Author: Ada Wong

Toronto After Dark 2016 Review: As The Gods Will

Shun Takahata’s greatest complaint in life is his overall boredom with it. He quickly retracts his statement when his high school, and others in Japan and around the world, are plunged into horrific chaos as teachers heads explode into daruma dolls forcing students into deadly games of survival. Shun and his classmates must find a way to outwit the game, for which the rules change every round, and nothing is as it seems in this dynamic manga adaptation by the master of extremism Takashi Miike. For those not familiar with the manga series by Muneyuki Kaneshiro, from which Miike draws his latest filmic thrill ride, the requirement for the audience’s suspended belief is best summed up in the opening scene by an ill-fated student who urges his peers to figure out the “how” and “why” later and just focus on surviving for now.  That is precisely what the viewer must do from the get-go to board this rollercoaster. Those who stop to analyze will never discover reason and miss the point of this adventure entirely. While physiological horror and gore transcend international boundaries, there is a certain amount of Japanese iconography and cultural significance contained in As the Gods Will that might be more familiar to some than others. In each of the lethal games, Shun and his peers contend with traditional objects come to life, such as daruma...

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TIFF 2016 Review: Jean of the Joneses

Jean of the Jones is a multi-generation comedy centred around the women of a Brooklyn family. At the heart of it is Jean, a young writer fresh from a break-up who, together with her mother, aunts, and grandmother, must contend with a buried chapter of their past when a long estranged family member shows up at the door one day and then promptly dies. What we have here is some fresh and hilarious family dysfunction. More adult coming-of-age than feminist-themed despite its predominant female cast, it features a natural lead performance from Taylour Paige in the role of Jean. Paige embodies Jean’s every awkward nuance to echo the way the character approaches life, making her odd and wonderful at the same time in her displacement. Jean of the Jones contains many characters whose lives are so dysfunctionally over the top, but they play off well against Jean, rescuing the film from exaggerated dramedy, instead making the whole experience feel lively and refreshing. The male roles do feature weaker, stock characters, but overall filmmaker Stella Meghie strikes a good balance. She understands the scope of the movie and doesn’t set her sights beyond it, helping to create light-hearted, amicable tale that leaves the audience walking away with a...

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TIFF 2016 Review: Short Cuts Programme 10

The Short Cuts programs at TIFF typically have a unifying theme, outlined in the programmer’s notes in the past.  Even without those notes on this year, the commonality is usually evident. Then there’s Short Cuts Programme 10, which still has this writer guessing. That said, when assessed individually, there is a selection of diverse compelling content to be found. From a moving story of a young lady coping with illness, to an insightful look at classic methods of line fishing for cod off the coast. Oh What A Wonderful Feeling – 15 minutes Perhaps Oh What A Wonderful Feeling is the best reflection of Short Cuts Programme 10, as we journey with a young lady and her fellow group escorts to a sinister truck stop.  In this hazy realm we flash between the women, the menacing individuals they encounter, and the different forms of escape they find as they navigate through a world of murky morals and eighteen-wheelers. Nothing about Moccasins – 4 minutes Driven by voice over narrative of an unseen protagonist, Nothing About Moccasins is meditation on cultural preservation. It’s interesting to hear about how a member of the elder generation can view the notion of sharing the art of making moccasins as a loss of culture to First Nations people. That it is a continuation of bleeding the livelihood of a People who’ve already suffered so much in the...

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TIFF 2016 Review: Le Ciel Flamand

Long fascinated by the house her mother works in, the one all prettily lit up in red at night, precocious 6-year-old Eline finds her way inside one day with devastating consequences. Eline’s mother Sylvie, the manager of the brothel, who has long fought to shield the true nature of the family’s business from her daughter, together with Eline’s “Uncle Dirk”, fight to protect young Eline, testing the limits of how far they will go to keep the child safe. Despite the usual sensationalism and spectacle that is often associated with the sex trade, Le Ciel Flamand presents a very understated setting, where the running of the brothel resembles any another business. This sets the tone of the film, presenting Sylvie and her family as plain folk, who work a job like any other to make a living. We are taken through the routines of their day, from Eline’s grandmother bringing her lunches in the car, to afternoons spent riding in Uncle Dirk’s bus. As tensions flare and situations become incendiary, we see outbursts and moments of anger and emotion, but the overall film never descends into melodrama.  Director Peter Monsaert’s delicate treatment provides audiences with numerous moments of quiet reflection as we mull over the situation at hand alongside the films characters. The focus of the film becomes that of the struggles of raising a child in a safe environment, to...

