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

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Sundance Now enters the streaming game

by Allan Tong

Sundance is entering the streaming game with a new service called Sundance Now. For US$6.99 a month, subscribers access a catalogue of indie features, award-winning docs and some series.

Sundance Now's curator George Schmalz (pictured above, left, formerly of Kino Lorber and Kickstarer) and general manager, Jan Diedrichsen (right) flew up from New York last night to launch the service with a Q&A and brief video presentation at the AGO in Toronto.

Features include Heathers, Rhythm Thief, Dementia 13, Kubrick's obscure early film, Fear and Desire, and Takeshi Kitano's Violent Cop. The documentary selection is particularly notable with titles such as Knuckleball, War Don Don, Burma VJ, Detropia, Wordplay, Bronx Obama and Page One. So far, there are only seven series including two Sundance originals, The Bureau and Take 5: Justice in America which center on espionage and the prison system. Viewers can select titles pre-curated by filmmakers such as Jonathan Demme and Bruce McDonald under the Curators Collection select their own playlists (The Central Park Five and Anvil, respectively).

The cost is US$6.99 a month or US$59.99 a year. Note that Canadians pay based on the US price, so account for the currency exchange.

Will Sundance Now make a dent in the Netflix juggernaut? Hard to say. Canada showed the door to Shomi last year, but Shomi didn't offer any original content which was their fatal flaw. At least Sundance Now has a few original series and offers more obscure but acclaimed indie films than mainstreams VOD channels. It may come down to Sundance and its partners investing in original programming to thrive.

Whatever the case, the current catalogue relects Sundance's indie and social activist bent, qualities the Sundance brand has championed from day one.

(Disclosure: I'm a Sundance Documentary Fellow, and the Sundance Documentary Film has financed one of my films.)

Sunday, March 12, 2017

A step forward for Canadian diversity at 2017 CSAs

Tatiana Maslany (above) walked away with two big statues at Sunday's Canadian Screen Awards gala in Toronto. That's three if you count the award that Orphan Black (below) snagged for its farewell season. Pretty good for a show that nobody in Canada picked up until BBC America did. Oh, Canada...

Other big winners were Montreal director Xavier Dolan's It's Only the End of the World, the Jesse Owens biopic Race and Letterkenny for best TV comedy series.

The red carpet was more racially diverse than usual with the cast of Mohawk Girls (above), Kim's Convenience, Tattoo Cardinal (receiving the Earle Grey award) and American stand-up superstar, Dave Chappelle (below) posing before the paparazzi .

Chappelle presented a lifetime achievement award to the Just For Laughs Festival, "a national treasure" and compared kinder, gentler Canada to a "little gay brother I didn't know we had."

Christopher Plummer (above in the press room) accepted his lifetime achievement award with grace and wit, insisting, "By no means is this the end. The curtain has not yet fallen. It's simply stuck." It was a high point of the show.

Friday, February 24, 2017

IDS 2017 warms up Toronto with design and dance

by Allan Tong
(last update: Feb. 24)

Toronto is a frozen hell-hole in January. Besides paying off Christmas credit card bills and enduring the darkest days of the year, Torontonians have little to enjoy at the start of the year. The Interior Design Show shrewdly fills the void to promote Canadian and world designers of home furnishings while injecting colour and fun into the city.

Last Thursday (January 19), the IDS opened with its annual party, sprawled across the north building of the Metro Convention Centre. Dozen of exhibitors' booths poured bubbly, beer and wine while others offered canopes of everything from beef to falafels. "It's the first real party of the year," said one woman, who works at a bank. "After Christmas, we kind of hibernate, and now we come out."

She paid $61 and dressed up to take in the party that lasted four hours. The unusually mild weather attracted larger crowds than last year. Partygoers danced and drank at the Caesarstone Stage (below) while consumers and industry professionals alike glided from booth to booth with champagne in their hands to admire the latest luxury bathtubs, lighting fixtures, kitchen appliances and bedroom sets. Everyone dressed up, like a red carpet premiere, and leaned towards casual chic. (I'd never seen so many black leather pants in one place.)

