Thursday, December 20, 2018

film review: Shoplifters (Manbiki kazoku)

Directed by: Hirokazu Kore-eda
Written by: Hirokazu Kore-eda

ChinoKino score: B-

Review by Allan Tong

In ultra-conformist Japan, one family rebels against society by stealing anywhere from grocery shops to the backseats of cars. On the outskirts of Tokyo, Osamu (Lily Franky) and his son Shota (Kairi Jyo) shoplift. Meanwhile, his wife (Sakura Ando), an aunt (Mayu Matsuoka) and grandma (the late Kilin Kiki) chip in by scamming and performing in private peep-shows. Their lives turn one night when Osamu and Shota come upon a tiny girl named Yuri (Miyu Sasaki) in the cold. They take her into their family and groom her to be a shoplifter.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

film review: Border (Gräns)

Directed by: Ali Abbasi
Written by:  Ali Abbasi, Isabella Eklöf and John Ajvide Lindqvist (based on a short story by Lindqvist)

ChinoKino score: B+

Review by Allan Tong

What the hell did I just watch?

Border plays like an art-house European drama but veers into sci-fi, noir and even romance. At times, it unwinds drily, while at others, Border mesmerizes. Throughout, it is unsettling.

Border follows Tina (Eva Melander) as a lonely, cold customs agent. Tina looks part-animal with a big forehead, fang-like teeth, heavy body hair and scars galore. She looks repulsive, and has drawn scorn all her life, from schoolyard bullies to adults who openly call her an "ugly bitch." Naturally, she has developed a thick emotional shell. She isn't warm. She's guarded, and hard to know--and like. Meanwhile, her father (Jörgen Thorsson ) is falling into dementia while her boyfriend (Sten Ljunggren ) leeches off her in a loveless relationship.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

film review: Science Fair

Directed by: Cristina Costantini and Darren Foster
Written by:  Cristina Costantini, Darren Foster and Jeff Plunkett

ChinoKino score: B

Review by Allan Tong

It's a good idea for a documentary: follow nine bright high school students from the States as well as Brazil and Germany as they build innovative science projects to compete at the 2017 International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) in L.A. This Superbowl of science pits 1,700 of the smartest teens from 78 countries to battle for the US$75,000 top prize.

Co-director Cristina Costantini knows first-hand what these science geeks are feeling: she herself is a two-time alumna of ISEF. Costantini and her team deftly capture the personalities who star in this film. The most engaging is Anjali (above), a 13-year-old child prodigy from Louisville, Kentucky, who's built an arsenic-testing device that could save millions of lives. Anjali is confident, articulate, but also nervous at competition time. She wins us over instantly.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

film review: Transformer

Directed by: Michael Del Monte
Written by:  Michael Del Monte, Paul Kemp
Featuring:  Janae Marie Kroczaleski

ChinoKino score: A-

Review by Allan Tong

There are many documentaries about bodybuilders and, more recently, trans-people undergoing gender re-assignment, but Transformer is both.

Director Del Monte strikes documentarian gold in profiling Janae Marie Kroczaleski, who is/was Matt, a world record powerlifter. As a child, Matt added muscle to ward off bullies, and now as an adult with three children of his own, he still doesn't feel comfortable in her own skin. It's revealing when she says that most bodybuilders, with their ripped biceps and calves of steel, suffer low self-esteem. That insecurity is the thread that runs through Transformer.

Monday, October 15, 2018

film review on VOD: The King

Written and Directed by: Eugene Jarecki
Starring: Alec Baldwin, Chuck D, Ethan Hawke, Emmylou Harris, James Carville

ChinoKino score: A

Review by Allan Tong

There are countless documentaries about Elvis Presley, but nothing like The King. 

It's a simple premise: drive Elvis' Rolls-Royce across America, and have guests in the backseat tell his life story. But--and here's the difference--reflect on race, class, democracy and militarism in the King's time and today. The effect is puzzling at first, sometimes brilliant and surprisingly insightful about Elvis himself.

