Thursday, November 30, 2017

IIDEX 2017's sights and designs

story & photos by Allan Tong

IIDEX, Canada's largest architecture and interior design expo, returned yesterday (ending today) to occupy the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. Among the two days of panels, awards, talks and receptions, these exhibits caught our eye:

Feelux Canada's seamless LED lights are lightweight, waterproof and malleable, such as the FLX Stix NDPro (pictured below), ideal for retail displays or homes in various colours, and ballparking at $45 per linear foot. These plug 'n' play LEDs snap together like Lego and don't require soldering.

Speaking of twisted lighting, Toronto's Luminart offers the Kepler Suspension in epoxy-coated aluminum (above, centre of photo) as designed by Arihiro Miyake. Next to that is the 3tubes Suspension, an aluminum pendant lamp with an anodized copper finish.

This giant salad bowl is a Balux concrete bathtub, spanning 65 inches and rising nearly 23 inches off the ground. It comes in colours ranging from beige to dark grey.

James Clarke-Hicks and Isabel Ochoa (picture below) steam-bent ash to exploit the wood's elasticity to design the SPLIT Lamp. Below, Ochoa demonstrates how to increase the illumination with the simple twist of a knob.

Tahir Mahmood adapted Kausa Ragaputra's painting from India, c.1700, Music For After Midnight, into this attractive side table. A companion table featuring the male figure is also available though not on display at IIDEX.
Michigan's Sensitile uses resin, terrazzo and, as you can see below in these walls and ceiling fixtures, glass to create dazzling reflective materials to enliven office spaces.

If there's an award for most enchanting booth, then Renwil deserves it for this homage to the classic film, Casablanca, which just celebrated its 75 anniversary. Renwil offers paintings, furnishings, and rugs, some of which they displayed here, below.

IIDEX continues today with exhibits, lectures, walking tours and receptions, though the expo kicked off two nights ago with a reception held by Upper Canada Forest Products and the beautiful Queen Richmond Centre West (QRC-West). Architect Dermot Sweeny of Sweeny & Co. painstakingly explained to the rapt audience how his firm transformed a five-storey brick heritage building and L-shaped parking lot into a 17-storey office tower that literally embraces the former exterior space.

The key lies in these three "jacks" or Delta columns (above) which support the tabletop--and modern office tower--above the heritage building. Each leg in a column, Sweeny said, carries the equivalent of 55 locomotive trains. He recalls there was a lot of discussion about the design and size of these giant columns (which resemble those at nearby OCAD). "Architects wanted thinner and more elegant, but engineers wanted fatter and beefier and more concrete."

Each leg is 40-inches in diameter with a steel thickness of two inches. The largest steel castings ever made for a building were produced by a Kansas City foundry and took two weeks to cool, given the steel's thickness. A Hamilton company made the column's tapered ends (that Sweeny pushed for) with roll plate that came from South Korea. A concrete foundation 12 feet deep holds the jacks in place and prevents them from spreading. In all, it took three years to transform the heritage building, because a lot of the parts were custom made, explained Sweeny (seen above).

Sweeny's passion, like an excited kid talking about a fantastic new toy, demonstrated his sheer love for design and buildings, a guiding quality at IIDEX.

Friday, October 6, 2017

film review: Blade Runner 2049

Director: Denis Villeneuve
Writers: Hampton Fancher (also story), Michael Green, based on a Philip K. Dick novel
Featuring: Ryan Gosling, Robin Wright, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks

ChinoKino score: A

Review by Allan Tong

When I heard there would be Blade Runner sequel, I groaned, fearing another Hollywood cash-grab of a classic film. Leave it alone. But when I heard that Quebec's Denis Villeneuve would direct, I contained my skepticism until I saw it. Well, I just saw the new Blade Runner.

Verdict: Mesmerizing.

