Friday, January 20, 2023

IDS returns to Toronto with a bash

Christina Sideris

Toronto's Interior Design Show returns to January's cultural calendars after a hiatus (for obvious reasons) and following last year's IDS taking place in April right after lockdown. It felt great for IDS to be back, launching last night with their traditional opening party and running through Sunday, January 22 in the Metro Toronto Convention Centre's south building. Yesterday, saw the start of trade days full of speakers waxing about all things beautiful yet functional in the home. Though home sales are slumping, Canadians will continue to renovate their houses, condos and apartments, so the industry outlook is positive for 2023.

Thursday's opening soiree saw some booth, such as Miele's, pouring wine and champagne to invite visitors to inspect kitchen spaces, living rooms sets and luxury showers. There were at least three food stations scattered throughout the hockey-arena-sized space. The most popular offered vegetarian Chinese noodles (it's the Year of the Rabbit on Sunday), though another supplied just chips. There was more food in previous years, some noted, though the crowds of the chicly dressed and fashionably groomed adored the atmosphere, particularly around the Caesarstone stage where a DJ spun beats.

Trade Days continue today (Friday) at 4:30 pm with a keynote at the Caesarstone stage about designing the new Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, featuring Jordan Bennett, Shirley Blumberg of KPMB, Omar Gandhi of Omar Gandhi Architect in a conversation moderated by Elizabeth Pagliacolo of AZURE Magazine.

Saturday from 11:00 am to noon sees Mexican designer Fernando Laposse focus on global warming and the loss of biodiversity. He will explain how to use materials like corn leaves and loofah to build more sustainable spaces. Other panels took place throughoput the weekend, including speakers Kelly Reynolds and Chad Falkenberg from Falken Reynolds of Vancouver), Daej Hamilton of Toronto's Daej Designs, Toronto) and Treana Peake Founder of OBAKKI who will also speak about sustainability.

Tickets are available from $19-25 here. A reminder that IDS takes place in the *south* building of MTCC.




Guild Design Gallery


Puppy Stools (yes, dogs) by Hojeong Ji


Seedlip: not everything poured last night was alcohol

Welcome back!


Tuesday, November 29, 2022

film review: Harvest Time



Directed by Bernard Shakey

ChinoKino score: B (for Neil Young fans: A)

Review by Allan Tong

When Neil Young released the album Harvest in early 1972, he became as big as Taylor Swift or Drake today.  He was already in the biggest band at that time, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, and already recording solo, but Harvest catapulted him to superstardom. That's ironic, since Neil Young fans regard Harvest as a good, but flawed work. However, Harvest includes Heart of Gold, which shot to number one and made the album that year's biggest seller. This new documentary takes audiences behind the scenes to show Young recording Harvest, whether inside his northern California barn (you read that right), in a studio with his famous ex-bandmates, and with the London Symphony Orchestra (you also read that right).

Fans will feast on Harvest Time. Much of this footage has never been seen, and it is gold, capturing Young in unguarded moments of creating his music. Special scenes involve Young with CSN harmonizing on Alabama. It's early 1971 and the on-again, off-again band are in good spirits, not bickering which would later plague them. Neil gently coaches his bandmates at a piano to go over a particular phrase. As they perform the song Words, surprisingly it's Graham Nash who coaxes the singers. Isolated on the soundtrack, their voices soar.


It's jarring, but thrilling to see Young record live with the LSO. Fans have long detested how the orchestra smothers this plaintive ballad, A Man Needs A Maid, but it is fascinating to watch Young struggle to get the entire orchestra to make their cue. They keep coming in a half-step too soon, he complains to arranger Jack Nietzsche during a break before Young sings a beautiful verse of the title song, Harvest. It's also cool to watch Young hop into a portable recording studio (belonging to the Rolling Stones) housed inside an unmarked truck parked outside to listen to a playback.

Another key moment finds Young playing Journey Through The Past alone at a piano. It's shocking to cut from the orchestral session to this solitary, but melancholic moment, but effective. This is one of Young's finest performances anywhere on film.

The handheld, grainy work lends the movie a homemade, voyeuristic feel, while the audio is crystal clear and rich. For instance, when the band launches into the protest rocker, Alabama, to kick off the film I jumped in my seat. There are only brief interviews of Young, along with producer Elliot Mazer and a few others. Really, Harvest Time is a fly-on-the-wall document, directed by Young. What's sorely missing is footage of him recording Heart of Gold with Linda Ronstadt and James Taylor on harmony. Also missing is the heart of gold herself, Young's partner at the time, actress Carrie Snodgrass. Snodgrass inspired several songs on the album, but appears in one only shot of the film without speaking.

