Friday, July 12, 2024

festival spotlight on IncluCity


The Italians do it in style, and that extends to their film festivals. At least in Toronto.

The ICFF, once the Italian Contemporary and since morphed into the multicult IncluCity, has weathered the ice age of Covid and the onslaught of Neflix and other streamers to survive and perhaps thrive. Unlike many fests, IncluCity doesn't chase world or even city premieres, but focuses on experiential programming. In plain language, this means giving audiences a good time watching movies, specifically on big, cushy sofas out in the open, under the stars as they nurse a Moretti or Campari-infused negroni and a chocolate. 

An example of sponsorship branding

The brand names are key, since IncluCity has managed to attract a range of sponsors to pay for filling the main street and a square inside the historic Distillery District of Toronto. Forget speakers. How it works is ticket-holders listen to a movie through headphones. The picture is surprisingly sharp, the sound clear and the sofas comfy. When it rains, the screenings move indoors.

A ticket runs $35-60 and includes a sample of pasta you can eat on the spot, plus a box of dry pasta from sponsor Barilla, a negroni or beer, a chocolate from Bari and a coffee from Lavazza. A ticket can include a sample from one of the Distillery shops, like a bar of orange and cinnamon-scented soap from Gentil Uomo one night. The price will be too high for some, reasonable to others. Also factor getting here, either by car, bus (not subway), bike or walk. (I bike.) All in all, this is the most satisfying way to watch a movie outside a 3D IMAX and perfect on a summer's night.

Movies run the gamut, from drama to comedy and kids, from good to meh, and released sometime in the past year. As mentioned, these are not premieres, so the screenings offer audiences a fun way to catch a flick they missed. As a bonus, the film's directors and stars introduce each film either in person, like Atom Egoyan, or by video.


An example of good is Weekend Heroes, a light German drama about a father who takes his autistic son to football (soccer) games around Germany so he can settle on a team to cheer. The father is at times too nice and the son at times is a little tyrant. Well, that's the point: teach the audience about autistic behaviour, though the movie begs the question, Are parents nurturing such kids or feeding their dysfunction? The performance by the actor playing the autistic son, Cecilio Andresen, is superb.


Another fine film was shown at the smaller Moretti Theatre, Il padre d’Italia and introduced by diretor-writer in person, Fabia Mollo. Mollo spoke on a panel with other filmmakers about adaptatig novels to films. The translation of his 2017 film is The Father of Italia, not the country, but a baby. That baby is carried by a carefree, but reckless young woman who sings in a band. She hooks up a gay mensch and they make an unlikely duo, searching for the baby's father in this road movie. The strong performances by the leads, particularly Isabella Ragonese, and a good script make this two-hander worth watching. The film has heart without lapsing into corniness, though the ending felt a little unresolved.

Tips for viewing: True, there's some audio bleed through your headphones from the surrounding patios if you sit at the edge of the smaller stage. Better is the larger Trinity Theatre, because the neighbouring shops are closed during screenings and the sightlines are good.

IncluCity offers programming beyond movies, including a wine tasting, and concludes July 26 with a gala honouring Isabella Rossellini. The latter is a pricey but lavish affair including an Italian dinner, which has been delicious in past years.

Completely free is a small, but fascinating exhibition of legendary director, Federico Fellini. On display in the box office mere steps from the Trinity Theatre screen are scripts, drawings, director chairs and even the great man's desk. IncluCity organizer, Dominic Sciullo, is displaying a sample of the collection that he's finding a home for. I certainly wish him well and would love to see more.

IncluCity (officially Lavazza IncluCity Festival) runs through July 26 in the Distillery and surrounding venues.

Thursday, April 4, 2024

film review: Wicked Little Letters


Directed by Thea Sharrock

Written by Jonny Sweet

ChinoKino review: C

Reviewed by Allan Tong

In 1919, in the English seaside town of Littlehampton, two neighbours, Edith Swann and Rose Gooding, ceased being friends when Edith reported Rose to the authorities after Edith and other members of Littlehampton received poison pen letters full of threats and obscenities, including the C-Word. In Thea Sharrock's film treatement, co-scripted by Jonnny Sweet, Edith is prim and proper, upholding the values of early-20th-century England, while Rose is the free-spirited and feisty Irish immigrant. If the two were men, then no scandal or police investigation would have erupted. After all, it was fine for men to curse, at least in letters, but, oh dear, not women.

