Tuesday, September 29, 2009

On Stage Toronto - an eclectic performing arts digest

An eclectic digest of what's taking the stage this fall in Toronto.

Sure, you've got your Jersey Boys, your Virginia Woolf and your Cirque with Ovo still playing in town. I don't pretend to offer an exhaustive listing of what's hitting the boards in Toronto this fall - that would take me all week to compile! - but here's my look at some shows that seem particularly interesting and sometimes off beat.

October 14 - Support the arts and charity too at the 8th Annual Spotlight! Cocktail Reception & Silent Auction for Fife House, featuring live performances by some of Canada's bright lights in the worlds of jazz, opera and musical theatre.


Now on stage to October 10 - Jerry Springer - the Opera returns to Toronto to offend and delight with the gleeful lack of taste of its namesake in a three week run at Hart House Theatre. It was a hit last time around, and looks to repeat its success this fall.

October 1 to November 1 - After getting rave reviews in the U.K., Canadian playwright Brad Fraser's True Love Lies comes to Toronto's Factory Theatre for a month long run. Like much of Fraser's work, it takes a brutally funny look at modern life, this time in the form of a family with deep, dark secrets. It's in previews September 26-30.

October 6 to November 15 - Tarragon Theatre brings you The Drowning Girls, a Toronto premiere of what looks like an interesting and inventive work. A hit at Edmonton Fringe, the award winning show looks at three brides emerging from their daily bath to tell the tale of a whirlwind romance - all with the same guy.

September 28 to October 24 - Canstage opens their fall season with Rock 'N' Roll, a play by world renowned playwright Tom Stoppard and starring Fiona Reid, Shaun Smyth and Kenneth Welsh in a story about love, revolution and the end of communism with a rock 'n' roll theme. Pre-show talks with Professor Rob Bowman October 7, 14 & 21 at 7:15pm in the theatre lobby.

Opens October 31 - Cheer for Melvin Ferd the Third in the stage version of The Toxic Avenger, based on the hit cult movie of the same name by Troma Studios. Turned into a 7' mutant freak with superhuman strength after he's dumped into a vat of radioactive toxic waste, Toxie becomes New Jersey's first superhero, out to save NJ, end global warming, and perhaps find love in the process. Stars Dora Award winner Louise Pitre, along with Evan Smith, Brittany Gray, Jamie McKnight and more. Opens on Halloween, October 31, with previews from October 20 at the Music Hall.
(image of opera from backstge by Peter Goyette of Chicago)


October 4 - The Elmer Isler Singers team up with the renowned Nathaniel Dett Chorale, (probably best known for their command performance at US President Obama's inauguration,) in an evening of Afrocentric choral music at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church. The programme features the timeless works of Byrd, Tallis, Gibbons and more.

October 17 to November 5 - The Canadian Opera Company looks to have a great season lined up, but if you can only catch one show, you might want to hone in on The Nightingale & Other Short Fables, a World Premiere of short pieces by Igor Stravinsky as directed by artiste extraordinaire Robert Lepage. The pieces will combine singers, acrobats and nearly 100 beautifully costumed handcrafted puppets in a dazzling display - just what we've come to expect from both Lepage and the COC. After this Premiere, the show will tour the world, so you'll be among the first to see it.

October 31 to November 7 - Opera Atelier is a company unique in North America, producing opera, ballet and drama from the Baroque period (17th & 18th centuries) using original instruments along with sumptuous stage sets and costuming for a truly unique experience. This fall, they bring Gluck's rarely heard 1779 opera Iphigénie en Tauride to life, telling the story of the Greek princess who was abandoned on the Island of Tauride for the entire Trojan War. Once she's reunited with her brother Orestes (who just murdered their mother, Clytemnestra - oh those Greek tragedies!) her courage gets them back home safely. Stars Croatian tenor Kresimir Spicer as Orestes and Peggy Kriha Dye as Iphigénie, with music from Tafelmusik Orchestra.

December 2 - Tapestry New Opera is a company dedicated to the creation, development and performance of new opera works via a collaborative process. They have a number of interesting projects underway for 2010, including the World Premiere of Dark Star Requiem, an operatic oratorio on the history of HIV/AIDS featuring the Elmer Isler Singers, but in the meantime you can catch their 30th Anniversary Celebration one night only featuring a trio of sopranos - Patricia O'Callaghan, Jean Stilwell and Theresa Tova at the Fermenting Cellar in the Distillery District.

October 9 to 11 - Shen Yun Performing Arts bring the classical music and dance of China to the Canon Theatre for a three day run only. Audiences and critics alike have marveled at their physical mastery and brilliant choreography, which combine with dazzling costumes and staging for what sounds like a spectacular show.

October 14 - Catch preview excerpts from Ballet Jorgen's new works with Ballet in the Studio, including introductions from the choreographers, refreshments, and a chance to meet with the dancers after the performance.

Harbourfront - this venue needs a category all of its own when it comes to supporting dance in Toronto, and the Next Steps Series this coming season's no exception, featuring 23 companies and 10 World Premieres, no less. Of special note:
  • October 14 to 17 - ProArte Danza's performances are noted for their dynamic athleticism and style, and this show features a World Premiere of a piece by Artistic Director Roberto Campanella.
  • October 27 to November 1 - The Chimera Project returns with Blood, a piece with goth/punk/rebel sensibilities from Artistic Director Malgorzata Nowacka. On October 29, you'll see Fresh Blood, an evening of works by young choreographers.
October 18 to 24 - the Toronto Flamenco Festival heats up the Lower Ossington Theatre featuring Rafael Campallo, who the New York Times describes thus: "..a stylish, authoritative young flamenco dancer.. He is good at flamenco’s sudden yin-yang shifts of hot and cool, substituting casual for cool to potent effect." (And you can read more on that here.)

