Monday, August 26, 2013

One Chapter Ends...Another One Begins


Today marks the end of a lengthy, and I would say very unexpected, journey. After seven years it is time to close the door on this little film blog known as Big Thoughts from a Small Mind. While I have loved every minute of being able to engage in film discussions with so many of the knowledgeable readers who frequent this site, it was time for a change. Fortunately, just because one chapter ends it does not mean another one cannot begin. You can still read our thoughts on all things film over at our new site:

Cinema Axis

What prompted the change? Well to be honest I have been thinking about this for over a year now. It just took some time to finally push forward and realize the idea. The primary reason was that I wanted the site to better reflect what the blog had become. For the last few years it has not been only thoughts from my “small mind”, but thoughts from various personalities and voices. There came a point a few years back where I decided that it would be more interesting to have different voices sharing their thoughts on film rather than just my own. It is a decision I am glad I made and I still embrace that philosophy today. As film bloggers we tend to start out, be it consciously or not, striving for personal glory. However, the websites that always fascinate me most are the ones where various people come together through their love of film.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

TIFF Announces Masters and Discovery Titles


The 38th Toronto International Film Festival® announced the films in the Masters programme, which highlights the work of the world’s most compelling cinematic creators. The programme features a diverse collection of new films including world premieres from Quebecois directors Robert Lepage and Pedro Pires and Finnish filmmaker Pirjo Honkasalo; and North American premieres by Jia Zhangke, Jafar Panahi, Kim Ki-duk, Edgar Rietz and Claire Denis.

Masters

A Touch of Sin (Tian zhu ding) Jia Zhangke, China/Japan North American Premiere
An angry miner, enraged by the corruption of his village leaders, takes action. A rootless migrant discovers the infinite possibilities that owning a firearm can offer. A pretty receptionist working in a sauna is pushed to the limit when a wealthy client assaults her. A young factory worker goes from one discouraging job to the next, only to face increasingly degrading circumstances. Four people, four different provinces.

Abuse of Weakness (Abus de Faiblesse) Catherine Breillat, France/Belgium/Germany World Premiere An extraordinary collaboration between two legends of French cinema, Catherine Breillat’s brutally candid autobiographical drama stars Isabelle Huppert as a stroke-afflicted filmmaker manipulated by a notorious con man.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Before Midnight


Up until now there has always been an unattainable element of romantic fantasy that flowed throughout Richard Linklater’s Before series. Although I got swept away in following the budding romance between Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Céline (Julie Delpy) in 1995’s Before Sunrise, there was a part of the seventeen year-old version of myself that felt “this could only happen in the movies.” The idea of meeting that special someone by chance on the train and spending one gloriously romantic day, in Europe of all places, seemed like an unattainable dream. Several years later, when the 2004 sequel Before Sunset was released, I found myself back in the comfortably romantic world of the pair. They were both a little older, but still as engaging and interesting as the first time I encountered them on screen. However, there was still a small element of Jesse and Céline’s beautiful relationship that still felt a bit inaccessible in the “real world.”

While it may have taken 18 years, Linklater’s latest film, Before Midnight, finally hit home in the most unexpected way. Now much older myself, I am in a place in my life where the lives of Céline and Jesse are no longer the impossible dream. In fact the reality is, aside from the exotic location of the film’s setting, I am living many of their experiences right now. Jesse and Céline no longer reside in that world where you can just drop everything for the chance of finding that one true love. The real world has crashed in on them and they must now learn how to survive amongst the demands of having a family, juggling careers, and trying to remain true to their individual passions.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Second Opinion: Elysium


Director Neill Blomkamp makes his long anticipated return to the screen with his second feature Elysium. Sci-Fi fans have waited, not so patiently, for a follow up to his first feature the visually stunning and unique District 9. Blomkamp, a graduate of Vancouver Film schools 3D Animation and Visual Effects program, has a seamless method of combining special effects and live acting that continues in Elysium. Blomkamp’s eye for robot construction, in this film in particular, is unmatched.

Dystopian Earth in the year 2154 is overrun by population, disease and lawlessness. Robots are both the police and parole officers on Earth. They show no favoritism and cannot be influenced or corrupted. The rich inhabit a space station in the sky, known as Elysium, filled with lush green fields, beautiful homes and the top technological and scientific achievements. They have devices, resembling a cross between a tanning bed and an MRI machine, which can eliminate diseases within a couple of minutes.

The story centers around Max (Matt Damon), a former car thief who is on parole and working on the line in a plant that makes robots. After an accident on the job, Max takes a contract from his old underworld contacts in exchange for a ticket to Elysium to cure the malady he contracted at the plant. The job does not go as planned and the strike team is intercepted by an earth based team of disavowed agents. However, Max does get information from the target that turns out to be more important than his sponsors could have expected.

The best part and worst part of the film are interrelated. There are no arcs in the story, therefore, the characters do not grow from the first time you see them on screen until the last act. This hinders the audience’s ability to develop interest in any of the characters. Scenes essentially bleed into each other almost like a random series of sequences all connected by chance. A good example of this is the sequence that starts with Max confronting a police robot while lining up for a bus. The confrontation ends with a broken wrist which leads to a reunion with Frey (Alice Braga) at the hospital. Frey is his childhood soulmate who has a daughter in the last stages of leukemia. Max’s job on the line is threatened by this detour to the hospital. The fear of losing his factory job leads Max to take a risk at work that causes his illness and ultimately his nothing to lose attitude. Although these events present the shell of the plot, there is very little character development that takes place in any of these moments or any others in the film for that matter.

