Review: The We and the I

Michel Gondry, unleashed from the commercial shackles of oh, say The Green Hornet , returns a bit more to form with The We and the I . Basically plotless, the film takes a bus ride through the Bronx with a group of teenagers, on the way home after the last day of school before summer break. Gondry lets his non-professional cast have free rein here and he lets the narrative ramble, but in a compelling way. Details tease out slowly and characters come into sharper focus as the bus empties. This is less a movie, and more a nature documentary – teens in their natural habitat, with all of the casual cruelty, property destruction, and hormonal highs and lows you might expect.

On the one hand, a director might find a story played out on the cramped stage of a city bus confining. If ever there was a director that could make this magical, it would Michel Gondry. However, that rampant Gondry imagination feels constrained as well. Occasionally the maker of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and The Science of Sleep peeks at us through the bus window – notably in the inventive use of video vignettes either played out on the screens of ubiquitous mobile phones or in the overripe teen imaginations – but those moments are frustratingly rare. The film does however nail those tentative, wobbly first steps into adulthood and the wild pendulum swings between aggressive self aggrandizing and crippling insecurity, between outright meanness and profound remorse. Characters drive the bus in The We and the I , and it’s a fascinating, if not exactly fun, ride.

Is The We and the I Opening Weekend Essential?

If you particularly like the Bronx or city buses or teenagers, absolutely. If you’re curious about what Michel Gondry is up to, probably. If you just want to spend two hours in New York City, maybe. But if none of those things appeal to you, you’ll regret braving missing out on the lovely spring weather with this film. Save it for a rainy week day.

The We and the I opens at TIFF Bell Lightbox on Friday, May 17, 2013. Check the website for screening details.

The We and the I Trailer

The We and the I Production Gallery

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Media Impact: the Ken Burns effect (or why Ken Burns deserves a swift kick in the balls)

Oh Ken Burns, how I loathe, ye. For over 30 years, you’ve been painting American history with a saccharine brush and I’m beginning to wonder when our collective teeth are finally going to rot and fall out from the over-consumption of your sugar. You, sir, are just as toxic as high-fructose corn syrup and making our brains as obese as our bodies.

If you, Canadian reader, think that seems a little harsh, I urge you to stop and think about it for a moment. Did you see The Civil War ? I did. As an adolescent in the American South at the time of its release, I saw it many, many, many times. As a matter of fact, I’m pretty sure that watching this tripe constituted the whole of my grade 8 American history education. I saw it and it was good -so sweet and delicious. I still remember the maudlin strains of the fiddle music and the touching voice over overlaying the pan-and-scans of the bearded but heroic sons of the south. And who could forget the charm of Shelby Foote! What I don’t remember from The Civil War , or rather from Ken Burns’ The Civil War , is slavery. Turns out, it wasn’t an important topic!

Slavery? What slavery?! The Civil War was all about white people...or so one would believe based on Ken Burns' doc.
Slavery? What slavery?! The Civil War was all about white people…or so one would believe based on Ken Burns’ doc.

Ever since the smash hit of The Civil War,  Ken Burns has been parading an ever more sentimentalized version of the facts of American history before the PBS-watching public. And Ken Burns is large – he contains multitudes (surely Walt Whitman , the 47 part series will be coming soon to pubic television screens near you). Ken Burns doesn’t even really try. He just snatches up every key cultural figure, topic, and touchstone in a kind of documentary version of search engine optimization. Just look at the titles – Jazz , Baseball , Thomas Jefferson , The Statue of Liberty , Mark Twain , Lewis and Clark , The Brooklyn Bridge, The National Parks, The Dust Bowl .  It’s the America box set, 900 hours on VHS!

I’ve regarded Ken Burns with suspicion for some time, so it was with some trepidation that I secured my ticket for The Central Park Five at last year’s edition of TIFF. I thought there was a slight possibility that his daughter and co-director Sarah Burns had a little more sense. I was wrong – Burnsism is apparently a genetic disorder with no known cure. I should have known that (I’m looking at you, Ric Burns), but still… this was no The National Parks . The Central Park Five revolved around a very serious topic that ripped New York City apart and exposed the still beating evil heart of institutional racism in America. Rather, it should have been about that. I won’t again go into the ugly specific about this “documentary” but it will suffice it to say that when Ken Burns’ skinny butt appeared on stage for the Q&A, my first thought was: if I move fast enough I could probably kick him in the balls before anyone could stop me.

"The Central Park Five" is the latest of Burns' docs to entirely miss the point.
“The Central Park Five” is the latest of Burns’ docs to entirely miss the point.

But here’s my real problem with Ken Burns – his films are made pretty damn well. Just in terms of filmmaking, the pan-and-scan across beautiful historical photos is eye-catching and quite moving. While I’m proposing something very different with the title of this piece, “The Ken Burns Effect” is an industry term. It even has it’s own Wikipedia entry. Despite the evil that Burns continues to perpetrate on the annals of history, he did pioneer a pretty special way of making historical documentaries. It’s just a crying shame he chooses to abuse the power of his own invention.

The good news is that the “Ken Burns Effect” funnels down to other filmmakers and documentaries. These are the heroes of the effect who are happy to use the Burnsian techniques, minus the crap. One recent case in point is another movie I got to see at TIFF last year, Men at Lunch . This lovely little doc examined the roots of the very famous photograph of high rise workers have a lunch on an I-beam as it floats high above Manhattan. That’s a romantic subject, for sure, and the doc is pretty romantic. But it doesn’t shy away from the harsher realities of the subject matter – the exploitation of the Irish immigrants doing this work, the outrageous physical risk involved that often resulted in death, and the fact that some of these men went home and beat their children. It might not be pretty, but it seems a helluva lot more truthful than anything Ken Burns has ever produced.

So Ken Burns is dead, long live the Ken Burns Effect – just hopefully in more judicious hands. If we all agree to ignore the man himself, like an internet troll on a forum, no one will have to get Burns-ed again.

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Cinema Revisited: who is Lina Wertmüller?

Lina Wertmüller is a conundrum. The Italian filmmaker (she gets her umlauts from aristocratic Swiss descent) was the first woman to be nominated for a Best Director Academy Award for her masterful 1975 movie Seven Beauties . She’s not exactly prolific, but she does have 23 feature films to her credit. Hell, even Madonna made hubby Guy Ritchie remake (at gun point I imagine) one of Wertmüller’s film, resulting in the abysmal Swept Away (2002). Yet when I mention Wertmüller’s name, even at roundtable of film snobs, I get nothing but blank stares. What’s up with that?

Wertmüller gets many contradictory labels affixed to her work. Her films, typically revolving around Italians who are victimized by their own political system, has been called feminist and antifeminist, capitalist and communist. No matter what hat she’s wearing, or being forced to wear by critics, Wertmüller almost always focuses on characters who are torn between dignity or survival. Those characters always opt for survival. It’s true that her work is very Italian, whatever that means, but I’m not sure that explains her omissions from the cinematic cannon. She has garnered a critical praise globally, though that fame and popularity has always eluded her work in Italy.