November 25 to 29 - The National Ballet has a season of classics and more lined up, including this exciting programme that features an evening of new pieces, one of which being a World Premiere by Canadian choreographer Aszure Barton (fresh from the début of her work with the American Ballet Theatre at the Lincoln Center in October.) Also on the bill will be Balanchine's The Four Temperaments, and Glass Pieces, a modern dance work by Jerome Robbins set to the music of Phillip Glass.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Joaquin Nunez Hidalgo & Friends at the Lula Lounge (Toronto)

Joaquin Nunez Hildalgo Quartet
Lula Lounge
Friday September 25, 2009

With its pink and red décor, velvet curtains, stripes and brocade, Lula is just the right name for this cool west end lounge with hot Latin music in the unpretentious Little Portugal/Little Brazil neighbourhood. It seemed also just the right setting for the sultry "Latin fusion" of the Joaquin Nunez Hidalgo Quartet.

Hidalgo's a master percussionist, and he moved easily from drumset to drumset as the heart of the ensemble, rounded out by Yoser Rodriguez on stand up bass, Jorge Betancourt on keyboards and Gareth Burgess on steel drums. As Hidalgo explained it, a trip to Trinidad turned him on to the sweet chimes of the steel drum, dulcet tones that he puts into a mix of swelling Latin rhythms and Afro-Cubanized jazz standards, along with exotica like a duet between steel drums and calimba, a handheld South African instrument. After the show, Hidalgo explained to admiring fans that the group had been playing together a long time, but he didn't have to - you could see it in the easy flow of the music and the way they were obviously having a good time. There were some eye popping solos all around, with Betancourt being a stand out - but there were no weak spots here.

There was a good and very mixed crowd out for the early show on Friday night. All the tables were full, with many dining from what smelled like a delicious parade of dishes from the kitchn, and by the end of their set it was standing room only at the long bar.

Presented as part of both the Small World Music and Toronto's Havana Cultura Festival. - take your pick.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Small World Music Festival Toronto

Small World Music Festival
various venues - September 24 to October 4, Toronto

You can check out what the rest of the world is listening to - some of it - at the Small World Music Festival, offering up 13 shows without missing a date from September 24 to October 4. In addition to bringing in acts that may not hit town on a regular basis, the great thing about Small World is the way it's connected with some of the city's other arts fests' in creative intersections that let you make the most of your culture time.

And you can definitely shake off the end-of-summer blues with some hot tunes. Here's the line up in brief - check their website for details on how to get your tickets:
  • September 24 - Indo Jazz Fusion with Tasa and a CD release party at the Lula Lounge
  • September 24 - an evening of Balkan Swing with Electric Gypsyland & Funkabelly at the Gladstone Hotel
  • September 25 - I'll be there to check out Havana Reggae with Cuban vocalist Netto Man and live Reggae with Mountainedge, presented as part of the Havana Cultural Festival - at the Lula Lounge
  • September 26 - Hindi-pop meets ambient electronica in the music of Omnesia Live at the Miles Nadal JCC Al Green Theatre
  • September 27 - Small World on the Street hooks up with The Word on the Street with Rebel Rhythm and a fusion of cool jazz and hot soul in a free event at Queens Park in the company of many of Canada's best loved and noted authors, poets, storytellers and more (very much worth checking out - and the lit fest also taking place in Vancouver, Halifax & Kitchener)
  • September 28 - South American Bajafondo brings their blend of traditional tango elements with modern house, trance and more to the Opera House - bandleader Gustavo Santaolalla has won two Oscars for music he wrote for Brokeback Mountain and 2007's Babel & they have a huge following in Argentina
(Bela Fleck with Chick Corea in 2008, who, by the way, is also playing the Koerner Hall Opening Festival - see link below)
  • September 29 - Banjo virtuoso Bela Fleck with Zakir Hussain & Edgar Meyer at the brand spanking new Koerner Hall as part of the Royal Conservatory of Music and their Opening Festival (which has a great line up and the Hall looks wonderful)
  • September 30 - Ukrainian folk rock with Ludy Dobri at the Lula Lounge
  • October 1 - Klezmer fusion from Toronto's Beyond the Pale at the Lula Lounge showcasing Postcards, their latest CD
  • October 2 - Gypsy/Greek/Balkan/Jewish beats at the Lula Lounge with Parno Graszt & UK based Max Pashm
  • October 3 - Saeid Shanbehzadeh Ensemble brings Persian dance and music to the Richmond Hill Performing Arts Centre
And you can bring your small fry to Small World's kid friendly (and free!) events at Harbourfront:

Monday, September 21, 2009

Bruriah - Special Screening September 23

Toronto Jewish Film Festival
presents the Canadian premiere of

Bruriah (ברוריה‎)
Directed & Produced by Avraham Kushnir
Written by Avraham Kushnir, Yuval Cohen, Hadar Galron & Baruch Brener
Starring Hadar Galron, Baruch Brener, Israel Damidov
Special screening Wednesday, September 23 (see details below)

"It has everything: betrayal, death, God... sex." So says Sasha (Israel Damidov, in seond image below) the young teacher Bruriah meets in looking for a lost book. He's speaking of another Bruriah, a legendary Talmudic figure, and not coincidentally the subject of the very same book it turns out they're both tracking down. That kind of story within a story within a story pretty much illustrates the structure of this very interesting Israeli film that brings to light one of the lesser known figures of Hebrew legend as it gently poses questions of well, betrayal, death, God... and sex.