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TIFF 2016 Review: Short Cuts Programme 3

Short Cuts Programme 3 is a glimpse into a collection of interpersonal relationships, including those with oneself, in several memory driven pieces. We journey through nostalgic imagery of a coastal town, to a remote Nepalese village, to a women’s prison, to an artist’s room filled with models of past lovers. We pause long enough in each world to observe, then are whisked away again before we necessarily conclude. This program includes some fine technical achievements, even if the trade off is story content sometimes. Highlights include Whispering Breeze, Sandy Beach, Next, Second to None, and Late Night Drama. Whispering Breeze – 10 minutes Juxtaposed against the sounds of water and youth, we hear a woman describe her memories of growing up in a coastal town.  Flowery words give insight into her relationships with the past and ambivalence in these memories of her childhood surroundings. Whether audiences fully comprehend or not, director Jonathan Tremblay weaves a dreamy atmosphere swirled in mists of salt water. Sandy Beach – 12 minutes Sandy Beach is the setting in which a dutiful daughter brings her elderly father, with familial obligation written all over her face instead of enjoyment.  The woman is portrayed by Theano Vassiliou, who carries the film with little dialogue, relying on facial expression alone, right down to a nuanced twitch in the final moments of the film. Next – 6 minutes A...

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TIFF 2016 Review: Short Cuts Programme 8

In Short Cuts Programme 8, we are presented with social and cultural portraits illustrating life and change in different parts of the world. We investigate a U.S. chicken farm suspected of animal cruelty and abuse, follow an idealistic Alergian girl in her dreams to join the army to fight for her home, and meet a migrant family whose plans are thwarted by a giant teddy bear. We begin our journeys from humble roots, but the sky’s the limit where we end up. The Hedonists –  26 minutes Three lackadaisical Shanxi coal miners find themselves out of a job in The Hedonists. What begins in the offices of a stark mining facility soon blossoms into scenic establishing shots and artistic compositions. Wiry humour begins to emerge as we watch these displaced 40-somethings optimistically try their hand at different lines of work. The film is also skillfully scored, with music that blends elegance and cultural significance playing out against the tongue in cheek humour presented visually on the screen. Battalion to My Beat – 13 minutes Battalion to My Beat takes us through the world of a young girl living in an Algerian refugee camp, caught between the carefree airs of childhood and the looming responsibilities of a young woman, our main character’s emotions bubble to the surface as she rebels and acts out. Her idealism leading to attempts to run away and join the army,...

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Review: The Missing Ingredient

The Missing Ingredient is a tale of two restaurants. Beloved Gino’s, described by food critics and loyal regulars as a dining institution of New York City, and nearby Pescatore with its own share of clientele and celebrity chef, in search of that magical element that will transcend the slumping business into a city staple. Experts, diners, restaurant owners, and affiliates alike are interviewed – Is it in the food? The service? Or perhaps the wallpaper? The problem with centering a film around an intangible investigation, is that it’s highly unlikely intelligible answers will be found. The Missing Ingredient stems from Pescatore owner Charles Devigne’s controversial decision to mimic Gino’s iconic wallpaper (zebras against a fiery red backdrop) during Pescatore’s 2013 renovations, but reactions from his bold choice can’t possibly make up a feature length documentary. Enter long segments of nostalgia for Gino’s, the famed Upper East Side Italian red-sauce joint. We get a run down of the celebrities that frequented the place, the films that have been shot there, the stigma of becoming a ‘regular’, and being treated like family by the owners. While there is an undeniable fascination and extraordinary quality to Gino’s, after a while this viewer couldn’t help but wonder where the Pescatore tie-in went? The former owners and chef of Gino’s are charismatic characters, perhaps it has something to do with their jovial Italian accents...

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