Visually dazzling in scope, depth and detail, Elysium does have a fair bit that works well. It is a film that will especially appeal to sci-fi fans that are interested in the integration between humans and robots in a future society. However, those looking for a strong story, featuring characters that change and grow, will be disappointed as the film falls short. As a result, it is not a film that I can recommend.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

TIFF Announces Additional Titles


Featuring new films by Sean Durkin, James Franco, Patrice Leconte, Hayao Miyazaki, Fred Schepisi, Kevin Macdonald and Johnnie To

The Toronto International Film Festival® has announced the addition of 3 Galas and 19 Special Presentations to the 2013 Festival programme, including a further 12 World Premieres. Representing countries from around the world, the Gala and Special Presentations programmes offer a lineup of diverse titles and genres.

Toronto audiences will be among the first to screen films by directors Fred Schepisi, Alberto Arvelo, Reha Erdem, Dexter Fletcher, Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland, Megan Griffiths, Arnaud Larrieu and Jean-Marie Larrieu, Kevin Macdonald, Arie Posin, Charlie Stratton, Nils Tavernier and John Turturro.

GALAS

Blood Ties Guillaume Canet, France/USA North American Premiere
New York, 1974. 50-year-old Chris has just been released on good behavior after spending several years in prison. Waiting for him reluctantly outside the prison gates is his younger brother, Frank, a cop with a bright future. Chris and Frank have always been different, yet blood ties are the ones that bind. Starring Clive Owen, Billy Crudup, Marion Cotillard, Mila Kunis, Zoe Saldana, Matthias Schoenaerts and James Caan.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Blind Spot: The Omega Man


When it comes to science fiction, I have always been more drawn to works that have a sense of realism to them. Do not get me wrong, I can appreciate ships that go into warp drive and sabers made of light just as much as the next guy. However, it is the fiction that is the most plausible, or at least seemingly so, that truly makes my mind race. This is one of the reasons why The Omega Man is another of the pleasant discoveries in this ongoing Blind Spot Series.

Based on Richard Matheson’s novel I Am Legend (remade again in 2007 starring Will Smith), Boris Sagal’s film is a cautionary tale of the evils that mankind can unleash on each other through our overreliance on science and technology. The film takes place in 1977, two years after the world’s population has been decimated as a result of the biological warfare between the Soviet Union and China. Thanks to an experimental vaccine Col. Robert Neville (Charlton Heston), a military scientist, is the last remaining human on earth...or so he thinks. Neville spends his days roaming the deserted streets of Los Angeles gathering supplies and trying his best to remain sane within the isolation. Although the loneliness plays tricks on his mind, it is far more tolerable then what occurs when the sun goes down.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Elysium


There is nothing more frustrating than a film that has a lot to say, but is never quite sure how to best say it. Elysium is a perfect example of this as it is a film at odds with itself. In his much anticipated follow-up to the Academy Award nominated film District 9, director Neill Blomkamp continues his socially conscious brand of science fiction on a larger scale. This time around Blomkamp tackles issues such as classism, immigration, and most importantly the American health care system. However, unlike his last effort, Elysium cannot sustain itself under the weight of its own watered down ideology.

If there has been one downside to the reverberations from the Occupy Movement that dominated the media back in 2011, it is the impact it has had on cinema. Though there will always be those who have and those who want, Elysium seems to exploit this in the most egregious ways. In the world of the film, villains no longer need to have a motive or, in some cases, be criminally insane. In fact, the only thing that you need to be viewed as evil is money and lots of it. It is this lazy sort of logic, coupled with the fact that the last act turns into a comic book film, that makes Elysium such a maddening experience.

Friday, August 09, 2013

Prince Avalanche


David Gordon Green cannot win. He has always been a director who is drawn to projects that inspire him, which does not always sit well with his critics. After making critically praised films such as George Washington and All the Real Girls, Green opted to move into the realm of studio comedy. Spending the last few years making critically panned, and at times commercial flops such as Pineapple Express, Your Highness and The Sitter, many were starting to question if Green would ever get back to the type of filmmaking that made him so intriguing in the first place?

Well judging by his latest film Prince Avalanche, the speculation can end as Green shows he is still a strong filmmaker. While there is no doubt that he will continue to follow the beat of his own drum, it is rather refreshing to see Green invigorated again to tackle slightly more challenging work than his recent comedies. Of course there will still be those who will walk away from his film expecting more.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

TIFF Announces Powerful Canadian Lineup

Enemy

The Toronto International Film Festival® unveils a lineup of Canadian features packed with world premieres ranging from first features from the brave new First Nations voice of Jeff Barnaby and audacious artists Seth Scriver and Shayne Ehman, to Canadian indie icon Bruce McDonald and the always provocative work of Denis Villeneuve, Michael Dowse, Jennifer Baichwal with Edward Burtynsky, Bruce Sweeney, Robert Lepage with Pedro Pires, Peter Stebbings and Ingrid Veninger. North American premieres include the latest from Xavier Dolan, Bruce LaBruce, Richie Mehta and Louise Archambault. Here is the stellar list of Canadian films that will be screening at the festival this year:

SPECIAL PRESENTATIONS

Enemy Denis Villeneuve, Canada/Spain World Premiere
Based on The Double by Nobel Laureate José Saramago, this film explores the troubled psyche of a man who is torn between his mistress and his wife. Jake Gyllenhaal gives a brilliant performance as both Adam and Anthony — a man and his double — engaged in a lethal and erotic battle.

The F Word Michael Dowse, Canada/Ireland World Premiere
When Wallace meets Chantry, it could be love at first sight… except she lives with her long-term boyfriend. And so Wallace, acting with both best intentions — and maybe a little denial — discovers the dirtiest word in romance: friends. Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Zoe Kazan, Adam Driver and TIFF Rising Star Megan Park.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Mud


In the Arkansas Delta the deadliest people are not the strangers who hideout on deserted islands. Nor are they the bounty hunters lurking in broad daylight hoping to catch sight of their prey. The most dangerous people are in fact women.

