Sunday, April 14, 2019

VOD review: Jack of All Trades



Directed by: Harvey Glazer, Stuart Stone


ChinoKino score: B+

Review by Allan Tong

What are your old baseball cards worth?

That's the question behind the documentary, Jack of All Trades, where Toronto actor Stuart Stone searches for the answer, which in turns triggers a quest to find his estranged father who once ran a sports card empire.

Stone's adventure starts in his mother's condo where he rescues a few unopened boxes of vintage baseball cards from his childhood in the late-1980s. At that time there were 10,000 shops across North America, and the industry was worth $1.2 billion by 1991. Stuart's old man, Jack, was running 11 Sluggers shops and raking in the cash. A quiet hobby that began in the 1950's exploded in the 1980s.


Excited, Stuart (with his older sister, Karie, as moral support) takes his old cards to a card collecting show, but is crushed to learn they're worthless. What happened?


Stone uncovers the answer as he questions card retailers, big-time collectors, retired baseball star Jose Canseco, Topps (the last big card-maker) and a sports journalist. The market peaked when elite card producer, Upper Deck, oversupplied the market with its treasured 1989 Ken Griffey Jr. rookie card. Before Upper Deck, sports cards were homely looking products where stale, dry bubblegum stuck to the backs of cards. Upper Deck elevated baseball cards from the minor to the major leagues with classy, slick and elegant designs. They were beautiful. (Disclosure: I collected baseball and hockey cards as a kid, though retired before the Upper Deck era.)

Unfortunately, Upper Deck also pumped out an oversupply of that Griffey rookie card to meet greedy demand. Speculation went mad. Ultimately, supply became distorted and reduced the value of that and other cards.

Baseball cards are supposed to surprise you. You open a pack and pray that an all-star lies inside. That's the fun. That creates scarcity. Scarcity drove up demand of the pre-1980s cards, so what happens when there's an abundance?

The bubble burst just as Stone's father abandoned his family for another woman. The movie takes a risk interweaving Stone's personal story with the card one, though overall it pays off. At times, Stone's story intrudes on the card one as the narrative switches uneasily from one to the next. Which story is this film telling?

It's telling both, of course, and the ending ties them together in heartfelt fashion. It helps that Stone is a mensch, who candidly reveals the painful secrets of his past. Sister Karie offers a steadying perspective that is detached yet intimate. (The film's title doesn't work, though.)

Baseball fans will love this film, but Jack of All Trades is more than a sports story. It's about dysfunctional families and broken childhoods. It's about reconciling before the game is over.




Thursday, February 28, 2019

film review: Greta




Directed by Neil Jordan
Written by Ray Wright and Neil Jordan
  
ChinoKino score: C

Review by Allan Tong

Greta is entertaining for the wrong reasons. The new Neil Jordan film is supposed to be a thriller-horror about a stalker (along the lines of Misery), but winds up being an uninentional parody. Pity, because it stars world-class talent Isabelle Huppert and the fine, young actress Chloe Grace Moretz.

The story boils down to older Greta (Huppert in an English-speaking role), ensnaring young Frances (Moretz). Lonely widow Greta turns Frances into her surrogate daughter while Frances recently lost her mother. Both women are disconnected from their families, so they befriend each other spending evenings where Greta teaches Frances the piano among other things. Frances prefers to hang out with this older French-Hungarian woman than younger women her age.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

The Artist Project showcases Canadian art this weekend in Toronto


Jason Soule reimagines Hollywood through an indigenous lens

Story and photos by Allan Tong

Art lovers braved the icy sidewalks to bask in art by over 300 Canadians at the annual Artist Project, running through tomorrow, Feb. 24. Opening night on Thursday in the Better Living Centre was a party with food and drink stations offering samples of Between the Lines wine and Just Craft Soda among others. Line-ups were longer for the food, requring 5-10 minutes for a falafel ball or a bag of popcorn. Crowds were heavy and matched last year's traffic. Whether the art was better is a matter of personal taste, but I felt it equalled last year's. Below are are my picks.