Casual fans of Neil Young will enjoy Harvest Time, though may bristle at seeing one too many aimless jams recorded in Young's barn and with the film's lack of structure. Rather, it's a chronicle of the making of the most important album in Neil Young's career. Sit back and play loud.

Harvest Time opens in cinemas in select cities, dates and times, beginning December 1. Check your local listings or here for schedules and tickets.

Thursday, October 6, 2022

film review: Darryl Jones: In The Blood



Directed by Eric Hamburg

ChinoKino score: C

Review by Allan Tong

Superman is boring. Superman can soar, twist steel, beat any bad guy into a pulp and save entire planets. Aside from kryptonite, nothing can weaken Superman, certainly not destroy him. He is perfect.

That's how I felt about Darryl Jones after watching the first half of this new documentary profiling the bass player for the Miles Davis, Sting and the Rolling Stones. Don't get me wrong: Mr. Jones is one of the greatest musicians to have ever picked up a bass. Chosen by taskmaster Miles Davis alone catapults him into the top echelon of bassists on any planet. This guy can play.


However, this documentary does a shaky job in telling us who he is. For starters, the film opens on the Rolling Stones heaping praise on Jones for being (what else?) a great player as well as a cool guy, a nice guy and a prolific reader. But does anyone name a book? Nope. This sort of facile, fawning interviewing starts In The Blood poorly. Further, you're left wondering if the film is about the Stones (disclosure: I love the band) or Darryl Jones.

Eventually, the film lets Jones tell his story, starting with growing up on Chicago's South Side in the times of the 1960s race riots, of developing a race consciousness, of joining the Civil Rights Movement, and of course, of falling in love with performing. When he was a boy, Jones felt the love of an appreciative audience and wanted only that for the rest of his life. His parents supported his passion. His parents loved music and taught him a few instruments. Meanwhile, one played jazz constantly, another adored soul and local radio played everything from James Brown to the Beatles. Quite an education.

This part of the film is good. It's meaty and revealing. However, the style of filmmaking is rudimentary and unimaginative. It's 90% talking heads, with interviews taking place in random parts of (what I presume) Jones' house. There's no attempt at lighting or clearing distracting kitchen appliances or furniture out of the background. The footage looks like something shot on someone's phone. Further, there's no use of establishing footage, like a wide shot of Chicago to tell the viewer where they are, or flourishes like seeing Jones' fingers pluck his bass strings. Shots are static. The camera hardly moves. At best, an interview cuts to stock footage of a still photograph or concert for a few seconds. Jones' recollections aren't told through animation, a common--but effective--tool for documentarians and which would have elevated this film.

Oddly enough, there's no background music playing underneath the interviews. Instead, we hear local traffic roll by. Distracting. Cold. That's strange for a film about a musician.

Again, don't get me wrong. Jones is a great bassist. I wanted to see this film for this reason and because I know nothing about the guy. In The Blood demystifies the man and paints a portrait, but this doc is ultimately too long and unsatisfying.

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

film review: REVIVAL69: The Concert That Rocked the World



Directed by Ron Chapman

Review by Allan Tong

ChinoKino score: A

"It was the end of the Beatles."

Documentarian D.A. Pennebaker describes the climax of the set performed by John Lennon, Yoko Ono and the Plastic Ono Band on September 13, 1969 at Toronto's Varsity Stadium. Lennon had ordered his bandmates, including Eric Clapton, to lean their guitars on their amps which sparked feedback that howled alongside Ono's avant-garde vocals. "It was such a fantastic ending," said the legendary Pennebaker who filmed the concert, because it knew it would be historic. After the Toronto show, Lennon would return to London and indeed break up the Beatles. A remarkable new documentary tells the chaotic, hilarious and pivotal story behind this one-day rock fest that nearly collapsed several times.

Pennebaker eventually released a film about the Toronto Rock 'n' Roll Revival, a fly-on-the-wall doc made in the same vein as his innovative films, Don't Look Back, about Bob Dylan's 1965 U.K. tour, and the revolutionary Monterey Pop Festival of 1967. However, director Ron Chapman has used Pennebaker's footage as the core of an entirely new film. Chapman has new footage, including intimate super-8 film, many insightful interviews, rare stills and smart animation to tell a thrilling story.

The tale began with two young concert promoters who organized a one-day festival to honour the pioneers of rock 'n' roll: Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Bo Diddley, Gene Vincent and Jerry Lee Lewis. But tickets didn't sell. Co-promoter John Brower, only 22 at the time, hired two notable L.A. DJ's to emcee the show, but that did nothing. Next, he booked the Doors (for $200,000 in today's money) by borrowing cash from a biker gang. But the Doors didn't move the needle either. With just days to go amid threats of the bikers collecting on their loan, one of the DJ's, Kim Fowley, urged the promoters to call John Lennon out of the blue and ask him to host.