2049 extends and completes the story of the 1982 original, resuming the storyline where the original film ends: Harrison Ford's Deckard escaping with experimental replicant Rachael (Sean Young). They're lovers in a dangerous time where blade runners like Deckard hunt down man-made replicants.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

TIFF 2017 wrap: Netflix

by Allan Tong

2017 will be remembered as the downsized TIFF: fewer films, slower sales and smaller red carpets (literally). The Canadian economy is growing, but Hollywood is in a slump, coming off its worst summer box office in over a decade. Inevitably this effects TIFF which the Hollywood studios use (Sept.7-17 this year) as the unofficial launch of the Oscar race. Before the festival, TIFF had already announced the end of the Vanguard and City to City programs and, sadly, the cessation of multimedia exhibitions in its gallery space, such as the dazzling ones to Kubrick and Cronenberg. Of course, the biggest news was TIFF CEO Piers Handling announcing his retirement after the 2018 edition.

The Italian party hosted by Mongrel Media

Where is TIFF headed? Where is the movie industry headed? One answer: the internet.

The studios used to premiere star-studded films at TIFF before releasing them in the following weeks and months to qualify for the Oscars and determine their marketing plans. This year, streaming giant Netflix has unveiled two acclaimed features, First They Killed My Father and Mudbound at TIFF.

In fact, First They Killed My Father appeared on Netflix and American cinemas) on the day of its second TIFF screening, Sept. 15. Despite home access, a sold-out crowd packed the Princess of Wales Theatre on King Street West to behold Angelina Jolie's searing adaptation of Loung Ung's childhood memoirs of surviving the Cambodian genocide of the late-70s.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Toronto International Film Festival announces Gala and Special Presentations programmes for TIFF 2017

Featuring premieres from filmmakers including Hany Abu-Assad, Haifaa Al Mansour, Darren Aronofsky, George Clooney, Guillermo del Toro, Richard Eyre, Stephen Frears, Deniz Gamze Ergüven, Greta Gerwig, Craig Gillespie, David Gordon Green, MahamatSaleh Haroun, Angelina Jolie, Anurag Kashyap, Mélanie Laurent, Sebastián Lelio, Ben Lewin, Martin McDonagh, Hansal Mehta, Olivier Nakache, Alexander Payne, Angela Robinson, Andy Serkis, Eric Toledano, Wim Wenders, Joe Wright and more.

Piers Handling, CEO and Director of TIFF, and Cameron Bailey, Artistic Director of TIFF, today unveiled the first round of titles premiering in the Gala and Special Presentations programmes of the 42nd Toronto International Film Festival®. Of the 14 Galas and 33 Special Presentations, this first announcement includes 25 World Premieres, eight International Premieres, six North American Premieres and eight Canadian Premieres.

“Festival-goers from around the world can anticipate a remarkable lineup of extraordinary stories, voices and cinematic visions from emerging talent and some of our favourite masters,” said Handling. “Today’s announcement offers audiences a glimpse at this year’s rich and robust selection of films, including works from Canada, USA, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Spain, Ireland, Luxembourg, Belgium, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, India, Chile, Egypt and Cambodia.”

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Stars Cortellesi and Gullotta shine at the opening weekend of ICFF

Story by Allan Tong
Photos by Sally Warburton

The Italian Contemporary Film Festival opened at Toronto's TIFF Bell Lightbox Thursday night with star Paola Cortellesi (above) presenting the crowd-pleasing comedy, Qualcosa di nuovo (Something New) (see here for review). Ms. Cortellesi also stars in Mamma o Papa? (Mom or Dad?) playing at the ICFF.

The ICFF upheld its tradition of lavish opening parties by featuring delicious food prepared by some of Toronto's finest chefs, a DJ, four-storey video projections and a live soul band which took place at Ricarda's. 

Noelle’s Journey screened Saturday evening to a full house at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, Directed by Peter Gentile (left), the documentary is about two immigrants who left southern Italy to pursue a new life in Canada. One of their granddaughters, Noelle Elia (right), traces both family's histories by journeying to Italy from Toronto. The film is part of the program From Bello to Beautiful: The Art and Impact of Italian-Canadian Cinema, to honour Canada's 150th birthday. Screenings are free.

