Monday, August 3, 2020

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?

Monday, December 16, 2019

TIFF celebrates 2019 Top Ten Canadian films



Story by Allan Tong / Photos by Sally Warburton
 
Last week, TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) announced its annual Top Ten Canadian features and shorts at a public panel held at the Samsung Store in the Eaton Centre, breaking away from the Lightbox in past eyars. After a private reception, co-CEO Cameron Bailey (far left, above) moderated a public panel in the store with directors (from left to right) Sophie Deraspe (Antigone), Calvin Thomas and Yonah Lewis (both White Lie). Per tradition, the Lightbox will screen all the films into January.

Features

And the Birds Rained Down (Il pleuvait des oiseaux)
Dir: Louise Archambault | Quebec

Anne at 13,000
Dir: Kazik Radwanski | Ontario

Antigone
Dir: Sophie Deraspe | Quebec

Black Conflux
Dir: Nicole Dorsey | Newfoundland/Quebec

The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open
Dir: Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers & Kathleen Hepburn | British Columbia

Matthias & Maxime
Dir: Xavier Dolan | Quebec

Murmur
Dir: Heather Young | Nova Scotia

One Day in the Life of Noah Piugattuk
Dir: Zacharias Kunuk | Nunavut

The Twentieth Century
Dir: Matthew Rankin | Quebec

White Lie
Dir: Calvin Thomas, Yonah Lewis | Ontario

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

film review: Frankie


Directed by Ira Sachs
Written by Ira Sachs & Mauricio Zacharias

ChinoKino score: D

Review by Allan Tong

Frankie is a French drama that is supposed to center on a movie star, Frankie (Isabelle Huppert), who reveals a life crisis to friends and family in the span of a day. This includes her husbands, current (Brendan Gleeson) and past (Pascal Greggory), her spoiled adult son (Jeremie Renier) and stepdaughter (Vinette Robinson). Rather than entwine hers, their storylines overtake Frankie's and the film loses its unifying force right off the bat. Frankie lacks focus. Characters come and go, often quarreling with another, while individual scenes lack emotion or impact. Frankie's friend and hairdresser Ilene (Marisa Tomei) journeys from New York to Portugal, where the film takes place, with Frankie's hope that she will spark with her son. Instead, Ilene journeys with boyfriend, Gary (Greg Kinnear), who is working on the latest Star Wars shoot nearby. In fact, this storyline is the most fleshed-out, as the couple grapple with their future together. Tomei and Kinnear are the only characters in Frankie who feel real, and Tomei steals the show.

Monday, September 9, 2019

French cinema graces the Unifrance red carpet at TIFF 2019

Story & photos by Allan Tong

Unifrance hosted its annual TIFF party last Saturday. Stars and filmmakers of Pompeii, The Two of Us, La Belle Epoque and many others graced the red carpet at the Fifth and Easy near the TIFF Bell Lightbox:

Jayro Bustamante, director of Llorona

Nadav Lapid, director of Synonyms

Monday, August 19, 2019

film review: Aquarela


Directed by Victor Kossakovsky

ChinoKino score: B

Review by Allan Tong

Aquarela is Portuguese for "watercolour" and an apt title for a 90-minute visual essay about the power of water. Think of the Koyaanisqatsi films, visual feasts portraying nature without any narration or characters. These are films you have to watch on a big screen, unless your home movie theatre backs out into a drive-in.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

film review: Cold Case Hammarskjöld



Directed by Mads Brügger


ChinoKino score: A-

Review by Allan Tong


Cold Case Hammarskjöld asks, Did somebody murder United Nations Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld?

In 1961, African nations were shaking off their European colonial masters to be independent. Sweden's Dag Hammarskjöld backed their independence, but upset European governments and big mining corporations who were making money off the continent. One night, Hammarskjöld's airplane went down in northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) as Hammarskjöld was heading to attend cease-fire negotiations during the Congo Crisis. The official reason for the crash was pilot error, but Danish director Mads Brügger calls that a lie. His film explores the cause of the crash in a painstaking search that unspools like a murder mystery.

Friday, August 2, 2019

film review: David Crosby: Remember My Name



Directed by A.J. Eaton


ChinoKino score: A-

Review by Allan Tong


I don't like David Crosby, even though he played for two of my favourite bands: The Byrds and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. My reason: Crosby is a spoilt, arrogant loudmouth who's lucky he's gotten this far.

So, I'm surprised that A.J. Eaton's new documentary sums up these exact sentiments--and straight from Crosby's mouth without any sugarcoasting. At 76, the ailing and broke Crosby knows that the road ahead is short, so in Remember My Name he reflects on his rocky past and gets a ton of things off his chest. "Time is the final currency," he says.

Monday, April 22, 2019

play review: Four Chords and a Gun



Written by: John Ross Bowie
Directed by: Richard Ouzounian


ChinoKino score: B+

Review by Allan Tong

Let me be upfront: I'm a Ramones fan, which is why ChinoKino is making an exception and reviewing this play. And yes, it's a play, not a musical. Four Chords and a Gun examines the fateful collaboration between punk rock pioneers, The Ramones, and legendary, but batshit-crazy record producer Phil Spector. In 1979, Spector produced the Ramones' fourth album, End of the Century. They came together because, frankly, both were desperate for a hit.

If you know the Ramones, then you know the dynamics at work here. Sensitive, nice-guy singer Joey Ramone clashes with mean, tyrannical leader Johnny Ramone, culminating in Johnny stealing Joey's girlfriend, Linda. This betrayal forever breaks Joey's heart. Bassist Dee Dee is a junkie. And drummer Marky is an alcoholic, but is also grounded enough to act as the play's narrator. All characters supply comic relief. The focus, however, lies on the Joey-Linda-Johnny triangle, overlaid by Spector who acts as a catalyst for change in the recording studio and without.