Bruriah in the present day is played by London-born actress/ screenwriter/ playwright Hadar Galron as an observant woman in an Orthodox family. She wears a wig in public and dresses modestly, but exists in the modern world where she has friends who gleefully strut in sequins and miniskirts. The role of women is the central issue that begins to create friction in her happy marriage and family life, as the death of another Rabbi reignites her passion to find the long lost book penned by her father - the book for which he and Bruriah both were actually excommunicated.

In Hebrew legend, Bruriah was a sage who was both the wife and daughter of Rabbis, renowned for her knowledge and wit. Even in the face of her obviously respected position, however, her husband, Rabbi Meir, adhered to and taught his students the Talmudic assertion that women were "light minded". Bruriah challenged the notion, and to prove her weaker nature, Rabbi Meir sent one of his students to seduce her. After his many entreaties, she relented, but later, in shame, killed herself, and the horrified Rabbi ended his days in self imposed exile in Bablylonia.

If Bruriah's the protagonist of the film, it's her husband Yakov (Baruch Brener, left in the image) who is the lightning rod for the film's essential question, or problem - the intersection of the absolutes of Orthodox faith with the emotional realities of living as a human being, and it's that central theme that resonates with a reach that goes beyond the confines of Judaism. He and his colleagues monitor the new teacher's "Jewish philosophy" class to make sure its curriculum doesn't fall outside prescribed bounds, and one of them frets about schoolgirls singing in front of grown men. Yet, he's also a man whose teenage daughter wants to attend rabbinical school even against his wishes, and whose wife, as he notes with increasing alarm, seems the embodiment of the story with its sad ending, particularly after the attractive and younger Sasha enters the scene. Brecher does a fine job of conveying both his sense of conviction and the deep love he has for his wife.

Despite that, overall the film lacked somewhat in emotional content. We seldom feel the passions that drive the characters, except towards the end. There are lots of scenes of people discussing ideas, and while intellectually interesting, I think I was looking for a little more emotional engagement. You'll find the story engrossing, albeit with an appeal more to your head than your heart.

It is to be noted that there are historians and scholars who dispute this tragic version of of the Bruriah legend, and as a figure she's most often regarded as a symbol of righteousness - in fact, Orthodox Rabbis often name their daughters after her for that reason, as did the fathers of both Bruriahs in the film.

It's being screened in a special presentation to kick of the 18th season of the Toronto Jewish Film Festival at a time to honour the time of reflection between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur - see details below:

Wednesday September 23, 2009 - 7:30pm
Varsity Cinema
55 Bloor St., W., (inside the Manulife Centre)
Tickets are $18
Available through www.tjff.com anytime or by phone at 416-324-9121
As well, tickets will be available from 6:30pm onwards, day of screening.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Dance Mecca NYC

There's far too much going on in dance in New York City for me to pretend to cover it all here, but here's a smattering of the really cool goings on that you may or may not have heard about - and this covers only the next couple of months!

It's just about over, but you might be able to catch the last performances of In-I, a collaboration between Oscar winning actress Juliette Binoche and Akram Khan, a British choreographer at BAM on September 20 & 26. The piece was directed and performed by the duo, and was called "an embodiment of romantic and physical obsession" by the Guardian during a review of their London run. As an extra treat, BAMcinématek is running a retrospective of Binoche's films throughout September.

Also coming right up is Lane & Co. Dance at Le Poisson Rouge on September 21. Lane & Co. is the brainchild of Artistic Director Lane Gifford, with a mission to explore the relationships between movement, words, art and music in works that combine narrative with classically influenced dance.

It's too bad that the Fall for Dance Festival (September 22 - October 3) is ALL SOLD OUT, but if you're both lucky and persistent, you may be able to get tickets that have been returned to the Box Office for refunds. They'll be made available for sale on the day of and shortly before the actual performance - check out the link for details.

Yaa Samar! Dance Theatre is a contemporary dance company which presents creative collaborations with diverse musical choices and technological innovations in both linear and abstract pieces with fascinating results, and they'll be at the LaGuardia Performing Center on September 25 and 26.

The American Ballet Theatre performs at the Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall October 7-10 in what looks to be a really exciting programme of three premieres created specifically for the venue. The new pieces include one inspired by the sparkling piano sonatas of Italian composer Domenico Scarlatti (by ABT's artist in residence, Alexei Ratmansky,) and others set to music by Pulitzer Prize winner David Lang and a violin sonata by Maurice Ravel, (the latter choreographed by Canadian Aszure Barton).

The Guggeheim may not be first on your list of dance venues to check out in the Big Apple, but they've got some interesting offerings coming up in the Works & Process programme that will let you see two exciting dance companies whose work you may not otherwise catch this fall, including:
  • October 11 & 12 - members of the American Ballet Theatre perform excerpts illustrating the challenges of ballet in nontraditional dance spaces in The Art of Adaptation, including discussions about the Avery Fisher Hall performances they will have just completed.
  • October 24 & 25 - in Shen Wei Dance Arts at 10, the modern dance company that took the world by storm at the 2008 Summer Olympics and put on a seriously sexy set of performances at the Lincoln Center earlier this year to talk about their upcoming 10th anniversary season.
They'll be on tour for most of fall 2009, but Urban Bush Women a performance ensemble that looks to bring untold and rarely told stories of disenfranchised people to life through dance, will take the Harlem Stage on October 29 with choreographer and dancer Nora Chipaumire for a special presetation of a developing work, visible/invisible: Naked City as part of the Harlem Stage WaterWorks programme.

You can't really talk about dance in New York without talking about the Joyce Theater. With the Joyce and the Joyce SoHo bringing you two full calendars devoted to dance, your problem if anything will be too much choice. In addition to a wide variety of programming that include both traditional and modern dance variations from all over the world, the Humanities Series brings you post-performance discussions with their company artists. Check out the individual performances for details.