Veteran Italian actor Leo Gullotta seemed to be everywhere tonight (Sunday) at the Lightbox. He received the Award of Excellence (above) before presenting the comedy, L’ora Legale (It’s The Law). Directly above, Mr. Gullotta pals around with ICFF artistic director, Cristiano De Florentiis. 

The ICFF continues through Friday, June 16 in Toronto, Vaughan, Hamilton, Montreal, Québec City and Vancouver. Recommended: IndivisibleVisit here for the full schedule.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Indivisibili tops this year's Italian film festvial, ICFF

by Allan Tong

After a decades-long slumber, Italian cinema may finally be waking. It's too soon to call this a golden age or even a revival, but recent films such as They Called Me Jeeg, which dazzled last year's Italian Contemporary Film Festival, and ones this year--starting tonight through June 16 in cities like Toronto, Vaughan and Montreal--offer hope.

Sure, the ICFF boasts a healthy share of mainstream comedies, such as tonight's opening gala, the crowd-pleasing Qualcosa di nuovo (Something New), but the festival has included some films that offer unique voices and imaginative stories.

Orecchie (Ears) is an eccentric film by shot in scintillating black-and-white with a narrow, square-shaped aspect ratio. It's about a supply teacher who wakes up with a mysterious ringing in his ears. Like Alice falling down the rabbit hole, he encounters one mishap after another, from proselytizing nuns to a mysterious Luigi who has taken his car. Maybe. Director Alessandro Aronadio toys with reality in an episodic, surreal film that's intriguing at times, but lacks direction at others. Despite its flaws, there really is nothing like Orecchie.

More straightforward is Veloce Come Il Vento (Italian Race), a race car drama that brings together two estranged siblings after their father dies. Teenager Giulia (Matilda De Angelis) is an ambitious, headstrong driver taking care of her younger brother, but after their father dies, they need to live with their older brother, Loris (Stefano Accorsi), a former racer turned junkie. She's a fighter; he's a loser. She must win races to pay off family debts and keep the family house. Loris trains her, but his bad habits threaten her goals. Performance by the leads are strong and the story offers enough hairpin turns, though the film needs trimming. It takes an unnecessary long time to set up, and could use some black humour, particularly from Loris. The racing scenes are exciting. Matteo Rovere's Italian Race is one of the ICFF's highlights.

Perhaps the best film of this year's festival is Indivisibili (Indivisible). It's about Siamese twins, Daisy and Violet about to turn 18 who seek to split from each other and their exploitive father. Blessed with sweet voices, the twins are fed up with audiences treating them like singing circus freaks. One day, a Swiss doctor offers to separate them as long as they get to his clinic in Switzerland. That'll cost 20,000 Euros, which the twins have earned, but their father has gambled away. The twins escape home to raise the money themselves, but risk their lives. Twins Angela and Marianna Fontana deliver heartbreaking performances, while director Edoardo De Angelis translates Nicola Guaglianone's delicate story into a haunting fable.

For showtimes and tickets to all ICFF film, click here.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Something New at this year's ICFF

by Allan Tong

You gotta love the Italians for opening their film festival, the ICFF on June 8 in Toronto, with a romantic comedy about two older women and a younger man.

In Qualcosa di nuovo (Something New), best friends Lucia (Paola Cortellesi, above right) and Maria (Micaela Ramazzotti, above left) fall for the same younger man, Luca (Eduardo Valdarnini, above center) without knowing it. Luca's finishing high school, and Paolo and Micaela have finished past marriages. They feel exhilarated being with 19-year-old Eduardo, but also uneasy. Sure, the sex is fantastico, but when they try to relate to him outside the bed the differences between them emerge: divorces, children, career. Things don't help when the two good friends discover they're seeing the same younger guy.

Directed by Cristina Comencini, Qualcosa di nuovo is a breezy comedy, a crowd-pleaser and a decent choice to open this year's ICFF. Lucia and Maria offer some dimension, though Luca remains a callow, young man interested only in getting laid. The comedy is more cute than cutting, squarely in the tradition of mainstream Italian cinema. Cortellesi shines, offering some vulnerability to her Lucia. She will grace the red carpet at the ICFF opening gala in Toronto on Thursday, June 8 at 7:00 pm with further screenings in Montreal and Vaughan.

