Archive for the ‘Canadian’ Category
Sunday, August 23rd, 2009
“Sometimes the crow comes back…”
You know how sometimes bands come out with a “Greatest Hits” album after making only two individual albums? Example – remember the Olsen twins? Mary-Kate and Ashley, the ones who had a media empire of vast proportions and were terrifically interesting until they became of age? Anyway. At one point, I worked in a CD store that stocked eight Olsen Twins albums. They recorded music, you see. Of the eight albums they had out, three of them were “Greatest Hits” albums. I’m not sure the math really adds up there.
Which is why I’m skeptical of the marketing that went into the DVD The Best of the Crow Stairway To Heaven, out August 25th from Alliance Films. I mean, it lasted 22 episodes. That’s it. Are there really five episodes that stand head and shoulders above the rest? I guess so. But if these five episodes represent the cream of the crop, I am certainly not up for watching the rest of the show. It occurs to me, having never seen the show, that I might have liked to see the five most relevant episodes. Like, the first, which might well explain who the hell this Eric Draven guy actually is!
Over the course of the five episodes I learned that he is a guy (a rock star!) whose girlfriend was raped and murdered. Then he was murdered. Or maybe he was murdered first. I don’t know. But then he came back from the dead, and had a white face, and knew martial arts. And you know what? That’s all I ever learned, really. There is a crow that flies around him. Is it bringing him messages? Or just a pet? Does he have any superhuman abilities, or is he just a martial arts guy? What, exactly, is he back on Earth to do? Why was he brought back from the dead? Why does he choose to help certain people and not others? How does he know that cop and that little girl? And who IS that little girl?
Instead of giving an overview of the series, the DVD just contains five episodes. In one, a creepy group of scientists tries to use Eric Draven (the Crow (Marc Dacascos)) and his brain so an old man can live forever. In another, there is a female crow-thing who shows up and looks for an abducted baby. Then there’s an episode that teaches us that Draven once had a brother who turns out to be Corey Feldman, and finally one that pays lip service to his past as a good ol’ rock-n-roller. With some kind of mind-messing guy who can make people do his bidding and some guy named Funboy who I think we’re supposed to recognize. You know, had we watched the first fifteen episodes of the show.
All I got, from these five episodes, was a painfully Canadian, badly acted show about a martial artist who doesn’t seem to actually know martial arts, a guy with abilities that are never explained…or even shown. Does he even have abilities? Other than already being dead? And Corey Feldman. Silly, washed-up, over-acting Corey Feldman. That’s what we have here. I went on the net to look up all 22 episodes of The Crow so I could figure out how spread out these episodes were. It turns out they’re actually five episodes, in a row, from the latter half of the run. If these five ran consecutively, and I still couldn’t follow one to the next, I’m not surprised this show was canceled. I’m also not terribly convinced that they are the “Best Of”. Instead I suspect it’s more likely that they are “Five Episodes In A Row Chosen At Random”.
Either way, I don’t really understand “Best Of” DVDs of TV shows. Fans likely own the Complete Series already, if they are fans of this show. Even though they shouldn’t be if they have even half-decent taste. After all, the Complete Series is only 22 episodes, and can’t be that expensive. So to whom does the “Best Of” appeal? Not having seen this show ever before, I could be convinced to pick up this DVD were I to spot it in the bargain bin for $1.49, maybe. Now that I have seen it, I could not be convinced to do that.
Saturday, August 22nd, 2009
“I have a child growing inside me. If it’s a boy, I will teach him how to love. If it’s a girl, I will teach her the world is hers.”
Language: French w/ English subtitles, or English dubbing
Starring: Sebastien Huberdeau, Karine Vanasse, Evelyne Brochu, Maxime Gaudette
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Run time: 76 minutes
DVD distributor: Alliance Films
It’s tough to take subject matter as dark and tragic as the massacre of 14 women by a woman-hating, anti-feminist lunatic in 1989. It’s tough to turn it into a film, and it’s even tougher to turn it into a film people might want to watch. And I salute director Denis Villeneuve and the rest of the people involved with Polytechnique for daring to do so. And although I thought this was a very good film, I can’t say that I enjoyed watching it. And I really don’t know how many people would. Knowing that this is very real, that this crazy stuff actually happened, and that this asshole really existed, makes the movie that much more difficult to watch.
I like the fact that Polytechnique the movie, and the DVD box, never say the name of the killer. I like the idea of never publishing or publicizing the names of anyone who commits a horrific act like this one. And therefore I won’t use his name in this review. But I also find this to be a little disingenuous, both on the filmmakers’ part and, to be honest, on mine as well. Making sure that this “killer” is nameless means you aren’t identifying the real life madman. However, that supposes that the reason he did this horrible thing was to be famous, to be an icon if only to a few like-minded maniacs. Like, he thought his name and deeds would live on.
