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.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Can There Be True Consequences In Summer Blockbusters?

In my recent review of Star Trek Into Darkness, I mentioned that that the “lack of true consequences is what is the most annoying aspect of [the film]." This remark did not sit well with fellow film blogger Andrew Robinson who runs the great site gmanReviews. As his comments often do, Andrew’s response sparked something in me that could not easily fit in the regular comments section of this site.

As a result, I have opted to give my response a post of its own as to not spoil anything for those who have not yet seen Star Trek Into Darkness. While I will be mindful not to reveal key points from J.J. Abrams latest film, there may be a few spoilers for other iconic blockbusters of the past. Though I am sure most of you have already seen many of the films I will reference below, considered yourself warned nonetheless.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness

The mandate of the USS Enterprise has always been “to boldly go where no one has gone before.” This motto was taken to new heights when J.J. Abrams helmed the 2009 reboot of the franchise. Four years later Abrams is back with the second, and most curious, chapter in the revived series. What is peculiar about Star Trek Into Darkness is how surprisingly strong its ties are to the lore of the Star Trek universe. This is especially shocking considering the great lengths that J.J. Abrams went to in 2009 to establish that the rebooted Star Trek existed in its own timeline, thus removing the shackles of fan expectations and the story confinements such expectations bring.

Abrams seems to have lost sight of this when crafting his new tale which should both please and infuriate devoted Trek fans equally. While a key revelation in Star Trek Into Darkness will bring squeals of delight to some fans, Abrams’ handling of the ramifications of the reveal ultimately ruins the latter half of the film. Most reboots nowadays look for creative ways to retell familiar stories. A perfect example of this is Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, in which he both introduced new characters and provided a new take on existing ones. A person can easily watch Nolan’s interpretation of certain characters, say The Joker and Catwoman for example, and appreciate them in a completely different way than they admire Tim Burton’s take on those same characters. Abrams reimagining of a particular story arc, on the other hand, seems hesitant to truly separate itself from the past.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Indie Spotlight: Frances Ha

There comes a point in everyone's life, around the mid to late twenties, where you must decide what you want out of life. For many that point comes rather unexpectedly. One day you notice that everyone else is using words like "career" and "marriage". Furthermore, all the things you and your friends used to make fun of are now the things you covet the most. This is the exact predicament that Greta Gerwig's Frances Halliday finds herself in.

Frances is a 27 year-old dancer who has been apprenticing at a dance company for many years. Though her dream is to become a full member of the company, her chances are slim at best. Despite not having a stable job, Frances finds solace in the fact that she shares an apartment with her best friend Sophie (Mickey Sumner). Frequently referred to by Frances as "me with different hair", Sophie is the only one who truly understands Frances. The pair even share a dream of achieving success in life at the same time. Unfortunately, cracks in their friendship begin to appear when Sophie jumps at the opportunity to live in her dream New York location of Tribeca. Unable to carry the rent alone, and not willing to accept that it is time to take responsibility for her life, Frances’ life begins to take a downward spiral just as everyone else's life seems to be on the up and up.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Indie Spotlight: Stories We Tell

The sharing of one’s family history through the generations is something that we rarely give much thought too. In fact, we often take for granted the significances of doing something as simple as sitting around the dinner table reflecting on the past. On the occasions where these stories, be it joyous or sad, are shared we often tend to focus on the content rather than the storyteller. This is rather odd, when you think about it, considering the integral role that the storyteller plays in shaping the tale.

This contemplation of storytelling and family is at the heart of Sarah Polley’s latest work, Stories We Tell. Already a celebrated actress in Canada and abroad, Polley has also proven herself to be a talented director with her films Away From Her and Take This Waltz. While Stories We Tell marks Polley’s first foray into the realm of documentary filmmaking, it marks her most assured directorial work to date. Similar to Bart Layton’s The Imposter, Polley manages to bend the conventional expectations of the documentary format into something that is both captivating and emotionally impactful.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

I Have Scene It Before

Due to our Hot Docs coverage we missed the April edition of I Have Scene It Before. As a result, we have decided to give you a supersized edition for May! The last time we ran this feature all 11 films were identified. Here is this month’s selection of film scenes. How many can you identify?



Monday, May 13, 2013

Hot Docs Review: Rent A Family Inc.

Director Kaspar Astrup Schröder came up with the idea for Rent A Family Inc. on one of his many trips to Japan. He was looking through the classifieds and noticed that unusual items were available for rent. These items not only included dogs that could be rented for an hour, but a section for renting people as well. Intrigued, Schröder contacted Ryuichi Ichinokawa who owns a business called I Want To Cheer You Up Ltd. Running the company only though his laptop and cell phone, Ryuichi rents himself out as a father, husband, boss, and colleague. He will even go as far as getting a group together to serve as one side of a family for weddings.

While comfortable pretending to be a part of other people's lives, Ryuichi, a father of two boys, does not have a great relationship with his own family. Living in small cramped quarters outside of Toyko, Father's Day goes by each year unnoticed while Mother's Day is a big deal in the household. Ryuichi's family has no knowledge, and shows little interest in finding out, about his business. His wife, who hardly speaks to Ryuichi anymore, does not care what he does as long as he brings home money to support the family. The only affection that Ryuichi gets at home is from the family dog Chappi.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Hot Docs Review: Blackfish

The date February 24, 2010, flashes briefly on a dark screen followed the sound of a panicked voice over phone. There has been an accident at Sea World and one of the trainers is severely injured. The trainer in question, Dawn Brancheau, was dragged into the water by an orca named Tilikum.