Altogether different, but worth seeing is Fiore (Flower). In this neo-realist drama shot like a documentary, teenage Daphne steals cell phones at knifepoint and lands in a youth detention centre. Most of the film takes place here where Daphne flirts and falls for Josh in the boys' wing, another teenage thief. Daphne also befriends and battles various cellmates and tries to build a relationship with her father, who himself is on parole. He also lives with a woman Daphne can't stand.

Selfish and brutish at time, Daphne is hard to like, but credit director Claudio Giovannesi and his team for keeping the story lean and focused and star Daphne Scoccia (above with Valerio Mastandrea as her father) for her uncompromising performance. There's not an extraneous frame in this movie. It's shot handheld with minimal music. Every scene feels real. Fiore is unapologetic and unsentimental, almost to a fault. Its only weakness is a lack of progression in Daphne. She doesn't really change. Fiore plays in Vaughan, Montreal and Quebec City. Details, tickets and times are here.

A total of 180 ICFF screenings take place June 8-16 at Toronto's TIFF Bell Lightbox as well as in Vaughan, Hamilton, Montreal, Québec City and Vancouver. To honour Canada's 150th birthday, the ICFF will host From Bello to Beautiful: The Art and Impact of Italian-Canadian Cinema, seven days of free screenings starting with Noelle’s Journey, a documentary by Peter Gentile about two immigrants who left southern Italy for a new life in Canada.

This year's guest of honour is actor-director Christian De Sica, son of renown director, Vittorio (Bicycle Thief). 

Monday, May 8, 2017

The Italian Contemporary Film Festival returns to Toronto with De Sica honours

by Allan Tong

The line-up of the sixth ICFF (The Italian Contemporary Film Festival) was unveiled at Toronto's Ritz-Carlton earlier today, highlighted by Christian De Sica (above), son of iconic director and actor Vittorio De Sica (The Bicycle Thief), who will receive the ICFF’s Lifetime Achievement Award. De Sica will also present his latest films, Poveri ma ricchi (Poor but Rich) and Fraulein/Una fiaba d’inverno. Past recipients include Al Pacino, Roberto Benigni and Claudia Cardinale. The ICFF will also his present is father's classic comedy, Matrimonio all’italiana (Marriage Italian Style) and host a live talk, In conversation with Christian De Sica, where he will discuss his and his father's work.

As in recent years, the ICFF will take place in several cities at once. A total of 180 screenings will grace screens from June 8-16 at Toronto's TIFF Bell Lilghtbox as well as in Vaughan, Hamilton, Montreal, Québec City and Vancouver. To honour Canada's 150th birthday, the ICFF will host From Bello to Beautiful: The Art and Impact of Italian-Canadian Cinema, seven days of free screenings starting with Noelle’s Journey, a documentary by Peter Gentile about two immigrants who left southern Italy for a new life in Canada.

“This year’s Festival lineup," explained Cristiano de Florentiis, ICFF's Artistic Director, "focuses on three aspects of Italian cinema: creating a bridge between the classics [De Sica]; welcoming [actress] Paola Cortellesi, who will show the importance of women in film as they headline both the opening and closing screenings, as well as celebrating Canada’s 150th.”

ICFF’s opening film will be Qualcosa di nuovo/Something New, a comedy directed by Cristina Comencini. Other special guests include actors Giancarlo Giannini (above), best known here for Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, and a veteran star in Italy with accolades from Cannes, Locarno and the Italian Golden Globes.

Another acting legend, Franco Nero (Die Hard 2, Django Unchained, above), will grace the ICFF red carpet as will Paola Cortellesi (below) who stars in the opening night film.

For further details about films, the ICFF's school screening program and the opening and closing gala parties, please visit here.

