticed you got really riled up when you saw that part of the film. Would you care to elaborate on that?

Teachy McTeach: My problem with the “no child left behind” policy, and we have a similar thing in here in Canada, is that now we have standardize test. In theory that sounds great, unfortunately this often results in teachers teaching to the test. Other content may get left out because they have to teach material that will be on the test. In Canada the standardize testing happens in grades 3, 6, 9 (for math), and 10 (for literacy). It is unbelievable how much pressure is put on the students to do well on this test. It is also tough on the teachers who have to make sure all 25-30 students are up to par. While you want every child to do well on the test, the fact is that every child is different [in regards to how they learn] and the test scores do not reflect this.

CS: To explore this a bit further, the film makes a point to show the tracking system. In which students are divided into different tracks. Now I was not the best student in high school but I eventually buckled down, went to university, and got my degree. If they had that tracking system back then I would have probably been placed in a different stream and not be given the chance to get a degree. How did you find the portrayal of “tracking” in the film?

Teachy McTeach: I have to agree with the way tracking was shown in the film, despite the fact that it was not done in a positive light. However, I have seen the system at work and if the student displays that they can apply themselves and be successful then they are moved to the other stream. Unlike years ago, students are not stuck in the stream they are initially placed in. There is room for movement. Part of the tracking system rationale is that they want to see success. It is designed to curb students from dropping out as they are geared towards programs that will meet their needs. This is why, despite having its flaws, I think the tracking system does have a useful place in education.

CS: Another heated issue in the film I wanted to get your thoughts on was the debate between tenure (i.e. teachers having jobs for life) and merit pay (teachers can make more money, but loose the job security). Now the tenure system is more commonly associated with university in Canada. Yet teachers at the lower levels still have a slightly higher job security rate than most in the corporate world. What are your thoughts on film’s perspective on tenure?

Teachy McTeach: I do not agree with teachers who are not performing up to standard receiving tenure. However, I also have issues with the idea of merit pay because it is tough to measure when you have some many teachers teaching different subjects and levels. How are you going to measure the success of the gym teacher’s students in comparison to the science teacher? This will result in teachers only teaching to the standardize test as their merit pay would be based on the test scores. Also, what about the teachers who coach sport teams or help out with extracurricular clubs? Do they get paid more for doing extra work? Teachers in Canada are already subjected to regular performance evaluations; which eliminates the need for merit pay.

CS: Lastly, as a teacher, pretend this film is one of your students. What grade would you give it overall?

Teachy McTeach: I’m going to give it an A- because it did bring a lot of issues to light. It was well done and had a enough people in the film who were actually qualified to discuss the issues. It was not just some random celebrity making an offhanded comment. There were people in the education system, people in the workforce, and people trying to make a change regardless of whether they were successful or not.

CS: I think I would give it a solid B. Beside the stuff about the lottery system and the charter schools there was not too much that shocked me. I expected that there would be a lot of red tape in regards to changing the system. Still, it does a decent job of bringing the issues to light and evoking discussion.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Movie Marketing Monday

The Smurfs

Okay, it does not look as bad as I thought it would. I do not expect this film to be great by any means, but it actually looks better than the Alvin and the Chipmunks movies.

Conan the Barbarian

The teaser trailer does not succeed in getting me pumped for this film at all. If you are going to remake an iconic film, you need to give me some solid reasons to go along for the ride a second time. Conan should be in the forefront of this trailer. Sadly the smoke gets more screen time than the lead actor.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Sharing the Blogging Love

Wondering what bloggers have been chatting about this week?

Here is Your Reading Schedule for Today:

10 am: Episode 37 of the Reel Insight podcast discuss the career of Emily Blunt.

11 am: Mette celebrates her birthday by evaluating her relationships with certain Bollywood stars.

12 pm: Andrew honors Women’s History Month by talking about Howards End’s Helen and Margaret Schlegel.

1 pm: Ripley shares her thoughts on Labyrinth.

2 pm: Shannon reviews Four Lions.

3 pm: Castor’s wants to know what movie soundtracks do you love?

4 pm: Episode 18 of The Milfcast (aka Man, I Love Films podcast) is now up.

5 pm: The Action Flick Chick interviews Adam West’s family about getting him a star on the Walk of Fame.

6 pm: Dennis interviews Oliver Stone and looks at Stone’s Alexander Revisited: Final Cut.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Which is Better?

Pre-2000 Steven Soderbergh
Sex, Lies, & Videotape
King of the Hill
Gray’s Anatomy
Out of Sight
The Limey


Post-2000 Steven Soderbergh
Erin Brockovich
Full Frontal
Ocean’s Trilogy
The Good German
The Girlfriend Experience
The Informant!

