Category Archives: Film REVIEWS

Art DepartMENTAL’s Top 10 Favourite Films of 2011


Art DepartMENTAL's 2011 Top 10 Favourite Films- Tree of Life

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If there is anything I love more than production design it is film in and of itself. I see roughly 250-300 films a year so while I definitely have a bit of catching up to do I did engulf quite a few films last year. However, I’m still kicking myself that I have yet to see A Separation which I’ve been told is phenomenal. Perhaps once I see it this list will change but as of right now, on Oscar Sunday, here are my Top 10 Favourites of 2011! Don’t judge. Oh, okay, you can judge.

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HOT DOCS 2011 REVIEWS: The Shorts Edition

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My Hot Docs marathon continues this week and I just wanted to make sure that short films got their fair shake as well so I made sure to catch a bunch. Here are some of my thoughts on six of the short films playing at Hot Docs this year.

TWO’S A CROWD

Rating: *****

Directed By: Jim and Tom Isler | Country: USA

Runtime: 19min 41sec

Synopsis: The key to Allen and Collette’s midlife marriage has been keeping separate apartments, 20 blocks from each other, in New York City. But when financial pressures force Allen to move in with Collette, issues of privacy, independence and bathroom usage call into question the viability of relationships in the modern age. A docu-comedy about romance and rent control.

Review: Two’s a Crowd is the type of film so funny and lovable you wish it were a feature. We meet two people, Allen, 56 and a Libra, he let’s us know, and Collette, 55 with a strong sense of independence, who have seemingly walked out of a Woody Allen film onto the screen.  The film catches this couple who have been married for four years but have never lived together just as they are about to make the move. As the economy came crashing down they realised they would have to move in together for financial reasons and reluctantly brace to live together- in the same space- until death do them part. The most interesting thing for me was how much their individual spaces define them and they just can’t let go of that need for separate togetherness. I don’t want to spoil the film so I’ll just finish by saying that this is honestly one of the most enjoyable films I’ve seen at the festival largely due to the unique, quirky and comic couple at the heart of the film. It’s a shame it’s only 20 minutes but worth the price of admission.

Playing with: MATCHMAKING MAYOR

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THREE WALLS

Rating: *****

Directed By: Zaheed Mawani | Country: Canada

Runtime: 26 min

Synopsis: Three Walls traces the development of the office cubicle since its inception in the late 1960s to its current status as the dominant form of office furniture in North America. More than a bit of social history, this documentary captures the melancholic absurdity of the modern day office and examines the larger issues surrounding the shifting nature of white-collar work.

Review: Three Walls allows us to understand the nature of the office cubicle and its entrapment of the every day office working individual. The film quotes the inventor of the office cubicle, Bob Propst, “One of the dumbest things you can do is sit in one space and let the world pass you by,” which plays as a thesis statement to the impending film. Every thing after this proves that exact point. The film goes on to interview many people who work in office cubicles as they discuss their spaces intertwined with footage of office cubicles being made and an interview with a representative of Herman Miller which first put cubicles or ‘systems furniture’ on the market and their intentions by doing so (120 degree angled separators- not cubes). While all of this sounds pretty boring the cinematography and the hints at visual humor along with some quirky office workers propel the film to a level you wouldn’t think a doc about office cubicles could go. A must-see for anyone who works in an office.

Playing with: MAIDS & BOSSES

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POSTER GIRL

Rating: ****

Directed By: Sara Nesson | Country: USA

Runtime: 38min

Synopsis: Sara Nesson’s Oscar-nominated debut follows Iraq War veteran Robynn Murray’s harrowing battle with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. A one-time poster girl for young women in combat, Murray’s raw emotion devastates and inspires in this impassioned journey towards healing and self-discovery.

Review: Poster Girl follows Robynn Murray’s journey to reclaim her youth while dealing with the pounding after effects of war. She suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a direct result of the horrors she witnessed in Iraq as she vividly describes her time there spliced on screen with photos of the war. We see Robynn on her good days and on her bad. Some days she struggles to contain her rage and others she can barely contain her sadness. On a good day the best she can do is be hopeful that her future will not be as bad as her past. I am glad the film also shows the lack of social assistance she receives due to illness and the struggle to even receive a dime from the military two years after they were done using her as a weapon. I had slight problems with the end being a bit cliche but overall it was a very well told eye opening documentary.

Playing with: MELISSA- MOM AND ME

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P.S. YOUR MYSTERY SENDER

Rating: ****

Directed By: Benjamin Wigley | Country: UK

Runtime: 9 min

Synopsis: Sir Paul Smith Jr., the English fashion retailer known for creating classically tailored menswear with a characteristic twist, has an anonymous benefactor. For 20 years he’s received a series of highly imaginative gifts in the mail: unsigned, unwrapped, uncanny yet perfectly charming. Who is responsible?

