Monday, October 15, 2018

film review on VOD: The King



Written and Directed by: Eugene Jarecki
Starring: Alec Baldwin, Chuck D, Ethan Hawke, Emmylou Harris, James Carville

ChinoKino score: A

Review by Allan Tong

There are countless documentaries about Elvis Presley, but nothing like The King. 

It's a simple premise: drive Elvis' Rolls-Royce across America, and have guests in the backseat tell his life story. But--and here's the difference--reflect on race, class, democracy and militarism in the King's time and today. The effect is puzzling at first, sometimes brilliant and surprisingly insightful about Elvis himself.

Elvis was a poor kid who made it big, the embodiment of the American Dream. But campaign strategist James Carville laments that that dream has vanished, because the disparity between rich and poor has widened too far. That poverty is starkly seen when Elvis' Rolls rolls into his hometown of Tupelo, Mississippi where poor blacks as well as whites feel forgotten.

Memphis, the home of Sun Records, is little better. It was the center of the Civil Rights Movement and where Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968. Race dominates this film which explores the thorny issue of whether Elvis culturally appropriated "Negro" music of the early-1950's. Elvis historian Greil Marcus, The Wire creator David Simon, and Chuck D (who called Elvis a racist in "Fight The Power") debate the issue--and their discussion is fascinating, though uncomfortable.

So, was Elvis a racist, or did he simply blend the music he grew up hearing--white country and black blues? Then again, why didn't Elvis endorse the Civil Rights Movement, or even put black people in any of his movies when he had the clout?


Elvis was more than just a brilliant singer, he was a symbol. When he went into the army and starred in G.I. Blues, he heralded American imperialism during the Cold War. Until Elvis' death and beyond, the Colonel's greedy exploitation of his career reflected the ugliest side of capitalism.

Director Eugenge Jarecki is a noted political documentarian (Why We Fight), but despite The King's intellectual and political analysis, his films reminds viewers that Elvis was a person, one with flaws and vulnerabilities, therefore deserving of sympathy. The film's most touching moments come when musician John Hiatt climbs into the Rolls and breaks down, sitting in the place of his hero. Country legend Emmylou Harris laments that Elvis never had a chance to grow up like most adults and so never learned to manage his enormous fame. This weakness ultimately crushed him. "He was doomed," she says.

Many of the guests are musicians, both famous and not, and actually don't sing Elvis' songs in their stunning performances: Emi Sunshine & the Rain, Hiatt and the teenage choir of the Stax Music Academy. There's no shortage of the King himself, given the wealth of vintage footage bursting with sparkling audio.

Celebs and Elvis fans such as Ethan Hawke, Mike Myers and Alec Baldwin, confidantes Linda Thompson and Scotty Moore, and commentators like Van Jones and Dan Rather all weigh in on Elvis. Jarecki gathers an amazing array of voices exhalting, criticizing and commenting on the King. This film makes you think about the bigger picture around Elvis and America, without losing sight of Elvis the musician and pop culture icon. The King is not merely for Elvis fans, but those who want a probing look at America today.


Sunday, October 14, 2018

film review on VOD: Mary Shelley


Written & Directed by: Haifaa Al-Mansour
Featuring: Elle Fanning, Maisie Williams, Bel Powley, Douglas Booth

ChinoKino score: B-

Review by Allan Tong

When this biopic about the 19th-century author of Frankenstein unspooled in theatres last summer, it was greeted with apathy, if not disdain. However, it deserves another look on VOD. Elle Fanning carries this uneven film as the teenaged Mary Shelley, who rebels against her parents by eloping with the flighty, hedonist poet, Percy Shelley (Douglas Booth). Leading a life of excess, she arrives at wisdom--and a novel.

Dragging along her younger sister (finely played by Bel Powley), Mary journeys through a world of casual sex and earthly pleasures without a thought (or penny) for tomorrow. The Romantics, as the Shelleys and their ilk were called, were the hippies of early-1800's England, reacting against the uptight rationality and tradition that had straightjacketed England.