Though performances by leads Olivia Colman (as Edith), one of the Britain's top actors, and Jessie Buckley (Rose) are strong, their characters are thin and one-dimensional. I never got to understand them nor did I care to. Another problem with this film is the approach to race. Rose's lover is a Black man and Police Officer Gladys Moss (Anjana Vasan) is of South Asian decent. I don't know if these two are based on real-life characters, but racism was rife in 1919 England and yet race is never mentioned in the film. Instead, sexism is placed front and centre.


Look, I'm all for racial diversity in films, including the ones I have made and the many I have programmed for festivals, but this casting doesn't work in this context. Sharrock has applied 2023 mores onto a 1919 setting, and the juxtaposition just confuses the viewer. The non-white characters are elephants in the proverbial room and amounts to awkward storytelling.

A final flaw with Wicked Little Letters is tone. This is supposed to be a black comedy, but it's played for broad laughs and few of the jokes land. Instead, all the white guys, including the cops (except Moss) are sexist buffoons, Rose is party animal and Edith is uptight. Their dialogue lacks wit, lacks bite. The two leads never feel like close friends to start the story, so there's no sense of loss when they fall out. Moreover, the scandal over the foul language doesn't translate to audiences. So what? What's the big deal? Some bad language in letters. Shrug. Sharrock doesn't establish the milieu where these letters are shocking to the public.

In the end, Wicked Little Letters is a big misfire, led by good intentions, but misapplied in an historic story that fails to condemn sexism.

Wicked Little Letters opens April 5 in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, and expands to other cities on April 12.

Thursday, March 14, 2024

film review: They Shot The Piano Player


Directed by Fernando Trueba and Javier Mariscal

Written by Fernando Trueba

Review by Allan Tong

ChinoKino score: B+

This is a stunning, but flawed animated docu-drama about legendary Brazilian jazz pianist, Francisco Tenório Jr. who disappeared in 1976 after a gig. He was 34. You probably never heard of him, but Tenório Jr. he played a role in elevating bossa nova to world status in the 1960s and 1970s.

Part detective story and part history lesson about this wonderful music but also the totalitarianism that strangled South America, They Shot The Piano Player is told from the point of view of a writer. New Yorker Jeff Harris is researching a book about boss nova when he stumbles upon Tenório Jr.s' masterful playing and is hooked. He proceeds to interview the pianist's close friends, bandmates and family in and around Rio de Janeiro as well as Buenos Aires where Tenório disappeared. 

These include bossa nova's godfather, João Gilberto, as well as Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Vincius de Moraes and Paulo Moura. Their music is liberally heard throughout the film in dazzling, colourful sequences. Pure pleasure. Altogether, they tell the story about boss nova's rise until it broke internationally through in 1964, even challenging the Beatles on the charts.

Harris spends equal time, if not more, learning about the U.S.-backed military regimes which terrorized Brazil and Argentina in the 1970s. Credit the film for not pulling any punches. A harrowing sequence finds Harris touring Buenos Aires' ESMA (Navy Mechanics School), a notorious place in the 1970s where political prisoners (mostly innocent) were tortured and execute. Appalling, ESMA had a ward for pregnant prisoners.

A sequence involving jazz great Ella Fitzgerald is a highlight

Eventually, Harris solves the mystery of Tenório Jr.'s disappearance. The problem is that this moment is not a revelation. The audience has a good idea of what happened long before the ending, which is a key flaw in this film. It lacks suspense. Perhaps the directors got too close to the subject, but the film could have been more powerful after another edit to shuffle scenes and gradually build to this reveal.

Another concern, though not a dealbreaker, is why the filmmakers created the Harris character to tell this story. Was it necessary?

That said, this is a highly enjoyable film of a worthy subject.

They Shot The Piano Player opens March 15 in Toronto, Montreal and Quebec City; March 22 in Ottawa, Saskatoon and Victoria; then throughout the spring in other cities.

Monday, February 5, 2024

film review: Werner Herzog: Radical Dreamer

Directed and written by Thomas von Steinaecker

ChinoKino score: A-

Review by Allan Tong

With Werner Herzog, warns German filmmaker Wim Wenders, "you can't be sure of anything. It's all unpredictable. You only know something will happen."