Which do you prefer? Let me know in the comments section.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Machete Maidens Unleashed! Bares All for Cheap Thrills

Machete Maidens Unleashed!

What do Martin Scorsese, Pam Grier, Joe Dante, and Jonathan Demme all have in common? Each one got their start in the B-movie genre. Thanks to films like Grindhouse, Black Dynamite, Machete, and the soon to be released Hobo with a Shotgun, the B–movie genre is having a resurgence in mainstream culture. Since Hollywood is embracing the genre once again, it is only fitting to see the hidden gems of the 2010 TIFF finally hit theatres this past weekend.

Machete Maidens Unleashed! is a hilarious documentary that looks at the inner workings of the B-movie genre at the height of its popularity. Focusing on the period between 1960 and 1980, director Mark Hartley’s documentary explores how many of the most memorable B-movies were actually made in the Philippines. Unable to resist the low production cost and the exotic locales, American filmmakers were heading to the Philippines in droves to get their films made. Since the censors rarely watched the types of films that many of the directors, including Roger Corman and Eddie Romero, were producing, they were able to get away with content that would be considered unheard of today. This resulted in a large quantity of outrageous horror films, blaxploitation flicks, and women in prison type of films being shot. As some of the folks Hartley interviewed pointed out, the crazier the idea the more popular the films ended up being.

Mark Hartley does a good job of interviewing many of the big names of the genre as well as experts in the history of the genre. This includes many of the actors and actresses who had to work in some extremely dangerous conditions. One of the highlights of Machete Maidens Unleashed! is the candid conversation that the likes of Corman, Dante, Sid Haig, Marlene Clark, Colleen Clark and countless others provide in the film. The interesting thing about some of the responses is how many of the actresses viewed many of the B-movies as feminist films.

Although many of the films featured a lot of female nudity and, in some cases, violence against women, the B-movie genre was the only genre to feature female leads in action roles. In many ways they were the first female action heroes. Despite some of the atrocities the characters may have endured, by the end of the film, they always rose up against their oppressors and saved the day. If you really think about it, there are very few action films nowadays that feature a female lead. Studios just do not see them as bankable action stars.

While Machete Maidens Unleashed! tracks the era all the way up to when Francis Ford Coppola was filming Apocalypse Now, Hartley himself does not offer any judgment in regards to the genre. He is mostly concerned with shining a light on a film history that very few people know about. Through wonderfully candid interviews and well selected film clips, Hartley crafts an immensely entertaining documentary that will serve as a great introduction to all who are novices of the world of B-movies.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

The Adjustment Bureau Needs Adjusting

The Adjustment Bureau

As someone who is fairly religious, the debate regarding free will versus fate is one that I constantly engage in. If humans have the free will to choose our path then why is there punishment associated with making a choice that deviates from pre-ordained plan? Conversely, if our lives are already mapped out for us, then what is the need for choice when the answer has already been assigned? Not only do these arguments contradict each other, but it also leads to the idea of a higher power being less than perfect. This is, of course, a train of thought that many would be quick to dismiss as being blasphemous. People always assume that if you ask these questions then you are lacking in faith. On the contrary, I think having these types of discussion only helps to make ones faith stronger as it helps us to see the greater spiritual picture more clearly.

This same debate consumes the science fiction love story The Adjustment Bureau, which is adapted from the Philip K. Dick short story “The Adjustment Team”. David Norris (Matt Damon) is an up-and-coming political star who is running for a Senate seat in New York. Only a few hours away from giving, what eventually becomes, the most influential speech of his career, David meets a beautiful young dancer named Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt). The pair hit it off immediately and David cannot seem to get Elise out of his head. Was their meeting merely a chance encounter? Or is she the woman David is destined to spend the rest of his life with? David accidently stumbles upon the secret Adjustment Bureau, a team of higher beings who are responsible for ensuring that everyone follows the path laid out in their life plan. One team member in particular, Harry (Anthony Mackie) has spent the bulk of his career ensuring that David stays the course up until this point. In order to avoid having his brain wiped clean, David is instructed by Richardson (John Slattery) to never see Elise again. Yet the desire to see Elise may be too strong for David to overcome.

There was a point two thirds of the way into the film when my wife leaned over and whispered to me “the movie was pretty good up until this point”. I could not even utter a response because frankly I thought the film had gone off the rails well before that moment. While I give writer-director George Nolfi credit for attempting to make a thought provoking love story, the fact that he is too afraid to take a firm stance is what ultimately ruins this film. The Adjustment Bureau spends way too much time trying to please the masses that its overall message, and logic, gets muddled.

