Friday, December 18, 2020

film review: Another Round


Directed by Thomas Vinterberg

Written by Tobias Lindholm & Thomas Vinterberg

ChinoKino score: A

Review by Allan Tong

Suppose you went through daily life drunk?

This is the question that four jaded, middle-aged teachers in Denmark pose to each other, citing (and likely distorting) a scientific study that claims that humans are born with a 0.5 alcohol level shortfall. Martin (played by the superb Mads Mikkelsen) is the focus of this morality tale that balances drama with dark humour. Martin's marriage has gone stale and he bores his history students to the point of them openly revolting. Then, the four guys meet for a 40th birthday and vow to get tipsy, then progressively hammered to prove this theory. 

Did I mention that they were school teachers? Pretty soon, the gym teacher (finely played by Vinterberg veteran, Thomas Bo Larsen) hides bottles in the equipment room until the janitor discovers them. In contrast, Martin actually comes alive as the booze fuels his spirit. He makes love to his wife for the first time in ages, and excites his students when he teaches them about World War Two.

Friday, November 27, 2020

film review: Zappa


Directed by Alex Winter

ChinoKino score: A-

Review by Allan Tong

How to sum up the career of the one of music's most provocative, ornery, diverse and contrary talents in two hours? Alex Winter does a good job capturing one of music's most iconoclastic figures in this new documentary, simply called Zappa. No, Zappa isn't complete. The doc goes easy on Frank's notorious arrogance, and unfortunately leaves much of his early family life--and the forces that shaped his headstrong personality--vague. However, Winter does paint a complex, exciting portrait of a unique talent who still attracts a fervant cult of fans. As Alice Cooper says in the film about FZ, "He had the freaks and the artsy people. Then, he had the whole middle that didn't get it."

I'm no Zappa freak, but I do respect his stature in modern music. It's best to approach this film with an open mind or to know nothing about the man at all. Zappa freaks will probably know a lot of the information disclosed here, like Zappa drumming in an interracial band in the late-1950s when segregation still gripped the United States, or his obscenity bust a few years later (likely a set-up) for making an "obscene" recording when he ran a recording studio.

Friday, October 2, 2020

film review: Save Yourselves!


Directed & written by Alex H. Fischer & Eleanor Wilson

ChinoKino score: B-

Review by Allan Tong

A tongue-in-cheek comedy about social media, Save Yourselves! is a fun, likable film centering on a  Brooklyn couple named Jack (John Reynolds) and Su (Sunita Mani). Like countless millennials, they are addicted to their devices. Phones, laptops, you name it. However, they fear that all this connectedness disconnects them from the real world. So, they jump on a friend's offer to stay at his isolated cabin in the woods so they can unplug and go e-cold turkey for a few days. What could go wrong?

An alien invasion, for one. Because Jack and Su have disconnected, they have no idea that a swarm of aliens, which look like oversized puffballs, have seized planet Earth. All hell is breaking loose around the globe while our couple live the unwired life. Eventually, they encounter one of these puffballs and notice weird things happening around the cabin, like empty whisky bottles (apparently aliens like to party). Jack and Su break down and finally check their massive backlog of voice-mails and texts to learn that Earth is doomed.

Thursday, October 1, 2020

film review: The Glorias


Directed by Julie Taymor

Written by Julie Taymor and Sarah Ruhl, based on My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem

ChinoKino score: B-

Review by Allan Tong

Feminist pioneer, Gloria Steinem, receives the overdue biopic treatment at the hands of one of the most imaginative directors around, Julie Taymor. Taymor takes an unconventional approach, bouncing between Steinem travels as a university students through impoverished India to her pivotal role in launching the feminist movement and to her struggles against sexism as a young journalist in 1960s New York. The effect, unfortunately, is uneven. It's like a cinematic triptych where we view various Glorias juxtaposed and in parallel which is both dazzling, but confusing.

Young Gloria grows up in Depression-era Ohio where young Gloria is haunted by her mother who plunges into melancholy. Her mother was a journalist, but had to hide behind a man's byline. Glorias learns that it's a man's world and women take a back seat. Gloria's father (played by a scene-stealing Timothy Hutton) is lovable sort of schemer, always looking for ways to turn a quick buck, but ultimately he looks out for his little girl. 

Flashforward about a dozen years, and Gloria is traveling on her own through India, paid by a fellowship. She sets out to listen to the plight of lower-caste women. She hears of young girls being raped and abused in a society that ignores their plight. Her consciousness, born in her mother's house, matures here.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

film review: My Days of Mercy

Directed by Tali Shalom-Ezer

Written by Joe Barton

ChinoKino score: C+

Review by Allan Tong

My Days of Mercy dramatizes the death penalty debate through an unlikely relationship between activists on opposing sides of this complex issue. Ellen Page plays Lucy, from a poor, white family in Ohio, whose father has been sitting on death row, convicted of murdering Lucy's mother. His defence is mental deficiency, though he appears (as played by Elias Koteas) to have all his faculties intact.