And finally, if you've always had a hankering to get up there on stage and move yourself, and if tap's your thing, show up for Tappy Hour. It happens on the second Thursday of every month at Jimmy's No. 43 (43 East 7th between 2nd & 3rd), where for a mere $15 that includes your first happy hour drink, you can learn tap - even without tap shoes or previous experience - as taught by members of the Undertoe Dance Project, a company that "fuses the artistry of contemporary jazz dance with the percussive rhythms of tap". Remaining dates this fall include October 8, November 12, and December 10.

My Own Private TIFF

Ironically, my own TIFF experience this year was just about over just at the Toronto International Film Festival actually got under way, what with six advance screenings in the week and a half or so prior. I could've seen more, would've loved to of, but I am a one mere mortal with a schedule that already included working on a magazine article, editing a book manuscript under contract and a fairly tight deadline, getting four college level online creative writing courses ready for the fall semester that began September 11, a couple of modeling gigs, oh, and getting my lines ready for a play that began rehearsals on the 13th. And I have to admit I'm totally out of shape for the movie watching gig, my back was in agony by the end of it. I couldn't take much more!

Two odd themes that kept coming up in my random selection of films:
  • the general shittiness, and often cruel and brutal nature, of the human race (sigh.. it's why my at home movie collection consists of uplifting stories like Beetlejuice, Spiderman, Hellboy, Blade and such.. to hell with reality!).
  • groovy old British actors - Michael Caine in Harry Brown, Christopher Lee in Triage, and Christopher Plummer in The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus.

On that last note and by the by, the Toronto born Christopher Plummer is set to play Julius Caesar in a production of Caesar and Cleopatra at the Stratford Festival in the 2010 season - should be an incredible production.

One of the really nice things about writing on the web is the great people from all over the place that it brings you in touch with. I know Triage, the Colin Farrell film, brought a lot of traffic from Irish film fans, Colin Farrell fans in Europe, and Jeffrey Wells of Hollywood-Elsewhere.com. In fact, Jeffrey was kind enough to invite me to his annual welcome to Toronto soirée at Bar Mercurio in Yorkville. Too busy for much socializing, I did make it to the Suck after party at the Phoenix (pictured dimly below!) There's a lot of buzz about this flick, so let's hope it translates into some ticket sales for Canadian film, similar to the success enjoyed by Young People Fucking, TIFF 2007's breakout hit.

The other aspect I really enjoy is meeting and interviewing artists from all over, like Dorothée Van Den Berghe and Matthias Schoenaerts (of My Queen Karo,) and Athena Karkanis (George Romero's Survival of the Dead) - both pieces just below this. It's always interesting to hear about how people approach their work.

Ah.. the mayhem in Yorkville's genteel streets, the preponderance of media types, the crowds where you begin to see every person with geez, he looks familiar, isn't that..? (mind you, in Yorkville even the baristas at Starbucks look like they're in film- and they probably are!) It was fun, but there's too much art and culture out there to discover to slow down my pace any in the weeks to come - c u l8tr tiff till next year.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

TIFF Interview with Athena Karkanis of George Romero's Survival of the Dead

Athena Karkanis may not be a household name just yet, but if you're a horror fan, you'll recognize her as the determined Agent Perez of the Saw film franchise. At the Toronto Film Festival this year, she also starred in George Romero's Survival of the Dead, which got its North American Premiere (just days after getting rave reviews in Venice) in a Moonlight Madness screening September 12.

"That film was maybe one of the hardest I've ever done," she says. "It was six weeks, all exterior shoots, all night shoots - one was in a field of mud!" Still, working with a living legend like George Romero had its perks. "In spite of all that, I had a wonderful time," she enthuses. "I was somewhat intimidated by the idea of working with him at first. We met on the first day of shooting - he wasn't at my casting audition - but he was the warmest, friendliest guy. You feel good in his hands. You don't get the sense that he's a living legend at all. It's very refreshing, amazing that he's not jaded. He'd be up pulling all nighters with the rest of us, coffee and cigarette in hand."

(image of Romero above by Josh Jenson of Toronto, taken September 12 at the TIFF Moonlight Madness Premiere)

While she loved working with Romero, the story itself also appealed to her. "In his films, the zombies are never the bad guys," she explains. "They can't help it. It's always about the human struggle."

Check out the trailer here.

With her combination of beauty and no nonsense, tough minded smarts, she seems a natural for those sorts of active roles. "I'm not overbearing though!" she protests with a laugh. "I do have something of that quality - when you do an audition, they see that in you." She's realistic about choosing her roles. "You're limited (in that respect), first because I'm a Canadian actress, second I'm just starting out. You can't be crazy selective, but I try to pick roles that will put me in the direction I want to be."

So does she watch horror movies herself? "It's not my cup of tea," she confesses, "but they're fun to work on!"

Born in Alberta, Karkanis' parents worked in international development, and so she was raised in various locations all over the world. She majored in political science at McGill University before heading to NYC to study theatre, and easily made the transformation from teen to adult roles. Her resumé also includes starring opposite Wesley Snipes in The Art of War 2, and she'll be hitting the stage at Toronto's Berkeley Street Theatre in That Face on October 26, along with Sonja Smits and Nigel Bennett, who she previously worked with in the TV series The Border.

Here's a clip of Karkanis as Special Agent Perez in Saw IV.

Killed off in Saw IV by a protégé of the Jigsaw killer, Agent Perez still showed up in Saw V. Will she return in Saw VI? If I told you, I'd have to kill you myself.... but whether Karkanis is in future Saw movies or not, it seems clear we'll be seeing lots of this talented actor in the years to come.