And here’s where I find the editing out of his name to be disingenuous. By making the film, you are ensuring that people remember the events of December 6th, 1989. And you are making certain that the deeds of this man are not forgotten. I think that trying to separate the man from the deed is a little bit futile and certainly a little specious. You can’t make a film about someone and ignore them at the same time. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m glad this film was made. I don’t think the Ecole Polytechnique tragedy should ever be forgotten, and it has been a rallying cry for women the world over for the past 20 years. Some good can come of something so horrible.
Anyway, I can’t really reconcile the two things in my head, and I am as guilty of disingenuousness as are the filmmakers here, because I am following their lead and not mentioning the real name of the real killer. I really don’t feel great about it, but I have decided that since I am reviewing their movie, and I respect their movie, and this is how they decided to do it, then I will follow suit. Enough about that.
Polytechnique follows a bunch of characters, but three in particular. J-F (Sebastien Huberdeau), a bearded and distracted engineering student who has the hots for fellow student Valerie (Karine Vanasse). And the killer (Maxime Gaudette). When it comes to the killer, we hear his reasoning, the notes he wrote, and he reads aloud the letter he wrote that was found in his jacket after he killed himself. The letter is word-for-word, and I believe the shooting is as exact a reproduction of the actual events as possible. We get a little bit of a window into this guy’s head, and it is certainly a frightening vision.
The movie introduces us to these characters at the beginning, and they go about their business during a regular school day. Which of course it was. There is a brief moment with Valerie, where she goes to an interview for an internship, where it is clear that the women in the engineering department are dealing with a patriarchal system on many levels. It’s an interesting juxtaposition with the rage and insanity of the killer, who is targeting these women because they are “feminists” – in a sense, he has similar (if way more radical and insane) views to the man who interviews Valerie for the job.
Then we see the massacre, which lasts forever and is terrifying, all the more so because we know it was real. Then there is the aftermath, and the way each character deals with his or her role in the shooting and killing, and the fact that they were able to survive while so many others did not. It’s a heartbreaking yet surprisingly uplifting ending, but it felt a little hollow to me. The whole movie has dealt with invented characters, and one that was all too real. Valerie and Jean-Francois were not real students at Ecole Polytechnique, because the film-makers (as they state) want to make sure that, out of respect for the real victims, they didn’t base any characters on real people.
That’s all fine, but the most horrific stuff in the movie is real. It all happened, just like that. The most powerful words are those terrible ones written, genuinely, by the perpetrator of this disgusting event. So when the movie attempted to add a moral, and an uplifting feel, and a phoenix-from-the-ashes inspirational ending, I was acutely aware that the words that were coming out of Valerie were words written by a script writer, and not those of one of the real survivors of the Polytechnique tragedy. (I could be wrong – this could well be a real letter written by a real person. If I am wrong, someone please correct me – but if I’m wrong, the movie should have made this clear, either way.)
I am very glad someone decided, 20 years later, to make this movie. Polytechnique is as important as it is good. I’m not sure what the audience will be. I leave it up to you to decide whether you want to watch such a tragic event unfold on a screen in your home. If you do, the DVD comes out August 25th from Alliance Films.
Tuesday, August 18th, 2009
“We wrote that a year after our first anniversary.”
There have been a lot of mockumentaries made by Canadians about mullet-wearing douchebag losers over the past few years. Fubar springs immediately to mind as the best of them. Even Trailer Park Boys fits the mold, minus the mullets. (Unless you count Corey and Trevor.) But it takes a certain amount of brilliance, or maybe just a modicum of brains, to make a movie as funny and stupid as Fubar. Rock Paper Scissors: The Way Of The Tosser, out August 18th from Alliance Films, is not that smart. In fact, it isn’t even close. This is one awful, almost unwatchable movie.
It’s a mockumentary about a mullet-wearing douchebag idiot named Gary Brewer. He is a competitive Rock, Paper, Scissors player, and this appears to consume his entire life. He eats, sleeps and breathes Rock, Paper, Scissors, and his girlfriend appears to do so as well. I guess she would have to. She lives there with him. Tim Doiron plays Gary, and April Mullen plays his girlfriend Holly. They have a bit of fun with the idea that both Gary and Holly have the same last name, but are not (yet) related. But the whole bit seems unnecessary and contrived, as does just about every frame of the movie.
The Brewers live with a weird, spaced-out freaky guy named Trevor (Ryan Tilley) who serves no purpose in the film at all other than to make bizarre statements and do really odd things. The problem is, he isn’t funny. He’s there only as a comic foil, someone who does crazy and disturbing things for laughs. Like Flava Flav in Public Enemy. But he isn’t funny. It isn’t his fault, I think. Not much is funny in this movie. There is the obligatory villain, a creepy Rock Paper Scissors champ named Baxter Pound (Peter Pasyk), who is Gary’s lifelong nemesis. His function is similar to Trevor’s – he is there to do creepy and funny things that aren’t really creepy. Or funny.
