Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Mechanic Cannot Fix Faulty Breaks

The Mechanic

I had never really noticed how limited Jason Statham facial expressions were until a friend sent me a Jason Statham-centric movie quiz. I have always enjoyed Statham as an action star, and even liked his attempt at more story driven work like The Bank Job. However, the quiz really opened my eyes to how few facial expressions he displays, namely a scowl and a smirk. I guess Statham’s charisma is so charming that I was willing to block out some of his flaws. Unfortunately, when it comes to his latest film, The Mechanic, Statham’s undeniable charisma is not enough to hide its many flaws.

In his latest action film, Statham plays a hit man named Arthur Bishop, who specialized in handling jobs that require a precise touch. When his mentor Harry is murdered (Donald Sutherland), Arthur is approached by Harry’s son Steve (Ben Foster) to learn the tricks of the assassin trade. Steve is determined to avenge his father’s death at all costs. As Arthur and Steve hunt down the elusive Dean (Tony Goldwyn), Harry’s former partner, secrets are revealed that threaten to destroy the duo’s partnership.

Although not all of Statham’s action films have been winners, they have a least been interesting to a certain extent. Yet, despite having a solid premise and the acting chops of Foster, The Mechanic is surprisingly dull. It is very telling when the most exciting, and energetic, aspect of the entire film arrives in the last five minutes. For a film whose running time is a scant 88 minutes The Mechanic feels extremely long as a direct result of some of the choices that director Simon West makes.

West tries to make the action feel claustrophobic, similar to the Bourne trilogy, yet he never finds that spark that makes any of the action scenes memorable. The fight scenes feel like both Statham and Foster are just going through the motions. This lack of energy is also apparent in the overall character arcs in the film. Instead of giving Foster one or two lines that accurately convey Steve’s anger and grief, West subjects the audience to two separate montages of Steve getting drunk and making bad decisions. While West may have viewed these scenes as gritty, they come off on screen as lazy and redundant.

The pairing of Jason Statham and Ben Foster should have been a match made in action heaven, yet they are stifled by Simon West’s attempt to make The Mechanic a deeper film than it really is. The Mechanic strives to be a thinking man’s action film but loses sight of all the things that make action films fun. Under different direction, The Mechanic might have been a fun romp, but sadly under West’s direction the film is surprisingly uneventful.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Movie Marketing Monday

The Descendants

Alexander Payne has yet to make a bad film in my opinion. I have been a big fan of his since Citizen Ruth.

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark

This trailer, in an odd way, reminds me of the film The Others.

Bonus: The Unleashed

The folks at Dark House Films wanted me to let Toronto horror buffs know that their latest feature, The Unleashed, will be premiering at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on June 25th.

Friday, May 27, 2011

13 Assassins Make A Killing in Unstable Markets

13 Assassins

There are some action films that wear out their welcome after the first couple of fight scenes, and then there are those films that just get better and better as the battle goes on. Takashi Miike’s 13 Assassins falls into the latter category as it, with an epic battle sequence that goes on for what feels like an hour. It consistently raises the bar as the film progresses.

Despite being a widely celebrated director, my experience with Miike’s films are limited to Gozu and Sukiyaki Western Django. While films like Audition and Ichi the Killer are currently on my Netflix Canada queue, I have not had a chance to get around to watching them yet. Needless to say, the two Miike films I have seen did not prepare me for what I was about to encounter with 13 Assassins, Miike’s remake of the 1963 Eiichi Kudo’s film of the same name.

Set in Feudal Japan, the Shogun’s younger brother Lord Naritsugu (Gorô Inagaki) is causing havoc with his blatant abuse of power. As no one wants to disrespect the Shogun’s authority, Lord Naritsugu rapes and murders at will with no fear of punishment. Fearing the chaos that would ensue if Lord Naritsugu gained higher political power a senior political advisor secretly commissions an aging samurai, Shinzaemon (Kōji Yakusho), to assassinate the ruthless lord. Assembling a team of 11 other samurai, and picking up a hunter, Koyata (Yūsuke Iseya), along the way, Shinzaemon sets out to kill Lord Naritsugu. Yet this task proves much harder than anticipated as the 13 assassins soon realize that Lord Naritsugu’s armed escorts are not the 30 men they expected but in fact 200 men. One of the 200 includes Hanbei (Masachika Ichimura), an old sparring partner of Shinzaemon who is bound by duty to protect Lord Naritsugu at all costs.

13 Assassins will most likely be compared to Akira Kurosawa’s classic, Seven Samurai, yet it would be silly to dismiss it as a knock off. While Kurosawa’s influence is there, Miike delivers a unique action film that succeeds on its own merits. As mentioned earlier, the film builds up to the centre piece fight scene that goes on for almost an hour. It never feels dull or boring as Miike skillfully keeps his characters at the forefront of the action and the special effects in the background. Miike uses the special effects to aide in the storytelling but not as a crutch

One of the great things about 13 Assassins is how each of the 13 men have distinct personalities that are always present, even when engaging in battle with 200 soldiers. The acting in the film is very strong, especially in regards to Gorô Inagaki’s Lord Naritsugu. Inagaki is menacing in his portrayal of the evil leader, in fact Naritsugu easily makes my list of favourite film villains. What is so disturbing about the character is not the killing and mutilation he inflicts, but his childish glee in committing the various acts. Lord Naritsugu not only willing walks into traps just to see what fiendish things the assassins have planned for him, but he also seems at peace amidst all of the carnage during the major battle. He even remarks that the battle has inspired him to bring back the “age of war” which he believes would be fun.

13 Assassins is a film that delivers both an engaging story and a strong dose of action. It features rich characters that not only help to make the film one of the better action films to be released in some time, but also one of the best films to come out this year.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Which is Better?