I think one would expect the first female director to be nominated for the big award would at least receive more attention from women who are interested in that sort of thing. But Wertmüller, always controversial, has a weird place in the hearts of feminists. Her second feature film Let’s Talk About Men is embraced by feminists, though Wertmüller herself has insisted that the sexual roles in the movie were meant to be a more general examination of the interaction between individuals and society.

Giancarlo Giannini and Mariangela Melato play master/servent in "Swept Away..."
Giancarlo Giannini and Mariangela Melato play master/servent in “Swept Away…”

1974’s Swept Away by an Unusual Destiny in the Blue Sea of August (seriously, that’s the title) does not fare so well with the girl power set. This marks the moment when Wertmüller officially became “controversial” In Swept Away… when a wealthy woman and her yacht crewman end up stranded on a remote island. As they struggle to survive, their respective servant-master roles are reversed – but only temporarily. Wertmüller took a lot of heat for her degrading portrayal of women but she insisted that the terrible, petty female character was meant to be a symbol of society in general. Then she took a lot of heat for that assertion, with many critics alleging that she was backpedaling and embracing a political stance that was convenient.

Giancarlo Giannini and his sisters in "Seven Beauties"
Giancarlo Giannini and his sisters in “Seven Beauties”

Whatever the case, the arrival of Seven Beauties in 1975 blew the feminist or not arguments out of the water. It also crystallizes the spectrum on which Wertmüller is judged. Some camps accused Wertmüller of transforming Nazi atrocities into comic fare. This is true. Others found it to be a horrible yet insightful farce. This is also true. And it sums up Wertmüller in nutshell. The woman has a knack for creating situations that simultaneously amuse and appall the viewer. I suppose there’s some middle ground and I suppose I stand on it, but this knack seems to provoke an either-or in most critics, or at least vocal ones.

Wertmüller’s still around. She continued making films regularly post Seven Beauties , right up to Too Much Romance… It’s Time for Stuffed Peppers in 2004 in fact. But none have received the same attention either positive or negative. I know I haven’t really answered the question about her place in the pantheon of female directors. I will say this though, I would rank Seven Beauties in my Top Ten Ever list of movies, not just my Great Movies Directed by Women movies. I’ll say this too – Wertmüller’s films are politically charged, featuring characters who are anarchists, communists, feminists, or all of the above. But she’s not didactic and every cinephile should give Seven Beauties a chance.

Oh, and I’ll say one final thing about Lina Wertmüller. She made this:

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Essential Canadian Cinema: Bon Cop, Bad Cop

Still Canada’s reigning domestic box office champ, Bon Cop, Bad Cop is hailed by some as an important move towards trying to join the francophone and anglophone film industries within Canada.  The film is entirely bilingual and takes on the concept of mixed cultures and languages – something you’d think would be more common in a mixed language country like ours.

Fun facts about Bon Cop, Bad Cop : the entire movie was filmed using 2 scripts – one written in French and one written in English; the language used in each scene was decided upon during the editing process; and finally, it was released in two official versions, one for Anglophones and one for Francophones – the difference being only a few lines of dialogue and of course, the subtitles.

Is all this enough to make Bon Cop, Bad Cop Essential Canadian Cinema? Brandy Dean and Daniel Janvier discuss the matter further.

Daniel: I felt like such an asshole after watching this. There’s this insanely cartoony element to Canadian comedy that refuses to evolve. It usually plays to stereotypes attributed to each province/city/job/thing, but is often too kind and cutesy about it. The first meeting of the two leads in Bon Cop, Bad Cop is exactly this. They mock each other. The Québécois  cop is cool but lazy, unkempt, and a bit of a jerkoff. The Ontarian is very very lame and much like a tour guide. They are both idiots – if there is anything all Canadians have in common, it’s that we are incredibly stupid. Also HOCKEY!

Brandy: Maybe you just are an asshole? But I digress… as a non-Canadian, I found Bon Cop, Bad Cop to be one of the few instances where the base memes of Canadian-ness was addressed in a movie in a more clever, subtle, and sardonic way. Canadians are nothing if not sardonic. And an Ontario cop with a stick up his ass? It’s almost cinéma vérité. Plus, HOCKEY!

Daniel: Watching both cops cling to either side of a corpse that is split down the middle by a highway sign (he was dropped, mystery solved) until their shared weight tear the body in two pieces is like finding an episode of The Red Green Show where the members of Possum Lodge are trapped within Jigsaw’s latest projectile-exploding-blade-laden labyrinth.

Brandy: Dropped? You’d make a bad cop and never log enough hours for overtime with those kind of theories of crime. But again, the body hanging over the Ontario/Quebec sign is a really clever way to illustrate an actually important component of Canadian political life. Why, new constitutional squabbles erupted just this week! Arguments over jurisdiction are cornerstones of police procedurals and crime fiction, and I was struck with the novel way that this old chestnut is used in Bon Cop, Bad Cop , both as the trope itself and as a Canadian hot button symbol.

Colm Feore and Patrick Huard argue over territory in "Bon Cop, Bad Cop"
Colm Feore and Patrick Huard argue over territory in “Bon Cop, Bad Cop”

Daniel: The film goes on for thirty or forty more minutes having the characters reference the RCMP, the OPP, I think, the Heart and Stroke foundation, HOCKEY!, and of course, bilingualism, for which they pat themselves on the back with every reference. The audience is aware of bilingualism when the cast switches back and forth between the languages with the impressive speed that the performers are capable of, it doesn’t need to be constantly referenced or have the situations play out in reverse (sometimes in the same scene).

Brandy: So Bon Cop, Bad Cop sometimes gets labelled as the first truly bilingual feature film made in Canada, but it wasn’t. However, it was wildly successful at the box office, so there’s some validity to the “first” claim. If the entire movie is a play on the Ontario v. Quebec, Anglophone v. Francophone facts of Canadian life – and it definitely is – then the bilingualism makes sense. So do the reverse situations and the sly sort of in-jokes for two distinct cultures which nevertheless have to work together. It might be a bit pat and a bit coy, but still very clever.

Daniel: It seems to be confused with its own identity as things gets real in the plot. Then a childish fight scene breaks out between the two police officers as they manhandle Rick Mercer’s (actually really funny) Don Cherry parody as well as his female director. Then a daughter gets kidnapped. Then perhaps the strongest scene in the movie–Suzie chastising Bouchard–leads to kidnapping a little person named Buttman and a manacing henchman fucks about in a squirrel suit.

Brandy: Here’s where we vastly diverge. The whole hockey subplot – the Rick Mercer as Don Cherry, recasting Gary Bettman as Buttman, the fact that the killer was pushed over the edge by the NHL moving Canadian hockey teams to the US – is brilliant. While I agree with you that Canadian humour often lapses into the same hockey-beaver-maple syrup dumbness, I think Bon Cop, Bad Cop transcends that by poking fun at the phenomena. The movie gets to be about hockey, without really being about hockey. Neat trick! And in the end, it stitches Canadians – whether Anglophone or Francophone – together against the more appropriate common enemy, the US (those guys suck).