Then there’s the door-to-door karaoke guy, and the old former Rock Paper Scissors champ who sits at a bar and is always drunk, and the creepy neighbours who are awestruck that a professional celebrity athlete (they mean Gary) lives next door. Only those neighbours, played by Karine Dion and Joseph DiMambro, provide any actual laughs in the movie. One scene where they discuss which is their favourite “toss” in Rock Paper Scissors (like, do you prefer Rock, or Paper, or Scissors…get it) is the only scene in the film that even made me smile.
The rest is painful and awkward and just…powerfuly…unfunny. There are absolutely awful, excruciating “plot twists” which are ludicrous at best and just plain stupid at worst. Holly has a fear of scissors. Like, the actual, physical scissors. She can’t even see them without freaking out. Watching her freak out at the sight of scissors is surprisingly boring, and decidedly dumb. Then there’s the big problem with Gary’s game. He simply can’t, ever, throw paper. He seems, in fact, to throw scissors almost every single time, because that’s his “power throw”. I hate to make a comparison between this and a truly great mockumentary, but here goes.
What made This Is Spinal Tap so incredible (and, for that matter, Fubar, Best in Show, A Mighty Wind and Waiting For Guffman) was the fact that every frame of the movie was funny. What made these films classics was that every frame of the movies was plausible. These could be real people. The one moment in Spinal Tap that strains credibility is the one where they describe the spontaneous combustion of their drummer while on stage. But they are so straight-faced, and Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer are so dedicated to staying in character, that we can almost believe that this event took place.
“Rock is like the moon…except smaller.”
The idea in this film that Gary never, ever, under any circumstances, throws paper, or that Holly is terrified of scissors, is like Spinal Tap throwing in the twist that David St. Hubbins can’t look at a guitar without crying, or that Derek Smalls refuses to ever play any string on his bass except for the G string. It would mean the movie utterly loses any semblance of plausibility, and therefore it would lose a substantial portion of its impact. Then again, Rock Paper Scissors never had any impact to begin with. This movie is just dreadful, in almost every way. There is one good line from Gary and Holly during the entire film.
“Thank you baby Jesus, for shining your ever-loving light on our asses and faces.”
OK, that made me laugh. But that’s it. The one scene with the neighbours and that line. How an 82-minute movie can feel interminable, I have no idea. But this one does. It goes on and on and on and I realize I’m doing the same in this review. No more. Just don’t bother with this movie.
Tuesday, July 28th, 2009
Language: French only
Starring: Pierre-Francois Legendre, Francois Letoureau, Remi-Pierre Paquin, Patrice Robitaille, Catherine Trudeau
Run time: 9 hours, 15 minutes
DVD distributor: Alliance Films
I have not seen seasons one and two of Les Invincibles, a French TV series from Radio-Canada. Season Three comes to DVD today, July 28th, from Alliance Films, and it is the final season in what appears to have been a very, very good show. At first, I thought the series was about four guys who were superheroes hiding their identity from their wives and girlfriends. That’s because when I started watching Season Three, I was right under the central vac outlet in the house, and my wife was running the vacuum, and I couldn’t hear a thing. All I saw was weird guys in white suits and gas masks appearing at dinner parties and on porches in mysterious fashion.
When the vacuum finally ended, I discovered that this DVD is French only. No subtitles, no dubbing, no English of any kind. From what I understand, however, an English-language version of this series is being considered. And that’s a good thing. This series is funny. It’s charming and dramatic, and it’s not about superheroes. Well. Not really. It uses a superhero format with four guys who have signed a pact to break up with their girlfriends and live an unpredictable, chaotic life together. That was in season one.
Now, we’re in season three. And of course, like every guy who tries to live free and clear and unencumbered, it can only last so long. As season three opens, all the guys are in committed relationships and one of them, Carlos (Pierre-Francois Legendre), is in the process of getting married. But old habits die hard, and Remi (Remi-Pierre Paquin) manages to screw up the wedding by getting drunk in the back of a limo with a couple of hotties, then driving the newly married couple to the airport, drunk, and crashing into some parked cars and then taking off across the parking lot.
Even funnier is Pierre-Antoine (Francois Letourneau), who is a psychiatrist. He is late for Carlos’ wedding, but he has an elderly patient waiting for him. So he tries to conduct a session with her in his car as he drives her home, but she refuses to go home because her kids are nuts, so he brings her to the wedding. And leaves her in the car for the whole thing. But at least he is kind and thoughtful enough to bring her a small plate of sweets when the wedding finally ends several hours later.
The series is very good, and very funny, and I’m glad they’re thinking about making an English-language version. But I’m worried as well. The best thing about the show is the chemistry between the four stars, and without that this show would be average at best. I also don’t know if the French humour would translate well into English. I guest we’ll see, if this actually happens. Is the concept alone good enough to make for a great show, or have the people behind Les Invincibles caught lightning in a bottle?
Monday, July 27th, 2009
“The baby we got was not the one we ordered. We got a dud. A lemon.”