Morgan Freeman
10 sample films:

The Shawshank Redemption
Lean on Me
Driving Miss Daisy
Kiss the Girl
The Dark Knight
Million Dollar Baby
Nurse Betty


Anthony Hopkins
10 sample films:

The Silence of the Lambs
Howards End
Hearts in Atlantis
The Elephant Man
The Bounty
Legends of the Fall
The Mask of Zorro

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

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Killer View Snuffs Out Cost Effective Victims

Killer View (aka Snuffed)

In an age of the internet, twenty-four hour news stations, and cops shows such as the CSI franchise, it is rather tough to make serial killers menacing in films. Nowadays it is often the elaborate ways people die, and not the killer themselves, that get the most reaction. So how do you get sophisticated audiences to become engaged with the killer and not the act? Well in director Brian James O’Connell’s case, you simply let the serial killer do all the talking.

In his independent horror flick, Killer View (aka Snuffed), O’Connell takes the audience into the world of a serial killer through the killer’s own eyes. The film is shot documentary style and is set up in a “found footage” type of manner. An aspiring journalist, Martin Monahan (Martin Moakler), has gone missing. Days later a mysterious video arrives at the police station detailing that Monanhan had been working on a documentary about a sociopath serial killer who goes by the name of Ben (Noah Key). Unlike most serial killers, Ben videotapes his crimes and sells them to rich folks in L.A. who take pleasure in watching his twisted work. As the footage plays on, not only does it provide insight into Ben’s method of operation, but also clues to what exactly happened to Monahan.

Killer View is an interesting horror film in the sense that it aims for more psychological chills than it does visual gore. In fact, there is little actual on screen violence. Everything is handled off screen, which is surprising effective for this film. Even the most jarring and disturbing scene in the entire film, the opening sequence which is featured twice in the film, is more unsettling from a mental perspective rather than a visual one.

By not exploiting violence, O’Connell is able to focus more on the documentary aspects of the film which is really its strength. One of the enjoyable things about Killer View is that you never see Ben’s face. This allows the film to provide that eerie “he could be anyone” vibe. O’Connell should also be credited with making Ben such an intelligent character. He is not a serial killer who hears voices, had a dramatic experience as a child, or any of the numerous clichés that often appear in films like this. In fact, Ben is easily the smartest person in the film. He is logical in every situation and looks at his role as being someone who provides a service for others.

Ben is what helps to keep Killer View a float. The film’s premise is surprisingly good, but there some moments that hinder the film. First off, when dealing with a “found footage” type of film one must always be weary not to put in too much extraneous content. While it is nice a twist that Ben has obviously edited the footage that the viewer is watching, there are several scenes that run on far longer than they need to be. A perfect example of this is when one of the victims, April (Whitney Powell), is pleading for her life and Ben is deciding what to do. The significance of the scene is apparent within the first few seconds, yet the scene is dragged out rather senselessly.

Another issue that effects the film is that the performances of the supporting actors are not as strong as they should be. There is a scene in the film where Ben is forcing an adulterous husband, Robert (Brahm Gallagher) to call his mistress April, while his tided up wife, Julie (Maija Polsely), watches. Julie is too calm in this scene, especially when Ben is threatening to kill them both. When Julie does finally get hysterical it comes too late and feels rather forced. It would have also been nice if Gallagher had provided a more convincing performance.

Despite this, Killer View ended up being far more interesting than I was expecting from a film like this. It has its rough patches in regards to the acting and minor plot point issues, but it does offer a unique take on the serial killer genre that works surprisingly well. While flawed, Killer View does have enough interesting moments to keep hardcore fans of the genre engaged for a few hours.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

10 Best Film Character Names

What’s in a name? Over the last few weeks names have been a focal point of many of my conversations. Three weeks ago my wife gave birth to our first child, a boy, and I have had many discussions on why we choose the name we did. Though not outlandish like many of the names celebrities have chosen (i.e. Bear Blu, Apple, etc.), the name we chose for our son is not as common as Michael or Jason.

Most recently, it was brought to my attention that this modest blog received its first ever Lammy nomination in the category of Best Blog Name! I would like claim that there is a great story behind the naming of this blog. But the truth is my last name is “Small” and I thought the blog name was a fun play on words. Still, I would like to extend a huge thank you to those who nominated me. While I am up against some tough competition the fact that this is my first Lammy nomination ever makes it special nonetheless.

Keeping with the theme of names, here are my choices for the 10 Best Film Character Names:

Axel Foley – Beverly Hills Cop

Always thought Axel was a rather strong sounding name. The fact that he is a wisecracking street smart cop is just icing on the cake.

Keyser Soze / Verbal Kint – The Usual Suspects

Two great names for the price of one here! Not only is Keyser Soze one of the greatest cinematic villains, but his alter-ego’s handle is pretty slick as well.

Royal Tenebaum – The Royal Tenebaums
Never has royalty been so mischievous. While he may not win any father of the year awards, Royal Tenenbaum’s heart is usually in the right place.

Veruca Salt - Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory
Best. Name. Ever. Here is my theory on why Veruca is such a brat in the film...she was teased mercilessly at school. Seriously, Veruca Salt is a name will only be considered cool when she hits college. Until then, it will be a long bumpy road for young Ms. Salt.

Pussy Galore – Goldfinger
Yes there have been several good Bond girl names over the course of 22 films, yet none have reached the “how did this get past the censors?” level like the name Pussy Galore.

Scut Farkus – A Christmas Story
I was leaning towards adding The French Connection’s Popeye Doyle to add to the list but I could not fathom leaving a name like Scut Farkus off the list.

Gaylord Focker - Meet the Parents
Sure the name is a running gag that went on for three films too long, yet it is hard to deny the guilty pleasure of the name.

Indiana Jones
Man is this ever a cool sounding name. I mean, it is not easy to make an actual place into a great character name. I am still waiting for my own newly created fictional character, Toronto Tonto, to take off with the masses...Your day will come Toronto Tonto, your day will come.