Review: P.S. Your Mystery Sender focuses on creativity in a most unusual form. Paul Smith has been receiving random objects from a total stranger unknown to him since the early eighties. These gifts range from a volleyball to a wagon to a traffic cone, to an E.T doll. I agree with Paul Smith in that there is something very beautiful about this act of randomness. Each object is sent not in a box but with the stamps thoughtfully placed and the address written directly on the object. Even the colour and placement of the stamps are well thought out. What Paul has ended up with over the years is now a diverse, interesting and oddly beautiful museum of random objects. I have mixed feelings about the pace of the film due to some poetic narration that breaks into scenes and some reenactments of the story but overall some of that works in its favour. This part of the narrator’s hypothesis particularly intrigued me, “Objects live too… they travel like hard souls…” This mystery sender has brought new life to seemingly banal objects and changed the nature of which these objects were originally intended.

Playing with: RESURRECT DEAD: THE MYSTERY OF THE TOYNBEE TILES

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UPROOTED

Rating: ***

Directed By: Andrew Moir | Country: Canada

Runtime: 6 min

Synopsis: Tobacco farmer Joe Vanden Elzen was happily tending the land, just like the five generations of farmers who’d come before him. But in 2005, in an effort to curtail the tobacco industry, the Canadian government requested that hundreds of farmers relinquish their crops and say goodbye to their livelihoods forever. Joe was among those who signed the deal and lived to regret it.

Review: Uprooted delves into a family’s regret over taking a government buyout and relinquishing their farm and their livelihood. While I think this documentary is too short and doesn’t give quite enough detail or history on both Joe’s ancestry in farming and why the government was buying out tobacco farms in the first place I think the cinematography saves the day. Almost every shot could be screencapped and hung up on the wall as a beautiful piece of photography showcasing farming life in Canada. The shot inside the tobacco farm is particularly stunning. An astoundingly beautiful film but ultimately lacks depth in some areas.

Playing with: THE CHOCOLATE FARMER

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SURPRISEVILLE

Rating: ***1/2

Directed By: Tim Travers Hawkins | Country: UK

Runtime: 9 min

Synopsis: Welcome to Surprise, Arizona, a study in irony. Make yourself at home in a master-planned, gated community of strict standards and rigorously maintained bylaws. Finally, a community for people who think the grass is greener on their side of the fence and the rest of the world should keep out.

Review: Surpriseville is a quiet doc that lets you make your own opinions but also (in my opinion) visually mocks a gated community in Arizona. Surpriseville, Arizona is a cultivated community founded on the idea of community safety. The community is a mish mash of people from all over basically escaping the realities of the real world. Their goals are to keep the community protected, safe, garbage-free, regulated, ‘beautiful’, and ‘enjoyable’. “I’m very happy to sometimes never leave here. We just don’t think about it,” one woman says. These people believe themselves to be among the happiest in the world  but I see them as the saddest people in the world. It’s surprisingly (pun intended) comic actually when one father says that kids get snatched up in vans “quite often” in the real world and his wife ironically states, “Fear is what keeps people from being productive. I mean it’s stifling.” It begs the question who is the one living in fear? Me or her in her gated community. Also just wanted to mention- who created these houses in ‘Paradise’ because they are particularly drab and ugly if I do say so myself. Just sayin’.

Playing with: THE GOOD LIFE

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What will you be seeing at Hot Docs this year?
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Rose XO.
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HOT DOCS 2011 REVIEWS: Big Buzz Films

Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival starts off shortly with Morgan Spurlock’s documentary, POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold about the quantity and persistence of product placement in television and film all while selling branding rights in order to finance that very film. Also playing tonight is  Michael Tucker & Petra Epperlein’s documentary, Fightville which gets to the heart of the MMA fighting world in which fighters condition not only their bodies but their minds and souls in order to be the very best.

I had a chance to see a lot of the films receiving early buzz including the two films mentioned above. Check out my thoughts below on what’s hot and what’s not.

BUCK

Rating: ****1/2

Directed By: Cindy Meehl | Country: USA

Runtime: 88 min

Synopsis: The Horse Whisperer may be the stuff of Hollywood legend but the charismatic horseman who inspired the novel and the film is very real. For Buck Brannaman – a true cowboy who is also part guru and part philosopher -horses are a mirror of the human soul.