Countries: Canada, UK, Central African Republic
Starring: Colm Feore, Amanda Plummer, Lothaire Bluteau
Eye Candy: Jennifer Tilly, Donna D’Errico, Andie McDowell
Director: Mary McGuckian
Run time: 106 minutes
DVD distributor: Alliance Films
There is one big problem with Inconceivable. And it is big enough to almost entirely ruin what could, otherwise, be a reasonably funny and solid movie. And it’s the filming. And the number of characters. OK, two problems. But they’re BIG. The filming is strange. At first, it’s kind of neat. As a way to open the movie, it works. It’s like a series of snippets that all run on top of each other, so one conversation blends into the next conversation. In that opening scene, Dr. Freeman (Colm Feore) is discussing artificial insemination with a series of patients. Nine patients, to be exact. Which means that we hear him say almost the exact same words, nine different times.
OK to start a movie. But five minutes in, it’s time to stop. And thirty minutes in, it is absolutely infuriating. Every woman Feore is dealing with seems to require equal screen time. So at every step of the way in the film, all nine of them have their thirty seconds on screen, and by the time he repeats the same exact words to the fifth one, I want to dunk my head in a vat of snapping turtles. When the movie was over, I felt the same sense of sweet, sweet relief that I feel when I hold my urine in during a long drive home, then finally and gloriously release it into the toilet bowl. It’s like that. This movie is like urine pressing on your bladder.
It’s too bad, because the movie could have, and should have, been much better than urine. Feore is solid as always, and each of the supporting characters is interesting in their own way. Toward the end of the movie, as we start to learn the stories of the gay couple with the surrogate, the lesbian couple, the mother and daughter in line for a big inheritance, and the weird train wreck of a woman that is Jennifer Tilly, I was far more interested. Again, the structure of the movie isn’t the problem. In fact, the movie is structured really well. It’s the editing that’s awful. It’s like a small child making a mosaic with movie frames instead of Barney stickers.
Do kids still watch Barney? Is that show still on TV? Am I really that old? I bet kids who grew up on Barney are now playing for the Cubs and running for office. I probably am that old. Anyway. The movie centers around the discovery, some time after eight of the nine women, remarkably, get pregnant, that all of their kids look exactly the same. Which would seem to indicate that they all have the same father, even though they brought their own donors with them. They should have eight different fathers. (Now, ideally, it would seem to me that for eight children to look exactly the same, they would need to have both the same father and the same mother. Otherwise, they would likely look maybe a little similar.)
There are some funny performances, like Donna D’Errico as a dumb blonde hippie lesbian and Sarah Stockbridge as the foul-mouthed blonde Trixie. There are some dark performances as well, like Tilly’s desperate, mournful and sad one or Amanda Plummer’s twitchy, painful one. But they are all wasted by the editing and the repetitive nature of every single scene. There is a good movie in here. But the editor sure didn’t find it. I was thinking about calling out the editor in this review, but it occurs to me that it is almost certainly not his fault. Although he has no other credits. It could be someone telling him how to put the movie together, and then it’s that person’s fault. I won’t even call out the director, just in case it isn’t her fault either.
But it’s someone’s fault, and that person should not be involved with movies. Inconceivable came out July 14th from Alliance Films.
Sunday, July 5th, 2009
“No child can live alone.”
In the case of the child in Before Tomorrow, “alone” doesn’t mean the same thing it would to you or me. A child who is “alone” in our world might be orphaned, and might have to go to a foster home or to an orphanage. And there have been plenty of movies about children in situations such as those. I don’t think, however, that I have ever seen a movie about a child in a situation such as the one in which young Maniq (Paul-Dylan Ivalu) finds himself. When a plague wipes out his entire village, except for Maniq and his elderly grandmother Ninioq (Madeline Ivalu), the two of them are truly, utterly alone.
Before Tomorrow, out July 7th from Alliance Films, is the third volume in the acclaimed “Nunavut trilogy”, which also features the films Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner and The Journals of Knud Rasmussen. I have yet to see Knud Rasmussen, but I have seen The Fast Runner, and it’s breathtaking. Before Tomorrow is not quite on that level, but it is a major accomplishment nonetheless. The authentic Inuit village, weapons and canoes are impressive, and I was very keen to see the “making of” featurette when the movie ended. It was not terribly informative. But there was some Inuit throat-singing on the featurette that was pretty cool.
So the special features are rather weak, and that’s too bad. I was hoping for more insight and history behind the Inuit way of life in this epoch. But I did get a lot of that from the movie. We get to see the Inuit hunting seals and fish, paddling sealskin canoes and going about life the way they would have done about 100 years ago. Young Maniq is very close to his grandmother, because he spends a lot of time with her. He is not yet old enough to join the men when they go out on the hunt, so he stays with Grandma while she sews and helps prepare the food. As Ninioq is getting very old, she begins to be left behind during all the travels, and soon it’s just her and Maniq alone in their tents with another old woman who will die soon.