After all, Lennon became a Beatle because of Berry et al. By chance, a Toronto rock journalist who was working for the Beatles, the renown Ritchie Yorke, vouched for Brower, so Lennon said yes. Miraculously, this exchange was captured on audiotape. However, nobody in Toronto believed Brower. Unbelievably, CHUM Radio kicked the promoters out of the station and even circulated rumours that Lennon would not show. (Shame on you, CHUM.) It took a Detroit DJ to get the word out and move tickets.

Other twists and turns abound in Revival 69, making the viewer ride a rollercoaster. The festival nearly collapsed a few times, but when it unfolded it was truly magical. Among the crowd of 20,000, Geddy Lee was a suburban longhair tripping on acid at the fest. Singer Claudia Barry was there to check out the black musicians. Both were blown away. Barry left knowing what she would do the rest of her life.

Chapman has done his homework. He interviewed Klaus Voorman and Alan White whom Lennon summoned to grab their bass and drums and meet him at the London airport. They convey the chaos, thrills and anxiety of rehearsing on the plane and racing to Varsity Stadium. Several other musicians on the bill recall that gig, namely Alice Cooper. His band were nobodies at the time, but they left Toronto as legends (Google "Alice Cooper chicken Toronto"). "We were an affront to everybody. We were the future."

Robbie Krieger of the Doors recalls headlining the festival, but remembers Jim Morrison being in awe of the the 1950s legends on stage, including Chuck Berry. Sadly, Mr. Mojo Rising balked at appearing on camera, so there is no footage of the Doors. Elsewhere, camerawoman Molly Davis recalls filming John and Yoko's limo as 80 bikers escorted it from the Toronto airport to Varsity Stadium (the head biker had a crush on her). Then there's the godfather of American rock criticism, Robert Christgau, who largely narrates the film by offering historic context and first-hand observations that are right on the money. Interviews by Lennon assistants, local musicians and other crew members contribute to a parade of colourful anecdotes.

The icing on the cake is animation by Mathew den Boer. It vividly presents the John and Yoko story which perfectly matches the crystal-clear audio recordings of their actual call with Brower. That audio is a highlight of the film.

REVIVAL69 wisely does not to focus too much on Lennon. Instead, it strikes a fine balance in telling the stories of all the musicians and characters behind the scenes. The film is a fine addition to the canon of rock docs, because it cements the significance of the 1969 Toronto Rock 'n' Roll Revival as a pivotal chapter of rock history. It marked the end of The Beatles and the 1960s and heralded the 1970s. REVIVAL69 should be held in the same regard as Woodstock and Gimme Shelter.

REVIVAL69 is currently playing film festivals. The next screening is in Oshawa at the Durham Region International Film Festival on Saturday, October 1.

Thursday, September 22, 2022

film review: Eternal Spring


Directed by Jason Loftus

Review by Allan Tong

ChinoKino score: A

You've seen or heard of the Falun Gong, those folks who stand still on street corners with their hands raised and eyes closed as they meditate. This stunning animated doc explains who they are and why they are cruelly persecuted by China's government.

Acclaimed comic book artist Daxiong (Star Wars, Superman, Justice League of America) practised Falun Gong in the Chinese town of Changchun which gave birth to him and this spiritual movement numbering in the millions. In 1999, China's authoritarian government became alarmed with FG's popularity and started jailing and torturing practitioners as well as burning their books. However, Daxiong didn't flee China until something happened in March 2002.

What happened was a small band of FG practitioners climbed some telephone pulls, literally cut a live news broadcast and patched their own video. That video showed the Chinese public that Falun Gong is not evil as the state-owned news kept saying, but is healthy and harmless. Sadly, the police hunted down the rebels. Many were tortured, some recanted and others died.

Eternal Spring (English for Changchun) startles the viewer from the opening frame, portraying China c.2002 in startling immediacy through lifelike animation. The images just grab you. The film cuts back and forth between contemporary interviews on camera of Daxiong, now living in Toronto, and surviving members of the rebel group who now reside in South Korea and the New York City area. To hear them tell their stories is moving. To see them portrayed in 2002 via animation executing the hijacking is nerve-wracking. To witness their imprisonment, also animated, is harrowing. Shining through this horror are the memories, defiance and hope of Daxiong.

Eternal Spring will screen theatrically starting September 23 in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal. Check local listings for details.

Sunday, August 28, 2022

Fan Expo returns to Toronto

Story and photos by Allan Tong

Life should be fun. When it isn't, we escape into better worlds, worlds where we possess strength and magic. That's why we watch movies, and that's why there's Fan Expo Canada.