Review: In this Sundance Audience Award Winner Buck Brannaman, a famed horse whisperer, proves that almost any horse can perform as an extension of oneself if given the proper training. The magnificent thing is that it is not the horses that need the training- it is the humans. Through intermittent discussion of Buck’s own abusive childhood we come to learn what Buck has been through with his own father which in some sense gave him the unique ability to understand a horse’s fears so he could become one of the best horse trainers working today.  Buck is the type of film easy to fall in love with as it gets to the heart of why horses are gentle and soulful creatures by nature; it is man who has the ability to turn a horse wild, like a father with his son. There is no need to be a ‘horse person’ going into this film- Buck’s modesty will charm you into leaving a grand admirer of both horses and Buck Brannaman himself.

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LIMELIGHT

Rating: *1/2

Directed By: Billy Corben | Country: USA

Runtime: 101 min

Synopsis: The Limelight was one of New York’s most famous nightclubs, but beneath its glamour and celebrity was an underworld of drugs, betrayal and murder. In Billy Corben’s latest documentary, we follow Limelight creator Peter Gatien through his career and the business of clubbing that nearly destroyed him.

Review: Limelight documents Peter Gatien’s humble beginnings in Cornwall, Ontario, Canada and his meteoric rise to the top with clubs in Atlanta and later ‘Limelight’ in New York City. It just so happens that his rise to the top coincided with the rise of the drug Ecstasy which became popular with the generation of club kids that Peter Gatien worked hard to create and populate throughout his clubs. Now while all of this sounds well and good in terms of entertaining subject matter, think again. This doc is a mess- from story-telling to tacky graphics I don’t know where to start. The first half doesn’t know where it’s going or frankly if there is a story arc to be had. Eventually they get to the point near the middle of the film which is the court case against Peter Gatien accusing him of knowingly turning a blind eye (no pun intended) to the drug culture he created which ultimately led to his deportation to Canada. The worst part is the film is so one-sided it feels like a Pro-Peter Gatien propaganda film. In the end it’s interesting subject matter told atrociously with no new details. I wish I could say it was better.

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FIGHTVILLE

Rating: *****

Directed By: Michael Tucker & Petra Epperlein | Country:  USA

Runtime: 85 min

Synopsis: In a small gym in Louisiana where competitors mop up their own blood between battles, Dustin Poirier and Albert Stainback are two young fighters with potential and a dream. Through their trials, the nuanced tactics and extreme self-discipline of MMA become apparent. This is a brutal sport but there is a surprising grace and spirituality to it.

Review: Fightville follows two fighters who want to be the very best in the MMA fighting world in order to get signed by the UFC. While violence may dissuade some viewers I think that the film is very respectful in what we see on camera and never shows us brutality for entertainment’s sake. I just want to reiterate that this is not a sensationalist telling of a bloodsport. I really appreciated fighter Dustin Poirier’s passion as redemption from his past and the channeling of his energy into what is now a very well managed and regulated sport. We come to see that the most important thing is not just the physical conditioning these men receive in training but the  technical and mental conditioning. This is proven in one of my favourite scenes where Albert is unprepared and coming up short after he lets life get in the way of his goals. In the end you will leave understanding these men, what they do, why they do it and how they’ve come so far in a sport so often misunderstood.

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BEING ELMO: A PUPPETEER’S JOURNEY

Rating: *****

Directed By: Constance Marks | Country: USA

Runtime: 76 min

Synopsis: This Sundance Special Jury Prize winner is heart-warming and fun for the whole family. Being Elmo is the inspiring story of how a shy nine-year-old Kevin Clash pursued his dream of becoming a puppeteer on Sesame Street. Raised in a low-income community, Clash’s talents were evident in his homemade prototypes and the puppet shows he staged for his mother’s daycare kids. But it was after his first gig on a local children’s TV show that he was truly on his path.

Review: Being Elmo is the story about the man behind the muppet. We meet Kevin Clash, a.k.a ‘Elmo’ who shows us his humble beginnings in a low income black community and how he stumbled upon puppeteering at a very young age. He saw his dreams come true so quickly he could barely believe his  luck. What becomes very apparent during the film is that this wasn’t just luck, it was single-minded determination and supportive parents not to mention the puppeteering pioneers such as Jim Henson who took him under their wing and nurtured his innate talent for bringing these characters to life. The film also reminds us that every success has its price and certainly Kevin has had to sacrifice his relationships and his time in order to allow Elmo to ‘love’ the masses. However if you’re looking for a feel good doc to make you feel all warm and fuzzy this is most definitely the documentary for you.

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THE BULLY PROJECT

Rating: *****

Directed By: Lee Hirsch | Country: USA

Runtime: 94 min

Synopsis: The Bully Project follows five kids and families over the course of a school year. Stories include two families who have lost children to suicide and a mother who awaits the fate of her 14-year-old daughter who has been incarcerated after bringing a gun on her school bus. With rare access to the Sioux City Community School District, the film gives an intimate glimpse into school buses, classrooms, cafeterias and principle’s offices- offering insight into the often cruel world of children.