That something could be a dwarf rebellion, a doomed conquistador, Herzog eating his shoe onstage, or doing a guest spot in Star Wars. Great or disappointing, Werner Herzog's films are always interesting and unique. He follows neither formula nor agenda. This documentary makes that clear as it explores his life and career. It is worth watching.

Herzog guides us through his life, appearing on camera in L.A, his current home, and in Sachrang. His mother fled wartime bombing in Munich and sheltered Herzog and his brother in this remote Bavarian village. He grew up starving in the dying days of World War Two. Herzog points to a waterfall and declares that is him, his soul and identity. Seeing his old home makes him (and the viewer) emotional. He visits a ski jump and says he always wanted to fly. His brother recalls him breaking a few bones doing so.

Never mind. Herzog always shrugs off pain. He nearly died making two films in the jungle--Aguirre: Wrath of God (one of the greatest movies ever made) and Fitzcarraldo. The subject matter of his work spans an ocean, but a common thread is the obsession of a single character pursuing a dream at any cost. For instance, Fitzcarraldo is a rubber baron who drags a massive steamship uphill and across land so he can access rubber of the Amazon forest. This is a perfect metaphor about Herzog making this difficult film that he recast and postponed several times.

Of course, no discussion of Herzog is complete without Klaus Kinski. Intense, psychotic (and now discredited for abusing his daughters), Kinski was Herzog's leading madman, starring in Herzog's greatest fiction films, including the two made in the jungle. A lot has been said about their violent collaboration (watch Herzog's own doc, My Best Fiend), though Radical Dreamer does a good job of summarizing it.

Friends and collaborators lend additional voices to this documentary, including Volker Schlondorff (part of the 1960s German New Wave with Herzog), wives Lena Herzog (below) and Martje Grohmann, filmmakers Chloe Zhao and Joshua Oppenheimer, stars Nicole Kidman, Christian Bale and Carl Weathers (RIP), and fangirl and poet Patti Smith.

There's generous footage of Herzog on camera, accompanied by clips from his films, plus gorgeous establishing shots of Bavaria. The film is generally told chronologically, but footage of him in Los Angeles is awkwardly placed at the beginning and end of the film. Herzog workshopping a class of young directors is interesting, but disrupts the doc's momentum early on.

Another problem lies beyond the director's reach: there's so much to cover in Herzog 81 years and 60+ movies. For instance, nothing is said about Nosferatu or The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser. To get a fuller picture, read his recent memoirs, Every Man For Himself and God Against All, and the Les Blank docs Burden of Dreams and Klaus Kinski Eats His Shoe

And watch Herzog films.

Werner Herzog: Radical Dreamer is released on VOD February 6.

Friday, January 19, 2024

IDS kicks off design weekend in Toronto


ARD Outdoor

Story and photos by Allan Tong

The Interior Design Show opened last night with a party to interrupt the cold snap gripping Toronto. Occupying the northern end of the massive Metro Toronto Convention Centre, the IDS (as it's commonly known) kicked off with flutes of champagne and canopes amid booths and booths of the latest in home furnishings, bathtubs, lighting, wooden floors, ceramic tiles, and even cabins. 

The annual design show runs through Sunday, January 21 with Friday being Professional Development Day aimed at industry folk. Highlights include a keynote by Marva Griffin at 2:00-3:00pm. Griffin is the founded Salone Satellite, the renowned showcase of young designers. She will discuss her unusual career path and how the industry has evolved over the last quarter century. Following her will be Oskar Zieta at 4:00pm speaking about his innovative, inflated metal furniture and Poland’s role in the European design industry.

Saturday and Sunday are open to the public. The line-up:

Saturday 11am-12 noon: Safoura Zahedi (Architect, Interdisciplinary Artist, Educator and Geometry Expert), Beverley Horii (Managing Director and Principal, IA Interior Architects), and Tatiana Soldatova (Principal, Syllable) will be imagining the impact of technology, wellness and culture on the interiors of the (near) future.

Saturday 1-2pm: Tura Cousins Wilson (Studio of Contemporary Architecture), Chad Burton (Fashion Editor and Product Stylist), and Krisette Santamaria (Industrial Designer, Krisette Santamaria Designs) answer the question: Multifunctional, multigenerational, multiuse and multiunit spaces pack in all the needs of modern life, but how do you create a multifaceted living space that still feels cohesive and represents your sense of style? 