When looking at all the males featured in Jeff Nichols’ latest film Mud, they all have something in common. Each of them is suffering from pain caused by the women they loved. Even those mourning for loved ones can pinpoint their grief back to the actions of a particular female. Despite the sullen view that some of the characters possess, Mud is far from a misogynistic film. Instead, it is a rich character study of men who are broken and, in some cases, are in desperate need of healing.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Spring Breakers


Hustle & Flow's Djay had it all wrong. It is not "hard out here for a pimp", but rather the real hardship is being part of the entitlement generation. At least that is what films like The Bling Ring and Spring Breakers have taught us this year. If we are to believe the characters in Harmony Korine's Spring Breakers, living an ordinary life is a fate almost as bad as death itself.

Think about it. Dealing with going to college and having parents who are concerned about your well-being sounds downright dreadful. Fortunately, there is a cure from the drudgery of everyday life. A utopian paradise known as spring break where heaven and earth meet. It is a spiritual place where one can truly find themselves. Well that is how life-long friends, Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), Faith (Selena Gomez), Brit (Ashley Benson) and Cotty (Rachel Korine) see it at least. Drowning in the boredom of life at college, the girls are willing to do anything, even if it is criminal, to ensure that their spring break is the best ever.

Monday, August 05, 2013

A Hijacking (Kapringen)


A Danish cargo ship, the MV Rozen, is in the Indian Ocean heading for Mumbai with a sparse collection of sailors aboard. Director Tobias Lindholm, whose script for the film The Hunt helped to garner a best actor nod for Mads Mikkelsen at the Cannes Film Festival last year, uses the ship’s cook Mikkel (Pilou Asbaek) to introduce the audience to the ship’s layout and crew. Unbeknownst to Mikkel, and rest of the crew, this trip will not be a routine voyage. They are about to endure the most harrowing ordeal at the hands of Somali pirates who will hijack their vessel.

Their only chance for survival comes not at sea, but in the boardroom. Peter Ludvigsen (Soren Malling), the CEO of the company that owns the ship, is a top negotiator in the world of business. However, Ludvigsen soon realizes that he knows nothing about dealing with terrorists. Bringing in specialist Connor Julian (Gary Skjoldmose Porter) to assist him, the pair must ensure that they take all the necessary steps to handle such a delicate situation. This includes working through each step of the process and not being rattled by either the psychological ploys used by the pirates, or the pressures family members of the crew are placing on the company.

Friday, August 02, 2013

Blind Spot: Pickpocket


It was bound to happen eventually, the blind spot streak had been too good of late. I just did not expect it to be this film. I am referring to that moment when you come across a film, that is highly praised by critics and fellow bloggers that just leaves you a little cold. To be honest, Robert Bresson’s Pickpocket was a film I was looking forward to the most in this year’s batch of Blind Spot Series titles. The unanimous accolades had me pumped to finally dive into the works of Bresson. I will be the first to admit that maybe I set the bar too high prior to seeing the film.

There is also a very good chance that the film simply caught me on an off day. I was coming off my second viewing of Only God Forgives, so I was already in a cold place going into the film. Though the more I think about, my mood was not that different from the protagonist in Bresson’s film. Michel (Martin LaSalle) exudes a cold selfishness that permeates the film. This might be one of the reasons why I was more fascinated with Michel’s profession rather than the man himself.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

The Wolverine


Considering I dedicated a whole post to lamenting about people being more focused on discussing the stinger in the end credits of The Wolverine rather than the film, it only seems right that I adhere to my own advice and try to turn the conversation back to the film itself. After spending the last few months immersing myself in all things Wolverine, both the films and the comics, to prepare for my Comix Asylum article (available now…shameless plug over), I feared I might have suffered from Wolverine overdose prior to seeing James Mangold’s The Wolverine. Yet here I stand relatively eager to follow everyone’s favourite surly mutant on a few more adventures.

This is quite a contrast to where I was after watching X-Men Origins: Wolverine a few years ago. The big difference is that you can tell early on in this film that everyone involved had a hunger to get it right this time around. You can especially see it in the intensity of Hugh Jackman’s performance. Despite being his sixth outing playing the Wolverine character, he arguably delivers his best work in the role to date. This is the version of the character that fans have wanted to see for years. Despite some very rocky moments in the latter half, more on that in a minute, the film exceeded my meager expectations on several levels.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

TIFF Announces Vanguard Titles

Horns

The Toronto International Film Festival Vanguard programme takes audiences on a sensory roller coaster ride with boundary-pushing international works that are bold and bodacious. Curated by international programmer Colin Geddes, this lineup brings the best in genre and arthouse together for a cinematic odyssey that eludes conventional definition.

“From revenge and ruin to sex, drugs and taxation, this programme challenges audiences to go places that no audience has gone before,” said Geddes. “Where Midnight Madness opens up audiences to a world of fear and fantasy, Vanguard plunges them into a confrontational and unnerving one that sometimes comes a bit too close to reality for comfort.”

The Vanguard roster features a provocative partnership between Ti West (The House of the Devil, The Innkeepers) and Eli Roth (Hostel, Cabin Fever),the darkly comic and esoteric Jeremy Saulnier (Murder Party), the ironic social commentary of Alex van Warmerdam (The Last Days of Emma Blank, Ober), the daring French duo of Helene Cattet and Bruno Forzani (Amer), and horror master Alexandre Aja (Haute Tension, Piranha 3D, The Hills Have Eyes). The full list of Vanguard titles are listed below:

TIFF Announces Midnight Madness Titles

R100

The Toronto International Film Festival® celebrates 25 years of Midnight Madness with a murderers' row of wild cinematic thrills. Programmed by Colin Geddes, the international lineup aims right for the jugular with everything from an extraterrestrial gore-thriller and sinister sex-comedy, to an Asian exotic horror film and a visually-stunning reinvention of the Italian cannibal genre.