Atticus Finch – To Kill a Mockingbird
There are some names that, while odd sounding, just ooze intelligence. Atticus is a name that fits that bill to a tee.

Snake Plissken - Escape From New York
You really cannot go wrong with a name like “Snake”. Whether we are talking about the eye-patch wearing vigilante from in John Carpenter’s films, or the career criminal on the show The Simpsons, it is nearly impossible for the name Snake to sound anything but badass. Please note that Snake from Degrassi Junior High is the exception to this rule.

Honourable Mentions: Popeye Doyle, Donnie Darko, Han Solo, Black Dynamite, Jesus Quintana, Ace Ventura, Igby Slocumb, John Shaft, Castor Troy

What are you favourite movie character names? Let me know in the comments section.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Movie Marketing Monday

Good Neighbours

Nothing like a Canadian thriller to get the heart pumping.

Horrible Bosses

A dark comedy about killing your boss can be a tricky thing to pull off. This film does look promising though.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Sharing the Blogging Love

Wondering what bloggers have been chatting about this week?

Here is Your Reading and Listening Schedule for Today:

10 am: Episode 44 of Frankly, My Dear podcast looks at the film Bridesmaid and list the Top 5 Girl Movies Boys Should Like.

11 am: TheVoid99 is holding his own Cannes festival by watching some films that previously played the festival. Here are his thoughts on Morvern Callar.

12 pm: Episode 33 of The Matineecast talks Thor.

1 pm: Ricky reviews Unstoppable.

2 pm: Jess is hosting a Guys of the 90’s tournament.

3 pm: Larry puts the film Urban Cowboy on trial.

4 pm: Multiplex Slut has a review of Attack the Block a film that I am interested in seeing.

5 pm: Kai and Dylan have joined forces, and thus shifting the Earth’s axis, to create a brand new movie blog. Be sure to stop by Man, I Love Films and explore all the site has to offer.

6 pm: Sasha shares her thoughts on Being Elmo.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Which is Better?

Martin Scorsese
10 sample films:

Taxi Driver
Mean Streets
The King of Comedy
Cape Fear
The Departed
Shutter Island
Raging Bull
The Age of Innocence


Steven Spielberg
10 sample films:

Jurassic Park
The Color Purple
Empire of the Sun
Saving Private Ryan
Minority Report
The Terminal
Schindler’s List
Raiders of the Lost Ark

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

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

On Second Thought: Hudson Hawk

Hudson Hawk

When the guys over at the Midnight Movie Club podcast announced they were covering Hudson Hawk this season my first reaction was “that awful film?” Yet since Midnight Movie Club’s own Dan had expressed positive memories of the film, I decided to give Hudson Hawk another look 20 years later to see if the film aged better than I recalled.

The loosely woven plot centres around a cat burglar, Hudson Hawk (Bruce Willis), who is released from prison after ten years. Looking to finally go straight, Hawk only wants to drink his fancy coffees and spend time with his good pal Tommy Five-Tone (Danny Aiello). Yet, as with many films about characters trying to start a new life, Hudson Hawk is blackmailed by an eccentric couple (Richard E. Grant and Sandra Bernhard) to pull off one last job involving works created by Leonardo Da Vinci.

After 20 years, I must admit that my view on Hudson Hawk has softened a bit. Though the film is nowhere near The Last Action Hero, a film I hated when I first saw it but ended up loving on repeat viewings, I found myself engaged. It is a film that is sold as an action/adventure film but is really a screwball comedy. At times it feels like a cross between The Naked Gun films and The Da Vinci Code. Also, I never realized how funny some of Willis’ one-liners were in the film. Hudson Hawk works far better when you ignore all the plot holes and just focus on how zany everything is.

The major problem with the film is that it is hard to get past the ridiculous plot. Bruce Willis is credited with coming up with the story and it seems like he threw every idea crossed his mind into the film. Needless to say the story is a mess, there is so much nonsense going on that it is tough to keep straight what the actual pitch of the film is suppose to be. For example, the film features characters singing the insanely catchy “Swinging on a Star” song, eccentric CIA and Vatican agents, paralyzing blow-darts, bombs stuck in characters heads, jokes about the Pope’s television reception etc. This is the reason why I cannot fully change my stance on Hudson Hawk. The film is by no means good, but it is far more humorous now than it was 20 years ago.

Original Reaction: I would rather be a fish! (Grade: F)
On Second Thought: Still very flawed but funnier this time around. (Grade: C -)

New Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry Shorts Play at Worldwide Short Film Festival

CFC Worldwide Short Film Festival (WSFF), presented by TELUS, North America’s largest short film festival, proudly returns for its 17th annual edition from May 31st to June 5th 2011. Showcasing the best short films from home and around the world, the WSFF will present an unparalleled line-up of contemporary short films in 33 programs specially selected from a record-breaking 4,200 submissions.

Presenting festival-goers with a wide-ranging collection of 275 shorts from 36 countries, the WSFF offers something for everyone. From a diverse array of live action, documentary, animation and experimental films, each 90-minute program screens 5 to 20 films, allowing viewers a rare opportunity to see some of the finest short films on a large screen format.

“This year the WSFF has really come into its own, “ says Festival Director Eileen Arandiga.“Short films have never been more popular. The record number of submissions received is clearly a testament to the growing popularity and importance of short film. This is a very exciting time for shorts, and we have never seen so many recognizable faces both in front of and behind the camera. We are also pleased to bring programming to places that might not traditionally be
viewed as a screening venue – for example the CN Tower and our Shorts Bus, a mobile theatre that allows Torontonians and visitors to our city to experience short films in a unique way.”