The idea is that the group (including Maniq’s father) will come back to get the three of them (assuming there will be only two left by that time) when the hunt is over. But for some reason they never come. Eventually, Ninioq and Maniq decide that they will wait no longer, and they get into a canoe and start the long trek back to the village. It’s a tough slog for an old woman and a little boy, but they tough it out and get back. But when they reach the village, everyone is dead. Some kind of plague has wiped them all out, and the grandmother and her grandson are basically stranded in the Arctic with no one to help them survive. Grandma has the skills to survive, but maybe not the strength. And Maniq is still very young.
Up until now, the movie has been very slow. There have been a lot of musical montages of gorgeous wilderness scenes, and a lot of long, slow conversations and stories told around the fire. And once Maniq and Ninioq are alone, the movie gets even slower. Now the wilderness appears even bleaker, the songs last longer, and the stories the grandmother tells the boy make up almost all of the dialogue. There is a wolf attack, and a few tense moments here and there, but for the most part the last half of the film is all about the grandmother and the boy.
Ninioq appears to be just willing herself, against all odds, to stay alive for the sake of the boy. And Maniq, although he’s pretty capable for such a young child, is still just a child so he doesn’t always understand their predicament. Although the movie is incredibly slow, that’s generally a good thing. The relationship is the key, and little dialogue is needed to convey the powerful bond between grandmother and child. I would have liked to have a little bit more of an ending than there was, and I can understand why my girlfriend was furious, after waiting through a slow-moving movie for what proves to be a rather unsatisfying ending. But the movie rests on the relationship between a boy and his grandma, and the harsh, unforgiving environment that surrounds them. On those grounds, Before Tomorrow is sensational.
Monday, June 15th, 2009
“A family wants to adopt her baby, but…they don’t want her.”
To the sounds of “Roll Over Beethoven”, “Clap Your Hands”, “Why Do Fools Fall In Love” and other sounds of the 60s, a young boy and a young girl come of age in yet another Canadian coming-of-age-in-the-1960s movie. Following on the heels of A No-Hit, No-Run Summer and Maman Est Chez Le Coiffeur, 45 R.P.M. is basically the same film. It’s still pretty good though, thanks to some decent performances by the stars, Jordan Gavaris and Justine Banszky, and some great character actors like Michael Madsen and Amanda Plummer.
Parry Tender (Gavaris) is fifteen years old, and he’s desperate to get out of the small, remote northern Canadian town in which he’s stuck. His tomboy best friend, Luke (Banszky), is even more desperate to leave than is Parry. (Luke is such an effective tomboy, in fact, that I didn’t even know she was a girl until about twenty minutes into the movie.) Of the two, Banszky is the better actor, and she also has the more compelling character in the end. The two of them decide that the best way to get out of their small town predicament is to win a radio contest being run by a big New York City radio station. Thanks to a strange atmospheric anomaly, they are able to get that station if they hold the radio just right on the roof of Parry’s house.
Parry is not really a very interesting main character. He’s similar to many other disaffected, withdrawn fifteen-year-olds in so many other movies, but that’s about it. He doesn’t go to school, and he has a pretty brutal personal history. But he doesn’t really talk to people, even those close to him, and he never really gave me any reason to like him. Luke, on the other hand, is a likeable young girl who appears to be in love with Parry, who remains oblivious. Complicating things is the pretty new girl in school, Debbie Baxter. Debbie is played by the very pretty Mackenzie Porter (incidentally, she is the sister of Canadian Idol guy Kalan Porter. Not that it matters. Just some trivia.)
Debbie’s father (Michael Madsen) has been stationed at the base in Northern Canada, and he’s the kindest, smartest adult in the whole movie. But he is badly underused. Also underused is Amanda Plummer, who plays Luke’s mother. She represents the other end of adulthood, and she is pretty much the ultimate Mother From Hell. The movie spends too much time on Parry and Luke, or Parry and Debbie. And Parry is just not as interesting as the other characters. Every time a conflict appears to be brewing between him and one of the girls, or him and his adoptive father, or him and the local cop, it disappears pretty quickly and nothing ever comes to a head.
The one thing that does come to a head is the story of Luke, who ends up being forced into a dramatic and devastating revelation that will change her life and Parry’s forever. Which is pretty standard for a coming-of-age-in-the-60s movie. In the end, this is just a standard movie. It’s OK, and it paints a nice picture of small-town Canada, remote youth culture in the 60s, and the Cold War tension in military towns. But there isn’t much more to the film, the radio contest proves to be ultimately irrelevant (aside from providing an excellent soundtrack) and without some good performances (especially that of Banszky), it could be pretty boring and pretty bad. 45 R.P.M. comes out on DVD June 16th from Alliance Films.
Monday, June 15th, 2009
There are too many classic lines over the course of the seven seasons of Trailer Park Boys to list. Too many classic lines, too many brilliant and memorable guest stars and secondary characters and hilarious moments. Thanks to Juno, the most famous person to appear on TPB was Ellen Page in Season Two – totally hilarious by the way. But also rock stars like Sebastian Bach, Gord Downie, Brian Vollmer and Alex Lifeson, and Rita McNeil made that one memorable appearance where she was forced (at gunpoint) to harvest marijuana.