Is Bon Cop, Bad Cop Essential Canadian Cinema?

Daniel: I have fond memories of the first few Lethal Weapon flicks as well as a pretty harsh disdain for the unchanging form of Canadian comedy, but I really feel that this movie could have been much more as a comedy not bound by such limited conventions. I’d love to say this movie is Essential, but it feels like Corner Gas took a turn for the dark.

Brandy: Box office doesn’t lie and this one of the highest-grossing movies in Canadian film history. I say the people have spoken on this one and it’s definitely Essential Canadian viewing. I’ll also say that when I moved to Canada I saw an episode of Corner Gas and I thought that it was really sweet some network exec had given his differently-abled nephew a television show. Then I attended a family dinner where everyone went on and on about how funny Corner Gas was and how much they loved it. I think it’s time for Canada to stop being pretentious and embrace the things that Canada actually likes as really deeply Canadian. Vive le Bon Cop, Bad Cop !

The TFS Verdict

Mon Dieu! That was a tense discussion that resolved nothing. Each writer feels pretty strongly about their opinion and we have another split vote. We need your help, readers – should Bon Cop, Bad Cop be essential viewing? Make your feelings known below.

[poll id=”10″]

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Review: A Good Day to Die Hard

Yippee ki-yay motherfuckers! John McClane is back for another round in the fifth installment of the Die Hard franchise, A Good Day to Die Hard . It goes without saying that the Die Hard series is a fan fave and one of the few franchise operations to get better with each installment, not worse. The question on everyone’s mind ahead of the Valentine’s Day opening of number five – does it live up to its predecessors? The answer is both yes and no.

A Good Day to Die Hard finds John McClane, older, grayer, and more weary, travelling to Russia to bail his apparently screw-up kid Jack (John McClane, Jr., natch) out of a Russian gulag. Turns out, Jack is CIA and he’s on a mission, thus McClane is once again drawn into a get-the-bad-guys-and-survive situation. Yippee ki-yay, indeed!

A Good Day to Die Hard is very good action movie and it’s a great James Bond movie. You read that right. It’s a Bond movie and quite consciously so – just listen to the familiar Bond strain in the score, observe the bullets-shooting-the-screen opening, and chuckle at McClane calling Jack “the 007 of Plainfield, New Jersey.” John McClane is suddenly an international man of mystery and all wrapped up in, as he puts it, “spy shit.” As a filmmaking choice, this is wholly entertaining, but it’s a violation of what we expect from a Die Hard movie.

The trouble starts almost immediately in A Good Day to Die Hard.  The cardinal rule of   Die Hard is that McClane is an honest cop, just doing his job, and then he gets drawn into serious shit. Here we have a very different McClane, one who goes looking from trouble. And this McClane isn’t all about doing a job – he’s all about repairing broken familial bonds. As Bruce Willis gets older, so does McClane and this isn’t  necessarily  a poor choice. It’s delightful to observe McClane being less snarky and more straight-up crotchety while wearing an old codger outfit. His badassery now comes with a certain casual weariness. And that famous line is delivered as a sigh with a slight modification, “Yippee ki-yay motherfuckers… the things we do for our kids” just before he drives a tank tuck loaded with weapons-grade uranium out of an in-flight helicopter.

But, all that said, A Good Day to Die Hard features amazing car chases, massive explosions, tons of bullets, a cross, a double-cross, and a triple-cross. There’s some  villainous  Russians, a dancing henchman, a femme fatale, and some more car chases. Did I mention that McClane drives a tanker out of a flying helicopter? Despite the fact that John McClane lands in Russia in an old man outfit, he ends up in his more familiar uniform of a stained, tattered, blood smeared shirt that shows off his still impressive muscles, all the while picking glass bits out of his face. In the end, John McClane is John McClane and we should all be grateful he’s on the job.

Is  A Good Day to Die Hard  opening weekend worthy?

Despite anything negative that you hear about A Good Day to Die Hard , including anything in the review above… yes, yes, and yes! It’s John McClane. Just to put it in perspective, here’s the proper ranking: Die Hard , Live Free or Die Hard , Die Hard with a  Vengeance , A Good Day to Die Hard, Die Harder .  Also, it opens on Valentine’s Day and what could be more romantic that kicking ass and wrecking stuff?

More about A Good Day to Die Hard

A Good Day to Die Hard  trailer

A Good Day to Die Hard Production Gallery

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Why do French Canadian films thrive, while English Canadian films struggle to find an audience?

It’s a fact. The French Canadian film industry booms, while the English Canadian film industry limps and struggles. Speak to any English Canadian filmmaker and you’ll encounter much hand-wringing, hair-pulling, and just flat out sorrow. What’s really going on here? Why do French Canadian films thrive when English Canadian films do not? Does French Canada just care more than English Canada? Unsurprisingly, the answer is yes… and no.  It’s not that French Canada cares more – it’s that French Canadian films make more money.

A brief history of Canadian filmmaking

Canada prominently figured in some very early filmmaking. The Lumiere brothers, Thomas Edison, and the Biograph Company all shot in Niagara Falls, Canada in 1897. To put that in perspective, the first public exhibition of projected film occurred in 1895 in Paris (Lumieres again). So Canada, and it’s glorious natural wonder Niagara Falls – perfect for the “actuality films“ so popular at the time – got in the film biz at the beginning.

In true Canadian fashion, filmmaking pretty quickly got caught up in things that weren’t exactly about art or entertainment and definitely not about commercial viability. James Freer, a farmer from Manitoba, is generally acknowledged to be the first Canadian filmmaker. His docs about Canadian farming were toured all across England beginning in 1897 for the explicit purpose of provoking immigration to Manitoba. And thus began the rich tradition of the English Canadian government’s participation in the making of film for specific social imperatives not about filmmaking itself.

The Ontario Motion Picture Bureau, the NFB, and tax credits

Ontario established the Ontario Motion Picture Bureau in 1917. That gave rise to the Canadian Government Motion Picture Bureau in 1918. These were institutions meant to, you guessed it, promote the production of Canadian content – made by Canadians, for Canadians, to educate and inspire Canadians. If this sounds a lot like, oh say, the NFB or Telefilm or any other number of well-meaning organizations meant to encourage, promote, and fund Canadian films, well that’s because it was exactly that. So, from the very beginning, filmmaking in Canada existed as a sort of cultural programme, separated and supported outside the bounds of making entertaining movies that put butts in the seats and dollars in the coffers.

Fast forward to the 1970s, when Canadian tax policies bestowed significant tax credits to filmmakers. As gaming Revenue Canada is the second most popular national sport of Canada, lots of films were made solely and strictly for tax purposes, quality be damned. To illustrate the point, US film producers could only earn a fee after a film earns its production costs, but Canadian film producers could earn a fee out of the production costs alone. See..quality schmality. Also see The Producers to view American filmmakers gaming these draconian strictures to hilarious, and profit-generating, effect.