This year’s festival features a strong lineup of auteurs and stars. Directors with shorts appearing include: Spike Jonze (BEING JOHN MALKOVICH), Michel Gondry (ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND), Neil LaBute (IN THE COMPANY OF MEN), Taika Waititi (TWO CARS, ONE NIGHT), Sima Urale (COFFEE & ALLAH), Jonathan Caouette (TARNATION) and Harmony Korine (TRASH HUMPERS), as well as the directorial debut of Rachel Weisz. Starring in shorts are: Colin Firth, Anthony Hopkins, Tom Hardy, Chloë Sevigny, Scott Thompson, Jeremy Irons, Max von Sydow, Steve Coogan, Joseph Fiennes, Ian McKellan, John Slattery, Gerard Depardieu, Rosemary DeWitt, Selma Blair, Jeremy Davies, Julia Stiles, Debra Winger and Keira Knightley.

Kicking off this year’s festival, WSFF is throwing a Square Party on May 29th at Yonge Dundas Square – a public launch to the 6-day event, featuring video mash-ups and live bands beginning at 8 p.m. An unmissable giant cube will display live visuals, created by image wizards Justin Broadbent and Alex Kurina, with musical entertainment provided by DJ Tlo, The Wooden Sky and Kids & Explosions. Also new this year, the WSFF will feature a day of TOWERING SHORTS! programming at the CN Tower – and admission gets you to the top of the tower. In addition to the screenings, an increasing number of international buyers, delegates and industry professionals will attend the WSFF to participate in a full slate of conference and market events.

Festival goers can plan their festival experience in advance with the WSFF app collaboration with Shortz!, which can be downloaded from the App Store and Android Market. Get the low-down and latest updates on films and events. Watch film trailers, listen to filmmaker podcasts and much more. Please refer to www.shorterisbetter.com or the 2011 WSFF Program Book for film and screening details.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Scream 4 More of the Same

Scream 4

Fifteen years ago the duo of director Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson single handedly saved the horror genre with their witty and self-referential film, Scream. Not only did the success of the film bring back the slasher genre to mainstream audiences, but it also led to the “Japanese horror remakes” and the “torture porn” eras of cinema. Now in its fourth incarnation, the Scream franchise not only takes shots at the horror films that came after the first three films, but also attempts to change and reinvigorate the slasher genre for a whole new audience.

Taking place ten years after the events of the third Scream film, Scream 4 finds our heroine, Sidney Presscott (Neve Campbell) returning to her hometown of Woodsboro where the original murders took place. Now a successful author, Sidney is hoping to turn a new page in her life. However it is only a matter of time before Sidney’s presence causes the infamous “Ghostface Killer” to reemerge. Soon Sidney, her cousin Jill (Emma Roberts), Sheriff Dewey (David Arquette), his former reporter wife Gale (Courteney Cox) and the rest of the Woodsboro locals find themselves in grave danger.

Scream 4 is constantly aware that it must raise the bar and defy the audience’s expectations in order for it to be successful. Characters refer to how the rules have changed and everything will be bigger and more unpredictable. Yet for all its boasting, Scream 4 feels anything but daring. While it is nice to see Ghostface running wild again, there is not much in the film that has not been covered to death in the previous three films.

The major problem with Scream 4 is that it too focused on living in the past. A large portion of the film is essentially a reboot of the original film. The big difference is that the film features a new crop of young actors on the cusp of bigger things (e.g. Emma Roberts, Hayden Panettiere, Rory Culkin, Alison Brie, Erik Knudsen). Unfortunately the new cast of characters must fight for screen time as Williamson’s script spends the bulk of its time following the classic characters such as Sidney, Dewey, and Gale.

The inability to break away from the three alumni characters is what hurts the film. When the film reaches the point where the killer is revealed it feels very anticlimactic. While the reasoning behind the killers motivations are sound, the audience really does not get to know the killer all that well leading up to the final act. As a result the film feels hollow and rather forced.

If the film was actually willing to take the risk that it often boasts about taking, Scream 4 might have rivaled the first two Scream films. Yet at its best, Scream 4 is an improvement on Scream 3, but still nothing more than a shallow, and timid, copy of the original film.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Movie Marketing Monday

The Skin I Live In

After bringing the world films such as Matador and Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Pedro Almodóvar and Antonio Banderas reunite for this film about a plastic surgeon on the hunt for the men who raped his daughter. If Almodóvar is attached to a film then you know it will be an automatic must see for me.

Our Idiot Brother

Hollywood’s obsession with grown men acting like children continues. I do like the casting choices in the film though.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Sharing the Blogging Love

Wondering what bloggers have been chatting about this week?

Here is Your Reading, and Listening, Schedule for Today:

10 am: The latest episode of the LambCAST podcast talks romantic comedies.

11 am: Andy managed to get 58 movie bloggers (and counting) to document their own versions of A Life in Movies.

12 pm: This week’s episode of the Midnight Movie Club podcast reviews the great action flick Speed.

1 pm: Rachel takes on The Way of the Gun.

2 pm: Castor list the top 6 Natalie Portman performances.

3 pm: Bob gives his take on three Hot Docs films: Matchmaking Mayor, Battle for Barking, Hollywood Gospel.

4 pm: Speaking of Hot Docs, James reviews Eco-Pirates: The Story of Paul Watson.

5 pm: Shannon dives into the four-disc DVD set of Stieg Larsson’s Dragon Tattoo Trilogy.

6 pm: Mike watched Something Borrowed in order to save us the trouble of having to sit through it ourselves.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Which is Better?