Jackie Lee was happy to show off her prints and screenprinting

Renee Bellavance gets colourful

Not only paintings, but cards and posters were on display including these dog-loving cards by Cassidy van Leeuwen

Joel Sullivan's iron sculpture

The opening night boasts food and drink stations scattered across the Better Living Centre. There was enough wine and beer flowing, but the few food stations required a 10-minute wait. The most popular was the falafels by Tabule (below).


Sophie Falconer
Todd Monk


Harvey Glazer's Pornigami

Painting dominates the Artist Project, but there are also fine photgraphers like Bryan Wilcox

Thursday, January 24, 2019

film review: Cold War (Zimna wojna)



Directed by Pawel Pawlikowski
Written by Pawel Pawlikowski and Janusz Głowacki with Piotr Borkowski
  
ChinoKino score: A-

Review by Allan Tong

One of the best films of 2018 is Cold War from Poland. Sure, act three takes a few questionable turns, but Cold War boasts the best cinematography I have seen in a long time, shot in gorgeous black-and-white by Lukasz Zal and unusually framed in 4x3. The film is also driven by strong performances by Joanna Kulig and Tomasz Kot.

They play turbulent lovers in postwar Poland after Wictor (Kot) hires Zula (Kulig) to sing and dance in a folk music ensemble that crosses Communist Europe. They spark at first sight. Zula is emotional and impulsive. The stoic and handsome Wictor flees to Paris at the height of the Cold War and waits for Zula to join him. What happens after that is unpredictable and is satisfying depending on whether you believe the choices the lovers make (not entirely for me).

Kulig burns up the screen. Her Zula is fiery and mercurial, and commands the screen. Wictor stands by her over 15 years of dizzying ups and downs, though sometimes I wondered why. Holding everything together is the music--ranging from Polish folk to American jazz--and a mesemerizing romance. Again, the cinematagraphy is stunning. It is pure pleasure to watch Cold War.  The Parisian nightclub scenes are the film's highlights, both musically and visually.

 
Cold War's Pawel Pawlikowski won Best Director at Cannes last spring, and I can see why.  He plays it cool on screen, relying on old-school film techniques, including long wide shots and slow cutting to sensitively convey the volatile romance of Zula and Wictor. Their story is loosely based on his own parents.

I don't know if Cold War will beat Roma at the Oscars (also shot in black and white, but less effectively), but it should catch the eye of North American filmgoers. Cold War is haunting and beautiful.


Saturday, January 19, 2019

IDS 2019: bigger but better?



Story by Allan Tong / Photos by Sally Warburton

IDS, the Interior Design Show, returns to frosty Toronto this week (through January 20), in the bigger south building of the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. This year's IDS absorbs IIDEX, the beloved design and architecture expo. As usual, IDS kicked off with a party Thursday night complete with DJ, dance floor, food stations and bubbly pouring from various booths. The food, while delicious, was harder to find in past years, because it was spread out more, though there was no shortage of champagne, beer and wine.

 Despite a snowstorm hammering Toronto on Saturday, crowds were decent throughout the afternoon, as seen with capacity audiences listening to interior designers such as Ryan Korban (above). Overall, the quality of design at this year's IDS 2019 remained high. Here are some works that caught our eye:

Black Arts


Hands-down, Evoke Flooring had the best display, complete with DJ and faux-vinyl LP bins

Guild Design Gallery

Lumas

Meyer's eco-friendly household soaps and cleansers

Michelle Vella's wide-eyed art

Back from last year is SMEG

Tat Design

W Studio

Wallumination
Chris Briscoe was among the many DJ's spinning tunes to create the dance party vibe

Two of the Beautiful People enjoying the opening night party

W Studio

Designerstone translucent panels over Dimplex electric fireboxes. No, that doesn't hurt.

Falafels by Tabule were among the food vendors scattered throughout the opening party

Turntable by Thales