Movie Reviews Archives (78 posts)

Lemmy (2010)

I just watched Lemmy (2010) on Netflix and was impressed by how little I knew about Motorhead’s front man. 66 year-old Ian Fraser “Lemmy” Kilmister makes Keith Richards look like a pussy cat. The guy smokes like a fiend and has been drinking a bottle of Jack Daniels every day since he was 30!

At one point in the film, fellow musician Jim “Reverend Horton” Heath revealed that he tried to keep up with Lemmy one night and had to visit the hospital the next day for alcohol poisoning. Aside from the hard living lifestyle, Lemmy comes across as a hard-working eccentric that is a really nice guy.

I can’t say that I am a huge fan of Motorhead’s music but I found this documentary to be quite interesting. Lemmy is a one of a kind musician that is having a great time, playing music, out-lasting and out-living his peers.

Posted in Movie Reviews at 10:56 PM

500 Days Of Summer

500 Days of Summer has been sitting on my desk for the last month and I finally got around to watching it last night. Outstanding!

I read about the buzz when this one came out starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel but I missed it in the theatre. If you like films that are creative and try to break new ground in storytelling then rent this film, buy it, or watch it on satellite/cable.

II need to watch it again with the commentary track featuring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and director Marc Webb. These guys love film and seemed to have a great time making this movie. Their enthusiasm is refreshing and their hard work seems to have paid off.

I’m really curious to see what Webb does with the new Spider-Man film.

Spoiler: My favourite scene in this film comes when Gordon-Levitt’s character quits his job during a staff meeting. His co-worker and friend (Geoffrey Arend) stands up and applauds afterward, alone. Great moment. Interesting note. Geoffrey Arend is the guy who is engaged to Mad Men’s Christina Hendricks.

Posted in Movie Reviews at 5:25 PM

IMAX: Hubble 3D

IMAX: Hubble 3D

IMAX: Hubble 3D (2010). Directed by Toni Myers.

I never get tired of space documentaries, especially when they’re as fascinating as Hubble 3D. The film’s breathtaking IMAX footage combined with images from Hubble create a unique cinematic experience.

The Hubble Space Telescope was put into orbit in April 1990 and is the only telescope designed to be serviced by astronauts. In May 2009, NASA sent the crew of the Space Shuttle Atlantis to make vital repairs and upgrades to Hubble. Five spacewalks were required and each of them was captured by an IMAX 3D camera operated by the astronauts.

Director of photography, James Neihouse trained the astronauts for 8 months on basic cinematography and how to use the cumbersome IMAX 3D cameras (they weigh over 250 lb). A roll of IMAX film runs 5,000 feet, weighs 54 pounds and runs 8 minutes. With only one roll of film there was zero margin for error.

During a Q&A session I asked Neihouse if he was happy with the camera work of the astronauts. He said he was “very pleased with the footage” and ended up using about 90% of it in the final film.

Aside from the spacewalk footage, the launch of the Space Shuttle Atlantis is spectacular and puts the viewer right on the launch pad. We’ve all seen Shuttle launches before but not like this! The sound recording of the launch is also incredible and required quite a number of microphones (several mics were incinerated or blown trying to record the takeoff).

The thing that impressed me most about this film were the images captured by Hubble. 20 years of Hubble data was used to create some incredible 3D visualizations of several galaxies and solar systems.

“This is star travel, you’re right out there moving in space, said director Toni Myers. The IMAX experience really does make you feel like you’re floating in space. You quickly realize how small our planet and solar system is in the cosmos. I was truly blown away.

Leonardo DiCaprio’s name is featured prominently on the movie poster but his voiceover narration in the film is understated and works quite well. Director Toni Myers gets full marks for using Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s version of Over The Rainbow/What A Wonderful World in the soundtrack.

I should also mention that the I watched the IMAX version of the film at the Ontario Science Centre’s OMNIMAX® Theatre and not the IMAX 3D version of the film. The Ontario Science Centre has an IMAX Dome theatre that wraps around the viewer.

It was interesting to hear James Neihouse say that he enjoyed parts of the film more in an IMAX Dome theatre than the 3D version. I’m curious to see what the 3D version of the film looks like.

IMAX: Hubble 3D opens in Toronto, Los Angeles, San Diego and Denver on March 19, 2010.


Films are rated from 1 to 4 stars.

Official Movie Website

Posted in Movie Reviews at 12:00 AM

88 Minutes

88 Minutes (2007) is like The Wicker Man in that it is so bad you just have to check it out.

Metacritic gave 88 Minutes an average score of just 17 (out of 100), while it gave The Wicker Man a generous score of 36. Factor in my curiosity for Oscar winners who star in really bad movies and I was watching all 108 minutes of 88 Minutes.

Preposterous seems to be the most popular adjective to describe this serial killer movie. Everything from the plot to Pacino’s poofy hair is over the top and silly. You’ll find yourself laughing out loud at some of the absurd plot twists. Variety says that the film easily claims the “prize as Al Pacino’s career worst” while Joe Neumaier says it best:

This slimy, slug-minded mystery thriller starts out dead on arrival and then, like three-day-old fish, gets really bad really fast.

It’s interesting to note that Leelee Sobieski had a role in The Wicker Man and 88 Minutes. Coincidence?

Although the film takes place in Seattle, most of it was shot in Vancouver and the filmmakers do very little to disguise this. You’ll notice a Shoppers Drug Mart and Roots (Canadian stores) in a couple of scenes. The street sign for popular Davie Street is in plain view a couple of times. Sloppy.

Despite the bad reviews I’d have to say that this movie was much better than The Wicker Man. At least it comes together in the end and Pacino is somewhat believable as a forensic psychiatrist.

Posted in Movie Reviews at 10:33 PM



Clubland (2009). Directed by Eric Geringas

In the heart of Toronto’s entertainment district you’ll find 60 night clubs and 25 bars packed into 1.5 square kilometres. On the weekends, this part of the city becomes “Clubland.” Over 50,000 people crowd the streets and line up to get into some of North America’s hottest clubs.

Eric Geringas’ film takes us behind the scenes and into the VIP lounges where clubbers and promoters let loose. The clubs open at 10:00 PM and close at 2:00 AM. With only 4 hours to serve alcohol, it’s a race to make money and serve as many drinks as possible.

When 2:00 AM rolls around, the clubbers pour out into the streets where the noise and congestion wake the neighbours. Fueled with liquid courage, young men routinely engage in fist fights. While the police are busy making arrests, club revelers are passing out on the sidewalk.

The film sets up local residents, politicians and police against the club owners, who feel they have a right to be there. The clubs provide tax dollars to the city and they were there before the condos went up. The local residents complain about the noise and the violence.

For many, Clubland will provide an interesting glimpse into Toronto’s club scene and the controversy that surrounds it. The voiceover narration is a bit distracting and makes the film sound like a really bad beer commercial at times. Aside from that the film is well-produced and presents arguments from each side fairly.

The economic contribution from the condos far outweighs the tax dollars that the clubs can generate. The film concludes that political pressure is forcing an increasing number of night clubs to close while the construction of more condos is transforming the neighbourhood.

If you missed Clubland at the 2009 Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival then you can see it in Canada on Global Television on Friday, October 2 at 8:00 PM ET/PT. In Winnipeg and Regina, the documentary film will air at 7:00 PM.

Official site of the film


Films are rated from 1 to 4 stars.

Posted in Movie Reviews at 12:30 PM



Watchmen (2009). Directed by Zack Snyder.

Last week I didn’t know what to expect from Watchmen. I read a few of the favourable reviews this week and became really interested in this film. This afternoon I was completely blown away from the first scene to the last. Watchmen is The Dark Knight of 2009.

The opening credits are amazing and left me wanting to watch them again to see what I might have missed (I noticed younger versions of David Bowie, Mick Jagger, Truman Capote and Andy Warhol). This film is packed with pop culture references to the 1980s and easter eggs — 3.5” floppy disks, Apple’s famous 1984 commercial, 80s colours, typography and music.

Any film that prominently features The McLaughlin Group is a winner in my book. This political roundtable show was a staple in my parent’s house on Saturday nights. Early in the film, this show helps to set the tone and transport you back to the the mid-80s.

The violence in this film is incredible. If you thought 300 was gory then this film will make you wince with its bone-crushing slow motion and blood spattering scenes. Just when I thought I was numb to Hollywood’s violence, Zack Snyder comes along and slaps me in the face with some scenes that had me gasping out loud.

Watchmen is a film that is rich in detail and heavy on style. There are beautiful camera moves that pass through walls, creative slow motion, incredible lighting and amazing artistic direction.

My favourite scene is where Rorschach kills a prison inmate in a bathroom. The murder takes place off-screen but a swinging door reveals the terror on the face of inmate with each pass as the camera pushes in. I probably sound like a bloodthirsty neanderthal for singling out that scene but trust me, this film is a visual masterpiece on so many levels.

What about the plot? Why haven’t I mentioned it? Too many spoilers. Just go an see the movie or read one of the many reviews on Metacritic if you must.

Jackie Earl Haley as Rorschach is by far my favourite Watchmen character. His performance is outstanding and validates his comeback which began with Little Children (2006).

The less you know about this film the better. I’m going to read the graphic novel before I watch it again in IMAX. When this film arrives on Blu-ray it is going to be a fanboy favourite and movie lover’s dream - amazing visuals, fantastic audio, desperately in need of audio commentaries and special features.


Films are rated from 1 to 4 stars.

Posted in Movie Reviews at 7:30 PM

The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button

The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008). Directed by David Fincher.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is an epic film that tells the story of a man that ages backwards. Benjamin is born into the body of an 80-yearl-old man that grows up to become a young man, a boy, then a baby before he dies. Along the way he makes friends, finds love and experiences “the joys of life and the sadness of death”.

Director David Fincher (Fight Club, Se7en) spent years trying to figure how to make this film work. The computer animation and the special effects industry have matured to the point that this incredibly ambitious tale can work as a film. Previously it was a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Love him or hate him, Brad Pitt does an exceptional job at playing the lead character of Benjamin Button. The makeup and CGI (computer generated images) that transform him into a little old man or a teenager are miraculous.

Cate Blanchett is always perfect but it was Tilda Swinton that surprised me in her role as a love interest to Pitt’s character. I thought she had one of the best performances in the film.

David Fincher does a first rate job of creating an incredibly rich and detailed experience that is pure movie magic. A DVD release with a director’s commentary is sure to be fascinating.

I wondered if the film really needed to be almost 3 hours (166 minutes). It does. It never drags and the long setup is worth the pay off in the second half.

The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button needs time to soak in. You’ll find yourself reflecting on your own life, assessing the different stages you’ve experienced so far — the birth of your children, parenting, the loss of your mother or father, your relationships, friends and maybe more.

It’s hard for me to believe that on this day, 8 years ago, my mother passed away. Time can pass by so quickly. In a weird sort of way this film is a timely reminder but also a distraction that makes me enjoy it even more.


Films are rated from 1 to 4 stars.

Official movie website.

Posted in Movie Reviews at 11:03 PM

Slumdog Millionaire

Slumdog Millionaire

Slumdog Millionaire (2008). Directed by Danny Boyle.

Slumdog Millionaire was the winner of the audience award at TIFF, has four Golden Globe nominations and it’s on just about everyone’s top ten list for best film of the year. It’s being called a masterpiece by more than one critic and it just may be the most entertaining film of the year.

Jamal, an orphan from Mumbai’s slums ends up on India’s version of Who Wants To Be a Millionaire and becomes a national hero when he answers every question on the show correctly, round after round. How can an educated kid, a slumdog, know all the answers? If you haven’t seen the film, I suggest you stop reading now.