Characters, such as Harry and Richardson, constantly remark that the “Chairman”, who is the unseen God like deity, is the one who makes the plan that everyone must follow it. Yet, Nolfi hints at the notion that maybe the “Chairman” makes mistake. Since Nolfi never wants to fully commit to the idea, the film ends up being too light to be either thought provoking or thrilling. This is most evident when looking at the character of Thompson (Terrance Stamp). The audience is given that Thompson is the harshest guy in the bureau ranks, he is the guy that gets results by any means necessary, yet he is more bark than bite. At no point does he use the advance technology that the bureau has to plant the thoughts needed to break the two lovebirds. In an earlier scene, Nolfi demonstrated that the bureau often manipulates the minds of individuals to ensure they make decisions that will positively impact someone else’s plan. Why not do the same thing here? For beings with such advances capabilities they rarely seem to know how to effectively use them. For example, there is a moment when David finds himself within the walls of the bureaus head office and proceeds to run through a good bulk of the building untouched. A few people try to tackle him but most merely stand around looking stunned.

The love story is at the core of The Adjustment Bureau is decent as Damon and Blunt have good chemistry together. Unfortunately the success of the love arc relies heavily on the central questions regarding fate and free will. If the film had been more daring in terms of taking a firm stance, this might have turned into a memorable love story. As it stands, The Adjustment Bureau wants to raise grand ideas but is too fearful to really talk about them.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Movie Marketing Monday

Elektra Luxx

I really like the casting in this film. I also like the fact that the humour is fairly grounded considering the high concept premise.

Dylan Dog: Dead of Night

While I am looking forward to this film, I wish they had done it as a television series instead. The concept is good enough to provide material for a full television season.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

NFB Toronto Mediatheque Announces New Space

NFB Toronto Mediatheque announces new space dedicated to interactive cinema and storytelling

In keeping with the National Film Board of Canada’s commitment to digital production, and reflecting the evolution of audiences into dynamic participants, the eastern section of the NFB Mediatheque in Toronto is currently being transformed into an interactive hub that will provide new ways to connect with the NFB.

Its redesign guided by the principle of engaging and communicating with Canadians, this area of the Mediatheque will soon offer access to NFB, where visitors can check out recent web-based projects via the NFB Interactive portal, the Online Screening Room featuring more than 1,800 streaming films, and news and information about the NFB.

This flexible new space will also be outfitted with ceiling-mounted projectors, floor-to-ceiling screens and a state-of-the-art audio system, providing a venue for innovative new content such as participatory programming and immersive multimedia installations based on NFB online productions. The space will also host exhibits and screenings; its resources will be creatively incorporated into the Mediatheque’s many workshops and camps, and it can be tailored for private event rental.

A webcam-enhanced touchscreen will allow the public to further connect with the NFB by recording instant feedback on their experience, such as film reviews, workshop recommendations and programming suggestions.

Visitors will continue to enjoy over 5,500 NFB titles on free digital viewing stations, and services and events at the Mediatheque will not be affected. This new area will open to the public in early April, 2011.

About the NFB

Canada’s public film producer and distributor, the National Film Board of Canada creates social-issue documentaries, auteur animation, alternative drama and digital content that provide the world with a unique Canadian perspective. The NFB is expanding the vocabulary of 21st-century cinema and breaking new ground in form and content through community filmmaking projects, cross-platform media, programs for emerging filmmakers, stereoscopic animation – and more. It works in collaboration with creative filmmakers, digital media creators and co-producers in every region of Canada, with Aboriginal and culturally diverse communities, as well as partners around the world. Since the NFB’s founding in 1939, it has created over 13,000 productions and won over 5,000 awards, including 12 Oscars and more than 90 Genies. The NFB’s new website features almost 2,000 productions online, and its iPhone and iPad apps are among the most popular and talked-about downloads. Visit NFB today and start watching.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Sharing the Blogging Love

Wondering what bloggers have been chatting about this week?

Here is Your Reading Schedule for Today:

10 am: Episode 29 of The Matineecast talks about Biutiful. The Mad Hatter and his guest also discuss their favourite foreign films.

11 am: A brilliant podcast, The Simon and Jo Film Show, aired its final episode this past week.

12 pm: Bob brings in his latest edition of Scribblings of a Random Nature. This week he looks at the films Get Low, The Racket, The Legend of the Red Dragon, and It’s Kind of a Funny Story

1 pm: Sledge has an interesting trailer for an upcoming horror flick entitled, Madison County.

