Hot Docs 2014: Art and Craft, Mad as Hell, Red Lines, and Advanced Style.

Hot Docs 2014

Art and Craft

Hot Docs 2014: Arts and Crafts

Director: Jennifer Grausman, Sam Cullman, and Mark Becker

Program: Nightvision

Run Time: 89 minutes

Mark Landis is a fraud. One of the world’s most prolific and successful art forgers, he’s spent much of his adult life replicating famous works of art and donating them under various aliases to museums and art galleries around the United States. Fuelled by a mischievous desire to dupe those around him, and an urge to push himself to mimic some of the greatest artists in history, he’s garnered the attention of various institutions, and angered many in his wake. Watched by the FBI, he’s not considered a felon as he’s never exchanged his pieces for profit. In spite of this legality, Matt Leninger has become increasingly infuriated by and obsessed with Landis. Following his donations, he’s lost his job in the process of tracking him down, and informing his “victims” of his fraudulence.

Rendered very much in the vein of Catch Me If You Can, Art and Craft calls attention not only to Landis and Leninger’s obsessive tendencies, their compulsion for perfection and their desire for fulfillment, but also the nature of mental illness. In subtle ways, this is as much about Landis’ possible brokenness as a human being as it is about the moral conundrum of his donating fraudulent works of art to major institutions. In fact, I’d argue it’s barely about the issue of his fraudulence at all.

This is very much a portrait of a strangely damaged man. Jennifer Grausman and Sam Cullman have allowed us to enter the mind of an incredibly capable individual who feels compelled to recreate masterpieces instead of creating his own. Sharply intuitive and keenly intelligent, Landis is no fool, in spite of his limitations. The film, as a result, is as colourfully eccentric as its protagonist. This is the story about a damaged man with an unconventional hobby. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t delve into the real issues surrounding Landis’ prolific forgeries, and it runs a bit too long. The time spent listening to Landis repeating himself would have been better served outlining the ethical and academic conundrums Landis has surfaced with his work.

Screenings

Wednesday, April 30th at 11:59pm at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema

Saturday, May 3th at 4:00pm at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema

Sunday, May 4th at 11:00am at the Revue Cinema

Would you like to know more…?

Hot Docs 2014: I Am Big Bird, The Condemned, and Watchers of the Sky.

Hot Docs 2014

I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story

Hot Docs 2014: I Am Big Bird - The Caroll Spinney Story

Director: Chad Walker and Dave LaMattina

Program: Special Presentations

Run Time: 85 minutes

From Bozo the Clown to Oscar the Grouch, Caroll Spinney has been enriching the lives of adults and children alike for nearly 45 years. At 80 years old, he is the last remaining member of the original Sesame Street puppeteers. With very little known about his private life, we’re given a rare and heartwarming look into the man behind the feathers. Through interviews, a host of home videos, and archival clips, we see both the man and his characters exposed. We are shown the various events that have shaped Spinney’s life – tragedy, a wonderful love story, and a near venture into space aboard the ill-fated Challenger. What’s left is a wonderful man, an artist and entertainer, and a legacy that has carried generations.

An absolutely beautiful and captivating film, Chad Walker and Dave LaMattina have managed to allow us a glimpse at the very private life of one of the most beloved figures in children’s entertainment of the past century. We’re shown his complexity as a human being, and his natural embodiment of the dichotomy between Oscar and Big Bird. Touching interviews with family members affirm his dedication as a father, husband, and professional. Unwavering in his commitment to anything he undertook, he’s spent his life being all things to all people, and doing so with humour and humility.

While the film is a treasure to watch, there’s a profound sadness that punctuates its joy. The legacy is ending, and he is the last of a different breed of human. While Big Bird will live on through the ages, the times have changed, and so too has the nature of entertainment. There’s an unshakable sensation that you’re watching a heartbreaking resignation, and anyone who grew up with Sesame Street or any of Jim Henson’s creations will surely feel nostalgic pangs that teeter on the edge of heartbreak. You will laugh, and you will cry, but most importantly you will remember a time when a big fuzzy bird taught you togetherness and unquestionable love. Would you like to know more…?