The game show is a great narrative device for telling Jamal’s story. Through a series of flashbacks we find out why Jamal is able to answer each question. Each flashback builds upon the previous one in chronological order. Part of me thought that Jamal was going to be a Verbal Kint type of character (Usual Suspects) that cons his way into winning the top prize. I love that you never quite know how the film is going to turn until the last question.

Some films tend to drag but this one moves along at quite a clip. Great editing, beautiful cinematography and expert storytelling immerse you in the world of Slumdog Millionaire. I’ve never been to India but I feel that I’ve experienced on some level before the film ends. This is a great feel-good movie that ends up being the fastest 120 minutes I’ve ever watched.

Slumdog Millionaire is easily one of the best films of the year. ****

Films are rated from 1 to 4 stars.

Slumdog Millionaire - Official Site

Posted in Movie Reviews at 8:38 PM

Worst movies of 2008

Here are my top 5 worst movies of the year:

The Love Guru (2008). I’ll be surprised if Mike Myers makes another comedy after watching this bomb.
Hell Ride (2008). No. Plot. Whatsoever.
Eagle Eye (2008). I had no intention of seeing this but a couple of other guys were going to the theatre so I tagged along. Big mistake. This movie is a bad rip off of Enemy of the State and Hal from 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Igor (2008). Great visuals but not Pixar. The story was boring and the dialogue was lifeless. This was easily the weakest family movie of the year for me.
Genova (2008). I saw this at TIFF and wrote a review a few months back. I found Michael Winterbottom’s film to be the biggest disappointment of the festival for me.

Some of these movies are out on DVD now. My advice is to avoid them if you can.

Posted in Movie Reviews at 8:43 PM

Quantum of Solace

Forget about all of the mediocre reviews that say the latest Bond film is too dark, too grim. Quantum of Solace (2008) is a very satisfying follow up to Casino Royale. I found the film to be exciting and very entertaining.

Anthony Lane at The New Yorker says:

Quantum of Solace is too savage for family entertainment, but, as a study in headlong desperation, it’s easier to believe in than many more ponderous films.

The violence is relentless but I didn’t find it pointless. It takes the Bond character in a different direction which isn’t a bad thing. Would you rather have invisible cars or Bond skiing down another mountain in the French Alps? At the risk of being boring, this film tries to be a little more believable with the plot and I think it works well, even if things get a little confusing at times.

My biggest complaint is that director Marc Forster cheated with many of the action scenes. Showing the viewer a set up rapid cuts creates a frenetic pace and builds tension but it also creates a jumbled mess that leaves you wishing you had a rewind button to press.

I can’t believe that critics like Roger Ebert are complaining that the female lead has a plain name (Camille) instead of Pussy Galore. Instead of Goldfinger or Scaramanga the villain is simply one Dominic Greene. Again, I don’t understand why people want crazy villains with unrealistic goals. This film tries hard to be believable and it’s just as entertaining as a Goldfinger if not better in my opinion.

Is the film as good as Casino Royale (2006)? No, but come on. Casino Royale is one of the best Bond films to date. You can’t hit a home run every time.

If you’re a fan of the Bond franchise then I think you’ll enjoy the film. If not, then maybe Bolt (2008) in 3D will get you excited.


Films are rated from 1 to 4 stars.

Posted in Movie Reviews at 1:04 AM

Tropic Thunder (2008)

If you want to see the funniest movie of the summer then watch Tropic Thunder (2008). Ben Stiller wrote, directed and stars in this war comedy that borrows from Platoon, Apocalypse Now Saving Private Ryan and Rambo.

I knew that the movie starred Ben Stiller, Robert Downy Jr. and Jack Black but I had no idea that Tom Cruise, Matthew McConaughey, Steve Coogan and Bill Hader also had prominent roles. I hate to say it but Tom Cruise was hilarious in his role.

I couldn’t get enough of Robert Downey Jr. playing an Australian actor (Kurt Russell is implied) who undergoes a pigmentation surgery to make himself look African American. Most of his dialogue comes from sitcoms like Benson and the Jeffersons. His performance was priceless.

Ben Stiller pushed the envelope and caused a lot of controversy with the character Simple Jack — a really bad version of Billy Bob Thornton’s character in Sling Blade. Some of you will cringe when you watch these scenes but others will laugh until it hurts.


Films are rated from 1 to 4 stars.

Posted in Movie Reviews at 10:32 PM

WALL•E (2008)

There have been many 4 star reviews of Pixar’s latest film WALL•E (2008). Many reviewers are calling it is Pixar’s best film to date, their most original, their best visual effort and so on. I liked the film a lot but I wasn’t overwhelmed.

Visually, the film is stunning. To raise the bar, Pixar went out and hired the world’s best cinematographer (Roger Deakins) as a consultant. The result is that many scenes look like they were filmed like a real movie. This video podcast has some great information on the visual style of the film.


WALL•E may be Pixar’s best film to date but my favourites are still The Incredibles (2004) and Ratatouille (2007). WALL•E is the type of film that I could watch repeatedly and grow to appreciate.

The first 30 minutes of the film is like a silent movie — there isn’t any dialogue but the animation, sound effects and storytelling is so well done that it isn’t missed. I was worried that the group of kids I saw the film with would find this boring. They weren’t bored. They were mesmerized and they loved the film.

Apple fanboys will get a kick out of WALL·E’s startup sound which is the same as an older Macintosh. The white glossy robot EVE resembles a slick white iPod. Apple design chief, Jonathan Ive was involved in designing EVE for the film. Lastly, WALL·E enjoys watching the film Hello, Dolly! (1969) through an older video iPod with an enormous lens in front of the screen.

Director Andrew Stanton claims that he wasn’t trying to preach about the environment in WALL•E but it comes through anyway. The film is set in the future where we’ve made such a disgusting mess of the planet that we have to leave. The only thing alive on earth is a cockroach.

WALL•E spends all of his time cleaning up the garbage that litters the landscape. The humans are living on an enormous spacecraft where they lounge around and get fat drinking slushies, content to let the computers and robots take over their lives.

Next to Iron Man (which I’ve yet to review), WALL•E is one of the summer’s best movies. I’ll probably see it again before the end of the week and like the film a little bit more. ***½

Films are rated from 1 to 4 stars.

Posted in Movie Reviews at 9:43 PM

The Love Guru (2008)

I desperately wanted The Love Guru to be a good movie. I just went and saw it with three friends and the general consensus is that Mike Myers made the worst movie of his career.

Parts of The Love Guru were filmed down the street from my house on Lake Ontario. I watched as the film crew built the incredible sets at Bluffers Park and I took several photographs last summer. Unfortunately The Love Guru is so bad that I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone, even for a video rental. It doesn’t deserve a theatrical release.

Almost everything in this movie has been recycled from other Mike Myers films. The gags just aren’t funny the second time around. Take a pass on this film unless you want to see the Maple Leafs win their first Stanley Cup in over 30 years. *

Films are rated from 1 to 4 stars.

UPDATE: I just read a Love Guru review by Harry Knowles that I feel is spot on:

Unbelievably unspeakably awful. THE LOVE GURU is astonishingly rancid… With this film, Myers puts a shotgun in the mouth of comedy and kills it. This isn’t merely a bad film, but a painful experience that you keep telling yourself to leave. However, I have a very strong belief in witnessing the terror.

I’ll be surprised if Mike Myers gets an opportunity to make another comedy after this debacle.

Posted in Movie Reviews at 12:34 AM

You Don’t Mess with the Zohan (2008)

You Don’t Mess with the Zohan is everything you’d expect from an Adam Sandler movie. It’s silly, ridiculous, crude and completely unbelievable. It’s also very funny.

The movie is a torrent of one-liners, jokes and gags packed into the 113 minutes. Some of the jokes slip by while others bowl you over with laughter. It’s not the type of movie you want to watch alone. Go and see it with a friend or two and you’ll find yourself quoting one-liners and recalling one of your favourite scenes.

When Zohan and his buddies footbag with a live cat instead of a Hacky Sack, I lost it. Next to Mike Myers’ Love Guru, I’m guessing that this will be the ‘funny’ movie of the summer. **½

Films are rated from 1 to 4 stars.

Posted in Movie Reviews at 7:44 PM

The Incredible Hulk (2008)

More incredible than Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull but not as good as Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk is a decent popcorn flick.

If you watch a crappy download version of this film on your home computer then you’re a loser. It deserves to be viewed on the big screen! Millions of dollars were spent on making the CGI look fantastic yet some people would prefer to watch a shaky camcorder version with terrible audio.

I seem to be in the minority when it comes to people that enjoyed Ang Lee’s version of Hulk (2003). Louis Leterrier’s update of the angry green man will appeal to the masses for its simplicity and action.

On another level you might enjoy the film knowing that it was shot in and around Toronto. I found it amazing how director Leterrier made different locations around University of Toronto blend seamlessly with Morningside Park in Scarborough. Downtown Yonge Street in Toronto combined with downtown Hamilton looks like a believable version of Harlem (even if Sam the Record Man and the Zanzibar Tavern are featured prominently in the background).

The aerial shot of a neighbourhood in Rio at the beginning of the film is incredible as noted by Roger Ebert in his review:

This is the “City of God” neighborhood, and as nearly as I could tell, we are looking at the real thing, not CGI. The director lets the shot run on longer than any reasonable requirement of the plot; my bet is, he was as astonished as I was, and let it run because it is so damned amazing.

Equally amazing is the work that Rhythm & Hues Studios did in creating a CGI version of the Hulk. I think it is getting harder for special effects studios to impress audiences these days. The scenes with Abomination and Hulk are very well done and I found very little to complain about.

There are a few good laughs for the fanboys in the audience, including cameos by Stan Lee and Lou Ferrigno. I was surprised to learn that the speaking parts for Hulk were performed by Ferrigno who is hearing impaired.

The next time you visit the movie theatre, take a look around the lobby to see if they have a life-size Hulk on display. It will give you some perspective on how large the CGI character is compared to the human actors. Tim Roth looks like a child compared to the massive Hulk model I saw. **½

Films are rated from 1 to 4 stars.

Posted in Movie Reviews at 11:29 PM

Factory: Manchester from Joy Division to Happy Mondays (2007)

All of a sudden, Joy Division and Manchester are popular again. With the release of 2 films about Joy Division and a fabulous documentary from BBC Four, Manchester From Joy Division to Happy Mondays provides a great history lesson of an interesting period in British music.

If you’ve seen 24 Hour Party People (2002) then you have some idea of what all the fuss is about. Steve Coogan does an incredible job of portraying Tony Wilson — founder/manager of The Haçienda nightclub and one of the founders of Factory Records. In the BBC Four documentary he is featured prominently. I was surprised to read that he died on August 10, 2007 of renal cancer.

Manchester from Joy Division to Happy Mondays has some incredible interviews with Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook, Vini Reilly (who looks worse than Phil Spector) of The Durutti Column and more. There is some great footage of Joy Division and the early days at Factory Records. I don’t know why, but I couldn’t get enough of this film.

Posted in Movie Reviews and Music at 1:43 AM

Let’s All Hate Toronto (2007)

Director: Albert Nerenberg, Rob Spence

Let’s All Hate Toronto (2006) premiered tonight to a sold out audience at the Bloor Theatre in, Toronto. There was quite a buzz around this film. I was eager to see what people around the country had to say about Toronto and why they disliked it so much.

The film follows Mr. Toronto who travels across Canada to find out why everyone hates Toronto. To encourage feedback, Toronto Appreciation Days are ‘staged’ in public places which lead to some funny situations.

By far, the funniest scene occurs in Edmonton last year, when the Edmonton Oilers made a run for the Stanley Cup. A drunken fan is waving a Toronto Appreciation Day banner. When he realizes what he has in his hands, he drops the banner as if it were on fire.

