Friday, December 15, 2017

film review: Star Wars: The Last Jedi

The next generation of Rebels (left to right): Finn, Rey and Tico

Director: Rian Johnson
Writer: Rian Johnson
Featuring: Daisy Ridley, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Kelly Ann Tran, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver

The Last Jedi thrills Star Wars longtime fans, ties up several story threads, and passes the light sabre to a new generation of characters. Though imperfect, it is one of the best films in the franchise.

[spoiler alert: Read no further if you haven't seen the film. If you have, read on.]

The Last Jedi picks up from 2015's The Force Awakens which introduced the next generation of Star Wars heroes and villains: Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega), Poe (Oscar Isaac) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). Depending on whether you liked it or not, The Force Awakens either honoured or plagiarized the very first Star Wars. Young junk scavenger Rey was the young Luke Skywalker; Han Solo and Chewbacca reunited in their Falcon; BB-8 was the droid carrying a secret message, and so on.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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. 

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.

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.

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.