Then there are the standard and much pored over problems – Canada is geographically huge but has relatively few people in it, Canada  hasn’t  yet decided on standard and all encompassing “Canadian” narrative, and the most successful Canadian films don’t seem distinctly Canadian (hello, Porky’s !). It’s not wonder that many, nay most, of English Canadian films don’t actually make back production costs at the box office. The film biz the world over is about one thing and one thing only – money, money, money. Who should care about a film industry that  doesn’t  make any cash?

Meanwhile in Québec…

Take all of that stuff above and toss in a powerful Catholic clergy intent on squashing the fun, the cool, and – heaven forbid – the erotic, and you have filmmaking in  Québec  until the 1960s. Then, two things happened to usher in a new era in Québécois  filmmaking. In 1967, Québec’s old religion based censorship bureau was replaced with a secular ratings system administered by the provincial government. Then, also in 1967, the Canadian Film Development Corporation (later to become Telefilm Canada) was born. Suddenly government subsidy, via the CFDC, was bring more Québécois  films to the the screens.

Now, on the surface of it, this seems to track right along with English Canadian filmmaking. On the surface of it, it does. But identifying and establishing a distinct cultural identity is, well, pretty much the cultural identity of Québec. While the “other” Canada was busy navel gazing over what it really means to be Canadian, Québec  was busy fighting, marching through the streets, setting stuff on fire and holding referendums on what it meant to Québécois. And Québécois  filmmakers were right there with them, making movies about it. And then the Québécois  took time out from fighting to go see those movies. And lo, you have a film industry that the population cares about and that, most importantly, makes money!

Okay, that’s a bit of an over simplification on the political history of Québec, but still… the point is, as a population, Québec  agrees on some stuff in a way that the whole rest of diverse, sprawling, sparsely populated Canada does not. That gave Québécois  filmmakers a hook to hang their hats on and gave the French Canadian film industry time to grow and mature into a commercially viable market. Québécois  filmmakers forged their talents, and their audiences, in a political crucible. After the 1980 “no” vote on the referendum on  sovereignty  many filmmakers decided that cause was lost. And then they turned their attention to making less political, but wildly successful films. Numbers don’t lie. Since the late 1990s, Québec  films have been making money. They often outrank blockbusting American fare at Québec  box offices and consistently hold top grossing spots Canada wide. It doesn’t hurt that French Canada has a ready-made secondary market for these French-language films, also known as France.

So does French Canada care more about film?

Well, yes. But it’s a chicken-and-egg question. Film is a business and film industries make money. If a market  doesn’t  make money, it  doesn’t  get funded. No funding mean blah movies and no one will care. People buying tickets means more funding means better movies. Québec, with some distinct and pressing cultural concerns, managed to make its film industry relevant in a way that English Canada still has not.  So French Canada cares more about their films, or rather French Canadian film producers care more about these films because they’ll see a return on investment. Not so in English Canada, at least not yet.

As a non-Canadian,  I’ve  spoken to many English Canadian filmmakers who are somewhat morose about the situation. I do sympathize. There’s a population problem in Canada as it goes to supporting a film industry. There’s a distribution problem, too. “Hollywood North” is cute, but a bit of a backhanded compliment. But as a non-Canadian, I’m also obligated to examine the situation in contrast to the “American independent filmmaker,” a beast about as common as a unicorn. The truth is, Canadian filmmakers have a lot of support. The other truth is, that support is financially tricky and pretty flimsy. In the end, a film industry disconnected from making money is no film industry at all.

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Spotlight On: The Jutra Award (Prix Jutra)

The U.S. has the Oscars. Canada has the Genies (now known as the Canadian Screen Awards). But Québécois  filmmakers, while technically part of Canada and thus eligible for the Genies – er, Canadian Screen Awards – have their own annual awards, the Jutra Award (or Prix Jutra or La Soirée des Jutra, take your pick). The Jutra Award debuted in 1999 and was designed to honor the movers and shakers in and behind mainly Francophone cinema in Québec. Winners not only get kudos, but also a sharp, modish statue designed by sculptor Charles Daudelin.

I know what you Genie (let’s just say Genie for now, okay) devotees are thinking – “Wait a minute, isn’t the Claude Jutra Award handed out at the Genies?” The answer is yes and absolutely not. The Claude Jutra Award is a special juried film award, presented at the annual Genie ceremony to the year’s best feature film by a first-time film director.It should not be confused with the Prix Jutra, an entirely separate awards cermony as noted above. While this award is not specifically awarded to Francophone cinema, a list of past winners will indicate that is usually is awarded to a French film. But more on that later.

Both the Prix Jutra and the Claude Jutra Award are named after, unsurprisingly, Claude Jutra, famed French Canadian film actor, director, and writer. It might be going too far to say that Jutra single-handedly created the Québec  cinema industry, but he did direct 1971’s acclaimed Mon oncle Antoine , hailed by some to be the greatest piece of Canadian cinema ever. If you don’t want to go that far, then suffice it to say Claude Jutra was a tireless and much beloved advocate of Canadian cinema and particularly of uniquely Québécois  cinema. Thus he is honored by lending his name to the honor bestowed on new and successful Canadian filmmakers.

Now, why does Québec  have its own special cinema awards? One, the industry really loves to award itself. Just look to the States to see how flimsy an excuse is needed to spawn yet another special awards ceremony. Two, Québec  and Canada as a whole have some pretty complicated political issues that Toronto Film Scene isn’t even going to pretend to address. Three, but most importantly, Francophone cinema thrives in a way that more general Canadian cinema does not. In short, Québec  is a province that takes its cinema seriously and supports it with dollars at the box office, so it really makes sense that they host their own separate awards. Some of the specific categories – Most Successful Film Outside of Québec  or Box Office, say – point to exactly where Québécois  cinema’s interest lie.

For the past decade or so, Québec  has really gotten behind its homegrown cinema and French Canadian blockbusters have even outstripped American fare at the box office. Séraphin: un homme et son péché , directed by Charles Binamé, was a major success at the box office in 2002. 2003 was dubbed “the year of Québec  cinema’s rebirth” with Denys Arcand winning the foreign film Oscar for Les Invasions barbares and with Gaz Bar Blues and Seducing Doctor Lewis gaining both critical and public acclaim. In 2005, C.R.A.Z.Y. was released, grossing a considerable amount in such a small market, and garnering widespread praise from critics. In 2006, the Québec-made action-comedy Bon Cop, Bad Cop , a film with dialogue in both French and English, won the title of most popular Canadian film at the Canadian box office, earning a total of $13 million across the country. Then in 2009, De père en flic matched Bon Cop Bad Cop to become the highest-grossing French language film in Canadian history.

While we might not want to put so much weight on box office receipts, that kind of financial success is a big deal for a film in a market as small as Canada. The list of smash successes above (which is also a truncated list) pretty accurately reflects Prix Jutra winners for the past decade. Say what you will, but an film industry that is obviously serving its market so well and is so willing to reinvest the resulting box office rewards into new films for that market deserves the chance to pat itself on the back once a year.