The film tries too hard to be funny and it failed to keep my interest throughout. Maybe I was turned off by the staged events and some of the phoniness. The Mr. Toronto schtick gets tired halfway through and a lot of the footage is shown again and again.

The best line in the film is “Toronto is like New York on dial-up”. Having been to New York I couldn’t agree more. Toronto is like a village compared to New York.

As a Torontonian I had a very strong interest in seeing this film but when it comes to filmmaking, it’s a pretty average documentary. If I could have changed the channel, I would have flipped to something else.

I hate to be negative about a local film because I know how much work and effort goes into making one but Let’s All Hate Toronto just didn’t do it for me. It raised a lot of interesting things about Toronto but overall it wasn’t compelling enough for this viewer.

Posted in Movie Reviews at 9:41 PM

Souvenirs (2006)

The documentary film, Souvenirs (2006) had its Canadian premiere at the Bloor Theatre in Toronto tonight. Directed by Shahar Cohen and Halil Efrat, Souvenirs received a Best Documentary Award at the 2006 Doc Aviv Festival.

37 year-old Shahar Cohen went to film school for 5 years. Two years ago he was unemployed, living in Jerusalem and wanted to make a film. The subject? His 82-year-old father, Sleiman. He served in World War II with the Jewish Brigade.

The angle? His father had a few girlfriends in Holland and it’s possible that he might have left behind some “souvenirs” — children by two Dutch women.

So, father and son go on a road trip through Europe in search of lost lovers and siblings. What transpires is a charming and funny adventure where Sleiman and Sharar get to know each other better. The film also explores the role of the Jewish Brigade in the British army during the war.

I enjoyed Souvenirs a lot. Sleiman and his son aren’t very close but by the end of the film they make a connection that strengthen’s their relationship. You also gain some insight into life during the war through Sleiman’s many stories. And of course there are a few surprises along the way as Sharar tries to find out if he has any brothers or sisters from his father’s Dutch girlfriends.

Shahar Cohen was on-hand for a Q&A after the film. I was surprised to find out that he had written a script for his documentary film! The script was completed before filming but only used as an outline for how Shahar wanted the film to unfold.

At times Shahar and his co-director Halil Efrat “manipulated” Sleiman by getting him worked up to make a few scenes more dramatic. They also filmed a lot of interviews of Jewish Brigade members to trick Sleiman into thinking that the film was about the Brigade and not focusing solely on him.

I’m sure that their are some documentary purists that would frown upon these Michael Moore-like tactics but it does make for a more interesting film. ***

Films are rated from 1 to 4 stars.

Posted in Movie Reviews at 11:44 PM

TMNT (2007)

If you’re over the age of 10 you might not know that TMNT stands for Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles. If you’re under the age of 10 you might not know that TMNT was the top weekend flick with $25.45 million in ticket sales.

I found myself sitting in the a theatre with my 7-year-old son Daniel, waiting for TMNT (2006)to start. Like most 7-year-olds he has a fascination with ninja turtles. I don’t. All I could think about were the really bad, one star reviews I had read about TMNT.

By the time the credits rolled, I was relieved. The movie wasn’t that bad. It’s basically a 3D version of the TV show but with really good production value. The animation by Imagi Entertainment is impressive and gave me something to admire while the turtles ate pizza and bickered.

The animation and the rendering doesn’t live up to Pixar standards but so what. A 7-year-old kid isn’t going to notice or care about how realistic the fabrics are rendered or if the inverse-kinematics in the character animation is incredibly realistic.

It made me wonder who Pixar is really making their incredible films for. Why not crank out a bunch of mediocre movies like everyone else? Why raise the 3D bar with every film? The kids won’t care or really notice so long as the story is solid. Will they?

I tried to get Daniel to write a review but he thought that would be too boring. So I asked him what he thought about the film. “It was good” was the only response I could get at first. I asked him what he hated about the film and he responded with, “the long talking parts.” Hmm, okay.

I asked which movie he thought was better, Superman Returns or TMNT. I was sure he would pick Superman Returns but he quickly replied with, “TMNT. It had way more action.” My shoulders slumped forward and my chin collapsed into my chest. When I recovered, Daniel asked me if we could get the TMNT video game for PS2.

Posted in Movie Reviews at 10:47 AM

Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple (2006)

This month’s screening at Hot Docs was Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple (2006) directed by Stanley Nelson. It’s been almost 30 years since preacher Jim Jones and his followers drank the Kool-Aid. In 1978, more than 900 members of the Peoples Temple participated in mass suicide (Jones shot himself in the head).

Stanley Nelson’s film is a fascinating history of Jim Jones and the cult he created. There are interesting interviews with former members of the Peoples Temple that were in Guyana on that fateful day. Never-before-seen footage of Jones and his church also provide a glimpse into a utopia gone bad.

The interviews reveal some bizarre stories about Jones’ character — drug abuse, homosexuality, alcohol, rape, and paranoia. I wished that Stanley Nelson explored the dark sunglasses. Why didn’t anyone question a preacher that hides behind his shades and looks like Elvis?

The film traces the history of Jim Jones explaining that he was from a very poor family in Indiana. His father was an alcoholic that didn’t work which made Jones an outcast. This is part of the reason that he easily identified with, and embraced the black community. He understood what it was like to be invisible in the 50s and 60s. The racism in the US really bothered him and was part of the reason he felt the need to create Jonestown in the jungles of Guyana.

The film raises a lot of questions and I hope that the DVD answers some of these when it is released on April 10, 2007. ***

Films are rated from 1 to 4 stars.

Posted in Movie Reviews at 9:48 PM

Bombippy is a personal weblog

Bombippy is a personal weblog. I write about photography, food, web development and films. I write everything on this site. There isn’t a staff, there aren’t contributors, it’s all Jay Kerr (Bombippy).

I am a web designer/developer/photographer/video editor/blogger that loves cinema. I am not a film critic.

A lot of people visit this site and read the film reviews because they’re looking for a recommendation—an interesting film watch. Others are curious and just want to know what I did on the weekend.

Lately I’ve been getting some interesting comments by some confused individuals. I didn’t care too much for a documentary called The Shutka Book of Records. I merely offered an opinion and the feedback I get is

Shame on you, stupid reviewer. Shame on you.

I reviewed another documentary called SHAMELESS: The ART of Disability. I didn’t enjoy this one at all. It just didn’t appeal to me. I received a nasty email saying I should be more supportive, that I didn’t write my own reviews, and that I only give 4 stars to blockbusters like Casino Royale.

I don’t get upset by this kind of feedback. I welcome it. I love it! If you write it, I will post it (unless your name is Andrew and you live in Vancouver).

If I don’t like a film that you feel very passionately about, just know that I’m a blogger and not film critic. I’m not pretending to be another Pauline Kael and will never have her influence.

Posted in Bombippy and DVD Reviews and Movie Reviews at 1:16 AM

The Shutka Book of Records (2005)

On the first Wednesday night of each month I’m at the Bloor Theatre for Doc Soup — a monthly film series that is part of Hot Docs (documentary film festival). Last night’s screening was an unusual film from Czech Republic called The Shutka Book of Records (2005).


The film is a crazy look at the ‘Happy Valley’ in Macedonia — the largest Roma (Gypsy) community in the world. This is a world that is full of bizarre characters that pass the time by ridding themselves of evil Genies, vampire hunting, training geese to fight and holding listening contests to see who has the best collection of Turkish music on cassette.

The film is supposed to be an honest look at the Gypsy culture. It shows an impoverished group of people that are proud of their heritage but I found myself skeptical of everything in the film. The Shutka Book of Records is more of a comedy like Borat (2006) than a serious documentary. I’m willing to bet that Sacha Baron Cohen saw The Shutka Book of Records and used it as an inspiration for the film version of his Borat character.

Shutka director Aleksandar Manic has plenty of funny bits about a crazy disco dancing senior citizen (pictured above), a uni-brow pop star with cheesy music videos, a transvestite, a ‘Belgian whore’ that has a child with a 70-year-old man and on, and on. The film’s narrator is constantly making funny remarks and observations about the people of Shutka so that they look more backward than the people of Kazakhstan in Cohen’s film.

I don’t know. Parts of the film were very funny but after a while I found these crazy characters (or actors) to be a little boring. Apparently the film is quite popular on the film festival circuit and has quite a following. Unfortunately, it didn’t appeal to me at all. *½

Films are rated from 1 to 4 stars.

Posted in Movie Reviews at 11:07 AM

Babel (2006)

I’m on a roll. In the last week I’ve seen five great films and Babel (2006) is no exception. Director Alejandro González Iñárritu (21 Grams) uses the biblical story of Babel (loosely) as the main theme in his latest film—miscommunication through language. Aside from miscommunication and noise, it’s difficult to explain what Babel is about.

After watching this film, my understanding of it was cloudy. It’s a complex film with many layers. I felt that the ideas and themes were more implicit than explicit. It’s not as black and white a film as say, Crash (2004).

It’s the type of film you want to discuss after viewing. You want to dissect it. Pull it apart. Try to understand it more. It sticks with you long after you’ve left the theatre and that is one of the things that makes a great film, for me.

Babel follows 4 broken families in Morroco, Tokyo, San Diego and Mexico, all affected by a single gun shot. Foreign languages, noise, confusion, fear, and healing are some of the other common threads that connect each family.

Inarritu uses multiple story lines and some clever shifts in time to reveal the narrative but its up to the audience to connect the dots and fill in all of the blanks. Some people will hate this film because they have to think but I think it’s worth the effort.

On another note, if you enjoyed the film Caché (2005) then you’ll be delighted to know that there is an interesting scene with a chicken. I’ll leave it at that.

Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett were excellent in this film but what was with the fake wrinkles on Brad? Was that really necessary? I found it distracting at times and slightly amusing at others. I guess the producers thought he didn’t look old enough or maybe they thought he was too young to have a wife like Cate Blanchett. ****

Films are rated from 1 to 4 stars.

Posted in Movie Reviews at 12:28 AM

The Queen (2006)

On New Year’s Eve I went to see The Queen (2006) with ‘the lovely’—it’s become a tradition for us to see a film on the last day of the year. I received a bit of ribbing for seeing this but it’s an excellent film. I’m also happy that I didn’t get suckered into seeing ‘that film with Beoncé’.

Helen Mirren is quite believable as Queen Elizabeth II and James Cromwell is a wonderful, crusty, Prince Philip. The entire cast is very good and I can’t think of a single performance that was lacking, except for maybe Wolfgang Pissors as a German reporter.

Kidding aside, this film will probably renew your interest in the monarchy if you’re a Canadian. We’re reminded of her at least once if we look at the loose change in our pockets but it’s easy to forget that she’s a human being sometimes.

The Queen examines the fallout from Elizabeth’s silence after the death of Lady Diana and how Tony Blair struggles to advise her. I found the film’s version of this historic period to be fascinating. The way in which archival news footage is meshed with the film is quite seamless.

The Queen is easily one of the best films of the year. I can’t speak for Americans but if you’re Canadian, and you have some knowledge of Queen Elizabeth, chances are that this film will strike an emotional chord with you. ***½

Films are rated from 1 to 4 stars.

Posted in Movie Reviews at 9:33 PM

Blood Diamond (2006)

The next time I purchase a diamond I’ll definitely be asking where it came from. After watching Blood Diamond (2006) you’ll be outraged, or maybe baffled by how messed up our world can sometimes be.

I wasn’t expecting a lot from Edward Zwick’s film about conflict diamonds. The reviews have been decent but this film isn’t on any top 10 lists that I’ve seen. I was very impressed.

Leonardo DiCaprio isn’t my favourite actor by a long shot but his portrayal of a diamond smuggler is first rate. His African (Rhodesian?) accent is interesting and by the end of the film I was sympathetic to his character — the mark of a fine acting performance to me.