To understand the reason for the occurrence, director Gabriela Cowperthwaite must first give us the background of killer whales in captivity. It all started with the 1970 capture of killer whales in Puget Sound, Washington. The orcas, each group having their own tactics for avoiding capture, were chased by hunters in boats and helicopters. The hunters eventually honed in on the mothers and children, with the young whales ultimately being the targets.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Hot Docs Review: The Women and the Passenger

Four chambermaids tell their personal stories of love, marriage, relationships and life in The Women and the Passenger. They work at El Passajero, a motel that rents rooms by the hour, and refer to the ever changing guests as passengers. The housekeeping staff is constantly busy at El Passajero as checkout time is more frequent than the noon departure time one would expect at a normal hotel. Each employee tells her stories regarding the numerous guest at the motel in a straight forward manner that is free of titillation or judgment of the guests that come to the hotel.

The film follows the women through their workday and provides insight into their personal lives. Elisabeth recounts her split with her husband as she explores the various positions of the sex chair in the room that she's cleaning. Carina discusses the fact that her husband, the popular kid in the neighbourhood when they met, is younger than her. Maria's been married for 33 years and seems to have the most stable relationship amongst the four. Patricia divulges that she is self-conscious when she has sex with her husband because her kids sleep in the room next door.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Iron Man 3

Literally starting off with a bang, with an image of exploding Iron Man suits, Iron Man 3 kicks off the summer season by re-establishing why so many fell in love with this franchise in the first place. The film marks a significant moment for both the series and the Marvel cinematic universe as a whole. After The Avengers became such a huge hit, discussion turned to how the solo films, from several of the key characters, would survive? If Iron Man 3 is any indication, then the individual films will do just fine.

Free from the shackles of having to align itself with the other films in the Marvel cinematic universe, Iron Man 3 feels rejuvenated even though the man at the center of it all may not feel the same way. Loosely based on the popular Extremis arc from the comics, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) has not been the same since the events in The Avengers films. He is not sleeping at night and is suffering from a severe case of panic attacks. To cope with this anxiety he spends most of his time trying to perfect his Iron Man suits. Obsessed with his work, Stark neglects to see the strain it is putting on his relationship with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). He is also blind to the fact that an old acquaintance, Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), has re-emerged with groundbreaking research that could help to rebuild limbs.

Monday, May 06, 2013

MUSCLE SHOALS Named Audience Award Winner at Hot Docs

Hot Docs has wrapped its 20th anniversary edition with record-breaking audience numbers reaching an estimated 180,000.

After the final screening yesterday, audience votes were tallied for the Audience Award, presented by Netflix. The winner is MUSCLE SHOALS (D: Greg “Freddy” Camalier, USA), the story of a tiny backwater Alabama town’s impact on popular music. Second in the audience poll is BLOOD BROTHER (D: Steve Hoover, USA), in which the director follows his friend’s sudden move to India to care for HIV-positive orphans; and third in the audience poll is A WHOLE LOTT MORE (D: Victor Buhler, UK), which looks at the impact of the auto crisis on a company whose 1200 employees have developmental disabilities. The cash prize for the Audience Award, which will be shared by the top three films in the audience poll, was crowd-funded from audiences through Hot Docs’ Doc Ignite platform. Currently in excess of $6300, the public can further contribute to this cash prize until Friday, May 10.

The top ten audience favourites as determined by audience vote are:

Hot Docs Review: Downloaded

It is hard to believe that it has been a little over a decade since Napster closed up shop. Considering how fast technology is advancing these days, it is easy to forget both Napster’s importance and the influence it had on several products we still use today. Fortunately Alex Winter’s film, Downloaded, is here to remind us of exactly how instrumental Napster really was.

The story of Napster has been well documented in the media. It all started in 1998 when two teenagers, Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker, came up with an innovated program to facilitate peer-to-peer file sharing over the internet. Little did they know that their invention would both revolutionize the world and single-handedly cripple the music industry. By 1999 Napster was dominating university servers as students were downloading entire catalogues of music. Due to the popularity of the program, Fanning and Parker quickly found themselves deep in lawsuits.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Hot Docs Review: Valentine Road

Valentine Road evoked a passion within me like few other films have done this year. Certain individuals portrayed in the film angered me to the point where I wanted to physically throw something at the screen. The strong emotional reaction that the film evokes is exactly why Valentine Road is such an important and necessary film. It should be essential viewing for everyone, but especially students and parents. The film provides a heart-wrenching look at the devastating damage intolerance can have on a community.

The film focuses on the 2008 shooting in an elementary school that rocked the town of Oxnard, California, to its core. The bi-racial victim, 15-year-old Lawrence “Larry” King, was shot in the back of the head twice in front of stunned students and teachers while working in the school’s computer lab. The killer was King’s white 14-year-old classmate Brandon McInerney. Was this a hate crime or something more complex?

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Hot Docs Reviews: Buying Sex

The legalization of prostitution has been a long debated issue. The topic heated up once again after a recent court ruling deemed that the existing laws against brothels and pimping were unconstitutional. Buying Sex explores the prostitution laws in Canada, and the people it affects, from both sides of the debate. There are some, like sex worker and advocate Valerie Scott, who argue that the laws against prostitution do more to put sex workers in harm than it does to protect them. In the other corner is Trisha Baptie, a former sex worker turned abolitionist, who wants to see Canada decriminalize female prostitutes and put the legal pressure on the men who purchase their services.

Scott and Baptie both favour different world models that they each feel Canada should adopt. For Scott, New Zealand’s approach to legalizing prostitution has put the power and safety back in the hands of the sex workers. Whereas Baptie prefers Sweden’s approach to punishing the “Johns” thus eradicating the demand for prostitutes. Buying Sex directors Kent Nason and Teresa MacInnes, travel to both countries in order to get a better understanding of how each methodology has impacted their respective regions. What they find ultimately makes the debate even more complex.