 The annual celebration/convention/conference/marketplace of all things fantasy and sci-fi hit Toronto last weekend (August 25-28) as an army of kids, adults, and adults with kids jammed the entire Metro Toronto Convention Centre. Cosplay ruled as superheroes and a few villains like Boba Fett graced the MTCC aisles and spilled onto Front Street West, like a summertime Hallowe'en. Freedom returned. It was the first time in two years that Fan Expo took place without pandemic restrictions. 

All these fans gathered like to meet stars, like the cast of the hit Netflix sci-fi series, Stranger Things or Captain Kirk himself, William Shatner. They also got artwork and comics signed by artists themselves, both established and new, or complete their X-Men collections if the price was right. There also t-shirts, books, posters, trading cards and dolls galore. That most popular item at Fan Expo? Funkos. Never have I seen so many of those Funko Pops. We're talking fortresses of them of any variety and price.

Underlying Fan Expo was a love for movies, in this case fantasy and sci-fi, the genres keeping Hollywood alive as it churns out the latest Star Wars movie or series. With aisles packed by noon on the first full day, enthusiasm for Star Wars and the generations of characters it has inspired in four decades shows no signs of waning. The Force is definitely with Fan Expo.

Monday, August 8, 2022

film review: Studio 17: The Lost Reggae Tapes

Directed by Mark James

Review by Allan Tong

ChinoKino score: A-

Peter Tosh, Lee "Scratch" Perry, Dennis Brown, Alton Ellis, Lord Creator and Bob Marley are some of the reggae greats who graced Studio 17 in downtown Kingston in the 1960s and 1970s. This fine British documentary spotlights this crucial chapter of reggae and Jamaican history. At its unlikely centre is a Chinese-Jamaican family, headed by matriarch "Miss Pat" Chin, her late husband Vincent, and his son, Clive. Vincent was nicknamed Randy which was also the name of the record store attached to the studio, just like legendary Stax Records in Memphis.

The Chins' story teems with charming anecdotes, near-fatal twists and tragedy. The Chins were one of many Chinese families who comprised the merchant class of Jamaica. The Chins started reselling ska 45s in the early 1960s, and soon expanded into recording musicians themselves. Legendary engineer Clive Thompson helped shape the clean, balanced sound of Studio 17 which attracted Jamaica's reggae artists. Business was good at Randy's and Studio 17, and their early success mirrored the optimism of newly independent Jamaica of the 1960s. Clive established a reputation as a top producer of danceable ska which morphed into harder-edged reggae to reflect the growing cynicism of Jamaicans by the late-1960s.

In Studio 17, Miss Pat and especially Clive guide the viewer through Studio 17's rise. They're augmented by reflections from reggae legend Jimmy Cliff, UB40's Ali Campbell and Dave Stewart formerly of the Eurythmics. They recall Peter Tosh as a spiritual man who smoked the sacrament of ganja everywhere, including a Pan Am flight to New York; and of Bob Marley covering the bubblegum anthem, Sugar Sugar (quite well, actually). Clive recalls narrowly missing the assassination attempt on Marley during a violent national election. That political unrest and the threat of Communism forced the Chins and other Chinese-Jamaican merchants to flee the island in 1978. Clive and Miss Pat literally left everything behind, including the library of tapes recorded at Studio 17.

Though Clive later moved the tapes to his new home and record store in Queens, New York, it took a murder in the Chin family years later to convince Clive to digitize the aging reel-to-reels and release select collections to the public. Miraculously, the tapes survived. This includes an unfinished demo by Dennis Brown. A few years ago, Clive enlisted teen British singer, Hollie Stephenson, to add a new vocal which turned that demo into a sparkling duet that Dave Stewart co-produced. That is a wonderful sequence in the film. Another great story is of UB40 rescuing Lord Creator from poverty by covering his ballad, Kingston Town, in 1989.

The story of the Chins and Studio 17 is so entertaining that it compensates for the film's only flaw. Reshma B is a London journalist who interviews the subjects and sometimes pops up on camera. This is distracting and unnecessary. Making things more confusing is that someone else is narrating the film. Just who is telling this story? Luckily, the film keeps circling back to the Chins to restore its focus.

Studio 17 fills a hole in the history of reggae. It offers captivating viewing for lovers of reggae, Jamaica and cinematic storytelling.

Studio 17 will screen on August 10 in Montreal, August 14 in Ottawa and August 15 in Toronto. Check local listings for details.