Elvis was a poor kid who made it big, the embodiment of the American Dream. But campaign strategist James Carville laments that that dream has vanished, because the disparity between rich and poor has widened too far. That poverty is starkly seen when Elvis' Rolls rolls into his hometown of Tupelo, Mississippi where poor blacks as well as whites feel forgotten.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

film review on VOD: Mary Shelley

Written & Directed by: Haifaa Al-Mansour
Featuring: Elle Fanning, Maisie Williams, Bel Powley, Douglas Booth

ChinoKino score: B-

Review by Allan Tong

When this biopic about the 19th-century author of Frankenstein unspooled in theatres last year, it was greeted with apathy, if not disdain. However, it deserves another look on VOD. Elle Fanning carries this uneven film as teenage Mary Shelley, who rebels against her parents by eloping with the flighty, hedonist poet, Percy Shelley (Douglas Booth). Leading a life of excess, she arrives at wisdom--and a landmark novel.

Dragging along her younger sister (finely played by Bel Powley), Mary journeys through a world of casual sex and earthly pleasures without a thought (or penny) for tomorrow. The Romantics, as the Shelleys and their ilk were called, were the hippies of early-1800's England, reacting against the uptight rationality and tradition that had straightjacketed England.

film review for VOD: After Everything

Written and Directed by: Hannah Marks, Joey Power
Featuring: Jeremy Allen White, Maika Monroe, Marisa Tomei, Joe Keery 

ChinoKino score: B-

Review by Allan Tong

A young New York couple fall in love, except that he comes down with cancer. Not exactly your typical romantic film. This is a brave film for exploring the devotion and anguish that drives these difficult relationships. A solid idea for a movie, but told from whose point of view?

My bet is hers, Mia, a no-nonsense young woman who works in a cubicle at a marketing firm. Maika Monroe does a good job of fleshing out Mia as she falls in love with the aimless yet flirtatious Elliot (Jeremy Allen White). Mia then nurses him through endless rounds of chemotherapy. If you've ever accompanied a loved one to chemo, then you now how wrenching this experience is for both parties. This film captures that pain. Further, Mia keeps the relationship alive, working for them both, and carrying the strain of balancing work and his cancer therapy.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

film review: Fahrenheit 11/9

Michael Moore with fan, Jared Kushner
Director: Michael Moore
Writers: Michael Moore

ChinoKino score: A

Review by Allan Tong

Left or right, you know where you stand with a Michael Moore film and Fahrenheit 11/9 is definitely no exception.

Moore's latest, which premiered at the start of TIFF, is a troubling snapshot of the United States, a country driven to ruin by despot Donald Trump, whom Moore compares to Hitler. Naturally, Trump supporters will despise this film, but surprisingly Democrats will cringe at Moore's shots at the Clintons over their "compromise" liberal politics and the Democratic machine that this film claims stole the party nomination from Bernie Sanders.

The message: both sides of the aisle have forsaken ordinary working Americans and it's time to take democracy back--or it'll disappear.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Film and glamour: Birks and Telefilm honour six women at TIFF

Actor Pascale Bussières glams it up on the red carpet
Canadians aren't known for glamour, but Monday at TIFF, they dazzled in dresses and sparkled on the red carpet at the sixth Birks Diamond Tribute to the Year’s Women in Film. Birks and Telefilm saluted six women: documentary director Nettie Wild; actors Tantoo Cardinal and Pascale Bussières; screenwriter Susan Coyne; and emerging directors Stella Meghie and Jeanne Leblanc.

The Grizzlies director Miranda de Pencier, honouree and producer Alethea Arnaquq-Naril, star Emerald MacDonald, star Paul Nutarariaq and producer Stacey Aglok MacDonald

Monday, September 10, 2018

French cinema champions diversity at TIFF 2018

Cities of Last Things - Alexis Perrin, Winnie Lau, Ho Wi Ding, Hong Chi-Lee, Louise Grinberg 
France's 28 feature-length and short films at TIFF this year herald gender and racial diversity like no other country. Films include Eva Husson's controversial women's war drama, Girls of the Sun, and the China-Taiwan-U.S.-France co-pro, Cities of Last Things. Here are images from the Unifrance reception at TIFF:

Her Job: Marisha Triantyfilidon, Nikos Labot and Dounia Sichov 

High Life director Claire Denis

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Mammoth Art of Banksy retrospective opens in Toronto

Story & photos by Allan Tong

The Art of Banksy opens tonight in what will likely be the art event of Toronto's summer, perhaps the year.