Review: The Bully Project stands up for every kid whose ever been bullied and brings their story to the forefront in a heart-wrenching and beautifully weaved portrait of the bullying crisis in America… and YES- it is a crisis. The filmmakers go in from all sides including child suicides due to bullying. It continues to show us what is and isn’t going on between teachers, principals, students and most importantly their parents. Among the case studies, we meet Alex, age 12, who is picked on and abused almost daily but when his parents finally find out and talk to the principal they are treated with general ambivalence. What’s frustrating is that the teachers, counselors, principals and parents are trying but it takes the parents of the offending child to also appropriately take action. We are made witness to the fact that there are no easy answers,  but also understanding that the ‘boys will be boys’ excuse is not an acceptable response and open dialogue in communities will help to create solutions. From the end of the film: Text ‘BULLYPROJECT’ to ’30644′ to help make a difference.

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POM WONDERFUL PRESENTS: THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER SOLD

Rating: ****

Directed By: Morgan Spurlock | Country: USA

Runtime: 90 min

Synopsis: How can a documentary become a blockbuster? Observing that all big Hollywood movies rely on product placements to generate mass awareness, Morgan Spurlock and producing/writing partner Jeremy Chilnick set their sights on the advertising world for their new project, a doc-buster built on branding. Spurlock buys into marketing mania to tease out the myriad methods by which products are woven into the fabric of corporate entertainment.

Review: Morgan Spurlock does it again with a documentary as entertaining as it is informative. Morgan’s goal as he starts out on his journey is to make a film funded by product placement about product placement. Along the way we the audience learn about brand collateral and brand personality and how the film and TV industry sell out daily in order to market their films better and get their project to the masses. While all of this may sound dry and boring the film is largely a comedy about a man on a mission to get a film made come hell or high water while remaining completely transparent as he ‘sells out’. By the end of the film, as we become inundated with advertisements, even Morgan starts to wonder, “Have I sold out?” By trying to exploit big brands (in a matter of speaking) has he gone to the dark side? I will say that working in the art department, this film gave me unique insight into how I myself am affecting the viewer every time I pick up the phone to add product placement to a project. I will think twice.

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Will you be seeing anything at Hot Docs? Do any of these look or sound particularly enticing?

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Rose XO. .

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Art DepartMENTAL @ Hot Docs 2011

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As many of you may know, Art DepartMENTAL is based out of Toronto, Canada and as such we have access to easily two of the greatest festivals in the World. That being the Toronto International Film Festival and of course North America’s largest documentary festival, Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival. I have been granted special access to cover the festival and thus for the first time I bring you full coverage of Hot Docs 18th year with exclusive previews and insight into the best documentaries of the year.

This year Hot Docs brings us 199 documentaries from around the globe from 3D to animation to re-enactments. “Every year we start with the goal of showing everything documentary can do. Yet, more so than ever, what documentary is doing is re-inventing itself, expanding our notions of its capacity to communicate contemporary stories and ideas,” explains Sean Farnel, Hot Docs Director of Programming. He couldn’t have put it better. We are currently in the golden age of  documentary filmmaking. No longer need we snore through a documentary about a caterpillar turning into a butterfly as we did in elementary school. Documentary is now more than just mere education, it can be as entertaining, shocking, ground-breaking and visual as any non-fiction film around.

If you are not in the Toronto area do not fret. You can check out most of the trailers and some clips on the Hot Docs Youtube Channel. Hot Docs also has an amazing online library of docs that I can’t recommend highly enough. You will find incredible gems on this website that will change the way you look at the World around you: http://www.hotdocslibrary.ca/.

Hot Docs runs from April 28-May 8, 2011 and hopefully you’ll come along for the ride. Live-tweeting has already begun on our Twitter page, @artdepartmental. Stay tuned…

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Do you plan on attending Hot Docs? What is your favourite documentary of all-time? Why?

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Rose XO.

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OF NOTE: I can not talk about documentary filmmaking without mentioning the huge loss of Tim Hetherington, co-director of the Oscar-nominated documentary Restrepo, who died alongside his colleague, esteemed photojournalist Chris Hondros during a mortar attack in Libya yesterday. My sincerest sympathies go out to their family, friends, colleagues and all those whose lives they touched through their astounding acts of journalism and bravery.

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OSCAR WEEK: My Top 10 Favourite Films of 2010

Just hours from now Hollywood will give out little gold men to what some consider the very best cinema has to offer. I disagree with the Academy. I will be live-tweeting the Oscars and Red Carpet shindig at 6:30pm EST so stay tuned for that and follow us at @artdepartmental on Twitter.