More Saw IV action here.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

TIFF Interview: In conversation with Dorothée Van Den Berghe & Matthias Schoenaerts

In conversation with Dorothée Van Den Berghe (writer/director) & Matthias Schoenaerts (actor - Raven) from the enjoyable flick, My Queen Karo, which received its World Premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Check out my review here for more background on the film and story, and the trailer here. As a writer, Van Den Berghe used her own experiences to flesh out the details of squatter culture in Amsterdam in the mid-seventies. Like Karo, she arrived with her parents from Belgium and grew up in those heady days.

ACM: One of the things I thought really succeeded in the film was that it really seemed to capture a 10 year old girl's point of view - without actually being a film for children. How did you approach that aspect of the film?

Dorothée: The main reason I wanted to use that point of view is that it's such a complex thing to talk about, the 1970's. I would have had to make an elaborate documentary, social research... This way, I have a very specific angle, a very specific view of that time.

ACM: As an actor, you've played a wide variety of roles. What drew you to this project in particular?

Matthias: First of all, it's the second time we've worked together. I made another film with Dorothée (2002's Meisje), so to work together again was a heartwarming experience. I was also fond of the script. While I didn't experience it, the 1970's, I tried to inspire myself by reading up on the art and music of the period.

ACM: How did you come to find such a perfect actress (Anna Franziska Jaeger) to play Karo, who really is the centre of the film?

Dorothée: It's a long story! I saw her in a shop and I knew it was her, she was exactly what I wanted. I really followed this girl, and (kept tabs on her). The film took two years to put together, and by that time, she was too old for the part as I had written. She had breasts already, and the part I had written was definitely for a child who was younger than that. So.. I held auditions and auditions, but I never found that quality, what I found in her. I rewrote the script, then, and we had to rethink how to shoot the nudity, for example, because of her breasts. But I think it puts the film into a better perspective, a child that age.

ACM: True - a preteen has the awakenings of discerning judgement, and will begin to question the world of her parents.

Dorothée: What you felt, while you were shooting, is that she really understood it - not the time period, not exactly the same, but the idea of parents living separate lives.

ACM: That's certainly what resonated with me as well, the idea of a child maturing, seeing her parents' frailties and wanting to go her own way, something that connects with modern audiences as well. I have to tell you, while I was watching it, with my North American sensibilities, I felt like something really terrible was about to happen towards the end. If this were a North American film, it would have been a morality play - people would have died or something..

Matthias: Exactly, that's the strength of the film. It's a time document - une tranche de vie - an honest one. I was impressed with the energy of those times, I tried to capture that.

ACM: I like how nuanced it was. Even with your character, Raven, who can certainly be seen as unsympathetic, it wasn't a black and white portrait.

Matthias: No, there was true love involved, that was authentic, love for his first wife, his second wife, and for the child. Certainly, he was selfish..

ACM: ..but aren't we all?

(More about the film here)

Toronto Film News - TIFF & Post-TIFF

TIFF & Beyond..

Every year at the Toronto Film Festival, there seems to be one Canadian film that gets all the buzz. This year, that film seems to be Suck, Rob Stefaniuk's rock 'n roll vampire romp that features a strong cast of real rockers like Iggy Pop, Alice Cooper and Henry Rollins in a script that kinda sorta follows a Faustian theme.

Check out my review here for details on the flick.

There's been so much buzz, as a matter of fact, that the film, (from Capri Vision, a division of Capri Films,) was picked up for Canadian distribution by Alliance Atlantis. “SUCK is a fantastic combination of vampire comedy and the best rock and roll ever. We’re pleased to be able to introduce the film to Canadian audiences”, said Noah Segal, EVP of Alliance Films.

Hot on the heels of Alliance, Tim Brown of Joker Films (his new company) signed on to handle U.S. and international sales, and immediately after the deal was signed between Brown and the film's producers, sales were made to the UK, France, Scandinavia, Benelux, Australia and New Zealand. As of just yesterday, (September 14,) Universal Pictures International Entertainment showed up to the buying block.

Both the World Premiere and a second screening were sold out, so let's hope that's a precursor to what's to come for Stefaniuk and Suck. And, let's give credit where credit is due:

Director of Photography is D. Gregor Hagey, with editing by Michele Conroy. John Kastner (Asexuals, The Doughboys) composed the soundtrack, while Jim Goodall handled Production Design. Costume Designer was Mario Davignon, with key makeup by Jordan Samuel.

The movie is produced by Robin Crumley, Vice President of Capri Vision (a branch of Capri Films), and by Jeff Rogers. Co-Producer is Victoria Hirst. Executive Producer is Gabriella Martinelli. Other Executive Producers include Jeff Sackman, Brad Petyon, Terry Markus and Mihkel Harilaid.

Outside of TIFF, there's still plenty going on film-wise in this town.

Pour Elle
stars Diane Kruger, (pictured right, by Thore Siebrands,) Vincent Lindon and Olivier Marchal, directed by Fred Cavayé. It tells the story of happily married couple Lisa and Julien (Kruger & Lindon), who lead a normal life together with their young son, until one morning, out of the blue, the police come to arrest Lisa for a brutal murder. When she's found guilty and sentenced to 20 years in prison, Julien sets out to prove her innocence - but is she really? And how far is he willing to go?

Opens Friday, September 18 at the Royal Theatre - check out the French trailer here - English here.

Email: info@theoryal.to
Office: 416-534-5252
Location: 608 College at Clinton, 5 blocks West of Bathurst

Nazi bashing takes an undead turn in Dead Snow, starring Charlotte Frogner, Orjan Gamst, directed by Tommy Wirkola. The group of friends had all they would need for a successful Easter vacation; cabin, skis, snowmobile, toboggan, copious amounts of beer and a fertile mix of the sexes. Certainly, none of them had anticipated not returning home alive! However, the Nazi zombie battalion haunting the mountains surrounding the aptly named Øksfjord (Axefjord) had other plans...