In David Denby’s review of Blood Diamond for the New Yorker he says,

Africa breaks your heart—that’s the simplest and most persistent emotion that bursts out of such recent films as “Hotel Rwanda,” “The Constant Gardener,” “The Last King of Scotland,” and, now, “Blood Diamond,” the best and most enjoyable of this cycle of movies set against the background of civil wars, ethnic conflict, and Western meddling and exploitation.

I couldn’t agree more. The violence in this film is sobering in a Private Ryan sort of way. The injustice and brutality will anger you. This isn’t a torture scene from a James Bond film in which you can laugh. This is real, or as real as you can get by going to the cineplex to be entertained.

The worst part about Blood Diamond is knowing that we’d still rather watch the sports or weather report on CNN instead of a story on Sierra Leone. It’s disturbing when we’re confronted with the evil that exists in Africa. Who wants to hear about genocide, hunger or devastation?

Some people think that its wrong to package this type of evil into a film and sell it as entertainment. If it raises awareness then I think it is a good thing. If you enjoy a ‘movie with a message’ then you’ll be impressed with Blood Diamond. You might even be moved enough to try and make a difference. ***

Films are rated from 1 to 4 stars.

Posted in Movie Reviews at 11:03 PM

Borat (2006)

I finally had a chance to see Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006) and I was disappointed. I waited way too long to see this.

I read about all of the lawsuits, had most of the scenes described to me in detail by others that went to see it, and just knew too much about this film going in. I should have watched it on the opening weekend.

I found that the funniest parts were all of the bits that I didn’t know very much about. Give him credit. Sacha Cohen has definitely pushed the envelope and done a brilliant job at manipulating people into letting down their guard to entertain us. ***

Films are rated from 1 to 4 stars.

Posted in Movie Reviews at 10:52 PM

The Bridge (2006)

The Bridge
In 2004, 23 people jumped to their death, from the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Eric Steel and his camera crew filmed the bridge, 24/7 for an entire year and captured each of these suicides on film. Steel, took the footage and made a documentary film called The Bridge (2006).

Tonight I went to the Canadian premiere of The Bridge at the Bloor Cinema in Toronto (part of Hot Docs film festival). This film is fascinating.

Yes, there is a lot of footage of people jumping off the bridge and it is unsettling to watch. But, there are some compelling interviews with family and friends of the people that commit suicide. Why did they jump? Were there many warning signs? Could their suicides have been prevented?

In the film, there is an incredible account from one young man that survived a jump off the bridge in 2000. He landed on his feet when he hit the water at 120 km/hour and broke his back. Before he jumped he was crying and confused. A German tourist approached him and instead of asking if he was okay, she asked him if he would take her picture!

A lot of the pedestrian traffic on the bridge simply watch as people climb over the railing and jump to their death. Occasionally the police arrive in time to talk people out of jumping or arrest them for attempting to jump.

I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen while watching The Bridge. I felt like I became one of the camera operators, constantly scanning the pedestrian traffic, wondering who might be at the end of their rope.

People that you thought might jump, don’t. A man is shown laughing and talking on his cell phone. Without warning he quickly finishes his call, puts down his phone, climbs over the railing and jumps to his death. Why?

Director, Eric Steel was at the film and held a very interesting Q&A. He’s taken a lot of criticism for filming the suicides. What most people don’t know is that he and his film crew prevented 6 people from jumping off the bridge.

Whenever they suspected someone might jump, they called the police. Unfotunately 23 people gave little to no warning that they were about to jump. ****

Official film website
Movie trailer

Films are rated from 1 to 4 stars.

Posted in Movie Reviews at 11:38 PM

Casino Royale (2006)

Casino Royale (2006) is awesome.

I went to a Sunday night (10:30 PM) screening of Casino Royale and the theatre was packed. Why? This is the best James Bond film to date. It’s rare that I’ll watch a film and want to immediately watch it again. Great acting, action, and a fantastic script make this one a winner for me.

Forget about the smarmy goofiness of Roger Moore, the unbelievable villains or the gadgets in a lot of the other Bond films. Casino Royale is much more realistic and gritty. I love the direction that the producers are taking to breathe new life into the Bond franchise.

Daniel Craig is great as 007. Jeffrey Wright as Felix Leiter is icing on the cake. Eva Green has a juicy role as Bond’s love interest — beautiful, mysterious, gorgeous, beautiful, gorgeous and beautiful.

One of the best comparisons to Casino Royale might be Batman Begins (2005). Casino Royale nails the Bond character in the same way that David Goyer’s script and Chris Nolan’s direction nailed Batman Begins. Without being boring, the Bond character is created and explained throughout the film in a very entertaining fashion.

The references to Money Penny, martinis and an Astin Martin are nice touches that will satisfy fans of the other films. No Q, no disappearing cars, and the absence of corny one-liners was a nice change.

I can’t wait to see Casino Royale again. ****

Films are rated from 1 to 4 stars.

Posted in Movie Reviews at 1:39 AM

Manufactured Landscapes (2006)

Earlier this year I saw some of Edward Burtynsky’s photography at CONTACT — Toronto Photography Festival. His photos are unique in that they present us with an alarming view of the environment.

Manufactured Landscapes (2006) is a documentary film that follows Burtynsky around the world as he photographs landscapes that have been affected by manufacturing and industrial work. When you see what is happening in China with manufacturing plants or the Three Gorges Dam project you can’t help but shake your head.

Most of our old Macs and Dells and DVD players, referred to as eWaste, gets shipped to China where it is recycled. There are a lot of toxic chemicals in eWaste that seep into the water table, requiring bottled water to be imported so that locals aren’t poisoned.

Jennifer Baichwal’s film has some wonderful visuals and we get to see Burtynsky at work as he creates some of his photos. The problem is that the film is boring. The music is terribly uninspiring and gloomy. I love photography but I found it hard to stay awake at times while watching Manufactured Landscapes.*½

Films are rated from 1 to 4 stars.

Posted in Movie Reviews at 10:11 AM

SHAMELESS: The ART of Disability (2006)

Hot Docs launched the 2006-07 edition of Doc Soup (monthly documentary film series) last night with SHAMELESS: The ART of Disability (2006).

It was directed by Bonnie Sherr Klein (mother to Naomi Klein) who suffered a stroke in 1987 that left her paralyzed. 18 years later she is the first disabled person to make a documentary film in Canada about disabled people. Last night, she was at the Bloor Theatre in Toronto, to introduce her film.

I have to admit that a documentary film about disabled people wasn’t top of my list for viewing. When you sign up for the Doc Soup program you have to be open to anything. I think I gained a better perspective of how disabled people deal with their disabilities.

Overall, I thought the film was pretty mediocre. It didn’t shock or surprise me the way I think it wanted to. Maybe I’m too young? I felt that the audience for this film was geared more toward seniors, a TVO crowd. *½

Films are rated from 1 to 4 stars.

Posted in Movie Reviews at 11:02 AM

Mon Meilleur Ami (2006)

Movie still
Mon Meilleur Ami (2006), directed by Patrice Leconte.

Mon Meilleur Ami (My Best Friend) was my last film at TIFF and my favourite. It’s a French comedy that is actually funny! Daniel Auteuil (Caché) and Dany Boon star.

Auteil plays an arrogant antique dealer that realizes he doesn’t have a single friend in the world. He makes a bet with a colleague that he can produce his ‘best friend’ before the end of the month.

His search to find this best friend is pathetic and quite funny. Without being too corny and over the top the film plays itself out nicely. To say much more would spoil it if you intend to watch Mon Meilleur Ami. It was the perfect way for me to end the festival.***½

Films are rated from 1 to 4 stars.

Posted in 2006 TIFF and Movie Reviews at 3:33 PM

Mon Colonel (2006)

Movie still
Mon Colonel (2006), directed by Laurent Herbiet who introduced the film at the morning screening along with screenwriter, Jean-Claude Grumberg.

Mon Colonel is another French film that deals with the Algerian War in the 1950s. Most of the story is told through a series of black and white flashbacks. A 23-year-old French officer is sent to Algeria under the command of a brutal colonel who will do anything to win a losing war.

The French were in a guerilla war that neither side could win. It was a complete disaster trying to fight terrorists on their own turf. The same thing is happening in Iraq right now. History repeats itself.

I don’t want to give away too much but if you’ve ever watched The Battle of Algiers (1966) then you’re sure to enjoy this film.***

Films are rated from 1 to 4 stars.

Posted in 2006 TIFF and Movie Reviews at 2:46 PM

CÅ“urs (2006)

Movie still
CÅ“urs (2006), directed by the legendary Alain Resnais.

I had high hopes for this film but it turned out to be a huge disappointment. It’s based on a stage play that to me, just doesn’t work. I knew within the first five minutes that I wasn’t going to enjoy this film.

Parts of it were almost funny—the type of funny where women in their 70s chuckle apprehensively and 3 people (out of 1,300 in the Elgin Theatre) laugh hysterically at everything.

The best thing about CÅ“urs was the performance by Lambert Wilson. He was the villain with the fabulous French accent in The Matrix Reloaded (2003).

Okay, I’ve got nothin’. Sorry Monsieur Resnais but your movie blows.*½

Films are rated from 1 to 4 stars.

Posted in 2006 TIFF and Movie Reviews at 11:46 PM

Indigènes (2006)

Movie still
Indigènes (2006), directed by Rachid Bouchareb, is the first of four French films I’m screening at TIFF.

Indigènes is one part Glory, one part Saving Private Ryan and one part Band of Brothers. Instead of
African American soldiers in a civil war, we have North African soldiers fighting for France during World War II.

The film chronicles the struggle of four African ‘brothers’ as they serve in the First French Army. They are referred to as indigènes or natives. When France was occupied by the Nazi’s during the war, 130,000 North Africans enlisted to fight for their colonizer.

Instead of respect and gratitude, the French military treat the North African recruits with disdain. Aside from fighting the Nazi’s, the indigènes have to fight the bigotry, and racism of the French. To this day, France has withheld pensions from the North Africans that graciously served in World War II. Incredible! Typical.

I hate to criticize Indigènes because the direction and performances are terrific. But every now and again I felt like I was watching a scene from Band of Brothers or Saving Private Ryan. C’est la vie.

Artistically, there are some really nice aerial views that transition into a scene when the story moves to a new location. See this one on the big screen.**½

Films are rated from 1 to 4 stars.

Posted in 2006 TIFF and Movie Reviews at 10:45 PM

Rescue Dawn (2006)

Movie still
Rescue Dawn (2006) is a film from director, Werner Herzog. It stars Christian Bale, Steve Zahn and Jeremy Davies (who hosted a Q&A after the film).

Rescue Dawn is a true story about US fighter pilot, Dieter Dengler. During the Vietnam war his plane was shot down. He was captured and spent some time in a POW until he was rescued.

In 1997, Herzog made a documentary film about Dengler called Little Dieter Needs to Fly (1997) which will be on my list of films to watch.

It would be easy dismiss Rescue Dawn as ‘another Viet Nam movie’ but in the hands of Herzog it is a solid film. It is beautifully filmed—saturated colours and lots of film grain and incredible landscape shots. I hate to sound like a broken record but the sound mix is spot on. In many scenes, you feel like you’re in the jungle with Dengler.

As Jeremy Davies said in his Q&A, Christian Bale, the star of the film, is one of the most underrated actors working today. His performance in Rescue Dawn is intense and very convincing. It was also nice to see funny man, Steve Zahn in a serious role, as a POW.***

Films are rated from 1 to 4 stars.

Posted in 2006 TIFF and Movie Reviews at 3:27 PM

The Killer Within (2006)

Movie still
The Killer Within (2006) looks like a great documentary film on paper.

Bob Bechtel is a psychology professor in his early 70s. He’s kept a secret from his family and colleagues for 50 years. In 1955 he went on a shooting rampage and killed a classmate in his sleep. He claimed temporary insanity, spent five years in a hospital and was then released.