Mary Shelley and the Romantics exalted beauty and imagination, but lacked foresight. Free love was fine, but it also destroyed relationships. And living for today meant being broke tomorrow, especially with a baby in tow, as Shelley had until her infant died.


Fanning does a good job fleshing out the naive, idealistic Mary Shelley who years to escape her oppressive stepmother, then transitions into a hardened but wiser young woman. She survives her baby's death, Percy's many infidelities, and poverty. Her experiences are supposed to inspire the monster in Frankenstein, a creature who is misunderstood and abused.

[spoiler alert] But I didn't sense that Percy horrible mistreated Mary Shelley. Sure, he was a cad, but he also edited her manuscript and trumpeted his wife as the true author of Frankenstein in an age which forbade women from writing books. He stood by her. (The vampiric Lord Byron is the true monster in this film, but that's another story.)

The strong feminist streak that runs through this film will strike a chord in today's audiences, and it deserves to be here. Further, reviews have slagged this film for being a conventional romance, but is it? There's a lot of betrayal going on, lots of careless sleeping around. It's more like an anti-romance, and a valid glimpse at the creative process.




film review for VOD: After Everything



Written and Directed by: Hannah Marks, Joey Power
Featuring: Jeremy Allen White, Maika Monroe, Marisa Tomei, Joe Keery 

ChinoKino score: B-

Review by Allan Tong

A young New York couple fall in love, except that he comes down with cancer. Not exactly your typical romantic film. This is a brave film for exploring the devotion and anguish that drives these difficult relationships. A solid idea for a movie, but told from whose point of view?

My bet is hers, Mia, a no-nonsense young woman who works in a cubicle at a marketing firm. Maika Monroe does a good job of fleshing out Mia as she falls in love with the aimless yet flirtatious Elliot (Jeremy Allen White). Mia then nurses him through endless rounds of chemotherapy. If you've ever accompanied a loved one to chemo, then you now how wrenching this experience is for both parties. This film captures that pain. Further, Mia keeps the relationship alive, working for them both, and carrying the strain of balancing work and his cancer therapy.

[spoiler alert]
However, the movie loses momentum, after Elliot survives chemo. Mia changes, and you sympathize with her. Elliot turns into a dick, and his story is simply less compelling. If Elliott is tortured inside for how he treats Mia, we don't feel it. Instead, you want to know how Mia extricates herself from this failed relationship. After Everything should have been told from her perspective.

Elliot is a bit of a mystery. We're not sure what drives him outside of his battle with cancer and him chasing girls. What are his vulnerabilities? His dreams? Or maybe he has none. Does the cancer force him to confront his life-to-date and discover something lacking in his character? What does this experience teach him? Don't know.

Marisa Tomei cameos as Elliot's doctor and is a welcome presence. Also, the friends and roommates of both lovers provide colour and humour to offset the dour subject matter. After Everything strives for compassion, but never gets weepy or cliched. Though flawed, it is an honest movie.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

film review: Fahrenheit 11/9


Michael Moore with fan, Jared Kushner
Director: Michael Moore
Writers: Michael Moore

ChinoKino score: A

Review by Allan Tong

Left or right, you know where you stand with a Michael Moore film and Fahrenheit 11/9 is definitely no exception.

Moore's latest, which premiered at the start of TIFF, is a troubling snapshot of the United States, a country driven to ruin by despot Donald Trump, whom Moore compares to Hitler. Naturally, Trump supporters will despise this film, but surprisingly Democrats will cringe at Moore's shots at the Clintons over their "compromise" liberal politics and the Democratic machine that this film claims stole the party nomination from Bernie Sanders.

The message: both sides of the aisle have forsaken ordinary working Americans and it's time to take democracy back--or it'll disappear.