There are too many fantastic plot lines – from Ricky’s marriage to Lucy in Season One to Ellen Page’s hero-worship in Season Two all the way up to the theft of Patrick Swayze’s model train in Season Seven. There really isn’t much to say about the show that fans don’t already know. For those of you who have, somehow, missed the entire seven season run of the show, here is what you need to know. Trailer Park Boys is the best show in the history of Canadian television. It is the funniest show and the most consistently excellent over it’s seven seasons.
The Complete Series of Trailer Park Boys comes out on DVD June 16th from Alliance Films. The box set is merely a re-packaging of the existing DVDs – the three-disc set of the first and second seasons, and then two-disc sets of seasons three through seven. So if you’re a fanatic, and you’ve already purchased all seven seasons, there is no reason to pick this up – no new special features, nothing extra. Well, there is one extra thing. An appropriately cheap-looking lunch bag with a huge marijuana leaf on the front. The DVDs come inside, and you can take them out and use the lunch bag for lunch. Although you probably shouldn’t send it to school with your kids…then again, your kids should probably not be watching Trailer Park Boys anyway. But everyone else should. This IS the best Canadian TV show ever.
Friday, June 5th, 2009
The biggest humanitarian crisis the world over may be the one brought on by the “water wars” – the idea that mega-corporations can actually “own” water. Actually, “own” shouldn’t be in quotation marks. Because they do own it. In hundreds of places around North America, and in thousands of places around the world. Blue Gold is a documentary movie based on a book by Maude Barlow and Tony Clarke of the same name. It takes a look at major water companies trying to buy out the water in the United States, and the people who have fought them every step of the way. It deals with the unscrupulous and evil practices of those companies.
It’s nice to see kids taking an interest in this sort of thing. The story of the kid who convinced his school and the stores in his neighbourhood to stop selling a particular brand of water is sweet and inspirational. The kid (from Carleton Place) who started the Ryan’s Well initiative to provide clean water to people in Africa is amazing. But the thing I took away from the movie more than anything else was the incredible, painful, and heartbreaking suffering felt by the people across the world from us, simply because companies own their water.
There is a story about a village in Africa where the water is tapped and doled out by a big international corporation. When one of the houses in that village caught on fire, the neighbours decided not to put it out – or maybe they couldn’t – because they couldn’t afford the water to do so. The young children inside perished in the flames. And this isn’t the only devastating story brought on by the water wars. There are more, and they are sad and awful and they should never, ever happen in this world. What’s amazing is the level of corruption and indifference to human life and suffering exemplified by these companies.
In many cases, the companies feel that it’s in their best interests to allow waterways to become polluted. The water becomes undrinkable, the people get diseases and die, and when the company comes in to buy the water, they appear to be the saviours of the community when they clean up the pollution and restore the water. Then, they sell it to the very people who have been drinking it and bathing in it for free for so long, at such rates that they can no longer afford to live. This is human behaviour at its worst, it’s going on right now all over the world, and it’s just getting worse as more and more places agree to “privatize” their water. People need to know. And this movie is a great way to learn about it.
Friday, June 5th, 2009
“A world of environmentalists agree.”
This is about the last line of Addicted To Plastic. After saying that a “world of environmentalists agree”, we get a series of clips to close out the film where a world of environmentalists don’t agree. Well. They don’t agree that they are environmentalists. Some say they aren’t, some say they are, some say well…I guess…but they all agree about plastic. That all of us, people around the world, are addicted to the stuff and that we really need to do something about it.
Most of Addicted To Plastic is fairly conventional when it comes to activist documentaries – like in the little animations that explain things like “bioaccumulation” and other complicated terms. I expected to see the things I saw in the film. Landfills full of plastic bottles and plastic bags. Seabirds dying from having eaten plastic. The LEGO factory in Denmark. OK, I didn’t exactly expect to see the LEGO factory. But the environmental impact of thrown away plastic is well known. And although seeing the dissection of a sea bird was poignant, and the sheer volume of plastic garbage in the ocean is staggering, I was hoping for something more, something I hadn’t seen before.
And that’s what makes this documentary excellent. I did get something more. And that is – in a rather unusual twist for an activist doc such as this one – hope. Signs that we are not, after all, moving down some irreconcileable path toward destruction. That people are doing something. And a good half of the movie looked at the people who were recycling plastic and making use of the crap in our landfills. Toronto film maker Ian Connacher travels around the world, visiting an extensive program in Kenya that makes use of plastic waste, even without a recycling program. He goes to India, where in some cases they are buying OUR plastic garbage.