Friday, July 15, 2022

art review: In The Wake of Progress

Directed and photographed by Edward Burtynsky

ChinoKino score: A-

Review by Allan Tong

Edward Burtynsky's giant photographs of strip mines, garbage dumps and high-rise jungles warn us of environmental catastrophe. His trademark images are so large, detailed and in-your-face that the message of humanity's impact on the environment being unsustainable is unmistakable. It makes sense that many of his images shot over 40 years now make the transition to a cinematic experience, called In The Wake of Progress, presented by Toronto's Luminato Festival.

The multimedia exhibit, located by the Canadian Opera Company in downtown Toronto, and running only June 25-July 17, consists of three parts and requires roughly an hour to absorb. Nearly half of this experience starts with a slideshow of images shown on three 30-foot screens accompanied by powerful, abstract music co-produced by Bob Ezrin (Alice Cooper, Lou Reed, Aerosmith), composed by Phil Strong, and performed by the Glen Gould School at the Royal Conservatory of Music and Cree-metis vocalist iskwe. Think Koyaanisqatsi bursting through a powerful sound system that leaves the floor trembling. This presentation is stunning and is the core of this exhibit.

Next, the audience views several photos in a traditional gallery setting. The images differ from the in the AV presentation but strike the same theme of environmental damage shot from places as diverse as Arizona, Turkey, Australia and Madagascar (above).

film review: Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, A Song, A Journey


Directed by Dan Geller & Dayna Goldfine

ChinoKino score: A-

Review by Allan Tong

There are many songs, but only a few become hits, and one or two endure as anthems. Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah is an unlikely anthem. This captivating new documentary charts the song's unlikely path to immortality and details its creator's lifelong conflict between sex and spirituality that birthed Hallelujah.

That birth nearly didn't happen. The 1984 album that Hallelujah appeared on, Various Positions, wasn't good enough to be sold in the United States. That was the verdict of Columbia Records' chief, Walter Yetnikoff who explained to the poet-singer: "Leonard, we know you're great, but don't know if you're any good." The album eventually surfaced on a smaller label in the U.S. and Hallelujah would find its way into Bob Dylan's set list. More importantly, John Cale, the co-founder of the legendary Velvet Underground, covered it in a plaintive, yet moving version on the 1991 tribute album, I'm Your Fan.

Cale's versions reached some important ears. Another hero of this story is Jeff Buckley who covered Hallelujah in the only album recorded in his short life. With his angelic voice and moving delivery, Buckley's version inspired countless other musicians, including U2, who popularized Hallelujah even further. Then, an unlikely appearance of Cale's cover in the hit animated film, Shrek, made Hallelujah mega. From there on, Cohen's song about tortured love illustrated with Biblical imagery appeared on countless singing TV contests, weddings and funerals.

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

The Prism Prize returns in person

by Allan Tong

The Prism Prize for Canadian music videos returned to a live audience at the TIFF Bell Lightbox last week in downtown Toronto after two years of virtual presentations during the pandemic. Ali, performed and directed by Mustafa, took home the $20,000 grand prize after 130 jurors named it the best among a strong field of ten videos. The audience award went to Khanvict and director Anjali Nayar for Closer. A full list of winners and the videos themselves can be found here.

It's the tenth year of the Prism Prize, which recognizes the achievements of emerging music video directors and musicians. This year's nominees for top prize included The Beaches for Blow Up, Chad VanGaalen's Samurai Sword which should take a prize for the most memorable animation, and two by BABBADNOTGOOD, Love Proceeding and Timid, Intimidating for its smart jazz-rock fusion standing apart from the other nominees' hip hop and rock.

Thursday, July 7, 2022

film review: Dreaming Walls: Inside The Chelsea Hotel


Directed by Maya Duverdier & Amélie van Elmbt

ChinoKino score: B

Reviewed by Allan Tong

You may have heard of the Chelsea Hotel. It's that Gothic hotel-apartment that towers over 23rd street in Manhattan where artists of all stripes have stayed for days or years. Musicians like Maria Callas and Jimi Hendrix loved it for its thick walls and soundproof rooms. Arthur C. Clarke wrote the screenplay to 2001 here. Bob Dylan composed Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands here. Andy Warhol shot a film here in the mid-1960s. Leonard Cohen memorialized his stay in song,and Patti Smith wrote here. One or two Ramones resided here. Painters and sculptors of all styles call this home. In the past, they used to pay their rent with paintings that adorned the lobby.

Those walls are being renovated now as artistes are leaving. This documentary chronicles this transition as new owners spend years and millions of dollars upgrading this shabby-chic grand dame. New York teems with hotels but none is like the Chelsea. There's a lot of controversy and confusion surrounding this massive facelift. Unfortunately, Dreaming Walls doesn't clarify that. The viewer has to read that online, preferably, or track down earlier films. And there lies the double-edge sword in chronicling this famous refuge.