Scarlett Johansson
10 sample films:

Lost in Translation
The Man Who Wasn’t There
Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Iron Man 2
A Love Song For Bobby Long
Ghost World
Match Point
The Black Dahlia
The Prestige
Eight Legged Freaks


Natalie Portman
10 sample films:

Leon: The Professional
V for Vendetta
Beautiful Girls
Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium
Garden State
Black Swan
Everyone Says I Love You

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

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Faster’s Vengeance Too Forgiving


Modern day film audiences have a tendency to frequently question events happening on screen. What is the significances of the scene in the bank? Why did the main character throw away the gun instead of getting more bullets? The problem with this is that directors often feel the need to jump the gun to provide answers to questions that no one was asking in the first place. A perfect example of this is the revenge film Faster.

The premise of director George Tillman Jr.’s film is simple and straight to the point. After being released from prison, a heist getaway driver (Dwayne Johnson) sets out to gun down the people who double-crossed him and killed his brother.

At the beginning, Faster seems to have all the makings of a great revenge flick. It sets up the story in the first ten minutes, the hero is provide with a cool car and the motivation to exact as much carnage as possible. Yet Faster makes one fatal mistake in its execution, it takes itself far too seriously as Tillman Jr. attempts to make the film deeper than it really should be. Sometimes a revenge flick just needs to be a revenge flick.

Faster is never content with being a simple revenge flick, is strives to be a tale about choices and forgiveness. Every single character in the film is struggling with the notion of pride and doing the right thing. As a result, the script is constantly providing the audience with background information for several characters that they could care less about. For example there is the turbulent relationship between two cops (Billy Bob Thornton and Carla Gugino) who are assigned to track down Johnson. The audience also learns a lot about Thornton’s connection with former flame Marina (Moon Bloodgood), who happens to be the mother of the son who he rarely sees. If that is not enough, Tillman Jr. also brings in the story of the killer (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) who is hired to dispose of Johnson’s character, but cannot decide whether he should leave the criminal life behind and start a new one with his longtime girlfriend, Lily (Maggie Grace). Throw in Johnson’s own story and the film ends up being far more cluttered than it should be.

Dwayne Johnson has the charisma to carry a film like this, but his character is surprisingly neutered. His driver character should be a stone-cold killer yet, he is nothing more than a inherently good soul trying to be bad. He spends half the film contemplating how to be a righteous man. All of the soul searching in the film really takes the energy out of the picture. What should have been a fast paced action film ends up being an uneventful tale of redemption that takes itself far too seriously.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Following Always Leaves You One Step Behind


After plowing through entire seasons of Community and The Boondocks, and indulging in films such as Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus, I thought it was time to start using Netflix Canada the way I initially intended to when I signed up a month ago. This mainly meant catching up on films that I have wanted to see but have not for one reason or another.

One of those films was Christopher Nolan’s debut film, Following. The noir-style film centres around a young writer, Bill (Jeremy Theobald), who follows people on the street trying to imagine what their lives are like. One day the tables are turned on the writer when one of his subjects, Cobb (Alex Haw), confronts him about his following habit. Cobb, a local burglar, strikes up an unlikely friendship with Bill and decides to teach him the tricks of the burglary trade. Bill immediately becomes infatuated with the mysterious blond (Lucy Russell) whose London apartment they burglarize. Soon Bill finds himself in way over his head as his growing relationship with the secretive blond has him risking his life for a woman he hardly knows.

Christopher Nolan is a director who has made a career of mixing strong storytelling with big budget sensibilities. While his debut film, Following, may not have the large scale of his later works, its intelligence more than makes up for its lack of budget. The film plays out in non-chronological order which allows Nolan to play with the audiences assumptions of what is going on.

One of the subtle aspects of the film that works so well is how all the little details fall into place. There is nothing in this film that does not carry some significance. Even small moments, such as when Bill casually looks inside a piano bench, reveal themselves to be rather important. Following is all about embracing these subtle moments instead of grander thrills that are often found in higher profile productions.

Some will find the pacing of the film extremely slow, but the payoff is well worth the build-up. Following is a film that slowly draws the viewer in and provides more than enough intrigue to maintain their attention. Following is not only a strong directorial debut, but it rivals some of Nolan’s more well known films.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Hot Docs Announces Sundance Channel People's Choice Award Winner

Hot Docs has wrapped its most successful Festival to date with audience numbers reaching an estimated 151,000. The 11-day event featured 360 public screenings of 199 films on 16 screens across Toronto, three Rooftop Docs screenings, an internationally renowned conference and market for documentary professionals, and Docs for Schools, a phenomenally popular education program for youth. A total 168 screenings went rush, and the box office saw a 24 per cent increase in revenue. The Festival brought in over 200 filmmakers and special guest subjects from across Canada and around the world to present their films and take part in special post-screening Q&A sessions with audiences. Official film selections were chosen from a total 2146 films submitted to the Festival.

"Attendance at Hot Docs jumped by 11 per cent this year," says Hot Docs executive director, Chris McDonald. "Our audiences are clamouring for great docs, and our filmmakers are raving about the Festival's fantastic audiences. It is a perfect storm!"

After the final screening yesterday, votes were tallied for the Sundance Channel People's Choice Award. The winner is SOMEWHERE BETWEEN (D: Linda Goldstein Knowlton, USA), which follows four remarkable Chinese-born adoptees as they come of age between two cultures.

The top ten audience favourites as determined by audience vote are:
1. SOMEWHERE BETWEEN (D: Linda Goldstein Knowlton, USA)
2. GIVE UP TOMORROW (D: Michael Collins, USA/UK)
3. HOW TO DIE IN OREGON (D: Peter D. Richardson, USA)
4. WILD HORSE, WILD RIDE (D: Alex Dawson and Greg Gricus, USA)
5. SENNA (D: Asif Kapadia, UK)

6. BUCK (D: Cindy Meehl, USA)
7. JIG (D: Sue Bourne, Scotland)
9. BEING ELMO: A PUPPETEER'S JOURNEY (D: Constance Marks, Philip Shane (Co-Director), USA)
10. KORAN BY HEART (D: Greg Barker, USA)

Also during this year's Hot Docs, attending filmmakers with official selections in the 2011 Festival were invited to vote for their favourite film. The winner of the Filmmakers Award is AT THE EDGE OF RUSSIA (D: Michal Marczak, Poland).