Fahrenheit 11/9 has a checklist of many of America's current ails. A major one is the water scandal in Moore's hometown, Flint, Michigan, a scandal created by Gov. Rick Snyder that he manufactured to appease his corporate buddies, but has poisoned the poor (and mostly black) children of that beleaguered state. At the recent TIFF premiere, the audience reportedly gasped when Moore said that Snyder ordered the water supply for the town's GM factory be switched back to the clean source, because the dirty water was corroding GM's auto parts. Meanwhile, the kids were stuck with lead-heavy water and permanent brain damage.

This is actually the most compelling part of the film, since Moore does his job as a reporter by letting a whistleblower, residents and a scientist tell their stories. It'll surprise and disappoint lefties to see how then-President Obama let Snyder off the hook during a visit to Flint.

Moore also targets the electoral college (Hillary actually won more votes than Trump), the Parkland school shooting and teachers' strikes in impoverished West Virginia. He reserves his strongest venom for Trump, showing how he incited his followers to beat protestors at campaign rallies and separated the families of Mexican migrants that the last-surviving Nazi presecutor condemns. Moore even highlights Trump's attraction to his daughter, Ivanka, which will make viewers wince.


Moore covers a lot of ground in this film, and at times Fahrenheit 11/9 sprawls, which is a weakness. However, Moore is such a skilled and persuasive filmmaker that you keep watching, clinging to his rollercoaster as it dips and careens, threatening to crash. Hell, even Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner (in vintage footage here) sing Moore's praises as a filmmaker.

Yes, Moore inserts himself to the film unnecessarily at times, but other times it serves the film, like him 'fessing up that he played nice when he appeared alongside the Donald on Roseanne Barr's long-forgotten talk show, because the show wanted him to.

Fahrenheit 11/9 barely mentions the Mueller investigation and he clearly feels that the hope of America lies in activists like a Iraq war vet who's running for office and the teenage activists of Parkland.

Moore's film is a cautionary tale, though, telling audiences that only its citizens can save democracy and that apathy is the real enemy. Will audiences listen?

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Film and glamour: Birks and Telefilm honour six women at TIFF


Actor Pascale Bussières glams it up on the red carpet
Canadians aren't known for glamour, but Monday at TIFF, they dazzled in dresses and sparkled on the red carpet at the sixth Birks Diamond Tribute to the Year’s Women in Film. Birks and Telefilm saluted six women: documentary director Nettie Wild; actors Tantoo Cardinal and Pascale Bussières; screenwriter Susan Coyne; and emerging directors Stella Meghie and Jeanne Leblanc.

The Grizzlies director Miranda de Pencier, honouree and producer Alethea Arnaquq-Naril, star Emerald MacDonald, star Paul Nutarariaq and producer Stacey Aglok MacDonald

Honouree and emerging director Jeanne Leblanc

Documentarian Nettie Wild


Screenwriter Susan Coyne

The Grizzlies star and actor, Tantoo Cardinal

Actor Amanda Brugel

Actor Ann Privu of Reign

Arlen Aguayo Stewart, star of Roads in February

Actor Ayisha Issa of The Hummingbird Project 

Jasmin Mozaffari, director of Firecrackers

Kingsway stars Gabrielle Rose and Camille Sullivan

Actor Laura Vandervoort of Bitten

Actor Sofie Holland of Everest

Monday, September 10, 2018

French cinema champions diversity at TIFF 2018

Cities of Last Things - Alexis Perrin, Winnie Lau, Ho Wi Ding, Hong Chi-Lee, Louise Grinberg 
France's 28 feature-length and short films at TIFF this year herald gender and racial diversity like no other country. Films include Eva Husson's controversial women's war drama, Girls of the Sun, and the China-Taiwan-U.S.-France co-pro, Cities of Last Things. Here are images from the Unifrance reception at TIFF:

Her Job: Marisha Triantyfilidon, Nikos Labot and Dounia Sichov 


High Life director Claire Denis

Le champ de mais (The Field) star Mia Maelzer  


Le champ de mais (The Field) director Sandhya Suri 

Mademoiselle de Joncquieres director Emmanuel Mouret 



Nandita Das, director of Manto 

Duelles: Anne Coesens, Veerle Baetens, Olivier Masset-Depasse, Jacques-Henri Bronckart

Girls of the Sun - director Eva Husson, producer Didar Domehri, and composer Morgan Kibby
Tel Aviv on Fire: Sameh Zoabi, Gilles Sacuto, Milena Poylo, Alice Bloch

The Most Beautiful Couple composer Eric Neveux

The Most Beautiful Couple producer Jamila Wenske

Tom Volf, director of Maria by Callas 

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Mammoth Art of Banksy retrospective opens in Toronto



Story & photos by Allan Tong

The Art of Banksy opens tonight in what will likely be the art event of Toronto's summer, perhaps the year.

The anonymous British street artist known only as "Banksy" enjoys a lavish retrospective of 80 artworks, almost all of them gallery pieces, with a handful of  works lifted from the streets of east London over the past two decades. The show runs June 13-July 11 at 213 Sterling Road after tonight's private opening party.


The Art of Banksy is a greatest hits package of one of the most successful artists in the world, including the iconic Balloon Girl, Flag Wall (top) and Laugh Now. It showcases riot police with happy faces, sardonic monkees, rioters hurling flowers, and spray-painting rats, which all reflect Banksy's leftist politics.

Fans of the artist will enjoy a smorgasbord of Banksy paintings, reaching back to the turn of the century, with works obscure and famous, as small as greeting cards and as ginormous as Flag Wall, which lives up to its title.


Banksy newbies will be tossed into the deep end. The Art of Banksy is comprehensive, beautiful and fun. It cuts no corners.

Curator and Banksy's former agent and personal photographer, Steve Lazarides, has done an impressive job assembling these works from various collectors. Altogether, the art is valued at $35 million. It's worth hearing his anecdotes on the many video clips that accompany the art, such as the plan to unleash a suitcase of Di-Faced Tenners (above), bogus 10-pound notes, in Liverpool Street Station, east London, or how nobody wanted to pay 100 quid to buy signed Banksy lithographs nearly 20 years ago, which would pay off a mortgage today.


Toronto is the first North American stop for this show, after hitting Melbourne, Amsterdam, Tel Aviv and Auckland. Over 40,000 advance tickets have been sold and 10,000 remain available here. The cost isn't cheap but, given its size, comparable to major shows at the AGO and ROM: $35 for adults, and $32.50 for seniors and students. The audio guide is extra, adding more anecdotes from Lazarides and background to the art. It's good, but not essential if you watch the video clips.

Practical tips:
The Art of Banksy takes place at 213 Sterling Road, an industrial building that perfectly suits the street vibe of Banksy's art. But Sterling is in the Junction, which is undergoing a radical transformation from an industrial no man's land into an arts area. Good luck find nearby parking for both cars and bicycles. Expect to park and walk. Landsdowne is the nearest subway station, and the Dundas the closest streetcar. 213 Sterling is roughly equal distance between Dundas/College and Bloor. In other words: expect to walk.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Toronto lands the North American premiere of The Art of Banksy


Story by Allan Tong

The world's most famous--and reclusive--street artist hits Toronto.

From June 13-July 11 The Art of Banksy will showcase more than 80 pieces of his artwork worth more than $35 million at 213 Sterling Road in Toronto's west end.

Curator and Banksy's ex-agent Steve Lazarides said at today's announcement that over 30 pieces will differ from last year's show in Amsterdam. "It's a constantly evolving show." A film, shown in Amsterdam, may be included in Toronto.