At a demonstration where she rallies against the death penalty, Lucy meets the too-aptly named Mercy (Kate Mara) whose father is a policeman. Her father who has seen his share of capital crimes and the destruction those criminals have inflicted on the innocent. Mercy represents the pro side of the death penalty issue, so it's unlikely that she falls in love with Lucy, but they do. The strong performances by Page (great as always) and Mara pull it off. If their roles were in lesser hands, I doubt it.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

film review: Summerland

Directed by Jessica Swale

Written by Jessica Swale

ChinoKino score: B

Review by Allan Tong

Summerland is the imaginary, pagan heaven envisioned by reclusive writer Alice (Gemma Arterton) in the idyllic English coast of Sussex during World War Two. Alice is lonely and unfriendly, spending her days tapping on her typewriter until a young boy, Frank (Lucas Bond) is assigned to live with her. Frank has been evacuated from London during the Blitz when the Germans pummeled the capital with bombs.

Suddenly, grouchy Alice must take care of chipper, young Frank and open her heart and home to him. This means eventually revealing her secret of a past, forbidden love affair with Vera (Gugu Mbatha Raw) who left Alice during the Roaring Twenties to pursue a conventional family. The two women haven't seen each other since. To Alice's relief, young Frank actually sees nothing wrong Alice's lost love, and the two gradually grow close following some rocky false starts.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

film review Lucky Grandma


Directed by Sasie Sealy

Written by Sasie Sealy & Angela Cheng

ChinoKino score: A

Review by Allan Tong

Each summer, one movie comes out of nowhere and surprises audiences. In 2020, it's Lucky Grandma.

Part-gangster flick, part dark comedy, Lucky Grandma centres on a widower (Tsai Chin), chain-smoking and snarling from her Chinatown apartment in lower Manhattan. She has a successful children and lovely grandchildren, but essentially lives alone. One day, Grandma goes on a winning spree at the casino. She then crosses the bag man for the mafia and robs his booty. As viewers can guess, his mafia buddies come knocking on Grandma's door and she tries to outwit them.

Lucky Grandma could have played the comedy broadly and milked it for easy laughs. Instead, director Sasie Sealy and her co-writer Angela Cheng take a less likely--and more rewarding--approach by underplaying Tsai Chin's character, letting only the bad guys ham it up, and capturing Chinatown in claustrophobic noir. The movie is a drama, but there's enough dark comedy to keep the narrative sharp. Not an easy balance to strike, but it works.

Monday, August 3, 2020

film review The Burnt Orange Heresy

Directed by Giuseppe Capotondi

Written by Scott B. Smith & Charles Willeford (from his novel)

ChinoKino score: D

Review by Allan Tong

Mick Jagger returns to the screen in a cameo in this neo-noir thriller about art fraud. Jagger plays Joseph Cassidy, a man of wealth and taste who resides in a splendid mansion by Lake Como, Italy. Cassidy is a major art collector and has invited a reclusive, old painter named Jerome Debney (Donald Sutherland) to reside in a house on the estate with the hopes that the legend will paint something for him. Cassidy invites a shifty art critic named James (Claes Bang) to interview the J.D. Salinger of the art world to encourage the guy to paint something. Debney likes an article that James wrote, so Cassidy brings the two together. James brings along Berenice (Elizabeth Debicki), a lovely, young American who's traveling.

This being a movie, James and Berenice instantly fall into bed. That cliche is forgivable, but what's hard to believe is the twisted tale that follows after James and Berenice meet Debney. No spoilers here, but generally speaking, the logic of some scenes doesn't hold up. In particular, how James and Berenice conclude their relationship is not believable, but clumsy. Also, the interplay between James, Berenice and Debney drags.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

VOD film review: Irresistible

Directed & written by Jon Stewart

ChinoKino score: C-

Review by Allan Tong

One of America's finest political satirists unleashes his take on the U.S. election machine months before the presidential vote. However, in Irresistible, Jon Stewart stays behind the camera. Instead, he's crafted a tale about a cynical Democrat political consultant (Steve Carell) who convinces a retired Marine colonel (Chris Cooper) to run for mayor in a small Wisconsin town. The Dems are up against a well-entrenched Republican mayor in this sleepy, agricultural villa, the kind of place where everybody knows your name. Naturally, the Republicans fly in their own city slicker consultant (Rose Byrne) to do battle in what becomes a symbolic battle between Red and Blue, and the soul of America.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

film review: Military Wives

Directed by Peter Cattaneo

Written by Rosanne Flynn & Rachel Tunnard

ChinoKino score: C

Review by Allan Tong

Military Wives has all the ingredients to add up to a rousing feel-good comedy. A group of disparate British women are united by a cause (their partners are soldiers fighting in Afghanistan); they band together to perform (a choir) so they're on a musical journey; the film's director made the smash hit, The Full Monty; the great Kristin Scott-Thomas is the lead; and there's lots of singing. Audiences should be cheering these ladies as they endure bad news from the war front and find solace in each other. We should be swept away by their voices and stories as they struggle to literally find their voices.