Instead, this documentary follows several long-term tenants, who continue to create as they navigate workmen hammering, upgrading and rewiring their hallways, floors and ceilings. Many tenants are old and frail. You wonder how long they can stay at the Chelsea and where they will go next.

Tenants allude to former manager, Stanley Bard, a legendary figure and gracious man who accepted paintings in lieu of cash to pay the rent. It's a pity that the film doesn't shine a light on Mr. Bard. When I stayed at the Chelsea 25 years ago, I had the pleasure of talking to him at length. He was patient and considerate. He respected his tenants' privacy--which was why folks like Janis and Jimi crashed here. 

I'm of two minds about Dreaming Walls. I come to the film knowing the history of the Chelsea, so I could appreciate the intimate profiles of these longtime tenants. They don't want to leave, and I understand. The filmmakers treat the Chelsea with reverence and respect. I also get that. However, those who have never heard of the Chelsea may be left scratching their heads. Why is this place so important? True, past documentaries and books have chronicled the history of the Chelsea, so why recycle that? Then again, a little more historic context would have filled in blanks for less-knowing viewers.

Distributed by Mongrel Media, beginning July 8.

Wednesday, July 6, 2022

ICFF film reviews: The Treadmill & On Our Watch


The Treadmill (Tapirulàn)

Directed by Claudia Gerini

Written by Fabio Morici with Claudia Gerini and Antonio Baioccio (story)

ChinoKino score: A-


On Our Watch (E Noi Come Stronzi Rimanemmo A Guardare)

Directed by  Pif

Written by Michele Astori & Pif

ChinoKino score: B 

The Italian Contemporary Film Festival returns to Toronto's big screens in 2022 following an absence during the pandemic. The ICFF coped well by offering a fine selection of drive-in movies, but this year returns to the cinema proper as well as to home computer in a hybrid model. Directly and indirectly influenced by the pandemic, two of the best films involve technology, The Treadmill and On Our Watch.

The Treadmill stars Italian's renown Claudia Gerini who also directed and co-wrote. She plays a therapist named Emma who treats "clients" via videophone (a la Zoom) while she runs on a jogging machine. Why? It's good for her body and mind. 


She offers comfort to a depressed artist, persuades an abused wife to flee her abusive husband and helps a teenage boy accept his homosexuality despite living in a strict Catholic family. She listens and empathizes, even when a suicidal man insults her. Here, technology bridges patient with therapist, but therapist also uses technology to distance herself from others.

Emma herself reveals her own vulnerabilities when a long-lost sister tracks her down and begs her to see their dying father. Emma shuts her down and wants nothing to do with that man. Emma resumes jogging on her treadmill, but she can't flee anywhere.

Though a lot of the action on screen happens in Emma's condo, The Treadmill keeps moving and never feels stuck. The audience sticks with Emma from the first frame and follows her as she treats her client-patients as well as heal her own family rift. Gerini portrays Emma with natural ease, offering her character complexity and authenticity. All supporting characters are fleshed out and feel real. Gerini carries the film, which she scripted with writer Fabio Morici and Antonio Baioccio who conceived the story. The Treadmill is superb and marks a fine directorial debut by star Gerini.

On Our Watch takes a lighter, slightly comedic view of technology through Arturo, a mid-manager at a company who unsuspectingly introduces the algorithm which renders him redundant. Overnight, Arturo loses his job and girlfriend, and resorts to delivering food on his bike at a tech behemoth called FUUBER. Think Uber Eats and Foodora, but also Facebook, Google and Amazon all rolled into one suffocating megatech that tracks its users' lives across the internet. 

Wisely, Fabio De Luigi plays Arturo deadpan. The satire is already in the script on screen and director Pif controls the comedy to avoid it tipping into silliness. There is no shortage of mayhem. Anything that can go wrong for Arturo delivering food, goes badly. He pays FUUBER for a virtual girlfriend, rents a room to a real-life roommate who has his own digital problems, and keeps getting penalized at his job. He can't catch a break in this digital world. Eventually, Arturo gets fed up with FUUBER enslaving him, and crosses the ocean to find the real woman behind his virtual girlfriend.

In doing so, Arturo rips the mask off FUUBER and exposes its totalitarian grip on him and countless others. The end of the film takes a jarring dramatic turn and suffers from preachiness, but this is foregivable. On Our Watch is a witty, observant warning of the perils of digital privacy.