Toronto mixes paint and party at the Artist Project

The 2017 Artist Project exhibition opened Thursday night at the CNE's Better Living Centre with a party surrounded by beautiful creations. For $28 ($30 at the door), any art collector, hipster or party animal could have sipped red wine and nibbled on canapes as they admired (or dismissed) the 250 or so booths adorned in paintings. It was booth after booth of paintings, from oils to mixed media, with zero photography and almost no sculpture (a suggestion for next year), created by local artists. Last month's Interior Design Show opened in the same party fashion.

So was the art any good? That depends on your taste. As the photos below attest, styles ranged from the abstract to representational, from traditional to modern.
And the party? There were line-ups for glasses of wine, beer, Crystal Head vodka, Strongbow cider and even Walter Ceasar mix. Bodega Martin Berdugo and Between The Lines drew the healthiest queues for red, wine and rose. Meanwhile, Tabule served the tastiest food and it was vegetarian to boot (falafel balls with hummus and pita), followed by Quesada's Mexican samplers, but some patrons wanted a little more to nibble on (another tip for 2018).

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Nominations announced for the 2017 Canadian Screen Awards

The nominations for the 2017 Canadian Screen Awards were announced today in joint press conferences in Montreal and Toronto. Montreal director Xavier Dolan’s It’s Only the End of the World | Juste la fin du monde and Space’s series Orphan Black are the leading nominees for this year’s Canadian Screen Awards.

Dolan’s French-language drama It’s Only the End of the World | Juste la fin du monde leads the film portion with nine nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Actor for French actor Vincent Cassel.

Orphan Black leads the televion categories with 14 nominations. CBC comedy “Schitt’s Creek followed with 13 nominations, while another of their comedies “Kim’s Convenience had 11. “19-2 and “Vikings each received nine nominations.

Christopher Plummer had been previously announced as the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2017 Canadian Screen Awards.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

film review (Netflix): Miss Sharon Jones!

Director: Barbara Kopple
Featuring: Sharon Jones, The Dap Kings

ChinoKino score: A-

Review by Allan Tong

Originally released before her death last November, Miss Sharon Jones! now serves as a memoriam to the late, great soul singer. This heartwrenching film by renown documentarian, Barbara Kopple (Harlan Country, U.S.A.), and just released on Netflix, chronicles Jones' battle against pancreatic cancer for seven months in 2013 after her diagnosis. It's not your typical glossy music doc, but a war movie.

First of all, Jones was an anomaly in the youthful world of music. She struggled for many years signing in wedding bands and even working as a corrections officer at Rikers Island before gaining fame in her fifties. As she recounts in the film, record execs told her she was too black, too fat and too short to make it big. Thankfully, she proved them wrong.

Friday, January 13, 2017

film review: Live By Night

Director: Ben Affleck
Writer: Ben Affleck
Featuring: Ben Affleck, Zoe Saldana, Chris Cooper, Sienna Miller

ChinoKino score: B

Review by Allan Tong

A showcase of Ben Affleck's talents behind and in front of the camera, Live by Night is an uneven gangster flick redeemed by an intriguing storyline and moments of poignancy that raise this film above pulp fiction.

Based on the novel by Dennis Lehane, Live by Night is about Joe Coughlin (Affleck), a disillusioned World War I vet and the bad son of a Boston police captain, who goes into bootlegging during Prohibition.

There are scores of films about the Italian mob, but few about the Irish. This is a welcome change. Coughlin's ethnicity continues to play a role after the bloody first act set in 1920's Boston. Live by Night then shifts to Tampa, Florida after Coughlin barely survives Irish rival, Albert White and leaves behind his love, Emma Gould (Sienna Miller).