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.