"Since its 1988 launch, the Midnight Madness programme emerged as a touchstone of cinematic shock, satiating the adventurous palate of bloodthirsty cinephiles from all over the world," said Geddes, International Programmer for the Festival. "When the witching hour strikes and the human brain starts slipping into dream mode, the Ryerson Theatre will once again serve up a feast of phantasmagorical characters and jaw-dropping scenes, playing host to bizarre biological monstrosities, ruthless dominatrix gangs, paranormal mirrors, and the hijinks of supernatural cheerleaders."

You can find the titles screening this year, including new works from Eli Roth, Hitoshi Matsumoto and Sion Sono, in list below:

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Only God Forgives


Only God Forgives is a nightmare. A nightmare in the purest form; filled with images that do not always connect but still manage to frighten. It is a fevered dream consumed by monsters, each one more gruesome than the next. There are no characters to cheer for, no one to even cry for. Everyone navigates through the neon coated slum of Thailand with a cold almost lifeless demeanour.

It is a dream world that only the most harden souls would find comfort in, and director Nicolas Winding Refn would not have it any other way. Unfortunately, there will be many viewers who will refuse to travel down Refn’s dark rabbit hole. Those who were introduced to Refn’s work through his stylish 80’s inspired thriller Drive are in for a shock. This film is actually where Refn is most comfortable, being stylishly abstract and loving every minute of it. Although there are subtle similarities to Drive, the film feels more like the dark love child of Refn’s Valhalla Rising and the Pusher trilogy.

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Downside of the Stinger Era in Cinema


The uproar was spontaneous and loud in the dark theatre that was 80 percent full. Considering that the film was The Wolverine, such a response should not have been shocking at all. Superhero films generally get the crowd pumped if done well. What surprised me about this particular response was that the cheers and applause did not come during one of the many action scenes in the film. It did not even occur as the credits began to roll as a sign of overall approval, like the euphoric responses that overtook the crowd once The Avengers ended. Instead this reaction was for the brief post-credit scene (aka. the stinger).

That is right, after sitting in the theatre for over two hours, the biggest reaction came during a teaser for a completely different film. Exiting the theatre the talk amongst the folks who sat through the credits was not of Wolverine fighting on top of a 300 mph bullet train going through Japan, nor was it the questions of mortality that the film touches on. The only thing that was coming out of people’s mouths was the cameos from familiar characters in the stinger. While I understand that we have been conditioned to be impressed by the further marketing that occurs in post-credit sequences, I cannot help but think we have gone too far in the wrong direction.

While I will not spoil the stinger for The Wolverine, though chances are you have already read about it by now, I will be referring to some previous summer blockbuster post-credit sequences below. So you can read on at you own caution.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Senna


“Once you experience it, you keep searching for it again.”

Like an addict searching for their next high, Formula One racing can cause such an adrenaline rush that it is too intoxicating to ignore. Though I consider myself to be amongst the causal racing fans, I knew from early age that it took a special kind of person to be a race car driver. It takes a lot of passion, and a certain amount of crazy, to risk one’s life on a weekly basis in a sport where one mistake can be the difference between life and death.

This passion is eloquently conveyed in Asif Kapadia’s exhilarating and heartbreaking documentary, Senna. While I had a basic understanding of Ayrton Senna’s importance going into the film, my introduction to the world of Formula One began shortly after Senna’s tragic passing. I had started to follow racing during Michael Schumacher’s reign of Formula One in the 1990s and early 2000s and therefore never fully grasped what Ayrton Senna did for the sport. Fortunately, Kapadia’s film not only provides insight into Senna’s life, but also manages to capture the thrill of car racing unlike any other film.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Mr. Hulot’s Holiday


There is something inherently appealing about physical comedy. Like the classic episode of The Simpsons, entitled “A Star is Burns”, pointed out, there is something amusing about seeing a man get hit in the groin by a football. Sure comedy has evolved over the years, with sharp quotable dialogue dominating of late, but there is still something universally entertaining about seeing a comedian in tune with their physical timing.

It is this familiar, dare I say nostalgic, approach to comedy that makes a film like Mr. Hulot’s Holiday such a pleasure to watch. Considering it was my first experience with the films of Jacques Tati, the homage in the animated film The Illusionist does not count, I did not know what to expect from the film. Having recently watched Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush for the first time as well, I figured Mr. Hulot’s Holiday would be a similar silent film romp. It seems I only got the “romp” part right. While the character of Monsieur Hulot (Jacques Tati) remains silent for the majority of the tale, the actual film itself does not fall into the silent genre. This is not to say that the influences of silent film legends Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton are not evident.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

TIFF Announces First Wave of Titles

Prisoners

The first wave of TIFF titles were unveiled yesterday and as expected the list is stunning. New films from Atom Egoyan, Steve McQueen, François Ozon, Jonathan Glazer, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Stephen Frears, David Gordon Green and Alfonso Cuarón to name of few! The thing to remember is that this is only the tip of the iceberg, more titles will be announced in the coming weeks. Now begins the tough task of narrowing down the list of films I want to see. You can watch the press conference below or see the list of films announced after the jump.


Monday, July 22, 2013

The Wolverine + Comix Asylum Magazine


My apologies for the lack posts over the last few days, but I was enjoying a much needed vacation with the family. While I slowly ramp things on this site back up to speed, I recommend that you give the latest issue of Comix Asylum Magazine a read. In this issue you will find a piece I wrote on the upcoming film, The Wolverine. The magazine is currently available in the iTunes Newsstand and will also be available on the Google Play and Amazon platforms shortly.

If you have not read an issue of Comix Asylum Magazine before, you can get a free video preview via the magazine’s Facebook page.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Bling Ring


Inspired by the Vanity Fair article The Suspects Wore Louboutins by Nancy Jo Sales, Sofia Coppola’s latest film is an examination of the increasing obsession with celebrity culture that is prominent within this generation of young people. The Bling Ring is the story of a group of über rich high school kids from Calabasas, California who broke into celebrities houses in the Hollywood Hills and stole over 3 million of dollars worth of clothing, money, jewels and designer items. The gang followed celebrity news websites to monitor their targets movements using premieres, out of town appearances, or film shootings to decide when to strike. With the assistance of Google, to locate the home of the stars, the group would gleefully declare "Let's Go Shopping" as they ventured into every home they stole from.