Hot Docs 2014: Doc of the Dead, The Nose, Divide in Concord, and More…

Hot Docs 2014

Doc of the Dead

Hot Docs 2014: Doc of the Dead Director: Alexandre Philippe Program: Nightvision Run Time: 82 minutes Campy, fun, and tongue in cheek, Alexandre Philippe’s Doc of the Dead surely entertains. Tracing the history of the zombie on and off the silver screen, he takes the audience through a rudimentary education of the genre. Through a series of talking head interviews with the likes of George A Romero, Simon Pegg, Bruce Campbell, Robert Kirkman, Max Brooks, and Sherman Howard, we’re shown how zombies came to be in popular culture, and the lengths to which people have become obsessed. Zombie walks, zombie obstacle courses, zombie weddings (officiated by none other than Campbell himself), shelters, weapons, clothing, toys, shows, comic books, and festivals, the world is screaming for “brains!” Zombies are so engrained in popular culture at this point, that there seems to be very little we don’t know. For those familiar with the genre, aficionados and horror gurus alike, they’ll find nothing new here. The layman, however, will take great interest in what Doc of the Dead has to offer. Even still, it teaches us very little in the way of new or groundbreaking information. What the film does provide is an unfortunately perfunctory look at the world’s obsession with zombie culture. While that portion of Doc is intriguing, and a little shocking, it’s at best the end third of the film, and we’re left with very little to sink our teeth into. The anecdotes and interviews are entertaining, nonetheless, but many will groan. They’ve been here before, and they recognize that tree. Ultimately, Doc of the Dead does little to whet the appetites of zombie lovers. Screenings: Saturday, April 26th at 11:59pm at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema Sunday, April 27th at 9:30pm at Hart House Theatre Saturday, May 3rd at 9:45pm at the Royal Cinema Would you like to know more…?

Hot Docs 2014: Opening Night and The First Day

Hot Docs 2014

The 2014 Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival is upon us. North America’s largest Documentary festival is about to take over Toronto, showcasing some of the best documentaries from around the globe at ten venues across our fair city. With over 200 wonderful feature length and short documentaries to choose from, you certainly won’t be disappointed.

This year’s festival plays host to a series of diverse films, highlighting themes of love and relationships, addiction, crime, fashion, gender and sexuality, just to name a few. This year’s Made In program will turn its gaze towards Denmark, showcasing six films that exemplify the region’s outstanding contribution to non-fiction cinema. The Next program returns to the festival with an eye for the arts, creativity and pop culture, while new program Love, Factually celebrates love, passion, and matters of the heart.

Hot Docs’ 21st year starts this Thursday, April 24th, with The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz, and continues until May 4th with a wide array of exceptional documentary film that simply must be seen. Don’t miss out, and be sure to grab your tickets fast. For a thorough breakdown of what’s coming this year, be sure to take a look at Bob Turnbull’s preview article on the festival. Would you like to know more…?

Review: Bears

Disney Nature's BearsNature is a beautiful thing. Vast and expansive, it is home to thousands of different species. As a child growing up, I was raised with a keen understanding and respect for nature. In spite of vague memories of Jean-Jacques Annaud’s The Bear, most of that education came from my parents. I spent many summers hiking in Algonquin Provincial Park from the age of two, and was taught that animals are not there for our entertainment. The elements and all those that inhabit the forest were beyond my control, and as such needed to be treated with the utmost respect.

Disney Nature is attempting to bring this kind of education to children through their films. Thus far, they’ve brought us Earth, The Crimson Wing, Oceans, African Cats, Chimpanzee, and Wings of Life. Meryl Streep, Tim Allen, Samuel L. Jackson, Patrick Stewart, Pierce Brosnan, James Earl Jones, and Ken Watanabe have narrated this wide array of nature documentaries for children. They’ve attracted a great deal of attention. What better way to educate kids about different species that pepper our planet? If their latest endeavor, Bears, narrated by John C. Reilly, is any indication, they should choose to stick to one side of the spectrum. Blurring the lines between documentary and fiction, Bears creates a problematic discourse around the very nature of nature itself, successfully creating a hyper-anthropomorphized depiction of a wild animal and dubbing it factual representation.

Bears follows the first year in the life of two young Alaskan Brown Bears. Their mother attempts to protect them against the elements, starvation, and predators as they make their way to the salmon ponds in order to fatten up for their long winter hibernation. This would make for an interesting documentary on its own accord. With the ability and necessity for camera crews to acclimatize themselves to their subjects over the course of several weeks to months before filming, a great deal of outstanding footage is at their fingertips. However, the footage doesn’t speak for itself, and instead we’re given a fabricated narrative. Would you like to know more…?

Review: Captain America The Winter Soldier

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

The Marvel universe has been beautifully brought to life, repeatedly. While some adaptations have been more successful than others, Captain America: The First Avenger pleased comic book fans, critics and laymen equally. The homegrown, wholesome as apple pie Americana vibe pulsed throughout the film’s two hour run time. The villain was the clear-cut Hydra, a Nazi-adjacent foe working towards omnipotence, against the earnest and eager ultra-hero, Steve Rogers. The dichotomy was simple, and straightforward. Captain America: The Winter Soldier takes that earnest do-gooder, and gives him a moving target. Though his hyper-moralistic stance is at times far too simplistic and idyllic, the sentiment remains solid and subversive.