Director Macky Alston was there when Bechtel decided to tell his daugters, his colleagues and his friends. It had the potential to be another Capturing the Friedman’s but it falls completely flat.

The direction is weak, the editing is weaker still and the cinematography is, well, weak. The story never seems to go anywhere. Poor Bob seems confused throughout the film as they revisit the past. He’s also unrepentant which ads to the mystery.

Before you know it, the film is over, the credits are rolling and you wonder if there is going to be a sequel. I can’t believe that TIFF selected such a sloppy film for the festival. *

Films are rated from 1 to 4 stars.

Posted in 2006 TIFF and Movie Reviews at 10:16 PM

Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)

Movie still
This afternoon I saw Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) at the Elgin Theatre. Director Guillermo del Toro and the star, 12 year-old Ivana Baquero introduced the film.

Pan’s Labyrinth is a fabulous mix of horror, drama and fantasy. It takes place in 1944, just after the Spanish civil war. Ofélia (Ivana Baquero) and her pregnant mother go to live with the evil Captain Vidal, Ofélia’s new stepfather. Captain Vidal is only interested in his unborn son and destroying the remaining rebel forces.

Ofélia can’t stand her new stepfather and retreats into a world of fantasy and what a world it is! Guillermo del Toro has a dark and creative mind that comes to life in a frightening way on film.

The monster in the picture above might not look like much but wait until you see this film. I’ll be having nightmares tonight. I haven’t been that creeped out since I saw Nosferatu (1922) as a kid.

Guillermo del Toro is the guy that directed Blade II and Hellboy so I knew there would be some gore. During his introduction he was apologizing for the violence in the film, blaming it on a messed up childhood. If he didn’t do such an amazing job of directing he would probably be in an asylum somewhere.

His writing and direction is excellent. Everything comes together perfectly to create a highly entertaining film. The sound mix is absolutely chilling and completes the film. There are also some really nice transitions from one scene to another. This is one to see on the big screen. ***

On the way out of the theatre, I noticed this short guy with blonde hair. Vincent, Hellboy, Ron Perlman was beside me and he’s tiny! He’s going to be filming Hellboy 2 with Guillermo del Toro.

Films are rated from 1 to 4 stars.

Posted in 2006 TIFF and Movie Reviews at 9:15 PM

Vince Vaughn’s Wild West Comedy Show (2006)

Movie still
Vince Vaughn’s Wild West Comedy Show: 30 Days & 30 Nights-Hollywood to the Heartland (2006) was the ‘event film’ that I hoped it would be. Whenever the entire cast and the director shows up, you can’t go wrong.

Vince Vaughn introduced the film—a documentary about Vaughn and 4 other comics that perform 30 standup shows in 30 days. They travel across the US in a couple of buses from Los Angeles to Chicago.

At first I was worried that Vaughn would be the entire film but it’s really about comedians Bret Ernst, Ahmed Ahmed, Sebastian Maniscalco and John Caparulo. Each of them has a style of comedy that is unique and very funny. You’ll bust a gut when you watch this.

Aside from the performances there are some wonderful personal stories behind each comic. We get to meet their parents and find out where they’re coming from. We also gain a little insight into what drives a lot of their routines.

There are a few rough spots in the film that just feel awkward. They don’t fit. They’re nice moments (visiting hurricane Katrina victims) but they disrupt the overall rhythm.

I watched this film at Ryerson which looked fabulous in high definition using a Christie HD projector. The sound was also excellent.

Vince Vaughn and the entire cast did a Q&A after the film that was the icing on the cake—entertaining and informative. With a documentary film like this, you always want to know what happens to the main characters after filming. It was nice to hear that each of them is pursuing their dream of performing standup comedy and not waiting on tables. Once this film hits theatres, their job should be a little easier.**½

Films are rated from 1 to 4 stars.

Posted in 2006 TIFF and Movie Reviews at 2:46 PM

Lights in the Dusk (2006)

Movie still
Lights in the Dusk (2006) is the third film in a trilogy directed by Aki Kaurismäki. A few weeks ago I rented the second film in this trilogy, The Man Without A Past (2002)—a charming film about an outcast that deals with loneliness, love and amnesia.

Lights in the Dusk also focuses on an outcast named Koistinen—a lonely security guard who works nights in Helsinki. Koistinen doesn’t have any friends or family that we know of. He isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer and he’ll do anything for a woman that shows an interest in him.

Koistinen’s is naive, kind-hearted, innocent, a loser. He’s easily duped by a beautiful blonde and set up for a robbery. He’s beaten up several times. His life is a miserable series of injustices.

As depressing as all of this sounds, Kaurismäki has crafted a touching film that retains his trademark style of quirky characters, retro props, vintage cars and live music. ***½

Films are rated from 1 to 4 stars.

Posted in 2006 TIFF and Movie Reviews at 5:31 PM

Recently screened films

I’m posting my DVD reviews under Recently screened films in the sidebar. The reviews are shorter and will allow me to keep a better record of the films I’ve watched.

The most disappointing films I’ve seen recently have to be Shopgirl and Firewall. The best films have been Match Point and Le samouraï. 16 Blocks also surprised me as a film worth renting.

Posted in DVD Reviews and Movie Reviews at 11:51 AM

Cars (2006)

I don’t think Pixar is capable of making a lousy film. I saw Cars (2006) on the weekend and was very impressed.

With every film, the animation team at Pixar seems to up the ante in terms of the 3D worlds they create. The 3D environments are incredibly detailed and photorealistic. The car characters are a bit cartoon-like but this helps to create some unique characters.

There is one scene where the main character, Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) and Sally Carrera (Bonnie Hunt) go for a drive in the country. Spectacular! The music, the camera angles and the 70s film stock look is incredibly convincing. You’ll feel like you’re watching a scene from Smokey and the Bandit with Burt Reynolds and Sally Field instead of a 3D film.

There is another sequence where we get a glimpse of what life was like in an old town on Route 66 (Radiator Springs). An old film stock look, desaturated colours and a James Taylor song transport us back to a town that looks like Mayberry.

Aside from the incredible visuals and a great story, the actors that voice the 3D characters are top-notch — Paul Newman, Cheech Marin, Tony Shalhoub, John Ratzenberger and more.

Cars is the 3D movie to see this summer.

Posted in Movie Reviews at 12:52 PM

Fun with Dick and Jane (2005)

Fun with Dick and Jane (2005) is a terrible remake starring Jim Carrey and Téa Leoni. Jim Carrey is also a producer on this film.

It’s a good thing that I also rented An Unfinished Life (2005) for the guests we had over on Friday. Fun with Dick and Jane is the worst movie I’ve seen this year so far. There are a few funny moments but it was painful waiting for them.

Unfortunately, director Dean Parisot didn’t learn his lesson. He’s signed on to do a remake of The Lavender Hill Mob (1951). Is this guy desperate or what?

Posted in Movie Reviews at 12:05 PM

Runner’s High (2006)

I’m getting behind on these Hot Docs reviews. I saw Runner’s High (2006) on the weekend and it is the best film I’ve seen so far .

Director Justine Jacob followed a few high school students from Oakland, California as they trained for the Los Angeles Marathon. I was amazed that some of the students stuck with the program — Students Run Oakland.

The training is hard and requires a great deal of discipline and focus. Most of the teenagers I know would rather skip practice, play on their XBox or hang out at the mall.

The film is very inspiring and well-directed. The camera work is incrediblly smooth. You feel like you’re gliding along with these kids as they run. The editing is also very effective, especially during the actual marathon.

As a viewer you experience the highs and lows of the race. The excitement at the starting line is incredible. Thousands of participants begin the race trying to pace themselves but near the end of the marathon, people are walking, limping, struggling to reach the end.

Some of these kids suffer injuries along the way and you’re not sure if they are going to make it. As an audience member you want them to finish the race. All of a sudden you’re there on the sidewalk with them, hoping that they can find the strength and courage to continue.

When one of the kids named Fred (pictured), reaches the last mile and runs across the finish line I found myself overcome with emotion, happy and relieved that he finished the race. Completing the race is a huge accomplishment for these kids and made for a great documentary film.

Posted in Movie Reviews at 10:12 AM

The Beach Boys (2006)

Hot Docs continues and today I saw The Beach Boys (2006). It was appallingly bad.

I’m seriously beginning to question some of the programming choices for this year’s festival. The Hot Docs person that introduced the film was gushing about ‘how wonderful’ the film is. What can you say when the director and the producer are standing beside you?

I can’t believe that this documentary film made it into the festival. If anyone can find anything really interesting or great to say about this doc I’d love to hear it.

Posted in Movie Reviews at 6:35 PM

Glenn Gould Hereafter (2006)

I thought I would try and see something ‘cultured’ and made the mistake of adding director Bruno Monsaingeon’s Glenn Gould Hereafter to my list of picks. My ticket wasn’t as expensive as say, a ticket to see Hair but I missed an episode of The Soprano’s.

I struggled to stay awake in the Elizabeth Bader theatre last night. The projectionist took the night off again and I endured two hours of blurry film and ghosted titles.

I don’t know if it was the audio system or the film soundtrack but I haven’t heard so much snap, crackle and pop since my last bowl of Rice Krispies. I suspect that some of the audio was in terrible need of restoration.

This retrospective film was informative but not the least bit entertaining. The scary thing is that Monsaingeon has made several films about Gould.

Pass on this one.

Posted in Movie Reviews at 4:34 PM

Heavy Metal Jr. (2005)

Heavy Metal Jr.

From Stirling, Scotland comes a different kind of heavy metal band called Hatred. Heavy Metal Jr. (2005) is a hilarious look at this band by director Chris Waitt. The whole film is like one big gag.

The lead singer’s father is the band manager. He’s also a voice coach and loves to give the boys a few quick tips now and again (this guys was Tom Jones in another life). The band’s name gets misspelled as Hatrid in another scene.

Some clever editing has some senior citizens frowning and looking grumpy as the band performs a few numbers at a county fair. Funny film.

Posted in Movie Reviews at 4:18 PM

What Remains (2005)

What Remains

If you’re a photographer or have an interest in photography then you will enjoy this film. Director Steven Cantor examines the creative process, passions and art of photographer Sally Mann as she prepares a body of work around the themes of death and decay.

Sally Mann’s images of decaying bodies are shocking and some would say disgusting. I think she manages to transform these photos into art that makes you question death and your own mortality. What Remains (2005) is one of the better films I’ve seen so far at this festival.

It’s a shame that the projectionists at many of these Hot Docs venues do such a terrible job at presenting the films. What Remains was beautifully shot in high-definition but the quality of the print that I saw (Isabel Bader theatre) was terrible.

There was a severe ghosting problem that I thought might be a special effect. After watching a second film at Isabel Bader I realized that the Christie HD projector they are using is just poorly calibrated. The image was also blurry and could have used some keystone correction.

If I can get better image quality from a consumer HD projector in my home then why can’t the projectionists at any of the Hot Docs venues get it right? I find it embarrassing when you have a director there from LA or Paris and their film is presented so poorly.

Posted in Movie Reviews at 3:36 PM

Walking to Werner (2005)

Walking to Werner

Hot Docs film festival has begun in Toronto. Walking to Werner was my first film on Friday night. Director Linas Phillips was on hand to introduce the film and do a Q&A afterwards. Here is a description of the film from the Hot Docs website:

Werner Herzog has often said that one of the few important things to do in life is to walk on foot. Filmmaker Linas Phillips takes it upon himself to experience a journey on foot from Seattle to Los Angeles, where he hopes to meet with the man who inspired him to make movies himself, Werner Herzog.

Linas meets a lot of strange people on his walk to LA which makes the film interesting and funny. It’s very similar to an Errol Morris type of film with a bizarre cast of characters.