By opening the film with the group, known as The Bing Ring, being unaware that they have been captured on a security camera after one of their thefts, Coppola sets the tone early for both the group’s methods of pilfering and their general lack of awareness. The story picks up one year earlier when we meet two high school aged girls, Nicki (Emma Watson) and her adopted sister Sam (Taissa Farmiga). Part of the entitlement generation, the girls stay out late and consider breakfast to be a combination of Adderall and cereal. Home schooled by their new age mother Laurie (Leslie Mann), who bases what they learn on the popular book The Secret, the girls’ lives are anything but typical.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

I Have Scene It Before

It is time to test your film knowledge with the July edition of I Have Scene It Before. Last month proved a little too easy as all 21 films were identified rather quickly. Here is this month’s selection of film scenes. How many can you identify?

1.


2.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Pacific Rim


There was a moment in the early trailers for Guillermo del Toro’s latest film, Pacific Rim, when a 250-foot tall robot stomps through the streets of Hong Kong dragging an oil tanker in one hand. The ship is eventually used as a baseball bat to strike an equally large monster much to the audible delight of several people in the audience. While this brief teaser, and the buzz from Comic-Con, had many eager to see Pacific Rim, I had no interest whatsoever. The strange thing was that, by all accounts, Pacific Rim should have been the type of summer spectacle that I would have normally been counting down the days to see. The trailers highlighted that it would be filled with action and it was made by a director whose work I normally love. However, I could not shake the feeling that I had seen all of this before.

Having watched a fair bit of Japanese anime television shows and films, not to mention reading several Manga comics, the concept of humans piloting giant robot suits was not foreign to me at all. Immersing myself in the worlds of Neon Genesis Evangelion, Voltron, Gundam, The Vision of Escaflowne and Robotech, I had reservations about what a film like Pacific Rim could add to the genre. Despite my low expectations going in, I must admit that I was pleasantly surprised by the heights that Guillermo del Toro reaches with this film. Pacific Rim is not only a visual overload to the senses, but more importantly, it brings an element of fun to a summer that was in desperate need of it.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Syrup


If we are to believe the protagonist of Aram Rappaport’s latest film, then our entire life is based around marketing. Everything from the products we buy, the way we present ourselves at work, and even how we go about courting that special someone is calculated to evoke a precise image. Which is exactly what marketing is all about…creating an image. Enticing others to believe they will run faster in a particular pair of sneakers and get the girl if they drink the right beer.

The cutthroat world of marketing is the focus of the satirical film Syrup. Based on the novel by Max Barry, who also penned the screenplay with Rappaport, the film follows Scat (Shiloh Fernandez) as he tries to make it big in the world of advertising. Scat has come up with an idea for an energy drink called “Fukk” that he believes will take the industry by storm. Of course Scat must convince one of the top corporate marketers, Six (Amber Heard) to buy into the concept. Cold, calculating and attractive Six’s mixture of advertising expertise and sexuality proves too intoxicating for Scat to resist.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Authentic: Young Rival's Journey Through Canada


After screening his film Ages & Stages: The Story of the Meligrove Band at last year’s NXNE festival, director Brendan McCarney is back, this time with Mike Gillespie, on the musical beat once again. This time around he introduces us to Hamilton’s not so punk band, Young Rival. Following the band as they tour Canada, the film captures the grind of life on the road for a small band.

Travelling from show to show, crammed into an old van, Young Rival are their own roadies, instrument technicians and stage crew. If they do not like how a venue is set up, especially if it inhibits people from coming to the stage or dancing, lead singer Aron D'Alesio will rearrange the tables himself. To get the true feel of the band’s experience, McCarney travels as the band does, including spending many nights sleeping on the floor of their hotel rooms.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

B.B. King: The Life of Riley


The documentary opens with Bill Cosby speaking about how the story of Riley B. King (more famously known as B.B. King) is one of survival. Other celebrities and musical greats including Bruce Willis, Carlos Santana, Bonnie Raitt and Eric Clapton also chime in with their commentary about the blues legend. They speak to the distinct sound of his music recognizable by only one note and the ever present vibrato.

Narrator Morgan Freedman eventually takes over to recount the main elements of B.B. King’s early years starting with his 1925 birth on a sharecropper's plantation along the Mississippi Delta. King reflects on his early years, referring to himself as just a blues singer, while sitting on his tour bus headed back to his birthplace for the annual B.B. King Homecoming Festival. It is clear that the early period in his life is what shaped the man he would become. Influenced by the reverend Archie Farms, King learned a lot about both music and himself from attending church regularly. This was important because King was not immune to the realities of the era. The KKK was very active in his community and he was witness to a lynching that still haunts him to this day.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Blind Spot: Judgment at Nuremberg


As an outsider it is always easier to pass judgment on others during difficult times. We can proclaim how we would never have done this, or would have never participated in that with an air of self-righteousness. Of course, it is a completely different beast when one must actually live within the horrors that other chastise.

While we would like to believe that everyone has the freedom to choose their own path, there are times when the prevailing view of society, regardless of how wrong they are, can become too overwhelming. As a result, choices that are made in the name of patriotism can lead to truly horrific consequences. It is this conflict between personal conscience and the widespread immorality of society that beats at the heart of Stanley Kramer’s Judgment at Nuremberg.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me


They are considered one of the most influential American bands of all time, but up until the 1990s they did not get the love they truly deserved. While those who heard their music fell in love with them instantly, Big Star’s sound never seemed to connect with mainstream audiences. Not for a lack of trying mind you but, as with most musical geniuses, their music was just too ahead of its time. It would take several years before their sweet melodies and unique guitar hooks would influence a whole generation of rock musicians.