In addition to the film and industry prizes presented over the course of the Festival, Hot Docs today announces that PC Bang: The Rise of the Esports Hero from producer Erica Landrock is the winner of the Shaw Media-Hot Docs Rendezvous Pitch Prize and recipient of a $5,000 cash prize courtesy of Shaw Media-Hot Docs Development Funds.

Movie Marketing Monday


I love that Hollywood has jumped back on the female action hero bandwagon. Having said that, why does it feel like Saldana already covered this exact same role in The Losers?

What’s Your Number?

I have said it before, and I will say it again, Anna Faris should be a much bigger star than she currently is. Hopefully this romantic comedy will finally elevate her status with mainstream audiences.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Hot Docs Announces Award Winners

Hot Docs has announced the winners of the Festival's 2011 awards. The Hot Docs Awards Presentation was hosted by Jian Ghomeshi, host of Q on CBC Radio One. The Best Canadian Feature and Best International Feature winners will have encore screenings on Sunday, May 8.

The award for Best Canadian Feature was presented to FAMILY PORTRAIT IN BLACK AND WHITE (D: Julia Ivanova; P: Boris Ivanov, Mike Jackson), which visits a ramshackle house in Ukraine where supermom Olga Nenya is raising 16 abandoned mixed-race children. Sponsored by the Brian Linehan Charitable Foundation and Documentary Organization of Canada, the award includes a $15,000 prize courtesy of the Brian Linehan Charitable Foundation. Jury statement: "The award for Best Canadian Feature goes to an intimate, poetic film that bravely confronts nuance and complexity in its characters and its world." FAMILY PORTRAIT IN BLACK AND WHITE will screen again on Sunday, May 8, at 11:00 a.m. at the Isabel Bader Theatre.

The Special Jury Prize – Canadian Feature was presented to two films, AT NIGHT, THEY DANCE (D: Isabelle Lavigne, Stéphane Thibault; P: Lucie Lambert), which sweeps us into the chaotic world of a family of voluptuous female belly dancers in working class Cairo as they struggle to practice an art in danger of disappearing, and THE GUANTANAMO TRAP (D: Thomas Selim Wallner; P: Thomas Kufus, Amit Breuer, Marcel Hoehn, Christoph Jorg), which follows four lives forever changed by the infamous U.S. detention camp. Sponsored by the Brian Linehan Charitable Foundation, the award includes a $10,000 prize courtesy of the Brian Linehan Charitable Foundation. Jury statement: "The special jury prize is shared between two films, a powerful film that mobilizes compelling characters who face uncomfortable truths, piecing together the anatomy of a broken system – THE GUANTANAMO TRAP by Thomas Selwin Wallmer, and a beautifully filmed, haunting and evocative documentary that invites us into a world we would never be able to enter otherwise – AT NIGHT, THEY DANCE by Isabelle Lavigne and Stephane Thibault."

The Canadian Features Jury also acknowledged the film WIEBO'S WAR (D: David York, P: David York, Nick Hector, Bryn Hughes, Bonnie Thompson; EP: David York, David Christensen) with an honourable mention.

The award for Best International Feature was presented to DRAGONSLAYER (D: Tristan Patterson; P: John Baker, EP: Christine Vachon), about Californian skate-punk Skreech who stretches out his adolescence by riding empty pools, getting wasted and road-tripping. Sponsored by A&E, the award includes a $10,000 prize courtesy of Hot Docs. Jury statement: "We were captivated by a non-hero, in a capitalistic, nihilistic society in decline. We were drawn to the funky connection between the structure and content, the freshness of filmmaking and original non-linear storytelling. For these reasons we stand by DRAGONSLAYER." DRAGONSLAYER will screen again on Sunday, May 8, at 11:00 a.m. at the ROM Theatre.

The Special Jury Prize – International Feature was presented to THE CASTLE (D: Massimo D'Anolfi, Martina Parenti; P: Massimo D'Anolfi, Martina Parenti; EP: Massimo D'Anolfi, Martina Parenti), in which rigorous observational filmmaking exposes the ennui and heightened tensions of today's border security via Milan's Malpensa Airport. Sponsored by the Ontario Media Development Corporation, the award includes a $5,000 prize courtesy of Hot Docs. Jury statement: "For portraying a liminal space in both humor and pain; for the uncompromising camera which sees it all; for noticing the hardship of a system trapped by its own obsession of security, turning a regular terminal into an intrusive checkpoint into Europe; for not neglecting those who resist; for us who look but don't see."

The International Features Jury also acknowledged the films GRANDE HOTEL (D: Lotte Stoops; P: Ellen De Waele, Co-Producer Denis Vaslin, Volya Films; EP: Ellen De Waele) and HELL AND BACK AGAIN (D: Danfung Dennis; P: Mike Lerner, Martin Herring; EP: Dan Cogan, Karol Martesko Fenster
Gernot Schaffler, Thomas Brunner, Maxyne Franklin) with honourable mentions.

The award for Best Mid-Length Documentary was presented to OUR NEWSPAPER (D: Eline Flipse; P: Eline Flipse; EP: Eline Flipse), in which a disgruntled journalist quits The Leninist and starts Our Newspaper in a remote Russian village. Sponsored by Canada Council for the Arts, the award includes a $3,000 prize courtesy of Hot Docs. Jury statement: "This is a portrait of a place and a people receding into history. Alternately poignant and wary in tone, it is the compelling story of a man attempting to find meaning and purpose within a fatalistic environment."

The Short and Mid-Length Films Jury also acknowledged the film PEOPLE I COULD HAVE BEEN AND MAYBE AM (D: Boris Gerrets; P: Pieter van Huystee) with an honourable mention.