Did I mention that Linas is also a little strange? Twice in the film, he is mistaken for a woman because of his long blond hair. At one point, he freaks out and starts screaming at the transport trucks that blow him off the road. Great stuff.

There are a couple of problems with the editing but I admire Linas Phillips for living out his dream and making his first documentary film—something I still hope to do one day.

Visit Linas Films for more information.

Posted in Movie Reviews at 2:52 PM

V for Vendetta (2005)

Last night I had a chance to see V for Vendetta (2005) — the latest film from the Wachowski brothers. I read a few reviews that complained about the amount of talking Hugo Weaving’s character (V) does throughout the film. Forget what the critics have to say. This is a solid movie.

If you tire of the dialogue, which I happened to find interesting, then worry not because a lot of stuff gets blown up. You’ll think that you’re watching a Renny Harlin film for a few scenes. There are a couple of scenes with interesting Matrix-like effects as well that will make you say, “cool!”

The script takes a huge slap at the current Bush administration and the US media (mostly the Fox news channel I suspect). I found it quite entertaining. The film also gets bonus for a short sequence that pays homage to the Benny Hill Show.

I loved the way in which the film arrives at it futuristic setting in the UK — totalitarian society, fascist leader played by John “Hitler” Hurt, corrupt governemt etc. Casting Hurt in his role is genius when you consider his lead role in Nineteen Eight Four (1984).

Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving and Stephen Rea are excellent in their roles. Despite not being able to see Weaving’s face for the entire film I thought his performance worked well and added to the mystery of his character.

Posted in Movie Reviews at 4:22 PM

Top Ten Most Welcome Movie Deaths

Stylus Magazine has a couple of morbid but interesting top ten lists:

Top Ten Most Welcome Movie Deaths
Top Ten Unexpected Movie Deaths

The rest of the site has some good movie and music reviews.

If you’re interested in the documentary film Why We Fight, there is a great review that doesn’t jump on the Jarecki bandwagon.

Posted in Movie Reviews at 5:27 PM

Caché (2005)

I’ve been on a French film binge lately and last night I went to see Caché (2005), directed and written by Michael Haneke. Wow! You can call it a thriller but it’s really an esoteric art film. Some might call it a confusing waste of time.

I enjoyed the film because it doesn’t have a strong resolution. It stays with you long after the end credits roll and forces you to really think about what you saw and draw your own conclusions.

The film starts off with a family in Paris townhouse. They receive a series of videotapes that shows them under surveillance. Child-like drawings accompany some of the tapes which convey some sort of hidden meaning. Why is the family being terrorized with these tapes? Who is sending them? What is the point of it all?

It’s easier to dismiss the film as a jumbled mess of unanswered questions. As an audience we’re used to having everything neatly packaged and explained to us by the time the credits roll. I think everything is neatly packaged and crafted by Haneke. It just isn’t watered down and explicit in it’s narrative.

The more I thought about this film, the more I understood. At first, several scenes in the film seem to be insignificant. Question why these scenes are there in the first place and you get a sense of their purpose and what they reveal about certain characters.

There is one scene that made the entire audience gasp and physically recoil in horror. I’m not exaggerating at all when I say this. I can’t think of another film that comes close to shocking an audience like this.

If you’ve seen the film and are curious as to what may have happened then I suggest you head over to and read an excellent essay written by Chiranjit Goswami.

Posted in Movie Reviews at 11:51 AM

Back to work

I’m back to work after a nice little break. I saw a few movies in the last week. I need to add another blog to this site for recently screened films.

Right now I’m updating the movies in the sidebar manually but would like to have a record of the movies I’ve watched. I don’t always get a chance to write a review for everything I watch (I can’t imagine why not).

Here’s a quick overview of the last week.

The City of Lost Children (1997). Good. Directed by those “French guys” that gave us Delicatessen and Amélie (directed only by Jean-Pierre Jeunet). Starring Ron Pearlman who speaks French in this role.

Grand Illusion (1937). Great. Directed by Jean Renoir and considered by some to be one of the best films ever made. Definitely worth seeing and Criterion has done an amazing job with the restoration with this film.

Memoirs of a Geisha (2005). Good. This was my New Year’s Eve film with the lovely. Last year it was Sideways. Gee-sha or guy-sha? Neither it is pronounced gay-sha. Good love story, amazing sets and costume but not a guy-flick.

Four Brothers (2005). Awful. Shot last year in Toronto (standing in for Detroit), this movie was dreadful. What happened to John Singleton. Camille, thanks for not giving this DVD to me as a gift.

Serenity (2005). Great. Based on the television show hat Fox butchered. Writer/director Joss Whedon has a winner on his hands. One of the best films I saw last month. The little bit of the commentary that I listened to was excellent.

Why We Fight (2005). Excellent! I watched a DivX copy of this film (thanks James) that should get a theatrical release this month. Still one of the best films that I saw last year.

The Power of Nightmares: The Rise of the Politics of Fear (2004). Good. Another documentary on DivX that aired on the BBC last January. It looks at how the US and UK have used recent terrorist attacks to their advantage against a phantom menace we call Kaiser Sose, er I mean al-Qaeda.

Whisky Galore! (1949). Good. See my last entry for a review of this old favourite.

A Man Called Peter (1955). Good. Another film I first saw on TVO’s Saturday Night at the Movies. It was recently released on DVD.

Cinderella Man (2005). Excellent! One of the best films of 2005. Review coming.

Raging Bull (1980). Great. Only my second time watching this and I’m growing to appreciate it more as another one of the best films ever made. There are some great extras on this 2-disc DVD.

Masculin, féminin (1966). Great. I enjoyed this a lot more than Truffaut’s Jules et Jim. Criterion has included some extras on this DVD that made me appreciate the “genius” of Jean-Luc Godard a little more.

Auntie Mame (1958). Okay. My mother-in-law went into great detail describing this film. For its time it was quite racy. Just not my type of film.

Now that half my morning is gone I really should get back to work. Right after i replenish my ZipList.

Posted in DVD Reviews and Movie Reviews at 10:55 AM

Syriana (2005)

Just before Christmas I went to see Syriana (2005) with Paul the insurance adjuster. I found director Stephen Gaghan’s political thriller a little confusing but I enjoyed all of it.

Multiple story lines in this film slowly come together and show how complex and corrupt the oil industry can be. CIA agents, corporate lawyers, oil workers, terrorists and oil sheiks make up an ensemble cast that had me scrambling to keep track of the different subplots. After learning that Warner Brothers, emailed film critics a guide to the various characters in this film, I feel a little better.

Syriana is an important film in that it raises a lot of questions about the oil industry in relation to greed, power, US military, China as a rising economic power and terrorism in the middle-east. It’s the type of film that you can watch with a friend and end up discussing for hours afterward.

I plan to see it again and I’m sure that I’ll enjoy it even more the second time. It’s not often that you get a chance to use your brain when watching a film.

Posted in Movie Reviews at 9:41 PM

Jarhead (2005)

On Friday I saw Jarhead (2005), Sam Mendes’ Gulf War film. I’ve been looking forward to seeing this film for some time, mainly because Walter Murch is the editor and I just finished reading two books about him.

Bleak is the best way to describe this film after a first viewing. I wasn’t blown away. I didn’t walk out of the theater feeling excited. I wasn’t ready to line up again and see it for a second time. I wanted to sit back and process everything. Let it settle.

The cast is strong and balanced. We get several views of what it is like to be a marine in the first Gulf War. We aren’t preached to or fed propaganda through a screenplay. You get a real sense of what it might have been like to be a young marine in this little war.

Jake Gyllenhaal plays marine, Anthony Swofford who wrote a best-selling book in 2003 about his Desert Storm experience. You get a sense of just how boring a modern war can be for a marine. Times have changed. Most of the initial fighting is from the air. The marines just train, wait, perform drills, clean their guns, train and wait some more.

The colour palette of the film is muted, de-saturated, emphasizing the boredom that the marines experienced. It must have been a challenge for Roger Deakins to shoot this film because the entire landscape is void of colour. Instead of jungles and lush landscapes we have endless miles of white desert.

There isn’t a lot of action in the film because there wasn’t a lot ground fighting in the war. The marines get worked up into a blood lust while watching films like Apocalypse Now and then they wait for something, anything to happen. They’re dying to fire their weapons on the enemy but most of them never get the chance.

Before long the marines begin to question their role in the war, their purpose, their sacrifice. They become consumed with broken relationships back home—cheating wives and girlfriends. All they can do is sit helplessly in the desert waiting for something to justify their hours of boredom.

Before long you question the whole point of the war. You wonder how these kids could be so naiive. After a while I think that most of the audience will agree with Gyllenhaal’s character when he says, “I’m 20 years old, and I was dumb enough to sign a contract.”

I think Jarhead will become a classic war film like Apocalypse Now or Catch-22. For me it is going to take a few more viewings before I can really appreciate it.

Posted in Movie Reviews at 11:25 AM

The Squid and the Whale (2005)

Writer/director Noah Baumbach has a great little film in The Squid and the Whale. Sadly, very few people will get a chance to see it in theatres. It’s playing in limited release right now and despite some great reviews it could disappear faster than Thumbsucker or Everything Is Illuminated.

Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney play a married couple going through a messy divorce while the kids played by Owen Kline and Jesse Eisenberg try to figure which parent to side with. Eisenberg looks and acts a lot like a younger version of Ben Stiller to me.

The acting is excellent and the writing is top-notch. I haven’t seen the other films that Baumbach has directed but he’s won me over and I’ll be renting his other films on DVD. If you’re tired of the usual blockbuster crap playing at the cineplex, and you want to see a solid film then The Squid and the Whale awaits you.

Posted in Movie Reviews at 7:15 PM

The Constant Gardener (2005)

Great film! Based on a John le Carré novel, directed by Fernando Meirelles (City of God), starring Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz.

I liked this film for a number of reasons. Ralph Fiennes’ character is very plain, sympathetic and believable. I was pleasantly surprised when I found out he wasn’t another British spy. He is perfectly cast in this role, his best since The English Patient.

Brazillian director Fernando Meirelles seems like an odd choice for British thriller but his style is refreshing and compliments a great script. Visually, the film looks like City of God — lots of film grain, saturated colors, shaky hand-held camera, jump-cuts etc.

The film narrative is quite fragmented and seems confusing at first but Meirelles skillfully brings it all together so that the audience has a clear picture of the story in the end. I wish Guy Ritchie was able to do the same for his latest film, Revolver.

Pete Postlethwaite who I mentioned last week in another review pops up briefly and plays an important role in the story. I wish he was used more as an actor. I haven’t seen him in anything spectacular since the Usual Suspects.

Part of the success of The Constant Gardener is the 60 Minutes appeal. The basis of the story could easily be a news story told by Leslie Stahl or Ed Bradley. Do pharmaceutical companies release drugs on the market, knowing that they may be harmful? Merck did this with Vioxx and 60 Minutes did a story on it.

Take this idea a step further and ask yourself if big pharma companies are “giving away” drugs to third-world countries like Kenya. Are they using Kenyans for clinical trials of untested drugs? All of this seems possible and makes for a great novel or film.

Posted in Movie Reviews at 12:36 PM

Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005)

Last week, the 6-year-old noticed the movie posters, the movie reviews and the Burger King promotion for the latest Wallace & Gromit film. He kept asking when we could go and see it so I happily caved and took him last Friday.

Great film. If you enjoyed any of Nick Park’s other short films featuring Wallace & Gromit then you’ll love The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. The stop-motion animation is a nice change from some of the cheap 3D animation that is being dumped on audiences of late.

Ralph Fiennes provides the voice for the character of Victor Quartermaine and does a fabulous job. The writing and the story are also superb. There are plenty of laughs and gags along the way but I couldn’t help but wonder if some of the producers meddled with the script.