For more information about Prix Jutra you can visit the official site. If you’re not so fluent in French however, you can find a comprehensive list of winners in every category here.

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Japanese Divas: great actresses of classic Japanese cinema hits screens at TIFF Bell Lightbox on January 24, 2013

Japanese Divas: Great Actresses of Classic Japanese Cinema , a lavish 31-film salute to Japan’s finest actresses and the directors they worked with, hits TIFF Bell Lightbox screens on January 24 and runs until March 31, 2013. Part of Spotlight on Japan, a city-wide festival celebrating classic and contemporary Japanese culture, TIFF Cinematheque is pulling out all the stops with this in-depth, wide-ranging look at the best of the Golden Age of Japanese cinema.

As the programme notes for Japanese Divas: Great Actresses of Classic Japanese Cinema indicate, diva might not be the word that springs to mind when imagining a Japanese lady. The cultural prototype that exists in our minds might more accurately include words like demure, delicate, or even the more culturally tricky submissive. But a tour through the film offers in this retrospective highlights Japanese actresses who not only held their own with Japanese finest directors, but also in some of the most demanding, furious, and emotionally complicated roles the cinema has to offer.

Take for example Machiko Kyo, an unknown plucked from obscurity to be pitted against the unstoppable Toshiro Mifune, in Kurosawa’s Rashomon . Not only did she hold her own, she also followed one wild performance with another as the terrifying supernatural seductress of Mizoguchi’s Ugetsu .  But if you think only raging, whirling, and blustering across the screen does a diva make, think again. Consider instead Haruko Sugimura, one of Japan’s leading character actresses. Famous for her somewhat unglamorous but steely scowl, Sugimura steals the show in every role she plays, from the domineering daughter in Ozu’s Tokyo Story , to the busy body aunt in his Late Spring , to an aging geisha in Naruse’s Flowing .

In fact, director Mikio Naruse, famed for both his astute social observation and the raw emotion that simmers just beneath the surface in his characters, seems to have quite the touch with his divas. Not only does he bring out the best in Haruko Sugiumura, other Naruse films in the retro highlight the intense emotional performances he elicited from other actresses. See Setsuko Hara grapple with the desire to abandon her unhappy marriage in Repast or Hideko Takamine struggle to hold onto to her principles and become an independent woman, all the while courting financiers in her profession as a bar hostess in When a Woman Descends the Stairs .

But perhaps you can’t fully understand the diva-ness of these fine actress until you see the great The Makioka Sisters from director Kon Ichikawa. This four diva ensemble cast of Keiko Kishi, Yoshiko Sakuma, Jûzô Itami, and Kayoko Shiraishi shreds any notion that these Japanese actresses are not a force to be reckoned with. The story tracks along with the four daughters of the prosperous and affluent Makioka family as they fight with each other, their henpecked husbands and boyfriends, and a society that annoyingly keeps shifting beneath their silk-sandaled feet. The Makioka Sisters is truly divadom at its finest.

Japanese Divas: Great Actresses of Classic Japanese Cinema is a must attend for Japanese cinema fans and neophytes alike. The list of films is deep enough to impress the knowledgeable and offers a complete introduction for the novice. For more information on the 31 films include in the this retrospective and the specific  screening  dates and times, visit tiff.net.

 

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TFS Essentials: stop-motion animation

Last month, while standing in an interminable holiday rush line at Shopper’s Drug Mart, I was confronted by one of those stand-up cardboard displays meant to tempt a last second impulse buy. The cynicism with which I would typically greet such a crass commercial come on instantly melted away when I saw what the come on was for – the stop-motion animated classic Holiday specials of the late ’60s and early ’70s of creative team Arthur Rankin, Jr. and Jules Bass. With DVDs on offer of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer , The Little Drummer Boy , Frosty the Snowman , and Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town , I was transported to my childhood when Christmas miracles were still possible and stop-motion animation, particularly “claymation” abounded. It was enough to give me the warm and fuzzies.

As delightful as those holiday specials of my childhood were, I did eventually outgrow them. But I never outgrew stop-motion animation. My later youth was peppered with other claymations, from the cheesy California Raisins to the subversive Mr. Bill of Saturday Night Live fame. It seems we might move beyond lovable underdog reindeer, but we never get over watching a clay dude get smooshed. As I got older and wiser (okay, at least more knowledgeable) in my viewing habits, I came to understand that stop-motion animation was basically born right along with cinema. It’s one of the oldest and earliest forms of animation, and even today, it’s one of the more exciting frontiers in film animation. To better understand the history and future of stop-motion animation, let’s take a trip through the essentials of stop-motion animation.

In plainest terms, stop-motion animation is a method of animation in which one can bring to life inanimate objects. The mechanism is simple – shoot a single frame of an object, move the object slightly, then shoot another frame. Run those frames as a continuous strip through a projector, and voila!, you have the appearance of fluid motion wherein your inanimate object appears to move on its own. How does this differ from regular old animation, you ask? Well, it doesn’t really, except your animating a physical, 3D object instead of a flat drawing. Otherwise, same principles apply.

Arguably, the first stop-motion animation appeared right along with motion pictures themselves, though in the form of stop-motion sans animation. “Trick film” pioneer, Georges Melies, in an effort to make movie magic, used stop-motion to freeze his film and make objects seem to appear and disappear. The first true stop-motion animation hits screens in 1897 in The Humpty Dumpty Circus . in which a toy circus of acrobats and animals comes to life.  In 1907 a washed up Parisian caricaturist name Emile Cohl, a man now referred to as “the father of the animated cartoon” started making drawn animations and debuted with Fantasmagorie , a sort of lightbox animation. The public loved it and demanded more.  In either 1909, 1910, or 1912 (sometimes details get fizzy in the foggy mists of time), Cohl wowed audiences with The Automatic Moving Company,   a three-and-half animated tour de force where furniture appears to move itself into a house. Stop-motion animation had arrived in earnest.

Watch The Automatic Moving Company

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8gD8Fkgt7TI

Stop-motion animation reached a new peak with the release of The Lost World in 1925. This is what most movie fans will imagine when they think stop-motion animation clay figures –  monsters! In The Lost World a group of intrepid explorers venture to the jungles of Brazil where they discover a prehistoric plateau where dinosaurs still roam the earth and pterodactyls rule the sky. The movie isn’t great, per se, and commits some pretty common sins of the silent era. The plot is thin, the characters are flat, and the pacing is weird. But the animated sequences are a revelation, even to the contemporary viewer. What’s most impressive about The Lost World is just how well the animation holds up, even today. And if there’s something naggingly familiar about the dinos in this movie, it’s probably because the animation wiz behind them, one Willis O’Brien, went on to work on a little stop-motion animated film called King Kong in 1933.

 

Willis O'Brien working on "The Lost World" models
Willis O’Brien working on “The Lost World” models

Arguably the most iconic stop-motion animation appears in the work of special effects pioneer Ray Harryhausen. Harryhausen developed a method he christened “dynamation,” though it’s a bit unclear exactly how his branded animation really differ from typical stop-motion animation. Nevertheless, his most popular works such as Might Joe Young (in collaboration with Willis O’Brien) and The 7th Voyage of Sinbad not only piled up special effects awards in their day, but have continued to delight and amuse with frequent late night and Sunday morning television airings. Indeed, it’s a sure bet that many people will immediately conjure up the uber-famous sword fight with seven skeletons from Jason and the Argonauts when asked about stop-motion animation.