For those who may be unfamiliar with the name Big Star, you have no doubt heard their music or at least know of bands who site them as major influences. Big Star’s song “In the Street” was used as the opening theme song for the 90’s sitcom That 70’s Show and bands such as R.E.M., Primal Scream, The Flaming Lips, The Replacements and Yo La Tengo all claim to be disciples of Big Star’s sound. So how did such a highly regarded band go unnoticed for so long? This is what directors Drew DeNicola and Olivia Mori set out to answer in their engaging documentary Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Man of Steel


In an age where social media is nearly impossible to ignore, it took a lot of skill and luck to get through the last three weeks without hearing any spoilers about Man of Steel prior to seeing the film. Outside of the rumblings that the film had greatly divided critics and comic book fans alike, I was not sure what to expect from Zach Snyder’s latest film. While I have always been fond of Snyder’s work, the misguided Sucker Punch being the lone exception, I was curious as to how he would tackle the most iconic superhero of all time.

There is no doubt that there was a lot riding on this film. Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns failed to reintroduce Superman to a younger generation and the success of The Avengers had DC itching to get the building block for the Justice League film out to the masses. After the success of the Dark Knight trilogy, it was clear that DC and Warner Bros. would want to take a more serious approach to the reboot of the Superman franchise. Though I do not think anyone was ready for how serious the tone of Man of Steel would be. If I can get one minor complaint out of the way early, it would be that the film is devoid of any real humour. It is quiet telling when, in a summer tent pole film such as this, the biggest reaction comes towards the end of the film when a minor character remarks that Superman is “kinda hot.” In many ways, Man of Steel is more suited for a fall release than a summer one. Although there is no shortage of action in the film, more on that later, a good portion of the time I found myself feeling sorry for Superman rather than rooting for him.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Blind Spot: Notorious


Last year I embarked on a self-imposed mission to dive into the works of Alfred Hitchcock. With no real plan of attack, other than to view as many of his films as possible, I aimlessly bounced between Hitchcock’s early silent film works and his later films. I was making good headway into his canon before abruptly stopping due to what can only be called, a mild case of Hitchcock overdose. After a brief hiatus the fever to explore the world of Hitchcock has been once again reignited thanks to this month’s Blind Spot selection, Notorious.

After her father is convicted of being a Nazi spy in America, Alicia Huberman’s (Ingrid Bergman) life is constantly under the microscope as the police routinely follow her every movement. When throwing a dinner party one night, Huberman meets a dashing stranger named T.R. Devlin (Cary Grant). Huberman eventually discovers that Devlin is a U.S. intelligence agent who has been instructed to recruit her for a special mission. Though the pair indulges in some fiery back and forth banter, the attraction is clearly there.

Friday, June 21, 2013

2013 Toronto Youth Shorts Film Festival

For the second straight year I had the pleasure of being a part of the Online Critics Panel at the Toronto Youth Shorts Film Festival. In its fifth year, the festival shows no signs of slowing down as it featured 42 short films covering a wide range of topics. The strong selection of films screening this year once again made it tough to narrow down our choices to just five films to honour with the Critic’s Choice Award. While I cannot divulge who we picked as our top five, you will have wait for the announcement at Sunday’s awards ceremony, I will very briefly highlight a few of the many films that stood out for me:


Ragen
Dan Sprogis, Animation

Synopsis: A careless sorcerer flexes his powers and brews trouble for the local town.

Thoughts: Brilliantly animated, this film is gorgeous, Sprogis manages to squeeze in a fully realized story in a mere two minute span. It should also be noted that the score for the film is fantastic, which only helps to enhance the overall narrative.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Skull World


There was a period when one had to hide their love of playing Dungeons & Dragons for fear of being dubbed a “nerd”. Now that nerd culture has gone mainstream and being different is something to be worn as a badge of honour. While some partake in Cosplay, others, like Greg Sommer, prefer to indulge in the world of Box Wars.

Similar to LARPing in theory, but vastly different in practice, Box Wars is a league where men and women relieve some aggression while having fun all at the same time. Two teams square off against each on a battlefield until one person, or team, is proven to be the dominant victor. The catch is that all the elaborate armour, weapons, and costumes are made out of cardboard. That is right...cardboard.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

I Have Scene It Before

It is time to test your film knowledge with the June edition of I Have Scene It Before. Last month 15 of the 21 films were identified. The six films that stumped people were Detroit 9000 (#6), Running Scared (#8), Capturing the Friedmans (#10), Barfly (#14), Tokyo Story (#16) and Ginger Snaps (#18). Here is this month’s selection of film scenes. How many can you identify?

1.


2.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Blancanieves


There are some stories that will always stick with us. Tales told to us when we were young that we will in turn pass on to our children. Though certain details will no doubt change, or extra emphasis added at particular points, the overall heart of the story will remain the same. No matter how many times we have either told or heard the story, we can still be blown away when presented with a new interpretation that causes us to ponder why no one thought to do this before.

Pablo Berger achieves such a feat with his stunning and inspired film Blancanieves. A modern silent film that feels perfectly at home with the classics of the medium, Blancanieves is a treat from a visual and storytelling standpoint. Berger creates a truly magical cinematic experience by offering a new take on The Brothers Grimm famous Snow White fairy tale. The film is no children’s tale mind you. Berger takes great pleasure in slipping adult themes, such as sadomasochism and adultery, into his film. There is a giddiness to Berger’s playful approach throughout the film that is simply infectious.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

NXNE Review: All Out War


Moving with speed, grace, and precision they work through each round in hopes of knocking out their competition. The pressure nears its boiling point as the judges take note of each jab and the zealous crowd cheers for their favourite combatant. The two individuals in the ring have spent hours rigorously training for this exact moment. Each one aware that one mistake could cost them the match. The fire in their eyes is a mixture of confidence and hunger as they know their time in the square ring, while brief, could make them legends. While the chance at nabbing the title would be nice, leaving a legacy is the ultimate goal.