Saturday 3-4pm Michael Murphy (Vice President, Fogo Island Workshop & Design), Janet Langdon (Textile Designer), and Ernst Hupel (Partner, 2H Interior Design) will reflect on the design legacy of the innovative Fogo Island Inn off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Sunday 11am-12pm will see Brian Gluckstein dispensing his best design advice and predictions for 2024. Following him will be Christiane Lemieux discussing her collections at retail, books and online store as both an entrepreneur and designer. Also, she will offer tips on how she creates a minimalist, nurturing retreat. At 3pm, Aly Velji will reflect on his collaborations with Urban Barn and Rollout. Questions are welcome from the public.

 Of course, there are the exhibitors. Here's what caught our eye:

Kissing Chair by Alison Postma

Ruums repurposes this 160-square-foot cargo container into a painting or musical studio or as  a dwelling that's situated in your backyard. They'll walk through all the city permits and installing plumbing, if needed.

Lighting by Feelux

Wine flowed at Vicostone

Paint isn't just for walls, says Sherwin-Williams

Montauk Sofa

Roche Bobois

ARD Outdoor

Non-alcohol cocktails by Seedlip were popular

WOODca Design offered an example of cool wooden dwellings at this year's IDS, like this sauna

Of course, there are sinks at IDS, this sleek one by Facileklean

OCH Works

McKae Imaging's backlit canvases

Stylish sinks and faucets, indeed

Coffee's other use by Krisette Sanatamaria

For more coverage including videos, find us on Instagram at chinokino_to

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

film review: Anselm (3D)

Directed by Wim Wenders

ChinoKino score: B+

Review by Allan Tong

Wim Wenders returns to the 3D documentary form with a portrait of German painter/sculptor, Anselm Kiefer. Few will know his name outside the art world, though Kiefer has a celebrated body of work spanning half a century.

Kiefer peaked in the 1980s after retrospectives in Chicago and New York where critics heralded that “America has a new superstar.” His sculptures and giant canvases made of materials like straw, ash and clay, depict barren fields and empty rooms. They are moody and haunting. Some evoke (some say, provoke) Germany's Nazi past, such as his photos posing in the Nazi salute. Kiefer's intent is to force the German public to confront its dark past, though the film deflects accusations that these images can be misconstrued as pro-fascist.

As with his previous, stunning 3D documentary, Pina, Wenders does not editorialize nor intrude with narration or with titles on screen. Instead, he presents vintage footage of Kiefer, seamlessly blended with contemporary footage of the 78-year-old, intercut with that of his adult son, Daniel, portraying a younger Kiefer.

The documentary flows elegantly and in 3D offers a feast of visuals. You can see in dazzling detail for miles across a snowy forest illuminated by sunlight. The 3D opens up the detail in Kiefer's artwork, particularly his sculptures. 

That said, I would have liked to have seen more biography on Kiefer and other voices to comment on his work. Anselm is entirely seen from the artist's point of view, presumably to let his art speak for itself. Indeed, the 3D format presents his work in the finest way, far better than any future TV screening will.

Released by Mongrel Media, Anselm opens December 22 in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal.

Thursday, December 14, 2023

film review: Immediate Family

Directed by Danny Tedesco

ChinoKino rating: B

Review by Allan Tong

This music doc is the logical and spiritual sequel to Danny Tedesco's impressive The Wrecking Crew from 2008. Both films profile groups of top session musicians, unsung heroes in the L.A. rock business who reflect on their past glories. Immediate Family are drummer Russ Kunkel, bassist Leland Sklar, and guitarists Danny Kortchmar and Waddy Wachtel.

Starting in the early 1970s, they as individuals performed on landmark albums, including Carole King's Tapestry, James Taylor's Sweet Baby James, Joni Mitchell's Blue, and into the late-1980s played for many stars, such as Neil Young, Keith Richards and Don Henley. They also went on tour with some of them, like Wachtel for Linda Ronstadt in her heyday. Hands-down, these are top-notch players and they step out of the shadows and into the spotlight in this enjoyable film.

If you've seen Tedesco's previous doc, you know what to expect. Interviews are generous as are music clips, over 80 in fact. Phil Collins, Stevie Nicks, David Crosby, Jackson Browne, Lyle Lovett and producer Peter Asher are among the parade of rock legends who sing the Family's praises. It's entertaining to hear tidbits like the one of headstrong Wathtel insisting on a guitar solo to replace a planned saxophone one in Steve Perry's hit, Oh Sherrie (a good call). Another highlight sees Wachtel recalling Linda Ronstadt singing her way into a strip joint in the middle of nowhere while on tour, because she wasn't carrying any I.D. to get past the door.