Still image from "Paranorman"
The figures in “Paranorman” were created using color 3D printers.

Harryhausen represents a kind of golden age of stop-motion animation combined with live action that ruled the screens for decades. Making a feature film that consisted only of stop-motion would have been incredibly taxing and costly, but more recent technological innovations and the resulting accessibility of those technologies have ushered in what promises to be a new age of stop-motion animation. The release of this year’s Paranorman was a bit of a stop-motion revolution, even if was not apparent to film-goers. The figures used in Paranorman were not the hand sculpted clay models of Harryhausen. They were actually created using 3D animation software and printed with (still amazing to me!) color 3D printers. The benefit of these 3D printers to your workaday stop-motion animator is enormous and allows the creation of a multitude of faces, thus creating a range of emotional expression heretofore not found in clay figures.

It seems stop-animation has been with us always, and here’s to hoping it always will be. No matter what filmmakers may desire, human actors are flesh blood and the earth has this pesky habit of obeying some limiting physical laws. From the moment that we could capture motion on film, men like Georges Melies and Emil Cohl have been straining against those limitations. The movies are magic and ever more sophisticated methods of generating completely unnatural motion via CGI  satisfies  some of our desires to see that magic made manifest. And yet, wholly conjured beings are always a little creepy, a little odd, just a little off. For over a hundred years now stop-motion animation has been trodding the delicate ground between the possible and the impossible, the completely ephemeral and the actually tactile. After the success of Paranorman , I for one am keeping my fingers – the same fingers that so eagerly set the TV dial to Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindee r so long ago – crossed for more stop-motion magic.

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Exile: A Myth Unearthed begins theatrical run at Projection Booth East on December 7, 2012

The exile of the Jewish people from their homeland in 1 A.D. has become a defining narrative in Judeo-Christian society and underpins the  contemporary troubles in the Middle East. But did the exodus really happen? This is the central question examined in the Exile: A Myth Unearthed ,  an NFB documentary that examines the exodus via archaeology, history, myth and religion.

Since 1985,  archaeologists  have been digging around in  the ancient town of Sepphoris, in Galilee and excavating not only  artifacts, but surprising news. Exile: A Myth Unearthed travels from  travels from Sepphoris to Masada, from Jerusalem to Rome, as the filmmakers talk with historians, seminarians, and archaeologists. This doc is not only fascinating, but well-timed, as current conflicts in the Middle East continue to progress from warm to hot.

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What:  Exile: A Myth Unearthed
When:  Friday, December 7 through Thursday, December 13, 2012
Where:  Projection Booth East
More Info:  For additional details,  visit the Projection Booth East website.

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Today on the Scene: screenings and film fun for Friday, November 16, 2012

It’s not only Friday, people. It’s a Friday with a new schedule at TIFF Bell Lightbox and a film festival devoted to hard liquor and porn. Now that’s how you do Friday. Here’s what’s happening today on the scene for Friday, November 16, 2012.

The  TIFF Bell Lightbox  shakes it all up with the first feature film in 13 years from art house bad boy Leo Carax, Holy Motors.  The  retrospective   Magnificent Obsession: The Films of Werner Schroeter   continues with the director’s own favourite film Dress Rehearsal . And as part of   Beyond Bond: The Other Secret Agents , TIFF Bell Lightbox presents     OSS 117: Lost in Rio , a cheeky little Bond spoof from Academy Award winning director  Michel Hazanavicius.

The  Bloor Hot Docs Cinema  has a jam-packed day with   The World Before Her, I am Not a Rock Star, and  Bobcaygeon.  

The Royal  presents The Crying Game, The Strange Case of Angelica, Byzantium,  and Vampyr all from the European Union Film Festival 2012.

A t the  Revue Cinema, you can see   Brave 3-D, The Master, and   The Perks of Being a Wallflower.   At the  Fox Theatre, you can see  Paranorman 3-D,   The Master, or Stories We Tell.

At  Projection Booth East  will be hosting Darryl’s Hard Liquor and Porn Film Festival. If you need more details, and I know you do, visit the festival website.

And if you want to got outside the box, check out  Early Monthly Segments Presents: Warren Sonbert Retrospective  at  Art Gallery of Ontario, Jackman Hall (317 Dundas Street West).

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Today on the Scene: screenings and film fun for Thursday, November 15, 2012

Ah yes, my friends, we inch ever so slowly toward the weekend. What’s the best way to pass the time while you wait for Friday? Besides booze, the answer is see a movie. Here’s what’s happening today on the scene for Thursday, November 15, 2012.

The  TIFF Bell Lightbox  has got it going on today. You can, of course, catch the theatrical runs of   Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel, Samsara,   How to Survive a Plague,   Chasing Ice, and Dial M for Murder.   The TIFF Cinematheque Retropective: Indian Expressionism continues today at 6:15 pm with   Pinjra introduced by Meenakshi Shedde.

The  Bloor Hot Docs Cinema  screens   The World Before Her   and We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists .

The Royal  presents Bread and Circuses and Stopped On Track from the European Union Film Festival 2012.

A t the  Revue Cinema, you can see   Arbitrage,   or   The Imposter.   At the  Fox Theatre, you can see  Looper   or   Arbitrage.

At  Projection Booth East, you can see the neo-noir   Hamlet   at 7:30 pm.

And if you want to got outside the box, check out Early Monthly Segments Presents: Warren Sonbert Retrospective  at  Art Gallery of Ontario, Jackman Hall (317 Dundas Street West).

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Today on the Scene: screenings and film fun for Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Are you tired of my lame James Bond jokes yet? Fine. There’s no Bond offerings in Toronto today except, you know, that new one. Skyrise? Skymall? Nightfall? Something like that. Otherwise, here’s what’s happening today on the scene for Wednesday, November 14, 2012.

The  TIFF Bell Lightbox  has got it going on today. You can, of course, catch the theatrical runs of   Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel, Samsara,   How to Survive a Plague,   Chasing Ice, and Dial M for Murder.   Or you can indulge in the TIFF Cinematheque Indian Expressionism programme with Light of Asia at 6:15 pm and Josef von Sternberg’s The Blue Angel at 8:45 pm.

The  Bloor Hot Docs Cinema  hosts   All Balls Don’t Bounce Film Series: The Iran Job   at 6:30 pm and  and screens   The World Before Her   at 9:15 pm.

The Royal will be hosting By Miracle from the European Union Film Festival 2012.  E

A t the  Revue Cinema, you catch   Movies for Mommies: Arbitrage at 1:00 pm, and     Arbitrage,   or   The Master in the evening .   At the  Fox Theatre, you can also take your baby to see Movies for Mommies: Arbitrage   at 1:30 pm and catch  Looper   or   Arbitrage in the evening.