Though this may sound like a recount of a Pay-Per-View boxing match featuring Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather, it is actually a fight of a different sort. This is the world of B-boying, a style of street dancing that was commonly referred to as “breakdancing” or “breaking” in the 70s and 80s. Considered to be one of the four key elements to hip hop, along with the MC, the DJ and the Graffiti artist, B-boying has evolved into an art form that, thanks to Youtube, youth worldwide participate in. It is not only a way to express and showcase dance abilities, but also a non-violent tool to settle disputes (a.k.a.“beefs”).

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

NXNE Review: The Global Groove Network

We all have those songs that instantly trigger fond memories of our youth. Just a mere few cords from a guitar can take us back to the song that played on the radio during the moment of our first kiss. Some vocal harmonies remind us of that long summer road trip in our friend’s old Ford Tempo. The pulsing beat of a particular dance song recalls that party in which we were convinced the collective euphoria actually made time stand still. Through the many twists and turns that life has to offer, music has always been something that reminds us and comforts us.

It is this personal soundtrack that we subconsciously create that is at the heart of Courtney James’ film The Global Groove Network. The film examines the rise of dance music from its early disco roots in the 70s all the way to the mainstream success that it receives today. The Global Groove Network consists of three facets that work together in unison: the promoters, the party goers, and most importantly the DJs. As electronic music and the dance culture evolves and grows in popularity, a new form of celebrity is born. The architects behind the unique and captivating sound, the DJs, have become household names.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

NXNE Review: Mistaken for Strangers

Often we gauge our own success by measuring and comparing it to those around us. It is not right, but as humans it is some that almost comes as second nature. For some this measuring stick serves to spark a competitive and creative fire in them to achieve great things. Other opt for an introspective look at what changes they need to make in their lives. Deep down all we really want is to find something that allows us to shine brightly on our own and not constantly have to live in the shadow of others.

Such is the dilemma that aspiring filmmaker Tom Berninger found himself in. Tom's brother just so happens to be Matt Berninger, the lead singer of The National. Considered one of the hottest indie rock bands working today, The National have amassed quite a following in the past ten years. Routinely playing sold out shows to crowds of thousands, and having the likes of Emily Blunt, Will Arnett and Werner Herzog amongst their fans, The National star status continues to grow. Matt's growing success is in stark contrast to Tom’s whose own career rather stagnant.

Monday, June 10, 2013

NXNE Review: A Universal Language

It is often said that laughter is the best medicine to cure all ailments. Of course what one person finds amusing can be deemed hurtful and insulting to others. The subjective nature of comedy is what makes being a comedian one of the hardest jobs around. Unlike other art forms where it can take a few days for critical feedback to reach the artist, the response for a comedian is instantaneous. One seemingly harmless joke can either inspire fits of laughter or cause immediate walkouts.

There is also a cultural relevance that comedians must also take into account when performing. While there are basic human traits that we all subscribe to, there are many things that only specific groups will identify with. For example, a joke about a mayor’s alleged drug use will play far better in Toronto than parts of the Middle East. However, this is not to say that comedians will back away from attempting these jokes regardless. In fact most see it as a challenge. As the quote from legendary comedian George Carlin, referenced at the beginning of Igal Hecht’s documentary A Universal Language, states “it’s the duty of the comedian to find out where the line is drawn and cross it deliberately.” If there is one thing to be said about the comedians featured in Hecht’s film, it is that they bravely cross that line on numerous occasions.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Latest Issue of Comix Asylum Now in iTunes Newsstand

It has been a rather busy week with work, NXNE festival prep, and three nights of softball taking up much of the time. As a result, I forgot to mention that after some unfortunate delays the latest issue of the interactive magazine Comix Asylum is available in the iTunes. Though I do not have an article in this issue (currently working on a piece for the next issue), I highly recommend reading the articles by a few fellow film bloggers/writers who contributed to this issue. Row Three’s Andrew James wrote a piece on J.J. Abrams tackling Star Wars and Mamo’s own Matt Brown contributed an article on Star Trek Into Darkness. By the way, if you are not reading Matt Brown’s weekly “Destroy All Monsters” pop culture articles on Twitch than you are truly missing out. So if you have not yet checked out Comix Asylum, I highly recommend checking out the iTunes Store and giving the magazine a read.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

5 Must-See Films at NXNE

In less than a week the worlds of music, film, and comedy will collide at the 2013 NXNE festival. Running from June 10 th to June 16th the festival will feature performances from musical artists like The Nationals, Claxico, Billy Talent, Social Distortion, Smif N Wessun, Dan Deaco, Wintersleep and a slew of other acts from around the globe. Comedians such as Bryan O’Gorman, She Said What, and Precious Chong, just to name a few, will also be performing. While the music and comedy will no doubt be outstanding, it is the films that actually bring us to the festival. NXNE film, in partnership with Hot Docs, will present 30 films from June 13th to 16th. Here are a few of the films playing at this year’s festival that caught our eye:

BB King – The Life of Riley
Narrated by Morgan Freeman, the film pays tribute to the life and legacy of BB King. The film features candid interviews with artist such as Bono, Eric Clapton, Carlos Santana, Ringo Starr, and a host of others who were influenced by BB King’s sound.



Saturday, June 01, 2013

The Cultural Relevance of Fast & Furious 6


The resounding beating that Fast & Furious 6 gave The Hangover 3 during the Memorial Day weekend has been a hot topic for the past week. Pundits had predicted a big financial windfall with two hot franchises squaring off. However, no one expected it to be so one-sided with Fast & Furious 6 amassing $97, 375,245 in three days compared to the $41,671,198 gross that The Hangover 3 accumulated. While there are several reasons for the success of the sixth edition in the Fast franchise, the insanely entertaining action sequences being the main component, the dissection of how big a role diversity played is an interesting one.