Opens Friday, September 25 at the AMC Yonge & Dundas Theatre.

Check out the trailer here - looks like great fun.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus (a TIFF preview)

The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus (2009)
Directed by Terry Gilliam
Written by Terry Gilliam & Charles McKeown
Starring Christopher Plummer, Lily Cole, Andrew Garfield, Verne Troyer, Heath Ledger, Johnny Depp, Jude Law, Colin Farrell
North American Premiere at TIFF

I like to go into film screenings cold - unprepared, not having read, seen or discussed anything that I think is likely to prejudice my viewing - and I don't get into celeb gossip, so I had no idea, for example, that this was Heath Ledger's last film before his unfortunate passing earlier this year. The ingenious solution, that of using Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell in succession as various permutations of the oily character Tony was, I felt, one of the film's stronger points. In some odd way that I wouldn't have anticipated, the four of them really did seem like they could have been different faces of the same man. It's a bit vague as a statement, I'll admit, but Gilliam's fantastical film doesn't much lend itself to clear or convenient explanation.

Check out the trailer here and you'll see what I mean.

The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus is a travelling side show run by the aforementioned, his beauteous daughter Valentina, and faithful sidekick Anton as the story begins.
But Dr. Parnassus, played by Christopher Plummer in a brilliantly nuanced turn, is a drunken, tortured, inveterate gambler who lost a fiendish bet with the devil (Tom Waits, more about him in a bit) years ago, one that puts her into Beelzebub's grasp at the tender age of 16. Along comes Tony to shake things up and possibly save the day - or can he?

Inside the story is a whimsical fable that ruminates on the nature of good - the complete freedom of the imagination - and evil - that reasonable sounding voice that tells you to be happy with financial security and material comforts. But if it has a philosophy, the film's heart lies in the consistently vivid and memorable characterizations, and in a story about a father and his daughter, anchored by Plummer and the doe eyed, red haired Lily Cole as Valentina. Tom Waits is also particularly strong in the role of the devil, a quiet spoken demon who softly encourages giving into ones' addictions, various fears and insanities. If there is a devil, I'm sure he's rather like that.
The visuals add to the film's magical sensibilities, with cartoonish landscapes, a storybook universe that reminded me of those Dali-esque netherworlds Porky Pig used to end up in (am I crazy or what??). Gilliam's films are often seen as rather obtuse, not linear in logic certainly. You may think you've caught onto something, but then you seem mistaken, or do you..? And its elevation of the idea of free imagination isn't seen as an entirely positive development, either, as the Imaginarium and Parnassus' craziness lead the lot of them just as often into destructive chaos as to anything good. If you're prepared to simply give yourself over to its eccentric universe and capricious logic, however, you'll have a lovely time with it. The Dr. does know how to put on a good show.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Suck picked up by Alliance

Alliance Films Sinks Its Teeth Into SUCK

And Kick Starts Sales At TIFF 09

From a press release - my review in an earlier post here

(September 8, 2009 – Toronto) Alliance Films and Rob Stefaniuk’s rock ‘n’ roll vampire movie SUCK are set to take a bite out of the Canadian market after Alliance snapped up distribution rights in advance of the film’s TIFF world premiere.

The Vampire Rock ‘ n Roll Adventure from Capri Vision (a division of Capri Films) follows a group of rock ‘n’ roll wannabes in search of immortality and a record deal. Written and directed by actor/musician Stefaniuk (Phil The Alien) - who also co-wrote seven of SUCK’s 11 soundtrack songs - this rockin’ romp stars Stefaniuk, Jessica Paré, Dave Foley and Malcolm McDowell and features acting turns from Alice Cooper and his daughter Calico, Iggy Pop, Henry Rollins, Moby, Alex Lifeson, Carole Pope and Dimitri Coats. The film’s score includes, Iggy Pop’s, TVeye and Success; Alice Cooper’s, I am a Spider; The Velvet Underground’s, Sweet Nuthin; David Bowie’s, Here Comes the Night and a cover of The Rolling Stones’, Sympathy for the Devil.

“We’re very excited that Alliance has come on board to release SUCK,” says Producer Robin Crumley. “It is great to know that our film is with such a respected and broad reaching distributor.”

“All any filmmaker can hope for is that his or her film will find an audience,” adds writer, director, actor, musician Rob Stefaniuk. “Having a major Canadian distributor like Alliance onboard guarantees our film has a real chance at finding that audience.”

Seemingly doomed to road trip doldrums and dives, the band The Winners breaks its slump when its female bass player (Jessica Paré) disappears one night with a hip vampire. She returns charged with sexual charisma that creates audience frenzy and eventually ensnares the rest of the band to trade their souls (literally) for fame and fortune.

Shot in Toronto last November, the much anticipated film has been creating buzz since the first day of shooting, and will have its world premiere, Friday September 11, at The Varsity Cinema, 9:30pm.

“SUCK is a fantastic combination of vampire comedy and the best rock and roll ever. We’re pleased to be able to introduce the film to Canadian audiences”, said Noah Segal, EVP of Alliance Films.