Film is a highly subjective medium to which everyone has their favourites and I am no exception. I see roughly 250-300 films a year so while I definitely have quite a bit of catching up to do as of right now on Oscar Sunday here are my Top 10 Favourites of 2010.

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1) Biutiful

Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu | Production Designer: Brigitte Broch

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2) Inception

Director: Christopher Nolan | Production Designer: Guy Hendrix Dyas

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3) Another Year

Director: Mike Leigh | Production Designer: Simon Beresford

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4) Trigger

Director: Bruce McDonald | Production Designer: Rob Gray

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5) Black Swan

Director: Darren Aronofsky | Production Designer: Thérèse DePrez

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6) Exit Through the Gift Shop

Documentary, Director: Banksy

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7) The Social Network

Director: David Fincher | Production Designer: Donald Graham Burt

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8 ) Shutter Island

Director: Martin Scorsese | Production Designer: Dante Ferretti

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9) Blue Valentine

Director: Derek Cianfrance | Production Designer: Inbal Weinberg

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10) The Radiant Child

Documentary, Director: Tamra Davis

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Honorable Mentions: The King’s Speech, Cyrus, Marwencol, Toy Story 3, Rabbit Hole, Howl, and Winter’s Bone

Movies I saw in 2010 but will technically be released in 2011: Submarine, Essential Killing, Autumn Gold, and Womb

Movies I have yet to see thus didn’t make it on the list: Waste Land, Catfish, Dogtooth, In A Better World, Somewhere, Animal Kingdom, Meek’s Cutoff and I Am Love among others. I will update this as I see more films from 2010.

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What were your favourite films of 2010 and why? What do/did you think of the Oscars?
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Rose XO.
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Art DepartMENTAL @ TIFF ’10

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In 9 days The Toronto International Film Festival 2010 (#tiff10) officially starts its 35th year in its brand new home, the Bell Lightbox. This year it is 11 days from Sept 9-19 and will showcase over 300 films. It is the largest public festival in the world and I would say second in popularity only to Cannes.

I have been attending the festival for the past 7 years and every year I look forward to it more and more.

This year I just wanted to announce that I will be live tweeting (@artdepartmental) from the festival and writing several blog post exclusives featuring photos, reviews, and a few surprises too. As always I will cover the very best of the fest in production design glory and I will try my best to bring you any exclusives I can. I hope you come along for the ride!

Are you attending TIFF ’10?

‘What will you see?’

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Rose XO.

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SPRING UPDATE: Hot Docs, Banksy, Anton Kuerti, & Conan

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Since I didn’t post much during the month of May I figured I’d let you in on what I have been up to outside the blog world:

Hot Docs

Despite the fact that most documentaries have no use for the art department I love the documentary format very much. Every year Toronto hosts the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival, the largest documentary festival in North America. This year I was able to take in 37 feature documentaries and 3 short documentaries in ten days – my favourite of which was a film called Autumn Gold. This doc “tells the life-affirming story of five athletes in their preparation for the Track and Field World Championships. Their toughest challenge is their age: these potential world champions are between the ages of 80 and 100.” Such a sweet and beautiful film.

Here is a list of all the films I saw during the fest with my ratings:

  1. The Socalled Movie 2/5
  2. Darwin’s Nightmare 4/5
  3. Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage 4/5
  4. And Everything Is Going Fine 3.5/5
  5. Dish: Women, Waitressing and the Art of Service 3/5
  6. Tarnation (Rewatch) 4.5/5
  7. Talhotblond 1/5
  8. Citizen Architect: Samuel Mockbee and the Spirit of the Rural Studio 3/5
  9. 1991: The Year Punk Broke 2.5/5
  10. Quadrangle (Short Film) 4/5
  11. Daddy’s Girls 3/5
  12. Joan Rivers- A Piece of Work 4/5
  13. Budrus 4.5/5
  14. Portrait of a Man 3.5/5
  15. The Parking Lot Movie 4.5/5
  16. Bhutto 4.5/5
  17. CandyMan: The David Klein Story 4/5
  18. Autumn Gold 5/5
  19. Peter in Radioland (Short Film) 3.5/5
  20. Marwencol 4.5/5
  21. The People Vs. George Lucas 2.5/5
  22. Blank City 4/5
  23. Sex Magic, Manifesting Maya 5/5
  24. The Canal Street Madam 4/5
  25. Space Tourists 4.5/5
  26. I Shot My Love 5/5
  27. American: The Bill Hicks Story 3.5/5
  28. Sona, The Other Myself 3/5
  29. Tankograd 4/5
  30. Views on Vermeer- 12 Short Stories 5/5
  31. Shadowplay 5/5
  32. Strange Powers: Stephen Merritt and The Magnetic Fields 4/5
  33. Horses 2/5
  34. Monica and David 4/5
  35. Architect of Home (Short Film) 3.5/5
  36. Our House 3/5
  37. Freetime Machos 5/5
  38. Teenage Paparazzo 5/5
  39. I’m Dangerous with Love 2.5/5
  40. Gasland 4/5

As a side note, check out this years graphic design for the festival. I thought they were superb this year. Modern, simple, and sleek. Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) should take note. Pitch perfect with the message too. Kudos to Hot Docs!