If you feel like heading to  Projection Booth East, you can see the neo-noir   Hamlet   at 7:30 pm.

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Cinema Revisited: Akira Kurosawa, Japan’s greatest film director?

The Emperor Kurosawa

It’s the Asian cinema issue here at the TFS, and you don’t talk about Asian cinema without talking about Japanese director Akira Kurosawa. Or rather, you don’t talk about cinema (and you certainly don’t revisit classic cinema) without talking about Akira Kurosawa. It turns out that the “Asian cinema” part is a little more complicated than I might have thought.

Undeniably, over the course of his 57 year career, Kurosawa proved himself to be a master filmmaker. The list of his best films – Stray Dog, Yojimbo, Rashomon, Seven Samurai, Ran, Throne of Blood – is longer than than the entire body of work of other lesser film legends.

Every cinematic heavy hitter to shout “Action!” in Hollywood has praised, acknowledged or worked with Kurosawa, up to and including George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola, Sidney Lumet, and Robert Altman. Martin Scorsese even took a cameo turn as a one-eared Vincent Van Gogh in Kurosawa’s Dreams (no, seriously, check it out).

Akira Kurosawa is one of history’s greatest film directors. Akira Kurosawa is Japanese. Ergo, he must Japan’s greatest film director, yes? Not so fast.

How Japanese is Japanese enough?

Akira Kurosawa was born in Japan in 1910. He grew up in Japan, spent his entire adult life in Japan and eventually died in Japan in 1998. He did the bulk of his filmmaking in Japan, minus a notable epic-fail detour to Hollywood to co-direct Tora! Tora! Tora! His production crews were Japanese and the cast of his films were Japanese. That seems to add up to being pretty damn Japanese.

However… despite the critical acclaim, the global awards, and the full embrace from the West that considers Kurosawa as a paragon of Asian filmmaking, his standing within the matrix of Japanese filmmaking is more problematic. In short, Japanese audiences, critics, and scholars often level the criticism of “pandering.” The argument is simple – if Western audiences like Kurosawa so damn much, he must have been pandering to them.

Some other cultural distinctions come into play on the anti-Kurosawa front. For one, Japan views his celebration of the individual – individual growth, heroics, and triumphs – as a little suspicious. I don’t want to engage in broad cultural stereotypes here, but the Western reverence of the individual character is not necessarily shared by our Eastern counterparts. Indeed, a second complaint made about Kurosawa by his own countrymen is the charge of arrogance. Hence the origin of the disparaging epithet “Kurosawa Tennō” (“The Emperor Kurosawa”).

Kurosawa: Panderer or Cultural Sponge?

Why did Western audiences so thoroughly embrace Kurosawa and (at least in theory) Japanese cinema? Easy – he made all that Japanese-ness accessible to those audiences. Famously, Kurosawa drew from the most popular and iconic film genres. In Yojimbo and Seven Samurai , we find straight up westerns, albeit with samurai instead of cowboys. In Drunken Angel and Stray Dog we find the kind of crime/gangster flick that Western audiences love so much. And One Wonderful Sunday , released one year after It’s a Wonderful Life , is really a Frank Capra film relocated to post-war Japan.

Even more than deploying well-loved genres, Kurosawa drew on a vast pool of source materials. He’s neither Eastern nor Western in his inspirations, but rather he is global. Ran is a retelling of Shakespeare’s King Lear . He adapted several works from Dostoevsky, notably in   The Idiot . Stray Dog is based on a Kurosawa’s own unpublished novel, written in the style of his favorite novelist, the French crime writer Georges Simenon. Obviously, Kurosawa’s imagination did not observe borders.

The only question left for me is how much cultural weight did Kurosawa’s samurai cowboys carry in his own culture? I know how they read as gunslingers, but I can’t gauge how they read in the historical context of Japan.

Rashomon , My Friends

I’m revisiting Kurosawa, right? And any excuse, no matter how flimsy, is a good excuse to slip away on a weekday afternoon to watch Rashomon . If you haven’t seen it, here’s the gist: a samurai, his wife and a bandit meet in the woods one afternoon and the samurai dies. The exact nature of that meeting and that death are the subject of Rashomon and those details are never actually established.

Rashomon is 88 minutes of gloriously beautiful cinematography and stubbornly ambiguous storytelling. We see the incident in question replayed from the point of view of the samurai, the wife, the bandit and a handful of witnesses. Each version is incomplete, inconclusive, and wildly different. As a stand-ins for judge and jury, the camera and the viewer are left to examine the fuzzy edges of the accounts, the points where the differing accounts appear to overlap and where they diverge.

And I wonder – is Rashomon a perfect metaphor for Kurosawa and his perceived place in the pantheon of great Asian film directors? Is it possible that I will see it one way and a Japanese film critic will see it an entirely different way? Can we both be right and both be wrong at the same time? Do I have to admit that even though I know Kurosawa’s work and admire it so deeply, I still don’t know jack about “Asian cinema”?

In The Janus Films Director Introduction Series, Robert Altman waxes poetic on Rashomon and mentions, offhandedly, that Japanese viewers will probably read the fight scenes between the samurai and the bandit in a different way than he does. He’s pretty cavalier about this fact. He doesn’t care. He takes what he takes from Rashomon . His Japanese counterpart takes what he takes. It’s all good to Robert Altman. Rashomon spoke to him, meant a lot to him, provided inspiration for him. Well played, Altman.

Asian cinema, Canadian cinema, Slovakian cinema – who cares?

It’s all cinema, stupid. Film is made by people with specific cultural baggage. It’s produced physically in a place. It may be socially motivated. But in the end, it’s cinema and it’s universal. When I read translated literature I always harbor a fear that I’m missing something. But I when I watch a “foreign” film, I know what I’m seeing. It’s a visual language and my eyeballs work the same way as your average Slovak’s do.

I have no idea how Kurosawa ranks in the hierarchy of Japanese directors, mostly because I’m not so familiar with other Japanese directors. Ozu, Naruse, Suzuki, and Okamoto – to name a few – are all on my must watch list. Someday, someday. Also, I have no idea what (if anything?) his recasting of Japanese cultural touchstones like the samurai meant to Japanese culture at large, especially during Japan’s own post-war cultural flux.

What I do know about Akira Kurosawa is this: He’s a brilliant film director. He is visually and narratively inventive; he is wide ranging; he is fearless in confronting less than pleasant realities. Watching a Kurosawa film is always rewarding. And, all else being equal, Kurosawa managed to take a thing that seemed very Japanese on the face of it and invite everyone inside for a look around. To take the specific and transmogrify it into the universal is the highest of cinematic achievements. The Emperor is dead, long live the Emperor.

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The European Union Film Festival Launches on November 14, 2012

The 8th annual European Union Film Festival returns to Toronto on November 14, 2012 and runs until November 27, 2012. All films will screen at The Royal and admission is free to each film, with tickets distributed on a first-come-first-served basis starting one hour prior to screening time.