We find Capt. Rogers (Chris Evans) attempting to fit nicely into his daily life. An agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., he trains during the day, works when he’s called in, and does his duty to protect his people. Along the way, he absorbs some run of the mill peer pressure to get out of his cocoon, join the living, and give dating a shot. When a S.H.I.E.L.D. ship is taken hostage, Capt. Rogers and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) are sent aboard with a team to rescue the hostages, and reclaim their vessel.

However, when Rogers discovers the Widow is on a separate set of orders, ultimately compromising the principle directive, he begins to question not only S.H.I.E.L.D.’s, but Nick Fury’s (Samuel L Jackson) motives as well. Confronting Fury as to his lack of trust in others, the onus is then put on the Captain to learn that universal trust isn’t always the best course of action. Sometimes those we place our deepest faith in are those with the most nefarious intentions.

Enter Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford), Fury’s boss, and the film’s newest prominent character. With Redford’s past participation in films like Three Days of the Condor and All the Presidents Men, his role in the film as resident turncoat comes as little surprise. For those unfamiliar with the comics, however, the depth of this treachery is shocking. We’re left with a sinking sensation of distrust, as NSA-level surveillance and military force merge to form a subversive nemesis. Would you like to know more…?

Cinéfranco Francophone International Film Festival Hits Toronto

Cinéfranco, arguably the most significant International Francophone Film Festival in English Canada, has started. Running from March 28th through until April 6th, the Toronto-based film festival showcases the rich diversity of Francophone cinema, in an attempt to help promote and better appreciate French film. This year’s programme addresses the anxiety of aging, historical heroines, immigration, love, romance, and wrestling, all of which are merely the tip of the iceberg.

Jean-Marc Rudnicki’s Les Reines du Ring (Wrestling Queens) had its English Canada premiere on Saturday, March 29th. The film centers on Rose, a young single mother who’s just recently been released from prison. Held responsible, and punished, for a horrible accident, she’s had her son taken away from her, and placed into foster care. Having found a job at a local grocery store, she’s getting her life back on track. All that’s left is to win back the trust of her now disappointed young son. The way back to his heart is through one of his greatest passions: professional wrestling.

Les Reines Du Ring

Rose assembles a team of coworkers, each woman facing their own unique life changes. As they train alongside retired wrestling veteran Richard the Lionheart, they conquer their personal obstacles, and assert themselves as the new face of female professional wrestling.  Would you like to know more…?

Robert Lepage: Possible Worlds at TIFF Bell Lightbox

Dreamscapes and fluid transitions dominate the otherworldly aesthetic of Robert Lepage’s oeuvre. His seamless transitions across time are stunning, while he allows a kind of whimsy to seep through even his bleakest pieces. He’s a transitional master, blending time and space with elegant fluidity. No genre is out of reach, and each film has his unique eye branded upon it.

In celebration of this masterful mind, TIFF Bell Lightbox in conjunction with the Glenn Gould Foundation are honoring the Canadian filmmaker and stage director, this year’s recipient of the Glenn Gould Prize. The Prize is awarded to an individual for a unique lifetime contribution that has enriched the human condition through the arts. Lepage’s elegant, sensual, and highly theatrical work has certainly made its mark on Canadian cinema. This short retrospective runs from March 27th until April 1st, and showcases eight of Lepage’s films, including his latest film Triptych, the cinematic adaptation of his nine-hour theatrical production Lipsynch.

Le Confessionnal

The series begins tonight, Thursday, March 27th, at 6:30pm with Lepage’s cinematic debut, Le Confessionnal. A beautifully shot drama, the film follows two estranged brothers as they attempt to unravel a family mystery. Delicately transitioning across time, the film flips between 1952 and 1989 in Quebec City. In ’89, Pierre Lamontagne has returned home after the death of his father, a presumably careless man who severely neglected his diabetes, leading to his demise. As he attempts to paint over the stained memories of his childhood home, he seeks out his long estranged adopted brother, Marc, in an attempt to discover his birth father. Would you like to know more…?