-Cover graphic for this years Hot Docs schedule

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Banksy in Toronto

During Hot Docs I read in the Torontoist that Banksy was creating street art in Toronto for the first time ever. I had already watched Exit Through the Gift Shop so I was particularly intrigued.

He did it for promotion of the film, of course, but I was still happy he came to Toronto. I didn’t have time to see them at the time because of my film-going schedule during Hot Docs. After the festival a lot of them had been painted over, but I was able to check out one of the pieces a couple weeks ago because of the foresight of the building owner at the corner of Front and Church to put a plexi-glass plate over the now infamous street art. Check it out:

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Anton Kuerti Music Video

During May I also designed a music video I enjoyed very much called, Notes From the Kuerti Keyboard, for Anton Kuerti, as he played a piece from Beethoven. I had heard of Anton before but I didn’t realize how successful he was until I googled him. As it turns out Anton Kuerti is Canada’s foremost classical pianist and was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2007.

I was also happy that we used a Model 1 Underwood antique typewriter from the 1890′s, courtesy of The Martin Howard Collection of Antique Typewriters. Martin Howard was fantastic and showed the filmmakers, David, Katarina, and I all of his many antique typewriters. We were very grateful for his hospitality.

The music video was also a joy because I was allowed and encouraged to create an early 1900′s artists’ world, with a feeling of the surreal for the main set. It is not often that I get the chance to a) do period b) do surreal. I can’t wait to see the finished product!

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A look at the main set my team and I created for the music video with Anton Kuerti at work on the antique typewriter.

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Conan

In 2004, I graced the cover of 24 hours, a daily newspaper here in Toronto, hugging Conan O’Brien at MuchMusic. Six years later he signed my copy after his Toronto stop of his Legally Prohibited From Being Funny on Television Tour at Massey Hall. I’ve loved the man since I was nine years old so this was a big deal for me. He was my adolescent hero and made growing up a little bit easier and a lot funnier.

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It has been a beautiful and fruitful Spring thus far and I am hoping for it to continue. So what have you been up to lately? Have you seen any of the films I mentioned or Conan’s tour? What did you think?

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Rose XO.

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FILM REVIEWS: Toronto International Film Festival 2009

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As some of you already know or suspect:

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I ♥ Film… A LOT.

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Since I was fourteen I have been obsessed with movies, so of course, after moving to Toronto, I found myself my new favourite holiday: The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). For any dedicated cinephile it’s better than Christmas. This year I broke my record and saw 44 films in 10 days (Sept 10-19/09) while also working the festival which led to about 3-5 hours of sleep every night. There are still about 100 films I missed that I would have loved to have seen but you can’t be in two places at once. C’est la vie.

For those of you who aren’t familiar, TIFF is the largest public film festival in the world. It’s kind of like putting kids loose in a candy store or trying to ride as many rides as you can at Disneyland before close, except Disneyland has nothing on TIFF.

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George Clooney at the Premiere of 'Up in the Air'

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Does Disneyland have George Clooney? I think not.

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I am there for the movies but if you can see celebrities along the way, why the hell not? At work I don’t take pictures of actors unless it’s to photograph their characters relationship to the set or for sets and props continuity but during TIFF I become an amateur paparazzi. All photos in this post were taken by me. It becomes a game in and of itself: How many celebrities can I spot?

Anyhow, this years festival was wonderful and I saw some amazing gems that I hope everyone gets to see and of course some I’d rather forget. Now that I’ve had a good month to ponder the films I devoured at this years TIFF I feel more comfortable reviewing them. So here now is Part I of my TIFF Movie Review Wrapup. Enjoy!

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Carey Mulligan and Peter Sarsgaard at the premiere of 'An Education'

Carey Mulligan and Peter Sarsgaard at the Premiere of 'An Education'

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Note: Nick Hornby is my favourite author. This was his first visit to Canada and I never thought I would actually ever get to meet him. I did and he was lovely. I became a little verklempt which never happens to me.

Note: Nick Hornby is my favourite author. This was his first visit to Canada and I never thought I would actually ever get to meet him. I did and he was lovely. I became a little verklempt which rarely happens to me but this was different.