The European Union Film Festival (EUFF) is organized by all of the European Union  consulates  and cultural institutes in Toronto to highlight the innovation, diversity, and excellence in European film-making. The festival includes Canadian premieres of European films as well as favorite, classic award winners from European cinema. The EU represented countries in this year’s festival includes  Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

For more  information  about the films that will be shown and the screening schedule, visit the EUFF website.

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What:  European Union Film Festival 2012

When:  November 14 to November 27, 2012

Where:  The Royal, 608 College Avenue

For More Info:  Visit the EUFF Wesbite

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Today on the Scene: screenings and film fun for Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Are you still wearing that tux?!? Fortunately, there’s more Bond goodness on offer today, once you get over the martini hangover. Here’s what’s happening today on the scene for Tuesday, November 13, 2012.

The  TIFF Bell Lightbox  has got it going on today. You can, of course, catch the theatrical runs of   Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel, Samsara,   How to Survive a Plague, Chasing Ice, and Dial M for Murder.   But you can also see Tippi Hedren get pecked by flocks of angry  avians  in The Birds at 6:30 pm or catch the suavest agent who ever lived in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service at 9:15 pm.

The  Bloor Hot Docs Cinema  wraps up The Story of Film: An Odyssey with Episodes 13, 14, & 15 starting at 6:00 pm and screens   The World Before Her   at 9:15 pm.

The Royal reopens for Tuesday with two showing of Beasts of the Southern Wild.

A t the  Revue Cinema, you have another chance to see   Arbitrage,   or   End of Watch.   At the  Fox Theatre, you can see  Looper   or   Arbitrage.

If you feel like heading to  Projection Booth East, they’ve made it easy and have given you only one option:   Hamlet   at 7:30 pm.

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Today on the Scene: screenings and film fun for Monday, November 12, 2012

I assume that everyone saw Skyfall this week. Thus I also assume we’re all in tuxedos and evening gowns. Have a martini, shaken – not stirred, and hit a movie theatre, a Toronto movie theatre. Here’s what’s happening today on the scene for Monday, November 12, 2012.

The  TIFF Bell Lightbox  has   Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel, Samsara,   How to Survive a Plague, and   Chasing Ice.   And at 6:30 om the Werner  Schroeter retrospective continues with Palermo or Wolfsburg .

The  Bloor Hot Docs Cinema  is screening   The World Before Her   at 6:45 pm and at 8:30 The Beguiling 25th: Ware, Tomine and Burns , a great little doc about some alt-comix legends.  The authors  will perform presentations from their new works, participate in a Q&A, and follow up with a book signing.

A t the  Revue Cinema, you have another chance to see   Arbitrage,   or   End of Watch.   At the  Fox Theatre, you can see  Looper   or   Arbitrage.

If you feel like heading to  Projection Booth East, they’ve made it easy and have given you only one option:   Hamlet   at 7:30 pm.

If you’re feeling a little more classic, you can get yourself over to the Carlton and catch a classic double bill from the Toronto Film Society. On the menu this evening is Q Planes (Clouds Over Europe) (1939) and The Lady with the Lamp (1951).

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The Miles Nadal JCC Presents The Social Cinema of Sydney Lumet on Monday, November 12, 2012

As part of the ongoing series “Intelligent Art and Meticulous Craft: The Social Cinema of Sidney Lumet”, the Miles Nadal JCC will host critic Shlomo Schwartzberg’s talk “Cops, Crooks, & Corruption”, with film clips from   The Offence, Serpico, Find Me Guilty, Q & A, and Night Falls on Manhattan on Monday November 12, 2012 at 7:00 pm.

The films of the late Sidney Lumet, aside from being excellent films, displayed an acute social consciousness. Illustrated with examples from   The Offence, Serpico, Find Me Guilty, Q & A, and Night Falls on Manhattan,   Schwartzberg will examine how Lumet’s films continue to reverberate today.

Further talks in this series include:

  • On Being Jewish:   The Dybbuk, Bye Bye Braverman, The Pawnbroker, Daniel, A Stranger Among Us   on November 19, 2012
  • New York, New York :   The Wiz, Dog Day Afternoon, 12 Angry Men, Just Tell Me What You Want, Prince of the City, Fail-Safe   on November 26, 2012
  • Contemporaries and Influences:   Dr. Strangelove, The Iceman Cometh, Diner, Norma Rae, The Wire   on December 3, 2012

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What:  Intelligent Art and Meticulous Craft: The Social Cinema of Sidney Lumet

When:  Every Monday evening, November 12 to December 3, 7:00 to 9:00 pm

Where: Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre,  750 Spadina Ave.

For More Info: Visit the Miles Nadal JCC website.

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Today on the Scene: screenings and film fun for Friday, November 9, 2012

Whether you’re feeling Bond-ish or you’re in the mood for some fine Asian cinema, Toronto has it going on today. Here’s what happening today on the scene for Friday, November 9, 2012.

At the  TIFF Bell Lightbox  today you can find   Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel, Samsara,  Dial M For Murder , and   How to Survive a Plague, and Chasing Ice.   You can also hit up the  Werner Schroeter restro for Malina at 6:30. Or you can be super cool and go James Bond with Three Days of the Condor at 9: 15 pm (part of Beyond Bond: The Other Secret Agents) or Thunderball at 10:00 pm.

The Bloor  is screening The World Before Her   and We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists.  

The Royal  will be hosting screening for The Reel Asian Toronto International Film Festival. For full listings check the festival site.

At the  Revue Cinema, you’ll find   Arbitrage    and   End of Watch.

East enders can hit the  Fox Theatre  for Arbitrage   and   Looper.

Projection Booth East  is screening  the all new   Hamlet . Or catch Beauty is Embarrassing   and Hamlet  at Projection Booth Metro.

Image From:  Hamlet.

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Reel Asian Review: Hometown Boy

Hometown Boy chronicles the journey of  Liu Xiaodong,  one of China’s most respected artists, to his hometown  Jincheng, in Liaoning Province, to paint his childhood friends. This is a revisit of an earlier project that eventually secured his place in art school, and he’s filled with trepidation to return as a well-known artists. As he navigates the pitfalls of painting changing landscapes and older faces, often with an audience, Liu is forced to confront Thomas Wolfe’s adage that you can’t go home again.

This is a lovely, if leisurely-paced, documentary with stunning cinematography. Hometown Boy offers a glimpse into a very different way of life than the typical Torontoian might be used to and it offers it through the eyes of a man who should be familiar with it, yet finds himself alienated. And while we get to watch Liu’s paintings in progress and witness his sometimes strained interactions, it’s not until the end of the doc that we get to see the finished paintings. The work is gloriously nuanced and so accurately  reflects  the experience and the people that we’ve seen documented it’s actually breath-taking.

Is Hometown Boy   Essential Reel Asian Viewing ?  

Hometown Boy is not to be missed. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that this doc will eventually get a wider theatrical release in Canada, but just in case be sure to catch it at Reel Asian.

Hometown Boy   Screening Times

More About   Hometown Boy

Hometown Boy   Trailer

Hometown Boy   Production Gallery

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