In addition to Amsterdam, the Art of Banksy has already graced Melbourne, Tel Aviv and Auckland, explained Michel Boersma, a senior vice-president at Live Nation. Corey Ross, president and CEO of Starvox Exhibits, added that Toronto not only beat out Athens and Stockholm as the next host, but is also the first North American city to present this show. Starvox Exhibits and Live Nation are co-presenting the Art of Banksy.


Included in the Art of Banksy will be Balloon Girl (top), Flag Wall (above) and Laugh Now (below).

Will Banksy be installing anything on the streets of Toronto? "I very much doubt it," curator and Banksy's former agent Steve Lazarides told ChinoKino. Nor will the exhibit include any street pieces, which Lazarides vehemently opposes. "These pieces were made for the cities they were put in."

Left to right: Corey Ross, Michel Boersma and Steve Lazarides (photo: Allan Tong)
And no, Banksy will not appear in Toronto.

For more than a decade, the street artist known only as Banksy, has been posting his politically charged artwork mostly on underpasses, bridges and walls across the streets of London, notably in Shoreditch and Hoxton. This guerilla art has raised accusations of vandalism as enterprising vendors literally peel his work off public walls and frame it for sale. Meanwhile, Banksy's art has been shown in many galleries and has commanded hundreds-of-thousands of dollars at auctions. His identity is secret, though he is English and male.

The venue of the Toronto exhibition is key. Sterling Road is rapidly transforming from a remote industrial area by the railroad tracks (known as the Junction) into a vibrant, artistic hub. For example, MOCCA, the Museum of Canadian Contemporary Art, will open there this summer.

Demand should be heavy. Only 50,000 tickets will go on sale starting May 12 at banksyexhibit.com. It won't be cheap: $35 each, and there will be timed tickets and general admission ones without a set time. Any remaining tickets will be sold on standby.

And there will be a gift shop at the exit.

Friday, January 19, 2018

IDS kicks off 20th anniversary with wine, food and design


A day after Canadian interest rates rose and as housing prices continue to flirt with all-time highs, 5,500 Torontonians celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Interior Design Show last night. At the IDS opening party, well-dressed partygoers sipped fine wines from Niagara to California, tasted delicious canopes prepared by local restaurants and, of course, sampled the latest in interior design and furnishings from more than 300 exhibitors. Forget your worries (and winter) and enjoy.

Perrin & Rowe are aglow

Canadian designers Sarah Richardson, Tommy Smythe, Colin & Justin, Arren Williams and international stars Jay Osgerby, Snarkitecture and Kathryn Ireland mingled with the crowd as Bellosound DJ's blasted grooves across the Metro Convention Centre (though no one was dancing). Altogether, the IDS kick-off amounted to a giant TIFF party but with cool furniture. The IDS opener remains one of the prime cultural events of the city.


For the industry and public alike, the IDS continues through Sunday. Designers can attend professional classes, in-person meets with folks like Richardson, and tours (all sold out) of local landmarks, such as the Broadview Hotel and Bisha Hotel. Homeowners can check out the massive floor show (alas, without the food and wine samples) on Saturday and Sunday (not today, Friday). Tickets.

Whipping up Wit cocktails in front of the DJ at the Caesarstone Stage, the central hub of the IDS



Pai Restaurant creates its wing bean salad: blanched wing bean, chilli shrimp paste, toasted coconut and crispy shallots. A food highlight.

Arepa Cafe's mini reina pepiadas - curvy queens: roasted chicken, avocado, red onion and cilantro. Another food highlight.


Hot Bunzz's Spadina BBQ Duck bun: 5-spice BBQ duck, cucumber, orange fennel slaw and hoisin glaze. The most delicious food of the IDS party.


Meyer's Clean Day blends aromotherapy with household cleaning products, like lemon verbena laundry detergeant.


Jan Kath


Bonaldo

Kare

Design Workshop Architects




PrettyHardware.com

Oscar Peterson pianos

Maple Six: 5-year aged cheddar, benedictine bleu and chevre noir
Inbound by Retrobound


Benjamin Moore
Story and photos by Allan Tong