At a university in Germany, we meet scientists who have managed to turn waste plastic back into the oil from which it came, harnessing its energy. We see bioplastics made in Australia that dissolve in water instead of lasting forever. A California company that makes fleece jackets out of waste plastic. A firm called WastAway in Tennessee where an executive talks about how, in the future, people will be mining landfills to get to our old plastic! This is a theme that came up a couple of times through the film – the idea that these massive deposits of plastics will somehow become a worthwhile resource in the future.
The idea is echoed by people who use waste plastic to make car bumpers, flower trays, railroad ties, and carpets. The guy at the carpet factory suggests that landfills will be the oil wells of the future. Now that’s hopeful! It may be a little (or a lot) hyperbole, but it’s nice to hear anyway. And that’s what makes this movie good. The balance between “this is what we’re doing wrong” and “this is what we’re doing right”. Now, there are a few stylistic touches I didn’t like – too many long, slow montages that I really wanted to skip, for example. But the message and the information contained in Addicted To Plastic are the reason the movie was made, and for those reasons it’s more than worthwhile.
Monday, May 25th, 2009
To hear the review
To hear the review
“We need a culprit, Babine. Without enough evidence to convict you, we shall have to blame another in your stead. Your mother is a witch, I hear?”
With those words, the evil priest convinces the village idiot to confess to burning down the church and killing the old priest, thereby condemning him to death. Of course, the young man didn’t do it. But growing up with a reduced mental capacity in a little village in Quebec where the citizens believe that his mother is a witch has not been easy for poor Babine, and the village is split over the young man. Some believe that he is a kind, decent and gentle soul who could do no harm to anyone, and others worry that he might be a malignant creature born of his mother’s witchcraft.
Babine is a fantasy-type movie in the vein of Big Fish, in that strange things happen that appear to be almost supernatural, but are just barely plausible enough to be real. The new priest makes for a terrifically evil (although certainly cartoonish) villain, out to get Babine at all costs and hopefully kill him. Vincent-Guillaume Otis, who plays the charming simpleton, does a terrific job being sweet and innocent and maybe a little mystical as well. The rest of the characters in the movie are certainly vibrant, even though many of them are cartoonish as well. But that’s the nature of the film. Big, dramatic moments (including a hanging with a surprise ending) cloaked in humour and simple caricature.
Babine is funny, it’s sweet, it’s certainly charming and many of the actors are terrific. It isn’t exactly earth-shattering, and it feels a little too familiar to be great. But it’s very good, and well worth a rental. It comes out May 26th from Alliance Films.
Monday, May 25th, 2009
To hear the review
To hear the review
There are no subtitles to help us English folk when watching Le 7e Round on DVD, out May 26th from Alliance Films. This is a boxing-themed miniseries from Quebec that ran on television in 2006. The box set is three DVDs and 11 episodes with no subtitles, no dubbing, and no special features. I can certainly recommend it to people who speak French, but for the rest of Canada it’s useless. Too bad, because this is a pretty good sport series. The boxing scenes are not fantastic. Like, they’re not Raging Bull. However, at the very least they are compelling and look realistic. Like, they’re not Rocky. And that’s a good thing.
Strong performances by Julie LeBreton, Sebastien Delorme, Denis Bernard and others keep the story interesting between the boxing matches, and at times they manage to make the show riveting. What’s really good about the series is that it follows many different camps – boxers, trainers, families, women, dreams, aspirations and heartbreak. The very first episode involves the death of a boxer as a result of injuries sustained in the ring, and the profound effect this has on everyone – his family, his coaches, and of course his opponent.
Le 7e Round is a little uneven, but that’s OK. At its worst, it’s melodramatic and it drags. At its best, it’s pulse-pounding boxing matches and riveting life stories. And it’s more often good than it is slow. A well-acted, well-filmed sports miniseries, Le 7e Round is a great series for boxing fans. And I love the fact that it boils down to a clash in the ring between the rivals who have held up the whole series – depending on the viewer, you could be cheering for either guy to win, because there is no clear good guy and bad guy. That’s great. It’s just too bad there are no subtitles or dubbing for the English audience. I think they would like it too.
Monday, May 25th, 2009
To hear the review
To hear the review
”I’m never going to be OK that J.T.’s gone. But Lakehurst didn’t kill him. One psycho did.”
Degrassi: The Next Generation is a series with a lot of balls. It really has the guts to go all out with it’s subject matter, and as the series has gone on it has become better and better in that it feels less and less like an after school special. Season Seven, out May 26th from Alliance Films, is the best so far, with the students from Lakehurst taking up residence in the halls of Degrassi. Lakehurst was the school attended by the kid who killed J.T. in Season Six. It has since burned down, and the students are now crammed into Degrassi, which has of course created a lot of tension. This is a theme revisited many times over the course of Season Seven.