Monday, June 27, 2022

film review: Ennio



Directed by Giuseppe Tornatore

ChinoKino score:A

Review by Allan Tong

If you don't know the name Ennio Morricone, you have heard his music in films such as Malena, The Mission, In The Line of Fire, The Untouchables, Days of Heaven, Once Upon A Time In America, and the one that launched him internationally, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. The Italian trumpeter and classical composer scored over 400 films in his 91 years and is considered the greatest. Morricone collaborated with director Giuseppe Tornatore on 1988's Cinema Paradiso, which was was a Valentine to cinema. So is Ennio, which Tornatore made as an obvious tribute to Morricone. The result is an essential documentary about the Maestro and the mysterious, but powerful art of creating music for film.


The strength and structure of Ennio lies in the subject itself who freely shares his life story from his childhood in Rome. Morricone wanted to be a doctor, but his father ordered him to take up the trumpet like he did in order to feed his family. Hungry years inevitably dawned, which did not satisfy the young trumpeter. Morricone studied classical composing which was unusual for a trumpet player. Versed in Verdi and Mozart, of course, Morricone surprisingly admired avant-garde musician John Cage who was infamous for making music out of ordinary sounds. Morricone's gift for melody, his classical training and his affection for experimentalism gradually made its way onto Italian, TV then film.

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

film review: Brian Wilson: Long Promised Road


Directed by Brent Wilson

ChinoKino score: B+

Review by Allan Tong

Five minutes into this new documentary about Brian Wilson, I thought, Oh, no, not another Brian bio. The opening sings the praises of the genius behind the 1966 masterpiece, Pet Sounds, how his songs fueled The Beach Boys' rise to stardom, and he has forever left his mark on popular music. As a Brian fan, sure, I agree with all that, but I've also heard this before in other docs.

Then, Long Promised Road takes viewers on a different ride. Literally. The rise is with Brian and longtime friend Jason Fine who get in a car and drive to Brian's old haunts around Los Angeles as they spin tunes by the Beach Boys (as a group and individually), and Brian reminisces. This is the key to the film where Brian opens up about his troubled family, marriage, career, and personal and legal battles. Now, this is new. The film captures the shy Brian unguarded through a camera resting unobtrusively on the car's dashboard. Fine first met Brian as a journalist profiling the musician for Rolling Stone magazine, and they've remained buddies ever since. Fine gently coaxes unfiltered thoughts and reactions out of Brian that will surprise casual and hardcore fans alike.

The ride covers the usual bases, starting with Brian's abusive father. The film excerpts an infamous 1965 studio clash between (drunk, belligerent) father and son during the recording of Help Me, Rhonda and stops outside his childhood home. Here, a wall sculpture now honours his band. The ride takes him to his old luxury home, where folks like Sly Stone dropped in (and passed out after getting stoned). The ride goes to more innocent places, like Paradise Cove where the Beach Boys posed for the cover of their first album (a plaque now marks the spot). Through it all, Brian makes unguarded reflections, great and small, about his career highs, disappointments, battles with mental illness, drug use, and his love for his brothers. These are simply the highlights of this film.

The most revealing moment comes when Fine informs Brian that former Beach Boys' manager, Jack Rieley died a few years ago. Brian is speechless, stunned, and tears well in his eyes as he processes the stunning news. After some heavy pauses, Brian announces that his heart is broken--and we feel for him.

Unnecessarily, the film cuts away to Brian's famous admirers (Bruce Springsteen, Elton John, Linda Perry, Taylor Hawkins, Don Was) to tell us how great Brian's music is. This interrupts the flow of Brian's ride and adds little to our overall understanding of him. Granted, these stars say nothing inaccurate, and it's a thrill to hear Sir Elton recall going ga-ga over his idol when they met in the 1970's.

Another issue with the film is that it meanders, also jumping back to Brian rehearsing and performing with his current band. I get it: Brian remains an active, creative artist to this day, but again these jumps break up the film's overall flow and don't build up to anything.

However, vintage film clips are chosen well. One interesting clip is an early interview with the young Beach Boys where brother Dennis flirts with a female interviewer. This nicely detours into a sequence centering on the handsome bad boy, and Brian explains how close they were. Cocaine was one bond, but it went deeper than that. One commentator points out that playboy Dennis and introverted Brian secretly envied each other, though the film glosses over Dennis' battles with addiction which eventually killed him at age 39.

Finally, the film deserves credit for exploring the theme of mental illness with sensitivity. Brian has long suffered from schizoaffective disorder, in which he hears bad voices in his head and wrestles with periodic depression. A link between his father's abuse (mental as well as physical) is strongly implied. This disorder to is stated at the start of this film and colours everything we then see. Brian's condition led to disgraced therapist Eugene Landy taking over Brian's life and even career in the 1970's through the early 1990's, until Brian successfully sued him. Landy (who died in 2006) is seen only in still photos, thankfully.

In the end, you admire Brian for surviving his long, hellish journey to somehow keep making music while also raising five adopted children. (We briefly see his two daughters from his first marriage.) Director Wilson (no relation to Brian) indeed takes us on a journey through the wonderful, harrowing and unique life of a special musician.