The movie is jointly produced by Robin Crumley, Vice President of Capri Vision (a branch of Capri Films), and also by Jeff Rogers. Co-Producer is Victoria Hirst. Executive Producer is Jeff Sackman. Other Executive Producers include Gabriella Martinelli, Terry Markus, and Brad Peyton. Director of Photography is D. Gregor Hagey, with editing by Michele Conroy. John Kastner (Asexuals, The Doughboys) composed the soundtrack, while Jim Goodall handled Production Design. Costume Designer was Mario Davignon, with key makeup by Jordan Samuel.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Harry Brown Review (a TIFF Preview)

Harry Brown (2009)
Directed by Daniel Barber
Screenplay by Gary Young
Starring Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, Iain Glen, Liam Cunningham, David Bradley
World Premiere at TIFF in a Special Presentation

About 15 minutes into Harry Brown, you'll think you know pretty much exactly what's going to go down. Caine, inhabiting the role as only he can, stars as Brown, a weary pensioner living in a dreary "estate" apartment somewhere in a grimy corner of urban U.K., whose days consist of hopeless visits with his failing wife at her hospital bedside and afternoons at the pub playing chess over a pint with his friend, Leonard (David Bradley). He goes the long way around when the thugs who have more or less taken over the estate threaten from an underpass, and shuts the curtains when they mob and assault a man while stealing his car underneath his window. He listens in horror as his buddy talks about living in fear of their harassment and threatens revenge. It's been mentioned in casual conversation that Brown is an ex-Marine, so when his wife passes away and Leonard dies in a skirmish with the criminal element, you'll be thinking oh yeah, now it's payback time. But this is no cartoonish Steven Seagal outing, and the film's genius lies precisely in taking those familiar elements and truly surprising you with their outcome.

How does one believably get from feeble senior citizen to efficient instrument of deadly revenge? To start with, by casting Caine in the role. One of the real treasures of the cinematic world, he goes from glassy eyed confusion to steely ex-military with consummate acting chops, and he's helped by a strong cast, from the actors who play the brutish thugs who've taken over the block to Emily Mortimer's police detective inspector, cast as the lone voice of reason and whose character naturally pays dearly for that quality. The foundation is a great script, one that takes a fresh approach to the well worn genre. It unfolds in a chain of events that seems entirely believable - never false or contrived. The police investigation into first Leonard's murder and then the growing body count gets caught up in obtuse police politicking that accelerates the violence, bringing it to a conclusion you won't anticipate.


Cinematography is the third element working towards the film's strong impact, shot in an intimate style that veers as close as the pores on Caine's face, and sometimes in jittery, hand held sequences like the opening scene, where we join the neighbourhood thugs on a drug-fueled spree of violence with a breathless view from the backseat (see clip above). It's a taut, expertly crafted drama/thriller that delivers on every count.

Check out the screening times here.

Agora Review (a TIFF Preview)

Agora (2009)
Directed by Alejandro Amenábar
Written by Alejandro Amenábar & Mateo Gil
Starring Rachel Weisz, Max Minghella, Oscar Isaac, Ashraf Barhom, Michael Lonsdale, Rupert Evans, Sami Samir
North American Premiere at TIFF in a Gala Presentation

It's 4th Century A.D. in Alexandria, Egypt, one of the last bastions of a Roman Empire that's crumbling from within due to a number of elements, and the film makes clear that one of those elements is the growing early Christian movement. In the city's legendary library, Hypatia, played by Rachel Weisz, a Platonic philosopher, mathematician and astronomer of the old Roman order teaches her pupils and acts as guardian of the city's store of knowledge until the Christian hordes - who, like any revolutionary movement of the disenfranchised throughout history, have more or less degenerated into a mob thirsting for revenge - come to destroy it.

Don't let the film's two hour runtime, or the weighty subject matter that touches on the nature of philosophy, religion, and humankind itself, put you off. Be patient during the first few scenes that seem somewhat formulaic; set up, exposition, impossible love triangle between Hypatia, adoring student Orestes and her slave Davus (Minghella), and so on. As the story unfolds, after Hypatia is left to her teaching and research with what she's been able to salvage from the library, that formula is fleshed out in solid performances and a story that weaves the lives of Hypatia, former students who've taken up prominent places in government and the burgeoning church hierarchy, Davus, who becomes one of the church's thuggish enforcers, and others into a portrait of an era in flux. As the tide of Christianity rises, its early leaders flex their leadership muscles with increasingly violent and intolerant results, (with a particularly stinging indictment of the personnage we now know of as St. Cyril of Alexandria, played by Sami Samir, pictured below,) but no group comes off particularly well here. From the old Roman pagans who convert en masse only when it's clear they can no longer continue in their position of privilege, to the Jews who eke out bloody retaliation of their own, the film takes a dim - and historically accurate - view of the tribalistic nature of them all. Even Weisz's sympathetic Hypatia is not without her flaws.

I've been in love with Rachel Weisz since the Mummy movies, and I can think of few (if any) other actors who could imbue the role with the necessary intelligence and humanity. There are several scenes where Hypatia ruminates on and tests her various theories, and Weisz brings them to life with a kind of single-minded and bright eyed fascination that's entirely convincing. She never takes a false step here. Also strong is Oscar Isaac as Orestes, the former student who becomes Prefect of the city, hopelessly in love with her and doomed to watch, powerless, as events spin out of even his control. The visuals are sumptuous and obviously big budget, with a cast of hundreds, period costumes and lushly recreated scenarios. One quibble though - I couldn't quite grasp the significance of the repeated earth-from-space shots, they seemed incongruous. (teaser below)


It's a thought provoking film that poses questions about the penchant of human society to rebel against the moderating and rational voices of reason and learning with the volatile mob mentality of religious intolerance which resonate to this day. Many of the characters are actual historical figures, including Hypatia herself, and while little remains of her work or theories, there are indications she was onto a theory of the elliptical nature of planets that orbit around the sun about 1,200 years before Kepler's "discovery".

The verdict: you'll hate what it says about humankind, but love Rachel and the rest of the cast in this interesting film. Check out screening times here.