At the same time, there are all kinds of themes one would expect in a Degrassi series – in the very first episode, there is a shocking date rape, as the virginal Darcy (Shenae Grimes) gets slipped a roofie at a party. The second episode of the season deals with the aftermath of that date rape, and involves a suicide attempt, a chlamydia diagnosis, a gay breakup, podcasts and more Lakehurst-Degrassi tension. All these themes will be revisited throughout Season Seven. Not all episodes of Degrassi are great, in fact some aren’t even good. But the great ones make all of Season Seven worthwhile. It comes out on DVD May 26th from Alliance Films.
Monday, May 18th, 2009
“I can’t see myself doing that”
To hear the review
To hear the reviewOf course, we know that Priscilla, a Brazilian immigrant with no money and no job, will end up doing exactly that. “That” being stripping. She has no papers, she has no job, she has no money, and she has few options other than taking Manu up on his offer to employ her as a nude dancer. Very quickly, Priscilla obtains employment at a local strip club with the assistance of Manu, and we meet the rest of the strippers. Although the first one we see appears to be drugged out of her mind, and dancing to a tune that exists only in her head, somehow Priscilla is captivated by her and decides that maybe, just maybe, this life is for her after all.
Soon, she is touring around to other cities with this other girl, Milagro, making stops in Toronto and elsewhere. They fight, then make up, then fight again. Milagro exemplifies the dangerous, seedy side of the stripper world (because, I suppose, there is another side to it also?) She turns tricks, gets beaten by her manager, does drugs, goes crazy, and so forth. Priscilla, ever the good girl, keeps trying to help her friend, but becomes more and more despondent as she realizes that maybe Milagro is beyond help.
For a movie about strippers, that starts off looking as though it is going to be exploitative more than dramatic, Waitresses Wanted, (or, Serveuses Demandees in French) ends up being a pretty good, dramatic and interesting movie. Clara Furey is very good as the tortured Milagro, and toward the end of the movie I understood her far more than I thought I would. More, in fact, than I thought I wanted to. The movie isn’t as insightful as it could be, and it doesn’t cut as deep as it wants to, but it is certainly better than many others like it.
Waitresses Wanted is a film from Quebec, released last year, that comes to DVD May 19th from Alliance Films. It isn’t brilliant, but it’s good, and worth a rental.
Tuesday, April 28th, 2009
“I have a passion for misery in Africa.”
To hear the review
To hear the review
One of the nice things about Honey I’m In Love, out April 28th from Alliance Films, is that Celine (Guylaine Tremblay) is really irritating. She says things like “I have a passion for misery in Africa” without a trace of irony. She really, really loves her Scrabble nights with her husband’s equally obnoxious work friends. And she is so strangely complacent in her life that she sees no need to talk to her husband or spend any time with him or – most certainly – to have sex with him. So it comes as no surprise when he decides to leave her. In fact, watching this movie, I thought it was a little bit too bad he hadn’t done so much, much sooner.
Of course, Jean-Paul (Marc Messier – no, not that Marc Messier) is leaving his wife for a much younger woman. Nathalie (Helene Bourgeois Leclerc) is 28 and smoking hot, but more than that she is actually terrific. She is an artist, and smart, and funny,and kind and warm as well as being ridiculously sexy. Clearly, Jean-Paul has traded up here. However, leaving his family is of course not as easy as it seems. (A nice touch in the movie is the end-credits screen saying “The End” at about the 25 minute mark of the film, when we clearly know that just mustering up the balls to leave his wife is not really the end of anything.)
“You’re not just giving up your relationship – you’re giving up Scrabble too!”
Now Jean-Paul has to deal with a crazy, furious ex-wife, a clinically depressed and suicidal daughter, and a son who doesn’t seem to care about much of anything, ever. Also, he has to deal with the righteous indignation and fury directed his way by his best friend and co-worker, played hilariously by Remy Girard. All the characters in the movie are amusing in their own way, and there are some terrifically funny lines. The movie is clearly influenced by American Beauty, both in tone (suburban dissatisfaction and infidelity) and in actual style (one pull-back shot at the kitchen table, in particular).
“Could Brad Pitt find happiness with Nana Mouskouri?”
Of course, the comedy is not just light and funny but dark as well. Suicide attempts, overwhelming responsibilities, and a lot of depression permeate the movie, all of which make Jean-Paul question his decision. It’s the right decision, clearly, in terms of following his heart and living the life that will make him happy. But he’s paying a huge price and running around frantically trying to make sure everyone in his family is still OK. Where they seemed to be getting along fine without him while he lived at home, now they appear to be completely unable to function in his absence. Jean-Paul tries as hard as he can to make everything OK, burning the candle at both ends and stressing out to the point where he has a heart attack and ends up in a coma.
“Comas can be restful.”
The finale is one to be expected from a movie such as this one, but it works. Everything about the movie works, especially Messier (Quebec’s Liam Neeson), Tremblay (Quebec’s Annette Bening) and Leclerc (Quebec’s…Charlize Theron? I don’t know. I have run out of analogies. But she’s hot and a terrific actress, so Theron works, OK?). The dialogue is snappy, smart and funny, and for such a dark movie there is a lot of laughter in Le Grand Depart. Highly recommended.