Review: Nymphomaniac Volumes I and II

Nymphomaniac Volume I & II
At first glance, much of Lars von Trier’s work seems disrespectful, antagonistic, self-aggrandizing, and unapologetically brutish. His latest piece,
Nymphomaniac, the nearly 5-hour-long story of a self-professed nymphomaniac, certainly felt this way prior to its release. Proclaiming the film to be hardcore pornography, calling out the public and media alike for their prudish reception of his concept, and generally baiting the entire cinematic community, it’s been a long road to Nymphomaniac’s two lengthy volumes. Going into the film, you anticipate relentless sex and little else. You almost resign yourself to no plot or point other than to force the public to get over its preconceived notions of sex. What we’re left with, however, is far more compelling.

What lies beneath the surface of Nymphomaniac is an accessible and seemingly honest portrayal of the type of person often perceived as little more than a deviant in society’s eyes. Here we find Trier’s two voices – his learned, rational self debating the nature of humanity and humility with his angry, impassioned, animalistic side – facing off in a kind of battle to save the soul of the so-called afflicted Joe. We’re shown the portrait of a woman who played carelessly with lust as a young adult, blossomed into a woman, and found herself taking ownership of her compulsion. In spite of the overall positive intention of Volume I, and the eye-opening, soul-crushing Volume II, the final message fits into Trier’s canon as antagonistic … with a point.

The story begins with Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) being found, beaten and filthy in a dark alley, by a man named Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård). Urging the wounded woman to call the police, he’s left with no choice but to nurse her himself when she refuses. Carrying her back to his lonely apartment, he changes her clothes, and lays her in bed. Once awake and alert, Joe rambles on about being a horrible person, attempting to convince the kindly Seligman that he should have left her there. Eventually, Joe finds herself defending her self-proclaimed villainy, and begins to tell her life’s story in an attempt to convince her saviour. Would you like to know more…?

Extended Thoughts: The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Grand Budapest HotelThe highly stylized and ever whimsical Wes Anderson has struck again with his latest gem, The Grand Budapest Hotel. A delectably decadent treat, the film unfolds as a kind of matryoshka nesting doll: a story within a story within a story. Peppered with his usual array of players, the troupe is joined by newcomers Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, and Saoirse Ronan to stupendous results. The film hums with zealous energy, rife with vulgarity-laced elegance. It hovers, its feet inches above the ground, the ethereal existence of a Wes Anderson creation done to perfection.

The scene opens on a young girl in present-day, a book firmly clutched in her arms, as she visits the gravesite of who we will come to know only as Author. Hotel room keys adorn a bronze bust of the man, reminiscent of the romanticism of attaching locks to bridges. Lifting another layer, we are in the office of Author (Tom Wilkinson) in 1985, as he recounts his visit to the titular hotel in 1968. You can see where this is going.

In 1968, we encounter a younger Author (now played by Jude Law) at the Grand Budapest Hotel. Shockingly reminiscent of the Overlook, it’s hard to imagine the place as a residence of glamour and class. The wallpaper peels, the orange carpets look as if they haven’t been cleaned in well over a decade, and the tiles crackle and fall from the walls. It’s a sad, desolate place, where the sparse tenants keep firmly to themselves. That is, of course, until our young Author encounters the mysterious Mr. Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham), the current overseer of the Overlook Grand Budapest. With nary a cajole, Mr. Moustafa agrees to tell Author his life’s story over dinner. Would you like to know more…?

Extended Thoughts: A Field in England

A Field in EnglandBen Wheatley has asserted himself as the new face of avant garde cinema. From Down Terrace’s darkly comedic family crime story in 2009, to 2012’s bleakly hilarious Sightseers, nothing is by-the-book. Wheatley’s latest venture is no exception. Desolate, oddly funny, and visually volatile, A Field in England, while not a perfect film, certainly solidifies Wheatley’s role in the contemporary culture of cinema.

Set in the thick of the English Civil War, the story focuses on a band of merry deserters. Whitehead (Reece Shearsmith), an alchemist’s assistant, flees the field of battle. Terrified, he runs from the chaos, and encounters a threatening man named Cutler (Ryan Pope), and his two companions, the slovenly Jacob (Peter Ferdinando) and simpleton Friend (Richard Glover). Attempting to find a nearby alehouse, they inexplicably discover a lost alchemist, an Irishman by the name of O’Neil (Michael Smiley). Holding them captive, O’Neil forces the men to help him find a treasure presumably buried in the field they’ve been trudging through.

In spite of its relatively straightforward plot, the execution of the film is far more mystifying. A highly visceral sensory experience, the film is shot in stark, at times flat, black and white. The dutiful warning at the film’s start that there are strobes used is, by the film’s end, not nearly warning enough. The experience is jarring, and at times physically difficult to withstand. Unless you’re into less accessible, more confounding content. Would you like to know more…?