The award for Best Short Documentary was presented to FLYING ANNE (D: Catherine van Campen; P: Joost Seelen), a three-dimensional portrait of a girl with Tourette’s looking for love, acceptance and understanding. The award includes a $3,000 prize courtesy of Hot Docs. Jury statement: "This is a film that impressed the jury because of its ability to bring viewers into the world of its young subject with great sensitivity and skill. Through bold camera work we’re drawn into a visceral and moment to moment experience of her emotions and struggles. It achieves a genuine sense of transcendence through its balance of vérité elements and lyrical imagery."

The Short and Mid-Length Films Jury also acknowledged the film SOMETHING TO TELL YOU (D: Pete Gleeson; P: Pete Gleeson; EP: Yvette Coyne) with an honourable mention.

The HBO Documentary Films Emerging Artist Award was presented to director Michal Marczak for the film AT THE EDGE OF RUSSIA (P: Marianna Rowinska), in which a young recruit arrives at his Arctic post, hundreds of miles from the nearest human settlement, and is charged with an absurd task: patrolling the nothingness. The HBO Documentary Films Emerging Artist Award is sponsored by HBO Documentary Films. Jury statement: "Incredible storytelling of an initiation ceremony turning a young recruit into a real soldier. At the end of Russia, the end of the world perhaps, this film stunningly portrays five men as they protect their country in the icy snow against an invisible enemy. We unanimously salute this powerful debut in cinema."

The Sundance Channel People's Choice Award and audience top ten favourite films of the 2011 Festival, determined by audience ballot, will be announced on Monday, May 9. Also announced on this day is the Filmmaker Award, determined by ballots cast by Hot Docs 2011 filmmakers.

Friday, May 06, 2011

The Lumberfros Chops Down the Image of Lumberjacks

The Lumberfros

Normally, when most people think of lumberjacks, they envision the strong Paul Bunyan types, the rugged bearded men in red flannel shirts wielding a wooden handled axe. In Quebec, this stereotype is slowly disappearing as a new breed of lumberjacks are changing the face of forestry. Hailing from places like Mali and Romanian, immigrants are spending six of months of the year braving the Canadian elements while doing backbreaking labour.

In her documentary, The Lumberfros, director Stéphanie Lanthier examines the factors that have lead to this shift. Focusing her lens on a few specific lumberjacks, Lanthier’s film shows how the immigration policies are forcing many highly skilled workers into the forestry field as a last resort. Immigrants are coming to Canada from around the world with degrees, not to mention years of work experience, as electricians and other key professionals yet are being denied work because they did not train in Canada. Unable to afford the cost of studying everything they already know again to the appease the Canadian government, many immigrants are finding manufacturing and forestry the only areas where they can get work.

As one lumberjack, Antonie who hails from Romania points out, racism exist in Canada but it is hidden within the immigration policies of the country. Mamadou, who hails from Mali, echoes the same sentiments as Antonie when he recounts his experience first coming to the country. Many of The Lumberfros best moments come when Lanthier is following either Mamadou or Antonie. Although their personalities are vastly different, Mamadou is younger than most and boastful while Antonie is older and more reflective, they both have a strong work ethic that comes across in the film.

Stéphanie Lanthier’s documentary does a nice job of providing an overview of the forestry industry and the tough work that lumberjacks endure. Lanthier displays how there is a system to which trees get cut and which ones remain. The men work longs hours and their pay is based on how many 10,000 square meters plots of forest they get through in a week. Not only are the men away from their families for a long period of time but they also must work in the extreme heat of summer and the snowy days of Quebec’s fall season. One of the surprising things about the lumberjack industry is how it is more of an old man’s profession instead of a young one. Due to the tough manual labour and start up cost needed for equipment, not a lot of the Quebec youth are interested in the profession, which paves the way for more immigrants applying.

The Lumberfros is a film that will not only change the way you view lumberjacks, but it will also make you reflect on the state of immigration in today’s society.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

The Chocolate Farmer’s Future Not So Sweet

The Chocolate Farmer

The divide between experience and youth is nothing new in our society. Thanks to globalization many cultures are finding both their history and customs slow disappearing as the younger generation craves the materialistic things that the Western world provides. The lost of identity is a prevalent theme in Rohan Fernando’s film The Chocolate Farmer.

Fernando’s documentary looks at how globalization is ruining a community of farmers in South Belize. Eladio Pop has been a cocoa farmer since the age of 13 with his only farming tool being his trusty machete. Living by the teachings of his Mayan ancestors, Eladios only wealth comes from his cocoa crop and the life he has with his wife and 15 children. Unfortunately for Eladio, his children do not share his views. They do not see the benefits to farm life but are more interested in adapting to the modern world. As his children begin to experience the modern conveniences, the less likely it appears that the legacy of his ancestors, and his cocoa farm, will live on.

One of the interesting aspects of The Chocolate Farmer is how education is viewed as both a gift and a curse by Eladio Pop and his children. Eladio’s kids see education as a necessity to live in the increasingly capitalistic world of today. Getting an education is viewed as a ticket to see the world and acquire material wealth. Eladio on the other hand, sees education as nothing more than a tool to teach laziness and irresponsibility. Eladio works hard every day doing manual labour while his son, who got an education in school, spends most of his time drinking and doing stupid things with his friends. Another aspect that education does to a certain extent is hinder the development of culture. Most of the children who received formal education do not know how to cook traditional dishes, cannot find connections romantically with the opposite sex within the villages, nor would they be able to survive if they had to live of the land.