Sadly, we don't. The film is a by-the-numbers affair that  rarely raises a laugh or smile and doesn't emotionally draw us into the lives of these women. Rather, the film feels cold and distant. I never felt like the wives become pals. They lack camaraderi.e True, they share their sorrows over bad news and there are moments of genuine friendship, but it's not enough to ignite this film.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

film review: Les Misérables

Directed by Ladj Ly

Written by Ladj Ly & Giordano Gederlini

ChinoKino score: A-

Review by Allan Tong

The great French novelist Victor Hugo set Les Misérables in the Parisian suburb of Montfermeil, where this drama occurs a century-and-a-half later. Both stories examine the downtrodden of France's capital, but today those poor are mostly angry black kids in hoodies with few prospects or male adult role models. Enter good cop Stéphane (Damien Bonnard seen in Dunkirk) who joins the Anti-Crime Brigade in Montfermeil. He learns the ropes of this rough area by riding with Chris (Alexis Manenti, center in picture above) and Gwada (Djibril Zonga, right in picture), two veteran, jaded and hardass cops.

Hardass, because Chris (a nasty white cop) and Gwada (black, who grew up in the 'hood) apply the toughlove approach to their policing, like harassing a cute teenage girl in front of her friends, or roughing up young men just to keep them in line. That's all in a day's work. Stéphane bristles at their approach, but the veterans believe you gotta be tough to survive in Montfermeil. After all, the police are tiptoeing in gang territory.

Things turn bad when a troublemaking kid, Issa, steals a baby lion from a gypsy circus. The gypsies accuse a local black gang of harbouring Issa (Issa Perica), so the pressure is on to locate the lion and protect the child from retribution. To keep this powder keg from exploding, the three cops get sucked into this search, but ultimately their efforts backfire. [To avoid spoilers, let's leave the synopsis at this.]

Monday, May 4, 2020

film review: The Assistant

Directed by Kitty Green

Written by Kitty Green

ChinoKino score: B-

Review by Allan Tong

The Assistant hit theatres in February just as Harvey Weinstein was found guilty of rape. The release date was as intentional as this tale about an office assistant who works for an oppressive boss who beds young women to fulfill his sleazy sexual needs.

We see the film through Jane (played by Ozark's astonishing Julia Garner), an entry-level office assistant at a Manhattan film company. Jane is your common twentysomething office slave: a hardworking college grad who works insane hours and does every crappy task, from wiping away crumbs after meetings to enduring the wrath of the boss' crazy wife. Jane is so overworked that she forgets to phone her dad on his birthday. Jane wants to be a film producer, but for now she keeps her head down and does her job. We feel for her.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

film review: Hope Gap

Directed by William Nicholson

Written by William Nicholson

ChinoKino score: B-

Review by Allan Tong

Hope Gap captures the end of a 29-year marriage of an English couple, well-played by Annette Benning and Bill Nighy. Their millennial son, played by Josh O'Connor (known for The Crown) is caught in the middle of this painful break-up, playing messenger for both his parents. Nighy's Edward admits their marriage was a doomed mismatch from the start, something he's learned after falling for the parent of one his students at the school where he teaches. We never see the Other Woman, which avoids one cliche, but robs the film of potential conflict. Meanwhile, Benning's Grace stubbornly clings to the hope (or delusion) that their marriage still has life and isn't terminal.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

film review: The Jesus Rolls

Directed by John Turturro

Written by John Turturro

ChinoKino score: D

Review by Allan Tong

Die-hard fans of the cult comedy, The Big Lebowski, have been salivating for a sequel for over 20 years. Sadly, only die-hard fans will seek out The Jesus Rolls, and many will come away disappointed.

The Jesus Rolls is a misguided mess from start to finish. On the surface, the film looks promising. Writer-director John Turturro is a fine comedic and dramatic actor, not to mention sensitive filmmaker. Plus, he's working with an established character that he shaped, The Jesus. So, what could go wrong with this new story about The Jesus? In this film, Jesus gets out of prison and hooks up with his old buddy, Petey (Bobby Cannavale) and together they embark on a road trip marked with criminal escapades: stealing a car, beating up folks and firing a stolen gun. Along the way, they pick up a ditzy shampooist named Marie (Audrey Tautou, best known for Amelie).

Friday, January 17, 2020

IDS opens strong, celebrating all things design

Story and photos by Allan Tong
The 22nd annual Interior Design Show (IDS) launched last night with its annual bash in the Toronto Metro Convention Centre. Frigid temperatures didn't keep away 5,500 design fans who sipped Prosecco and devoured oysters as they surveyed the latest in home furnishings, from bathtubs to sofas and kitchen suites. January 17 is industry day, but the public is welcome this weekend though January 19 (10am-6pm), offering the public nearly 300 exhibitors and talks with renown designers including Brian Gluckstein, Lynda Reeves, Paul Austerberry and Jonathan Adler. Here are some cool, futuristic and eye-catching highlights:

Puzzled by Modern Sense Furniture?