It wouldn’t surprise me if Jeffrey Katzenberg insisted on some of the cruder jokes being included in the script. Don’t get me wrong I loved the Shrek movies and think they work quite well. I just felt that some of the jokes seemed out of place and “dumbed down” in the Wallace & Gromit world.

Posted in Movie Reviews at 10:32 AM

The Boys of Baraka (2005)

There are many reasons for a film buff to love living in Toronto. Aside from The Toronto International Film Festival there is Hot DocsNorth America’s largest documentary festival.

Each month, leading up to the festival, Hot Docs presents a new documentary film in their Doc Soup series. Last night they kicked off the season with Boys of Baraka (2005) directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady. Both women were in town to introduce the film and take part in a Q&A afterward.

The film tracks the journey of twenty 12-year-old boys from inner-city Baltimore. These kids are given the opportunity to do their 7th and 8th grade at Baraka—an experimental school in Kenya, East Africa. The school is quite strict and has transformed a number of kids into successful students, well-prepared for high school.

Out of the 20 kids that go to Baraka in the film, 19 are without a father. Most aren’t expected to finish school. Many of their friends drop out of school, become drug dealers, end up in jail, or die on the street. There isn’t a lot of hope for these kids so an education at Baraka is an opportunity to “make it” in the world.

Part of the film is subtitled because its difficult to understand what the kids are saying. When you do get a chance to hear the kids tell their story you’ll be blown away with what they deal with every day, how they think, how hopeless they see their lives being. Many of the kids seem to be much older than 11 and 12 when they start out.

There are a lot of funny moments. My favourite was the kid that wants to be a preacher. He does some “preaching” in the film that will have you in stitches.

There are also a few sad moments that will suck you into the film. One boy visits his father in jail (his father shot his mother in the leg in an argument). During the film, another boy is at Baraka talking to his family on the phone in Baltimore. He asks why his mother isn’t there and the family doesn’t want to tell him that she is in jail. Again. Brutal stuff.

Visit the Loki Films website to find out more about the film and view a trailer.

Posted in Movie Reviews at 4:28 PM

Why We Fight (2005)

Why We Fight

Director Eugene Jarecki has a brilliant documentary film in Why We Fight. Intelligent. Thought-provoking. A knockout.

I left the theatre wanting to tell everyone I know, to go and see this film. Unfortunately we’ll have to wait until January 2006 when it gets a theatrical run.

The TIFF program guide describes Why We Fight as “simply the most elegant unravelling of American imperialism yet committed to film”. This film will easily win an Oscar nomination for best documentary film.

Why does the US government spend billions of dollars each year on the “military-industrial complex”? How did corporate interests take over military policy and lead to the “disastrous rise of misplaced power” that President Eisenhower warned about when leaving office in 1961?

Jarecki does a masterful job of answering these questions and more. His film is much more objective than Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 but it’s not an anti-Bush film by any means.

The prodcution value is excellent—similar to Errol Morris’ The Fog of War. There is a sequence where Jarecki uses the Johnny Cash cover of “Hurt” which literally gave me goosebumps.

Following the screening, Jarecki gave a Q&A that impressed the audience with his intellect and thorough answers to some tough questions. This was easily the best documentary film I’ve seen this year. This one is not to be missed!

Posted in 2005 TIFF and Movie Reviews at 9:50 PM

51 Birch Street (2005)

51 Birch Street

Last night I was at the world premiere for 51 Birch Street directed by Doug Block. I know that sounds a little pretentious but how often do you get to say that you went to a world premiere?

51 Birch Street is a documentary film about family secrets, relationships and marriage. Doug’s parents were married for 55 years until his mother died suddenly. A few months after her death, Doug’s father remarried, to his former secretary.

Adding to the drama is the discovery of the diaries that Doug’s mother kept. They paint a different picture from the mother most of the family knew while growing up.

I don’t want to give too much because there are several surprises and turns that make this a really interesting film. I found that I was able to relate to a lot of the material and learned a a few things about family relationships by the end of the film.

Doug Block was here in Toronto last night to introduce the film. His entire family and many of the people that worked on the film were sitting in front of me which seemed a little surreal. His father Mike and his wife (his former secretary), Kitty, did a Q&A following the film that was really touching.

What didn’t come out in the film was that Mike Block contemplated suicide after his wife Mina died. He had a difficult time dealing with lonlieness and decided he wasn’t going to be one of these old people that gives up and wastes away.

I felt like I was a part of something special by screening the film with Doug and his family. A great festival experience.

Posted in 2005 TIFF and Movie Reviews at 9:01 PM

Thumbsucker (2005)


When I didn’t get tickets to Dave Chapelle’s Block Party film I chose Thumbsucker (2005) as an alternate. I was a little skeptical at first but a TIFF veteran felt it would be a good film so I added it to my list of picks. He was right. Thumbsucker didn’t suck.

Director Mike Mills, Lou Pucci (the thumbsucker), Tilda Swinton and Keanu Reeves were on hand to introduce the film. Keanu watched the film in the audience which just added to the excitement. I’ve never seen so many flash bulbs go off at a movie.

Thumbsucker is a great film that I think will strike a chord with younger audiences. Some of the older, crusty film critics won’t enjoy the film but don’t pay any attention to them. Thumbsucker is an enjoyable story about an awkward teen who is trying to discover himself, fit in with his peers, seeking the approval and love of his parents.

At times the lead character reminded me of Patrick Fugit in Almost Famous. Lou Pucci does an excellent job in the lead role creating a believable character.

Keanu Reeves provides some great laughs as a hippie, new-age orthodontist. Then there is a Vince Vaughan playing a teacher. I’m sure he was trying to restrain himself but he comes off as being hilarious in his scenes. Thank goodness he was used sparingly. Benjamin Bratt also has some funny moments that will make you laugh out loud, or maybe cringe.

Thumbsucker is beautifully shot and edited. There is interesting use of focus, lingering lens flare in long panning shots, and what I will call the “medication sequence”. The music is also quite effective throughout the film—Eliot Smith and The Polyphonic Spree.

If you aren’t attending the film festival in Toronto this year then you’re in luck. You can see Thumbsucker in theatres starting this Friday. After a dismal summer season of flops, Thumbsucker will kick off what looks to be a promising fall season for films.

Posted in 2005 TIFF and Movie Reviews at 11:05 AM

Mary (2005)


Just saw another great film at TIFF. Mary (2005)is written and directed by Abel Ferrara (King of New York and Bad Lieutenant). It stars Forest Whitaker, Juliette Binoche, Matthew Modine and Heather Graham. Forrest Whitaker is outstanding in his role as a Charlie Rose-like talk show host.

One of the producers was on hand for a Q&A after the film which is always interesting and insightful. More about this in a minute.

Part of the film deals with the awakening of faith in two of the main characters. Juliette Binoche’s character is an actor playing Mary Magdalene in a film. She becomes affected by her role and experiences some kind of spiritual awakening. This causes her to abandon a successful film career and follow God.

Forrest Whitaker plays a national talk show host that does a week-long TV special on the true meaning of Christ. He is not a believer in any faith which makes you question why he is interviewing monks and theologians. By the end of the film his character also turns to God when tragedy hits his family.

The producer of the film mentioned that people forget about God when things are going well in their lives—people want to “go and have lap dances and buy Gucci shirts” is how he put it. When things go wrong in our lives we tend to blame God and turn to him for help as Forrest Whitaker’s character does.

Several real theologians are interviewed in the film which was interesting. It’s almost like a mini-documentary within a film. Questions surrounding the lost gospels of Thomas and Mary are raised but I think Ferrara is dismissing them along with the need for yet another film about the Passion (a shot at Mel Gibson and others who profit from exploiting religion).

There are a lot of layers to this film that are sure to generate some intelligent discussion and debate. It probably won’t appeal to a lot of people but I enjoyed it and would love to see it again.

Posted in 2005 TIFF and Movie Reviews at 4:14 PM

Revolver (2005)

Yesterday I saw director Guy Ritchie’s latest film—Revolver (2005). Ritchie was at the Ryerson Theatre to introduce the film and described it as a “chess game within a chess game within a chess game”. In other words, the film is quite confusing or “challenging for audiences” as he said in a recent press conference.

Guy Ritchie

By the end of the film I was confused and still trying to figure out what really happened but I absolutely loved this film. It’s quirky, stylistic and violent. The sound is crisp. Visually, there is always something interesting in terms of sets, camera moves or character wardrobe. I was on the edge of my seat for most of the film in anticipation of what was coming next.

Like most Guy Ritchie films, the soundtrack is great. Instead of a lot well-know songs we get what sounds like U.N.K.L.E (used in Sexy Beast) and a lot of classical and opera music. Believe me it works really well.

Ray Liotta is great as a creepy gangster. Isn’t he always. It was nice to see Vincent Pastore in anything since his character was killed off in the Sopranos. Jason Statham has a nice role as the lead character is almost unrecognizable with all of that hair.

The film borrow from a lot of other films. The two most obvious examples are Fight Club and Kill Bill. There is a cartoon sequence which may be seen as a direct rip off from Kill Bill but Tarantino could have used the idea from American Splendor or a number of other films. I think the sequence is appropriate and works well.

It will be interesting to see how the final cut of this film turns out. In its present form I think most people will leave the theatre confused but it may develop a huge cult following as happened with Donnie Darko. It’s the type of film that you will want to discuss at length and try to figure out.

I’m glad I was able to see it at the Festival and so far this is my favourite film. It isn’t a great film but if you enjoyed Snatch or Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels then you’ll find some guilty pleasure in enjoying this film too.

Posted in 2005 TIFF and Movie Reviews at 10:06 AM

Bubble (2005)

Just got back from seeing Bubble (2005) directed by Steven Soderbergh. He sat a few rows behind me and did a Q&A after the film. Very cool. I couldn’t help myself and had to snap a few photos near the end.

Steven Soderbergh

Soderbergh is one of my favourite directors, so naturally I enjoyed the film. It’s experimental in that he doesn’t use any trained actors. Like reality TV this is what you might call a reality film with a scripted story. The actors are “acting” but must rely heavily on their everyday experiences for their performance in the film. Overall, I think the experiment works quite well and makes the film unique.

Another first for Soderbergh is that the film was shot in high-definition without any lighting set-ups. It was projected with a Christy 2K projector (DLP) at Cineplex Odeon Varsity 8. Soderbergh noted that it was the best he’s seen the film look to date.

I don’t expect Bubble to do very much at the box office but I respect Soderbergh for going back to his indie roots and experimenting with the medium.

Posted in 2005 TIFF and Movie Reviews at 10:30 PM

Capote (2005)


I met up with James and was introduced to David and his fiancé—a really nice couple from Philly, up for the film festival. All of us went to see Capote (2005). Great film!

Director Bennet Miller, Catherine Keener and Philip Seymour Hoffman were on hand to introduce the film which was really exciting. Even more exciting was watching Hoffman in a role that has Oscar buzz all over it. His performance in this film was awesome and should open some doors to a few more starring roles.

Posted in 2005 TIFF and Movie Reviews at 12:42 AM

Sketches of Frank Gehry (2005)

Sketches of Frank Gehry

I know. HotDocs was back in June and this is the film festival—movie stars, red carpets, Oscar buzz. So why another documentary film? I really want to make my own doc and can’t see enough of them right now.

So this afternoon it was Sketches of Frank Gehry (2005). Frank Gehry and director Sydney Pollack introduced the film which was pretty cool. All of the architects in the audience (it felt like a convention) were gushing with praise and adoration for Gehry.

I learned a lot about Gehry’s creative process, his work and his personal life. Pollack and Gehry are good friends, pals. At times the film felt like a lifetime achievement video at an awards show. One buddy patting the other on the back and saying, “way to go!”