If you scan the internet you will find articles proclaiming how the film “did well in diverse areas” of America; as well as many posing the question “will [diverse casting] be a new trend in Hollywood?” The disturbing thing about this is that these are the exact same type of comments that occurred when Fast Five rocketed to an $86 million opening in 2011. Clearly Hollywood still has not learned anything two years later and probably will not by time Fast & Furious 7 rolls around. Similar to the shock and awe that occurred when films like Sex and the City and Bridesmaids were considered “surprise” hits, the major studios still have not figured out that the North American population consist of more than just white males.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Ghosts in Our Machine


If animals can experience the same emotions of fear and joy as humans, then why are they not cared for like humans? This is the central question that drives the work of award-winning photographer and activist Jo-Anne McArthur. Spending over ten years of her life advocating against the mistreatment of animals worldwide, McArthur shows no signs of slowing down. At one point in The Ghost in Our Machine she even “I’m trying to save the world” to a potential publisher. Though the statement is made in jest, there is a lot of truth behind her words.

McArthur aims to show the world that animals are sentient creatures, and should be treated as such. Using her camera as the primary instrument for change, McArthur travels the world documenting the many factory farms that raise animals for food and fur. Breaking into these establishments during off hours, her lens captures riveting images of animals in various stages of distress. The captivating thing about McArthur’s photos is how well she captures the personalities of the animals she observes. It is hard not to contemplate the existence of souls within animals after witnessing these images. This makes the situation even more heartbreaking as the realization sinks in that most of the animals featured will experience a full year of torture and abuse before they are ultimately killed.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Charles Bradley: Soul of America


At age 62, when most people are planning for their retirement, Charles Bradley’s career is now taking flight. What is even more shocking is the fact that Bradley’s career is a musical one. In an industry that is constantly looking for the next Justin Bieber-like young sensation to market to the masses, the idea of a 62 year-old soul singer breaking out seems unheard of. However, like most things in Bradley’s life, defying the odds is something he has grown accustomed to doing.

Similar to the rich stories of hardship he sings about in his songs, Charles Bradley’s life has been a one of pain and struggle. His mother abandoned him as a child to chase after a married man, the brother he looked up to was killed, and Bradley had to deal with his own turbulent health issues. Bradley’s tale is one of such sorrow that it would have been completely understandable had he given up on his dreams of being a musician.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Blind Spot: Gun Crazy


The union of sex and violence has been a long standing theme in film. While the American obsession with guns has been well documented, few have embraced the almost sinful allure of guns like Joseph H. Lewis’ Gun Crazy. The characters in Gun Crazy not only enjoy shooting, but have a weird obsession with guns in general.

From a very young age Barton Tare (John Dall), known as Bart to friends, has always been drawn to guns. The compulsion is so strong that as a child he attempted, unsuccessfully mind you, to steal a gun from a local shop. As a result of his actions, Bart was sent off to reform school before eventually spending time in the military. Years later Bart returns home a man with a new outlook on life. His love of guns is still present, in fact he has developed into quite the marksman, but he no longer feels the need to resort to criminal activities. That of course all changes when he meets the beautiful, and equally talented with a pistol, Annie Laurie Star (Peggy Cummins). A sharp-shooting performer in a traveling carnival, Annie is taken by Bart’s skills during a shooting contest that Annie rarely loses.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Fast & Furious 6


There has not been another cinematic franchise that has reinvented itself the way The Fast and the Furious series has. While most franchises seem to run out of steam around the third film, this series has defied the odds by actually getting better with each subsequent film. The unique thing about the success of this series is how well it has tapped into the universe it has created. This is a world where the laws of physics no longer exist, the third film is actually the sixth film, and maximum destruction occurs with only a few select casualties. Yet for all its outlandish traits, there is something undeniably entertaining about the brash group of anti-heroes at its core.

What original started out as a Point Break clone, with cars replacing surfboards, has evolved into a genre jumping high octane thrill ride. While the plot has never been a strong point in the series, over the years, the films still managed to have a little more under the hood than just a shiny exterior. Much of the success can be traced back to when Justin Lin took over the directing reigns in the third film, The Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift. Though Lin has made a name for himself with The Fast and the Furious franchise, and the “Modern Warfare” episode of the show Community, his best film to date is still the criminally underrated drama Better Luck Tomorrow (which also features Fast & Furious 6’s Sung Kang). Incorporating Tomorrow’s themes of friendship amongst outsiders and coupling it with Lin’s inventive visual aesthetics has help to elevate The Fast and Furious series into a class of its own.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Second Opinion: Star Trek Into Darkness



J.J. Abrams and the Bad Robot crew take their second shot at the Star Trek universe with Star Trek Into Darkness. Coming four years after its 2009 predecessor, Abrams and company made sure they took their time to get the film right. The good thing about sequels, especially those of an iconic franchise, is that the first movie already introduced the main characters and their relationships. This allows the new film to jump right into the action.

The central thread of the film explores the enemy within. Distrusting superiors, and digging a little deeper for information, is a prevalent theme. The role of the villain may shift during the course of the film, but the narrative never veers far from the main topic. The film opens with the Enterprise crew on an observatory mission of a primitive tribal society. The team decides to intervene when they realize that the civilization is threatened by its own environment. The decision is contrary to the prime directive on which Starfleet is based. Upon their return to Starfleet headquarters, both Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto) are disciplined for their actions. As Kirk and Spock deal with the ramification of their choices, we are introduced Jonathan Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch); a mysterious figure that is willing to assist a Starfleet officer with his family health issue for a price. It is only a matter of time before the paths of Harrison and Kirk cross to surprising results.