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1) An Education 4/5

Director: Lone Scherfig

Country: United Kingdom

Starring: Carey Mulligan as Jenny, Peter Sarsgaard as David, Alfred Molina as Jenny’s father, Dominic Cooper, Olivia Williams, Rosamund Pike, and Emma Thompson

Set in a London suburb in 1961, sixteen year old Jenny dreams of a different life for herself. One that doesn’t involve her father forcing her to do schoolwork 24/7 so she can get into Oxford- his dream, not hers. She wants to see the world and read interesting books and go to interesting clubs and live life to the fullest in Paris. Life takes an unexpected turn when she meets David, a much older man who can sweet talk just about anybody into doing anything, even Jenny’s father. David lives the life Jenny wishes she had. He makes her dreams come true by sweeping her off her feet to Paris and taking her to interesting places and buying her expensive things but when Jenny starts to question how he is able to afford all this she starts to realize nothing is what it seems. I don’t want to spoil the rest so I won’t say much more about the story.

Written by Nick Hornby (of High Fidelity and About a Boy fame) based on a memoir by Lynn Barber, I fell in love with this film despite its commercially broad appeal. We may know to some degree that this may end tragically but Nick lets the characters tell this story so impeccably with his trademark wit, humour, yearning, and sadness. We don’t care if we can foresee the inevitable outcome but we just want to take the ride with this lovely girl as she comes of age and explores the idea that an education will take her further than a man ever could.

I really loved the theme that seemed to be quite prevalent in the 1960’s: Education/Independence vs Marriage/Dependence. This movie was everything Mona Lisa Smile tried to be but failed miserably.

I also loved the costume design. It was spot on with all the right 1961 trends and looks that are timeless and classic. Jenny’s change is quite substantial and the costume design along with the production design really emphasizes her two worlds. Tartan school uniforms to elegant cocktail dresses and loads of eyeliner. Great stuff.

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Willem Dafoe at 'Antichrist' Premiere

Willem Dafoe at 'Antichrist' Premiere

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2) Antichrist 4/5

Director: Lars Von Trier

Country: Denmark/Sweden/France/Italy

Starring: Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg

The story revolves around a couple who’s toddler climbs out of his crib and jumps out of a window to his death while they (the couple) are having sex in the other room which Von Trier chooses to show explicitly. Symbolism abound in this Tarkovsky-esque film, the wife collapses at the funeral and spirals further into grief and despair. The husband decides to care for his grieving wife as he is already a psychologist. He plies her with pop psychology techniques which Von Trier himself has made known he hates pop psychology. In one exercise he figures out which place would give her the most anxiety and brings her there to deal with her fear and anxiety head on. This place is their cottage in the woods called “Eden”. Here, things go from bad to worse and I won’t tell you much more only that if you watch this film don’t eat before it because your stomach will turn. From this point on it’s practically torture porn. There are some beatings, a screw into a leg, and not to mention most disgusting of all genital mutilation. All of this is graphically and explicitly shown. I guarantee you’ve never seen anything like it and you won’t know what to think after it. In the end, what is the film about? Women and nature are the Antichrist could sum up what I think Von Trier was going for.

You may have noticed I rated this film well. Originally when I came out of the theatre I would have given it 3/5 just for shock value but after sitting on it I continue to be haunted and think about this film and what it was trying to say. Was it wild in getting it across? Yes. But was it successful in doing what it wanted to do? Yes. So overall I recommend this film to those who can stomach it. If you enjoyed the film Martyrs you might enjoy this film.

As a side note as well the cinematography and production design perfectly created this anti-reality where I thought Von Trier may fail but the most pleasing thing about the film is its visual look although I could have went without some of the shaky camera movement sometimes.

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Jennifer's Body Premiere

R-L: Karyn Kusama, Jason Reitman, Diablo Cody, Johnny Simmons, Adam Brody, and Amanda Seyfried at the Premiere of 'Jennifer's Body'

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Amanda Seyfried and Megan Fox at the Premiere of 'Jennifer's Body'

Amanda Seyfried and Megan Fox at the Premiere of 'Jennifer's Body'

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3) Jennifer’s Body 3.5/5

Director: Karyn Kusama

Country: USA

Starring: Megan Fox as Jennifer, Amanda Seyfried as Needy, J.K Simmons, Adam Brody, Johnny Simmons as Chip, and Amy Sedaris

Written by Juno scribe, Diablo Cody, this story also revolves around quirky words and teen angst but this time the characters are out for blood. Jennifer and Needy play BFF’s who are complete opposites. Jennifer is sexy and slutty; Needy is pretty but shy and bookish. Needy has a steady boyfriend named Chip while Jennifer chooses to play the field. One night they go together to the local crap bar where some emo punk band is playing. Jennifer decides to ‘get with’ the lead singer (Adam Brody) even after Needy exposes he only wants her because he thinks she’s a virgin (which she is most definitely not). A fire breaks out before anybody can go home with anybody and Jennifer and Needy miraculously survive with the band as many locals perish. Jennifer still goes home with the band despite her better judgment. Nothing is the same after this. Jennifer turns into a ravenous man-eating teen vampire and hilarity and scares ensue. Needy is left to figure it all out and save the day. This go around she won’t be letting Jennifer take control not to mention, eat her boyfriend.