I’m not saying that I disliked the film but I was expecting a little more drama. A lot of things were touched upon and could have been explored further but they weren’t—anti-semitism, criticism of his work.

Much of the film was shot by Pollack, using a Canon GL-1 camera (which I have) so I was interested in seeing how the footage turned out on the big screen—not bad. This certainly gave it more of a documetnary feel.

A lot of famous people were interviewed but by far, the best interview was with artist and director, Julian Schnabel. He did his interview in a white bathrobe, with dark sunglasses, fruity drink while smoking a cigarette. Classic!

Posted in 2005 TIFF and Movie Reviews at 12:27 AM

The Well (2005)

The Well

On Friday afternoon I saw Brunnen (2005)—a documentary film from Sweden, directed by Kristian Petri. The English title of the film is The Well. This was my first festival film.

Petri’s film is about Orson Welles’ relationship with Spain. Welles loved the country, shot many of his films there (including all of those unfinished projects like Don Quixote), loved to watch bullfighting and is buried in a well, on the property of a famous Spanish bullfighter.

The film is carefully shot, almost like a travelogue as it retraces Welles’ life in Spain. You get a good sense of how beautiful the Spanish countryside is by visiting some of the locations used in Welles’ films. Who knew that he loved Spain so much and spent so much time here?

Various interviews with old friends and colleagues provide great insight into a film legend. My favourite interview was with a former boozing partner of Orson’s—William “Bill” Law. Great stuff.

If you’re a fan of Orson Welles then you’ll find this film to be quite fascinating.

Posted in 2005 TIFF and Movie Reviews at 11:04 PM

March of the Penguins (2005)

I saw La Marche de l’empereur (2005) last weekend and it wasn’t bad. I found it a little slow at times but the penguins will amaze you. The footage is great and it helps that Morgan Freeman is doing the voiceover narration.

I don’t know how the editors and producers resisted the urge to use some hip hop music while the penguins marched and bobbed their heads. Now that would have been cool. Instead the filmmakers played it safe and gave us a traditional film score.

I think the reason that this film is doing so well at the box office is because there isn’t anything else worth seeing in the theatre. Dukes of Hazzard anyone?

Posted in Movie Reviews at 5:18 PM

Wedding Crashers (2005)

Funniest movie I’ve seen in a long time. The Wedding Crashers (2005) was great. Vince Vaughan, Owen Wilson and Christopher Walken, Jane Seymour and Will Ferrell have some great moments in this film.

Vince Vaughan steals a lot of scenes like he did in Swingers. If you need some laughsthen go see this film. You’ll probably want to see it again so you can remember some of the funny quotes and moments throughout the film.

Posted in Movie Reviews at 4:42 PM

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)

I took Daniel to see Tim Burton’s latest film, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005). It was actually really good. The sets in this film are incredible and I immediately remembered Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events which creates an incredibly detailed fantasy land. It must be a phase that I’m going through but I kept thinking of how much work and money went into making such elaborate sets.

Johnny Depp is a great Willy Wonka. I think Ebert hits it on the head when he describes Depp’s character as a cross between Michael Jackson and Carol Burnett. I can’t think of another actor who is constantly reinventing themselves and taking chances like Depp has over the last 15 years—Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, Hunter S. Thompson, Jack Sparrow.

Near the beginning of the film, my six-year-old son asked me if Willy Wonka was a boy or a girl. You have to see the film to appreciate this comment.

I thought the Oompa Loompa characters were funny after their first musical number but by the fourth I was a little tired of them. It reminded me of the Lemurs in Madagascar (2005). Been there. Seen that. The movie drags a little at some points (easy to notice when you’re six-year-old gets really restless).

There are a lot of funny moments in this film that are just weird, twisted and more adult than the kids will know.

Posted in Movie Reviews at 10:51 AM

Batman Begins (2005)

I was working late on Tuesday night and decided to catch the midnight showing of Batman Begins (2005) with a few friends. My one word review—awesome!

I wasn’t sure how director Christopher Nolan was going to breathe life into the Batman franchise but I’d say he pulled it off nicely. There is a lot more back story than we saw in Tim Burton’s version from 1989 (which I still enjoy watching).

Batman Begins has a clever script that does an excellent job at explaining the origin of Batman’s character. It also does a nice job of setting up the origin of lunatic villains that wear costumes and masks for sequels.

Christian Bale is a great casting choice. I couldn’t see Colin Farell as Bruce Wayne. It was nice to see Gary Oldman in a decent role again. Michael Cain, Morgan Freeman and Liam Neeson are also perfectly cast for their roles.

I have no complaints about this movie at all and wanted to watch it again as soon as the credits rolled. If you like Batman at all, or wish you were Batman as a little kid, then this movie is a homerun.

Posted in Movie Reviews at 2:02 PM

Madagascar (2005)

I took Daniel to see Madagascar (2005) on his birthday. Dreamworks’ latest 3D animated film is quite funny at times but it doesn’t come close to The Incredibles in my opinion. It’s much better than Shark Tale but seems lacking in terms of story and animation.

There are a tonne of gags that rely on references to a number of films such as Castaway, American Beauty and Planet of the Apes. The kids will understand the jokes at one level while the adults will laugh at the references to films or other forms of popular culture.

My favourite character was King Julian the Lemur, voiced by Sacha Baron Cohen, otherwise known as Ali-G. He’s absolutely hilarious and I guarantee that you’ll walk out of the theatre singing, “I Like to Move It”.

Posted in Movie Reviews at 11:59 PM

Sin City (2005)

I couldn’t take it any longer. The curiosity was killing me. After my hockey game last night (we won) I had to see the late show of Sin City (2005).

Director Robert Rodriguez created a film that is incredibly stylish and unique. Visually, the movie is like nothing you’ve seen before (unlesss you’ve seen Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow). All of the sets are virtual and are quite incredible to look at. The camera angles and tracking shots throughout Sin City are also impressive and will make you wonder, “how did they just do that”.

I would have to disagree with those that view Rodriguez as a “hack”. How does a “hack” get $40 million dollars to make an incredible film that would cost any of the studios $100 million to make?

There is talk that Sin City will be studied in film schools for years to come. It isn’t Casablanca or even close to Pulp Fiction in terms of it’s story but I think it is an important film. The amazing thing about Sin City is its visual style and approach to filmmaking. Rodriguez is an incredibly effecient filmmaker and a bit of a control freak—director, producer, camera operator, editor, music. What he’s managed to pull off with Sin City is quite impressive.

The movie is dark. Very dark. If you can get past the blood and the violence then I think you’ll be impressed. I found it odd that there was little to no soundtrack throughout most of the movie. I felt that certain scenes could have used some music. Any music. I’m not sure why the Rodriguez chose to make the film this way.

Overall I enjoyed the film. I don’t think it will make my top 10 list of best films for 2005 but it’s definitely worth seeing in the theatre. There are some great performances by Mickey Rourke (I’m not kidding!) and Clive Owen.

Posted in Movie Reviews at 4:51 PM

Edge Codes

On Saturday I went to see the a documentary film about film editing called Edge Codes. It featured some great interviews with George Lucas, Norman Jewison and Sarah Flack among others.

Flack edited a few of Steven Soderbergh’s films and had some interesting things to say about The Limey—one of my favourite films. She’s currently editing an untitled Dave Chappelle/Michel Gondry Project project due out, later this year.

Edge Codes director, Alex Shuper was at Saturday’s screening and answered a number of questions from the audience. I learned a lot about the editing process and the history of editing from this doc. I also realized that there are a lot of fabulous films that I’ve never seen.

The Edge Codes DVD comes out on March 1 and you can download a copy of the film for $10 from the Edge Codes website. If you’re at all interested in film editing then you won’t want to miss this documentary.

Posted in Movie Reviews at 5:05 PM

Million Dollar Baby (2004)

Last week I went to see the 10:30 PM show for Million Dollar Baby. I couldn’t get into my own home theatre to watch a movie—the step-daughter wanted to watch Gilmore Girls. How sad is that?

I didn’t read any reviews prior to seeing Million Dollar Baby so I wasn’t prepared for the ‘surprise twist’ that people had been talking about. From all of the Oscar nominations I knew this was probably a great film—excellent acting, direction and story. In this respect, I wasn’t disappointed.

Million Dollar Baby might be described as Mystic River on steroids. If you thought Eastwood’s Oscar-nominated film from last year packed a punch then look out! Million Dollar Baby won’t lift your spirits or entertain you as much as it will drain you emotionally.

Clint Eastwood directed a solid film. Is it the best film of the year? No, but it’s a must see. Hilary Swank is excellent in her role and should nab an Oscar for her performance. She deserves it.


I have mixed feelings about this film. It has an emotional punch that will make you wish the story had a happier ending. It makes you question your morality. What would you do if you were Clint Eastwood’s character in the film?

I remained hopeful throughout the film. I waited for good things to happen. Expected them. This is how Hollywood has conditioned us to think. Eastwood turns his back on tradition and allows the film to drown in darkness and injustice. This ultimately makes the film stronger in its ability to move you and it’s why I left the theatre feeling melancholy.

Posted in Movie Reviews at 2:59 PM

Sideways (2004)

After all of the hype and top 10 lists, I saw Sideways recently. First of all, I enjoyed the film and would rank it in my top 5 favourite films of 2004. A. O. Scott of the New York Times on the other hand considers it The Most Overrated Film of the Year. Whatever.

The ‘wine-speak’ scenes where different characters describe the wine they are tasting or their favourite wines is beautifully written. The way in which Paul Giamati’s character defends his affinity for the pinot noir grape is comical and sad when you realize that he’s really describing himself.

The southern California wine country and culture make Sideways appealing but it’s the different characters that make this film so interesting. Recommended.

By the way, if you’re in the company of a pretentious wine snob, do not bring up the fact that you love Merlot.

Posted in Movie Reviews at 7:37 PM

I Am Trying to Break Your Heart (2002)

I was pleasantly suprised last night when I flipped to the Documentary Channel last night and found a great documentary about the band Wilco. Fashion photographer and fan, Sam Jones, decided to make a documentary about the band while they were making Yankee Hotel Foxtrot—considered by many to be a brilliant album.

Sam Jones’ timing was perfect and he completely lucked out in capturing an incredible part of the band’s history. Consider that:

  • the day Jones starts shooting, drummer Ken Coomer quits
  • shortly after, long-time member Jay Bennett leaves the band
  • after completing Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, the band is dropped by their label—Repirse Records
  • Wilco signs with Nonesuch Records for three times the amount Reprise paid them to do Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

Time Warner is the parent company to Reprise Records and Nonesuch Records and basically, paid them twice to release an amazing album. If you’re at all a fan of Wilco then you’ll love this fascinating documentary.

Posted in Movie Reviews at 7:16 PM

The Incredibles (2004)

Incredibly awesome! Without a doubt, my favourite Pixar film to date. It is geared to slightly older audience and but kids will love it. My five-year-old thought it was great and loved the characters. Some parents have been concerned that the film may be to scary for the kids. Give me a break! This isn’t Spider-Man 2!

The amazing 3D animation, the story, the art production, everything is impeccably done. I love the retro-look of the entire film, the obvious James bond themes and the great characters. Nothing is wasted in this film and it shows.

Frozone, voiced by Samuel L. Jackson is absolutely hilarious. He’s used sparingly which makes you enjoy his character even more. Director Brad Bird also steals a few scenes with his character, Edna Mode.

The Disney site for the film has some great video clips that take you inside the making of the movie. These will likely end up on the DVD next year. I will definately be seeing this in the theater again.

One more reason to see this movie in the theatre is to view the Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith trailer that plays beforehand. You can also see the trailer from the Star Wars homepage.

Posted in Movie Reviews at 5:40 PM