The anonymous British street artist known only as "Banksy" enjoys a lavish retrospective of 80 artworks, almost all of them gallery pieces, with a handful of  works lifted from the streets of east London over the past two decades. The show runs June 13-July 11 at 213 Sterling Road after tonight's private opening party.

The Art of Banksy is a greatest hits package of one of the most successful artists in the world, including the iconic Balloon Girl, Flag Wall (top) and Laugh Now. It showcases riot police with happy faces, sardonic monkees, rioters hurling flowers, and spray-painting rats, which all reflect Banksy's leftist politics.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Toronto lands the North American premiere of The Art of Banksy

Story by Allan Tong

The world's most famous--and reclusive--street artist hits Toronto.

From June 13-July 11 The Art of Banksy will showcase more than 80 pieces of his artwork worth more than $35 million at 213 Sterling Road in Toronto's west end.

Curator and Banksy's ex-agent Steve Lazarides said at today's announcement that over 30 pieces will differ from last year's show in Amsterdam. "It's a constantly evolving show." A film, shown in Amsterdam, may be included in Toronto.

In addition to Amsterdam, the Art of Banksy has already graced Melbourne, Tel Aviv and Auckland, explained Michel Boersma, a senior vice-president at Live Nation. Corey Ross, president and CEO of Starvox Exhibits, added that Toronto not only beat out Athens and Stockholm as the next host, but is also the first North American city to present this show. Starvox Exhibits and Live Nation are co-presenting the Art of Banksy.

Included in the Art of Banksy will be Balloon Girl (top), Flag Wall (above) and Laugh Now (below).

Will Banksy be installing anything on the streets of Toronto? "I very much doubt it," curator and Banksy's former agent Steve Lazarides told ChinoKino. Nor will the exhibit include any street pieces, which Lazarides vehemently opposes. "These pieces were made for the cities they were put in."

Left to right: Corey Ross, Michel Boersma and Steve Lazarides (photo: Allan Tong)
And no, Banksy will not appear in Toronto.

For more than a decade, the street artist known only as Banksy, has been posting his politically charged artwork mostly on underpasses, bridges and walls across the streets of London, notably in Shoreditch and Hoxton. This guerilla art has raised accusations of vandalism as enterprising vendors literally peel his work off public walls and frame it for sale. Meanwhile, Banksy's art has been shown in many galleries and has commanded hundreds-of-thousands of dollars at auctions. His identity is secret, though he is English and male.

The venue of the Toronto exhibition is key. Sterling Road is rapidly transforming from a remote industrial area by the railroad tracks (known as the Junction) into a vibrant, artistic hub. For example, MOCCA, the Museum of Canadian Contemporary Art, will open there this summer.

Demand should be heavy. Only 50,000 tickets will go on sale starting May 12 at It won't be cheap: $35 each, and there will be timed tickets and general admission ones without a set time. Any remaining tickets will be sold on standby.

And there will be a gift shop at the exit.

Friday, January 19, 2018

IDS kicks off 20th anniversary with wine, food and design

A day after Canadian interest rates rose and as housing prices continue to flirt with all-time highs, 5,500 Torontonians celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Interior Design Show last night. At the IDS opening party, well-dressed partygoers sipped fine wines from Niagara to California, tasted delicious canopes prepared by local restaurants and, of course, sampled the latest in interior design and furnishings from more than 300 exhibitors. Forget your worries (and winter) and enjoy.

Perrin & Rowe are aglow

Canadian designers Sarah Richardson, Tommy Smythe, Colin & Justin, Arren Williams and international stars Jay Osgerby, Snarkitecture and Kathryn Ireland mingled with the crowd as Bellosound DJ's blasted grooves across the Metro Convention Centre (though no one was dancing). Altogether, the IDS kick-off amounted to a giant TIFF party but with cool furniture. The IDS opener remains one of the prime cultural events of the city.