Monday, April 24, 2017

20 things I learned at the Toronto Screenwriting Conference

by Allan Tong

TV scribes and some film writers, descended on the Toronto Screenwriting Conference last weekend (April 22-23) to listen to two full days of advice about the craft and business of writing for screen. Gracing the stage at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre were the creators and showrunners of Archer, Girlfriends' Guide to Divorce, Shoot The Messenger, Kim's Convenience and Mohawk Girls as well as big-league American and Canadian producers and network AMC. 

The $500 pass all the panels, but passholders paid $25 or each industry roundtable that overlapped panels to ask showrunners, producers and network buyers long as they didn't pitch any shows. I didn't attend these, but delegates I spoke to were pleased to meet these folks, and some hoped it would lead to pitch meetings one day.

Overall, the level of advice inspired writers. Speakers raised fresh ideas and reinforced existing notions, which is the aim of the TSC. However, pitching was off-limits and the guest speakers were hard to access once they were onstage, though many were in the audience to watch other panels. The TSC is not a marketplace, but a school. 

Should it inject more business elements into its packed schedule? Allow pitching? Introduce a component about agents, funders and casting agents, folks who don't shape the craft of writing, but nourish the business side? Perhaps. 

The conference ran smoothly, though several sessions began and started 10-15 minutes late, such as the Sunday morning coffee break which unfortunately spilled into the start of the Corey Mandell session. This was the weekend's true writing class--and an inspiring one. (My favourite.)

So, here are 20 things I learned from this year's Toronto Screenwriting Conference:

"Writers and crazy people spend time with imaginary characters." - Adam Reed, Archer creator

While constantly fielding pitches, AMC commissions 70 scripts each year, then assigns six to eight writers' rooms (three or four twice a year). Here, they decide which shows to greenlight for production. They don't order pilots.

"Have the courage to tell a story that matters to you. Plumb your own heart of darkness," which are your darkness fears and internal conflicts. - writer and screenwriting coach, Corey Mandell

Be careful shacking up with a writer, warns Paul Haggis (Million Dollar Baby). "Writers will steal everything from your relationship." Also: "People with some success struggle exactly like you," says the two-time Oscar winner. Any writer, everyday, faces the same battles with their script. "Finding the story is so tough."

If you're a writer in Toronto or anywhere and want to pitch AMC, but don't have an agent in Hollywood? Then, partner with a producer, but don't assign him/her ownership. Leave that to AMC who wants to own the show. The days of a prodco licensing say, Mad Men, to AMC are over.

"A story escalates or dies. A great story escalates through its characters' hearts of darkness," their darkest nightmare. - Corey Mandell 

Unsolicited scripts end up in the garbage bin, reveal American producers. Sorry. It's true.

Courtney Jane Walker finds that female Degrassi (Next Generation, Next Class) fans harshly criticize her show's female characters on Twitter more than guys do to male characters.

The "boneyard" of discarded ideas is useful when you need an idea in the clutch, says Kim's Convenience co-showrunner, Kevin White.

Paul Haggis' question to himself and to characters he creates: "What would you for love? What two things? Now...choose one."
Showrunner Marti Noxon never aimed for commercial success, but wound up marrying her personal interests (i.e. anorexia) + genre (thrillers, soaps) + specificity (detail, knowledge of a subject).

"I don't recommend virtual reality. It's as bad as this one." - Motive showrunner, Dennis Heaton (left) with Archer creator Adam Reed

"Daffy Duck is one.of the great villains of all time." Archer animated series creator Adam Reed (right)

Two questions to ask when writing any script, comedy or drama (from Kim's Convenience) (click to enlarge):

U.S. producers more likely to hire a new writer for TV than films given writer's room. A studio can pair a rookie with a veteran scribe.

Paul Haggis, who used to work at a moving company: "We all have jobs. Take the shittiest job, nothing creative....Save that for writing."

Get to the point of a comedy sketch within the first five seconds. Lesson learned from season one of the Beaverton.

The biggest career mistake that writers make: they stop getting better. "Keep pushing yourself to get from good to very good to great to EXTRAORDINARY." - Corey Mandell

For more nuggets of wisdom and photos, find us on Twitter at @chinokino_com