2 pm: Flickeringmyth has news on a possible Quentin Tarantino spaghetti western.

3 pm: James sheds light on yet another film festival starting up in the city. The Toronto Irish Film Festival starts this Sunday. Man, is this city ever spoiled when it comes to movie options.

4 pm: Lira has a great article on the importance of effective headshots. All you actors/actresses out there take note.

5 pm: Spilt Reel provides several reasons why this year’s Oscars were the worst ever!

6 pm: This month The LAMB is talking all things Gary Oldman. If you have written anything on Oldman and/or his films, or even discussed him on a podcast, be sure to send it into The LAMB.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

10 Movies I Enjoyed That Other People Hate

In honour of the new Defending the Indefensible series, which starts tomorrow night at the Toronto Underground Cinema, I decided to highlight some of the films that I enjoy that others consider awful.

The Fast and the Furious – I am not a car buff, nor do I claim that this is by any means an original tale. Yet The Fast and the Furious is one those films that I can watch over and over. The “we are not so different” bromance between Vin Diesel and Paul Walker coupled with the well done action sequences makes this flick a real treat for me. While the franchise has had its ups and downs, I still think the first film is the best one.

Road House – A film about a “world famous bouncer” ? This should be enough of a warning to let you know that this movie will be bad. My experiences with bouncers is that they are anything but famous. Usually they are big guys who a trying to make a little money on the side. Still, there is a cheap charm to the senselessness of this film. You cannot help but cheer on Patrick Swayze as he takes on the bad guys. Plus the addition of Canadian music icon Jeff Healey is a nice touch. Thanks to shows like The Family Guy, Road House is slowly beginning to garner the cult following that it rightfully deserves.

Serial Mom – This tale of a suburban housewife who strives a little too hard to be perfect never really got much love upon its release. I think this is a result of John Waters being ahead of his time with the film. Many of the satirical elements that people found shocking when the film was released, are now popping up on mainstream television, to rave reviews, in shows like Desperate Housewives.

Marked for Death – Why is this one of the best Steven Seagal films ever? Simply because it features some of the worst fake Jamaican accents ever captured on film. Plus Screwface is one of the most unintentionally funny villains to ever grace the big screen. Every line he utters is comedic gold.

Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle – I hated Dude Where is My Car? but absolutely loved this multi-cultural take on the tradition stoner comedy. Unlike its sequel, one of the things that makes the first Harold and Kumar film so endearing is that they are actually portrayed fairly smart guys. They get good grades and have promising careers ahead of them. This only makes the comedy that much greater when they finally decide to let loose a little.

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls – This is nowhere near as good as Russ Meyer’s best works such Faster, Pussycat! Kill Kill, Lorna, Mudhoney, and Vixen!, yet Beyond the Valley of the Dolls does have its own twisted charm. It keeps all the moral subtext of Meyer’s other films while sprinkling elements that are just plain absurd. Roger Ebert’s script may not be great, but it does make for an oddly entertaining mess of a film.

Taken – Liam Neeson going to town on the sinister European sex trade...that pretty much sums it up. Similar to The Fast and the Furious, there is something about Taken that I just love. I think it has to do with Neeson playing against type. Normally roles like this are given to the likes of Steven Seagal, Billy Blanks, and Jean-Claude Van Damme. I also like the fact that the action is, for the most part, fairly realistic. The age of Neeson’s character is always kept in mind and we never see him do anything that a man his age would not be able to do.

The Secret of my Success – I was considering placing Doc Hollywood on the list but I enjoyed this Michael J. Fox film far more. Sure the whole rising up the corporate ladder so quickly based on mistaken identity plot line seemed dated even by 1980’s standards. Yet Fox is what sells this movie. His charisma in the film is what makes this film far more enjoyable than it really should be.

Blue Streak – Yes, this is a blatant rip-off of Beverly Hills Cop but I enjoyed it anyway. Martin Lawrence has been hit (Bad Boys, Do the Right Thing, Welcome Home, Roscoe Jenkins) or miss (Bad Boys 2, Black Knight, National Security) on the big screen but given the right roll he can really excel. While I will not claim this to be a must see film, I can admit that I enjoyed watching it.

Wild Things – As my wife often tells me, sometimes we all just need a good trashy novel. This is exactly what Wild Things feels like with it multiple twists and overtly sexual themes. Throw in a cast that features Matt Dillon, Bill Murray, Kevin Bacon, Theresa Russell, Neve Campbell and Denise Richards; and you have a recipe for a fun pulp movie. While the pool scene is the most talked about aspect, the film offers several other guilty pleasure moments.