In fact, the entire film is fun and nice. Perhaps too nice. Apart from a brief mention of butting heads in the studio, the Family come across as nice guys. But the music business is a place notorious for clashing egos and where sex, drugs and greed rule. There's none of that in this film. Kunkel confesses his one regret that he didn't spend enough with his children when they were growing up. However, we don't hear from any of his children or spouses.

Another weakness of the film (not fault of the filmmaker) is that Family aren't a self-contained unit like the Wrecking Crew of the 1960s and beyond. Sure, they are now officially a band, playing gigs under that name in New York. However, this doc comes across as a collection of personalities who cross paths over the years, but were never a unit like the legendary Wrecking Crew.

That said, Immediate Family is a fun film to watch and listen to. It'll hit home to those who grew up on this music and there ain't nothing wrong with that.

Immediate Family opens on Dec. 15 in Toronto (at the Hot Docs cinema), Vancouver (at Vancity)! and is also rent or buy across Canada on the Apple TV app/iTunes and Google Play. It is being released in Canada by Mongrel Media.

Sunday, November 26, 2023

Winners & Losers is a slam-dunk history of Toronto sports

Toronto is officially the most sport-crazed city in Canada, boasting big-league franchises in hockey, basketball, baseball and football (both kinds). Championships and chokes (see below) are embedded in the collective Torontonian memory.  That's why the new exhibition by Myseum is essential and a lot of fun.

For once, the Leafs win this one

Winners & Losers celebrates the relationship between Torontonians and its teams over the decades in a city that has radically changed in terms of race and gender parity. The exhibit does not celebrate hall of fame ballplayers (the Hockey Hall of Fame down the street does a fine job of that already), though it name checks the likes of Joe Carter, Frank Mahovlich, Kawaii Leonard and Pinball Clemens.

The great Mahovlich scored for not one, but two Toronto hockey teams: the Maple Leafs (including the 1967 Stanley Cup champions) and the Toros of the short-lived WHA

The exhibit grans equal space to pioneers and local heroes, such as Billie Hallam, a female pitcher who was also crowned 1937's Miss Toronto, and the Toronto Huskies who were roaming NBA courts decades before the Raptors.

Winners & Losers also excels in being interactive. We're not talking smartphones and touch-screen TVs, but games, such as Playoffs (below) where visitors can choose Toronto great basketball moments, whether by Eastern Commerce or by Vince Carter. 

Of course, there's the requisite table hockey game (Leafs vs. Habs, of course) and finely chosen memorabilia, like a vintage boxing programme from Maple Leafs Gardens.

It's remarkable the span of artifacts that Myseum has assembled in a single room, which still allows space for interactivity and TV screens. Obviously, thought and care has been invested in how this compact space should look, sound and feel, from basketballs handling from the ceiling to gridirons covering the floor.

The only critique is the lack of football (soccer), the fastest-growing sport among schoolchildren, and of course the Toronto FC. This can be forgiven since Myseum occupies a tight space in the basement of 401 Richmond (though visible from the sidewalk near Peter Street).

Aside from that, Winners & Losers is an excellent show. Strongly recommended for sports fans, both adults and children, and it's certainly family friendly. Myseum is open Wednesday through Saturday from noon to 6pm (closed Sunday-Tuesday). Admission is free, though donations are welcome. Full details.

book review: Popartery by Andy Patridge

Illustrated by Andy Partridge (Published by Ape House)

review by Allan Tong

ChinoKino score: A

Simply put, this large hardcover collects the 56 individual covers of a previous (but extremely limited) tome by author Andy Partridge. Each image illustrates a song from his days singing and composing for the British band, XTC. If you recognize these names, then this book is for you. 

To his credit, Partridge didn't choose only his hit songs for this collection. Sure, there's the popular Dear God (above), 25 O'Clock and This Is Pop (the cover), but there are also obscure numbers like Tin Toy Clockwork Train and Red. 

Popartery has been assembled with loving care: super-thick, glossy paper, a sturdy hardcover (no dust jacket, though), and arranged alphabetically with the author explaining his thoughts behind each painting, opposite each image. This is a book you leaf through while blasting Drums and Wires or Nonsuch on your sound system. 

It is an art book. It is a music book. It is special.