All of this said you must be thinking wow, what a predictable piece of garbage. Predictable, maybe, but damn it was fun to watch and I hate vampire movies. Diablo’s writing and Kusama’s playful direction made these ladies badass, funny and hip all at the same time. Before the film Kusama had said the film was a cross between Carrie and Heathers and she wasn’t lying. I enjoyed this film for all of those reasons. I also went into it with zero expectations so that may have helped. Amanda Seyfried was pitch perfect as always and the perfect antithesis to Megan Fox’s dim-witted bubbly super-bitch. Megan was a bit of a one-note but it worked for this role. All in all a fun film but won’t be up for any awards other than MTV of course.

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4) The Happiest Girl in the World 2/5

Director: Radu Jude

Country: Netherlands/Romania

Starring: Andreea Bosneag, Vasile Muraru, Violeta Haret Popa, and Serban Pavlu

The story centers around Delia, a year short of high school graduation, who wins a car in a mail-in contest for a juice company. In order to receive this prize car all she has to do is act happy in a juice commercial. More  obstacles lie in her way though since her parents have already planned for the sale of her car without her consent, which they don’t need, because she is under eighteen. Delia’s parents want to use the money to expand their business since they have recently fallen on hard times. Delia protests the car is hers to decide and she wants it so she can travel and use it for College.

I found the premise intriguing but in fruition I was less than pleased. Although I think my own bias killed the film once I realized we were going to spend the duration of the film on the set of a commercial. I hate commercial sets for all the reasons the film made apparent. They are boring and completely void of creativity and feeling and advertisers are often idiotic and dim. Now having said this not all are like this and I try and associate myself with good companies but for the most part I stay away from commercials altogether. Which is why watching a commercial set for almost two hours was more like nails on a chalk board. The story was also so excruciatingly simple that it didn’t lend itself to any further thoughts other than the life on this commercial set. By the end I liked Delia and the fight she had in her to not take no for an answer but it was painful getting to that point. I am a huge fan of the new wave of Romanian cinema but this was sub-par. Wish I could say it was better.

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5) Cleanflix 2.5/5

Director: Andrew James and Joshua Ligairi

Country: USA

With: Daniel Thompson, Ray Lines, and Neil LaBute

Cleanflix is a documentary about a company who took it upon themselves to start editing violence, sex, and anything else they deemed inappropriate out of Hollywood films for the Mormon community. In the late eighties Mormon prophets began to ban Mormons from watching R-rated films as they believed it corrupted the mind once viewed. Thus ‘Clean Flicks’ opened up business in the late nineties, when editing software became user-friendly, editing The Matrix, Titanic and other popular films that Mormons felt they were missing out on. Other companies took note and started doing this as well but broke the rules that Clean Flicks made clear so no laws were broken: edits and rentals must be on a buy one, rent one basis with no mass copying of discs. Once the law was officially being broken Hollywood was able to swoop in and take down each company one by one. Filmmakers made their opinions clear and headed out to dissolve all censoring companies. Problem is just like Internet movie pirating, once it is started it is very hard to stop it and monitor new companies.

I really loved the premise of this documentary and it was one of the first films I put on my list as a must-see but the film left me cold with what felt to me like an amateur rough cut. The filmmakers even admitted they were editing the film down to the last minute before TIFF. It would have been fine had they stuck to the issue of morals and censorship but instead halfway through the film it no longer becomes a film about ‘Clean Flicks’ the company, and they choose to follow one of the copycat censurers, Daniel Thompson who had his own sex scandal in a censored video store himself. We gain nothing out of following this man because we don’t really sympathize with him nor really care what happens to him. Had they brought the film back to the issues at hand I would have felt better about the film. Also it didn’t help when the quality of the cinematography was weak as was some of the animation. I really wished it was better but it was mediocre at best. However, the strength of the original concept and theme were enough for me to give it 2.5/5.

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Now I’ve decided 5 reviews is enough for today. I’ve been trying to write more of them but I just don’t have the energy which is why it’s taken this long just to get any post up about my time at TIFF this year. I’ll try and put more reviews up soon.

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Have you seen any of the films I reviewed? What did you think?

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Rose XO.

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