Brian Wilson: Long Promised Road is now available on VOD.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

film review: The Beatles: Get Back (sneak preview)


Directed by Peter Jackson

ChinoKino score: B+

Review by Allan Tong

Delayed by the Covid pandemic for 18 months, and hidden by the band itself for decades since its 1970 theatrical release, the very-long-awaited Let It Be film finally sees the light of day this American Thanksgiving weekend. However, tonight in Toronto, a 100-minute sneak preview of the new eight-hour, three-part docuseries that will stream exclusively on Disney+ on November 25-27 was shown at the TIFF Lightbox cinema #1, one of the classiest movie houses in the city.

This is, in fact, not the 1970 film directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg, but re-imagined by Peter Jackson. His reinterpretation is based on 60 hours of 16mm film footage and 150 hours of audio tape that's been restored and enhanced into eight hours. The preview revealed 100 minutes.

It starts with Jackson cradling a Hofner bass and telling the camera how he felt unsure at first about tackling this massive project. Let It Be, he says in so many words, is The Beatles' epitaph, long known as a depressing diary of the band's final days. However, he changed his mind when he began watching the original footage which he discovered dispelled this myth. We see him walk through an underground labyrinth and into a vault containing rolls of the original film canisters, which would make any Beatles' freak drool.

Jackson then explains how technology plays a big role in his film. He demonstrates on the big screen how machine learning or artificial intelligence teased apart a mono track into multi-track audio. In other words, he shows us the Beatles jamming with all the instruments and vocals lumped into a single, sludgy mono track, then he plays only the lead guitar in isolation, then Paul's bass by itself, then Ringo's drums alone, then the vocals. If you've never heard this, it is incredible.

Another breathtaking moment happens when the original grainy, dirty 4x3 film bursts into gorgeous, widescreen imagery. The colours explode and the screen bursts with stunning visual detail. The Beatles come alive before our eyes.

Jackson then introduces a montage, running roughly five minutes culled from the eight-hour series. The tone is overwhelmingly cheerful as the Beatles joke and jam, clearly challenging the long-held epitaph myth about Get Back/Let It Be that Paul McCartney himself has described as "the most miserable sessions on Earth." (More on this later.) The montage feels like a long promo, but at least we see and hear the digitally scrubbed footage on the big screen--and it is stunning.

Jackson then introduces most or all of the filmed session of January 27, 1969 that took place in the basement of the Apple office at 3 Saville Row. What Jackson doesn't mention (perhaps the finished film does) is that the Beatles were miserable filming in the grim Twickenham Film Studios earlier that month, and were delighted to locate to the cosy Apple basement where a studio was hastily constructed. Also enlivening the mood was the presence of an old friend from the Beatles' Hamburg days, keyboardist Billy Preston whom George invited. The jovial Preston lifted everyone's mood which is clearly seen in this footage. This section runs roughly half an hour.

What follows is the jewel in the crown of the original Let It Be and likely Jackson's cut: the rooftop concert. I don't need to introduce. All I will do is applaud Jackson for employing split-screen footage to capture the reaction of the startled/delighted/grumpy crowd in the streets below, the various Beatles onstage having a great time performing live for the first time in three years, and the police who eventually end the show. Jackson does a fantastic job intercutting the footage shot on the street, in the Apple lobby (through a hidden camera), from a rooftop across Apple, and from various angles on the rooftop to create a thrilling sequence. This sequence puts you on the rooftop (at least on the big screen). The audio, remixed by Giles Martin (who did a superb job with the Beatles' box sets starting with Sgt. Pepper) leaps out of the screen. The bass and drums are muscular. The Beatles kick ass on the rooftop.

All in all, the 100-minute preview was a pleasure to watch and hear on the big screen. However, I wonder how Jackson will handle the Twickenham sessions where the Beatles looked glum, John was strung out on smack, George rows with Paul, and apathy gripped the band as Paul sadly tried to rouse his bandmates into another take of Two of Us. 

Disney+ subscribers will know soon enough, starting Thursday when the streaming service premieres part one of the docuseries; Friday will unveil part two, then part three, including the rooftop concert, will be shown Saturday. Remember: this is one part per day. After that, you got to pay extra to see it. It's rumoured that the Blu-ray/DVD set will come out in the new year.

Beatles' fans will be thankful this year, but I will be eager to see if Jackson whitewashes the "most miserable sessions on Earth" or reveals fresh truths of the most controversial, but hidden, chapter of the Beatles' legend.

The Beatles: Get Back docuseries streams exclusively on Disney+ starting November 25, 2021.