Although The Chocolate Farmer takes place in Belize its themes are universal, especially in regards to how capitalization destroys communities. Eladio laments on several occasions that the communal aspect of his work is gone. There was a time where farmers worked together to ensure everyone’s crop grew. Now each person works for themselves in hopes of making the most money possible. The ending of the film even alludes to the increasing jealousy growing in the region and the ugly form it takes. Even more damaging is the fact that the land in Belize is being bought up by foreigners. The farmers now have to work harder to pay the taxes for the land, yet have no actual rights to the land they have called home for generations.

If there is one drawback to The Chocolate Farmer is that it merely shows how things are without offering any really solutions. It does not pack that powerful punch that you might hope for given the subject matter. Regardless, The Chocolate Farmer is a decent film that will make think about your own life in regards to the capitalist world we live in.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Mighty Jerome Sprints Through Racial Barriers

Mighty Jerome

As a black Canadian, I am somewhat ashamed to admit that I knew very little about Harry Jerome going into Charles Officer’s documentary, Mighty Jerome. While I was aware of the annual Harry Jerome awards in Toronto, which recognizes positive achievements made by members of the black community, I did not know much about Jerome’s track and field days. Sadly my Canadian track and field knowledge only goes as far back as the Ben Johnson and Carl Lewis rivalry which was a major part of the era in which I grew up in.

Mighty Jerome documents the rise of Harry Jerome in one of the most turbulent times in North American history. In 1960, at the age of 19, Harry Jerome set a world record by running the 100-metre sprint in ten seconds! Thrust into the media spotlight, Jerome must navigate through the highs and lows of becoming an overnight public sensation. Over the course of his career Jerome had to overcome bigotry, the struggle to maintain a marriage in the public eye, and several injuries. One injury in particular not only threatened to paralyze Jerome forever, but was ultimately the catalyst for the one of the greatest comebacks in sports history.

What immediately struck me about Mighty Jerome is how little things have changed in the world of sports since Jerome’s era. One of Jerome’s close friends featured in the film remarks that the media wants to humble black athletes. This instantly made me think of what Montreal Canadiens’ defensemen P.K. Subban, who is briefly shown at the end of the film, had to endure in the NHL this year. Although a young budding star for the Canadiens, all the media attention this year was focused on how he celebrates too much after scoring a goal, how he mouths off too much to other players, etc. Yet as anyone who closely follows the NHL, myself included, can attest, Subban is not doing anything other than what most white athletes in the league are doing. Yet he is chastised while other are praised for doing the same thing. This is no different to the battles that Jerome had with the media. Reporters praised him when he did well but were also quick to tear him down and call his character in question whenever he succumbed to injuries.

While Mighty Jerome does not shy away from Jerome’s bout with the media, the film does not let it consume the entire film. Officer is more concerned on pointing out all the reasons why individuals should really take the time to learn more about Jerome and his achievements. The film highlights how Jerome had to endure prejudice all of his life, similar to how his folks, an interracial couple, did when they first moved to British Columbia. In one thought provoking moment, the film looks at how racism and the civil rights movement were viewed differently in Canada than it was in the United States. Canadians thought that it was horrible that African-Americans were not being treated like equals, yet Canadians somehow glossed over the fact that they were conducting the same racist practices here. Jerome was frequently put in a tight spot in which many were looking for him to publicly take a side in regards to the civil rights movement. In one piece of archive footage, Jerome is shown on a local television show lamenting that it is easy for whites to talk about standing up for the cause as their livelihood is not at stake. Jerome had to always be mindful of what he said in public.

The Mighty Jerome is one of those films that I can see becoming a staple of many schools Black History Month programs. It is a film that will not only sheds light on a man that the younger generation knows little about, but it does so in a way that keeps the viewers interest until the very end. Charles Officer incorporates a beautiful monochrome palate that really makes the film come alive stylistically. Coupled with a jazzy soundtrack and a blend of archive footage, modern day interviews, and re-enacted moments, Mighty Jerome should appeal to a wide audience. Mighty Jerome is a fitting tribute to a man who travelled a tough road to make things a little smoother for the rest of us.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

St-Henri, The 26th of August, A Long Day Indeed

St-Henri, The 26th of August

Back in 1962 a group of filmmakers, including Claude Jutra, Michel Brault, Don Owen and Arthur Lipsett, documented one day in the life of a working-class neighbourhood in St-Henri, Montreal. 50 years later, on the 26 August, 16 new filmmakers decided to continue the trend and document how the neighbourhood has evolved over the years.

While the film strives to capture reality in the same cinematic form as the 1962 directors did, the results are not as compelling as you would expect. Which is why St. Henri, the 26th of August was rather disappointing. The documentary does a good job of showing they wide array of people that inhabit St-Henri but the film never gets deeper than the surface level of both neighbourhood and the subjects they follow.

Besides the clear divide between the rich and the poor, and the fact that the locals love the neighbourhood and the outsiders view it as a ghetto, there is not much else we really learn about St. Henri that would set it apart from any other neighbourhood in a large city. The shocking thing is that the documentary has a wealth of interesting people they really could have explored in greater depth.

Whether it is the woman on welfare, who gets the most screen time, who survived four years in prison, the young gay native-Canadian who struggles with the way his culture is viewed by others, or the woman who finds pleasure in scouring the sewer system at night. There is no shortage of stories that could have really been fleshed out in the film. While this would obviously cut down the amount of people featured in the film, it is still more satisfying to get to know five individuals and their relationship with St. Henri than it is to briefly follow 12 to 15 different people.

The film does have some strong moments as the directors find a way to incorporate a little humour into the film. Part of this has to do with some of inspired individuals they decide to follow. Plus, as was mention earlier, the film is wonderful to look at. Even the poorer section of St. Henri look just was lush as the posh areas. Had the filmmakers focused on less individuals, St. Henri, The 26th of August would have been a much stronger documentary. In addition, the film’s pacing would not plod along as it currently does. As it stands, the film feels like an Altman film that introduces a bunch of characters but never really provides any substance to them or the place they all call home.