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).

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

film review: Gold


Director: Stephen Gaghan
Writers: Stephen Gaghan, Patrick Massett and John Zinman
Featuring: Matthew McConaughey, Édgar Ramírez, Bryce Dallas Howard, Corey Stoll

ChinoKino score: C

Review by Allan Tong

Matthew McConaughey sports a pot belly and bald head to portray Kenny Wells, half of a goldmining team that hits the jackpot in Indonesia in this morality play loosely based on the Bre-X scandal of 1993. Performances by him and his partner in business, Édgar Ramírez (as Michael Acosta), and love, Bryce Dallas Howard (as Kay) are sound, but we never quite fall behind Wells and cheer him as he strikes it rich nor pity him as he slides down. Another missed opportunity is Howard, whose Kay remains underdeveloped throughout and relationship with Kenny doesn't payoff at the end.

Monday, December 19, 2016

film review: Harry Benson: Shoot First

Directed by Matthew Miele & Justin Bare


Review by Allan Tong

You've likely seen this iconic image. But in February 1964, nobody expected a "pop" group of English moptops called The Beatles to last. Similarly, nobody bet on a loudmouthed black boxer named Cassius Clay to become the world heavyweight champion.

Scottish-born photographer Harry Benson wasn't lucky to photograph these two legends crossing paths--he was smart and hard-working. A fine, new documentary by Matthew Miele and Justin Bare reveals that it was Benson's idea to pair the Fab Four with Clay (later to rename himself Muhammed Ali). The Beatles were Miami, Benson needed shots for his editor, and Clay/Ali was in town.

Monday, December 12, 2016

5 cool things at IIDEX this year



Story and photos by Allan Tong

With a movie screening, walking tours, book signings, workshops, panels, awards and parties, IIDEX, Toronto's annual interior design expo, has blossomed into a multimedia affair that's expanded beyond its two days (Nov.30-Dec.1) on the convention floor. Here are five cool things we saw at IIDEX (in no particular order):

Monday, October 31, 2016

Film review: Gimme Danger

Directed by Jim Jarmusch

Review by Allan Tong

Punk pioneers, The Stooges, receive the deluxe rock doc treatment in the entertaining, funny and illuminating Gimme Danger. Makes sense that indie king, Jim Jarmusch, tells the story of the iconoclastic band that hailed from working class Michigan during the flower power era then roared across stages and recorded three seminal albums before drugs poisoned the band.

Stooges' front man, Iggy Pop, dominates the storytelling and it's clear he's the driving force throughout the band's frenetic history. Iggy's reminisces are detailed and warm. It's jarring to see him (as young James Osterberg) in old photos wearing suits and posing with his early bands behind drum kits (he started as a drummer). Blues freak Osterberg then travels to Mecca (aka Chicago) and gradually finds his voice by banding with the Asheton brothers, Ron and Scott, and a bassist, and mentoring under rock revolutionaries, the MC5.

Friday, October 28, 2016

145 documentary features submitted for 2016 Oscar race


One hundred forty-five features have been submitted for consideration in the Documentary Feature category for the 89th Academy Awards®.

Several of the films have not yet had their required Los Angeles and New York qualifying releases. Submitted features must fulfill the theatrical release requirements and comply with all of the category’s other qualifying rules in order to advance in the voting process. A shortlist of 15 films will be announced in December.

Films submitted in the Documentary Feature category also may qualify for Academy Awards in other categories, including Best Picture, provided they meet the requirements for those categories.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

10 documentary shorts named to Oscar's 2016 shortlist


The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences today announced that the field of Documentary Short Subject contenders for the 89th Academy Awards has been narrowed to 10 films, of which 5 will earn Oscar nominations.

Voters from the Academy’s Documentary Branch viewed this year’s 61 eligible entries and submitted their ballots to PricewaterhouseCoopers for tabulation.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

85 countries in competition for 2016 Foreign Language Film Oscar

Eighty-five countries have submitted films for consideration in the Foreign Language Film category for the 89th Academy Awards. Yemen is a first-time entrant.

The competitive Foreign Language Film category was introduced in 1956 for the 29th Academy Awards. In celebration of its 60th anniversary, the Academy has created a complete playlist of acceptance speeches and a poster gallery of all the Foreign Language Film Oscar winners.

The 89th Oscars will be held on Sunday, February 26, 2017, at the Dolby Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center in Hollywood, and will be televised live on the ABC Television Network at 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT. The Oscars also will be televised live in more than 225 countries and territories worldwide.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Toronto International Film Festival Announces 2016 Award Winners


The Toronto International Film Festival® announced its award winners at a ceremony at TIFF Bell Lightbox today, hosted by Piers Handling, CEO and Director of TIFF, and Cameron Bailey, Artistic Director of the Toronto International Film Festival. To watch the presentation, visit tiff.net/ceremony. The 41st Festival wraps up this evening.

The short film awards below were selected by a jury comprised of American filmmaker Abteen Bagheri (That B.E.A.T.), French filmmaker Eva Husson (Bang Gang), and Canadian filmmaker Jeff Barnaby (Rhymes for Young Ghouls).

SHORT CUTS AWARD FOR BEST CANADIAN SHORT FILM
The Short Cuts Award for Best Canadian Short Film goes to Alexandre Dostie’s Mutants. The jury remarked, “Mutants takes a summer in Quebec and infuses it with a ribald lyricism. Awkward moments of sexual awakening paired with self cannibalism and self immolation rise it above standard nostalgia. It was a film that took chances with both its subject matter and humour, and framing it through the eyes of children. Congratulations.” The award offers a $10,000 cash prize.