Triage Update - video clip

Hot off the presses and just released to us media types, here's a clip of a pivotal scene from the movie Triage, starring Colin Farrell, seen here with Jamie Sives as David. I've also added a couple of pics to my review of the flick, below.


Thursday, September 3, 2009

Triage (a TIFF preview)

Triage (2009)
Written & Directed by Danis Tanovic
Starring Colin Farrell, Christopher Lee, Branko Djuric, Jamie Sives, Paz Vega, Kelly Reilly
A World Premiere & Special Presentation

Damn you Colin Farrell for making me cry! If you're going to the Toronto International Film Festival at all this year, Triage is a must see, a truly engrossing film that features masterful storytelling and nuanced, completely convincing performances; one that tackles some of the darker realities of human existence with a view that seems entirely authentic, and truthful in a way that mainstream films so very seldom are.

Farrell plays Mark Walsh, a cocky freelance combat photographer as the story (but not actually the film itself) begins. Along with close friend and partner David (Jamie Sives), he's in Kurdistan in 1988, just as Saddam Hussein's campaign against the Kurds is heating up. They find themselves in a kind of military hospital being run out of caves, with no running water or heat, and Walsh shoots away furiously with his camera as ambulances bring the mangled, bloody wounded, although it's clear David - whose wife Diane (Kelly Reilly) is expecting their first child - has lost his taste for chasing that next headline image. Even Walsh is taken aback, though, when makeshift orderlies bring the most grievously wounded outside and Dr. Talzani (Branko Djuric), the lone medic, shoots in the head those who are too far gone to survive on his meagre resources and stretched capabilities rather than prolong their suffering. Walsh ends up returning to Dublin alone, wounded, with David's fate a mystery that slowly unravels through his tortured recovery.

I don't want to give away much of the plot, told skillfully through flashbacks and images. The film actually begins somewhere in the middle, with a wounded Farrell being taken back to the medical cave/hospital for treatment, crisscrossing back and forth in time. It unwraps layer by layer to the very last scene, and you truly won't know what happened on that fateful trip until then - always my test of a superior plot. If the story is superior, (based on Scott Anderson's 1998 novel of the same name,) it's the wonderful performances that bring it to life. Farrell is riveting as Walsh, the tough guy who thinks he can keep both his worlds separate - the bloody battlefields scattered across the globe, and the comfortable apartment he shares with his loving wife. But the performances are uniformly strong all around, from Djuric's war weary medic, a voice for the travails of the Kurdish people, even to the small, uncredited role of an African widow/survivor in one of Walsh's anecdotes. She speaks only two words, but her very posture conveys the woman's sorrow.

Somewhat astonishing is Christopher Lee (yes, he of the cheesy Dracula movies!) who is entirely convincing as Spaniard Joaquín Morales, a former therapist to Franco's Fascists and the grandfather of Walsh's wife, whom she reluctantly calls on for help when Walsh's veneer of business-as-usual develops serious cracks.

Triage is the process used in medical and other emergencies to determine the relative seriousness of illness and injury. In modern hospitals, those who are the most at risk get help first, while in Dr. Talzani's world, they are offered only a quick death. As many of the characters in this film have to tell us, we all have to find ways of dealing with the very finite limits of our own powers and influence, along with the fallout that those limitations incur.

You can check out an interview with Farrell (who also gets executive producer credits) on the set here, and screening times here.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

My Queen Karo (a TIFF preview)

My Queen Karo (2009)
Written & directed by Dorothée Van Den Berghe
Starring Déborah François, Anna Franziska Jaeger, Matthias Schoenaerts, Maria Kraakman

One of the joys of the Toronto International Film Festival is that it brings the opportunity to see cool films you'd never otherwise see in your local Cineplex, and My Queen Karo - a Dutch/Belgian offering that will have its World Premiere at TIFF - is just such a gem. A thoughtful, character based film, the story follows the (mis)adventures of a motley crew of hippie-squatters in 1974 Amsterdam through the eyes of Karo, a ten year old girl who arrives from Belgium with her father Raven and mother Dalia.

It's Déborah François who headlines the credits as Dalia, (a gorgeous rising Euro star who had a breakout film in 2005 with Jean-Pierre Dardenne's l'enfant,) but this is entirely Anna Franziska Jaeger's film in the role of wide eyed Karo as she quietly observes the world of adults around her. Van Den Berghe immerses us in the squatter culture of the times, with its ragtag, impractical philosophies and the realities of living in makeshift surroundings with only cold running water and stolen clothes and furnishings. At first, the group lives with no walls, sleeping in a communal bed where sex between any number of people might erupt - even with a child on board. But things start to disintegrate when Raven brings another woman and her children home (Maria Kraakman's Alice,) exposing Karo to the seamier realities of human nature.

The film has a definite "Euro" look about it, and by that I mean it eschews the glossy veneer of Hollywood for a very clear eyed and intimate view of its subjects and their world. Its sensibilities are also European, featuring plenty of nudity - including the children - and non-graphic sex, things that would send modern North American censors into hyperdrive. I have to say I much prefer this view, one that sees all these elements as fundamentally normal and part of ordinary human existence.

Karo begins to see through the frailties of her adult keepers, becoming the parent on more than one occasion. You could see the film as something of a polemic on the self serving bullshit inherent to most utopian leftist movements, and their ultimate futility, although Van Den Berghe's non-judgmental take favours neither the squatters nor their frustrated landlord. You could also see it as a look at the confusion and moral dilemmas imposed on children by dysfunctional, laissez-faire parenting, (and I put it to you that anyone who teaches their children it's morally wrong to pay for anything is not doing them any favours!) In the end, though, it's about the eternal desire of maturing children to leave the nonsense of the adult world behind them and carve out a life of their own.

Check out the trailer here and screening times here.