Civil War: What is it good for? Absolutely nothing.



Okay, MCU, I quit*

The shark has been jumped, and in this case I may be the shark and Kevin Feige and his team of TV directors are the Fonz. CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR is the logical conclusion to – but unfortunately just the next phase of – this series of bloated, meaningless storytelling.

Following a series of disasters in both real American metropolises and fictional foreign nations, the less interesting Avengers (Thor and Hulk are elsewhere, as are the expensive big name love interests from previous films) find themselves subject to reckoning from the international community, demanding oversight to their actions, leading to a schism between those who idealistically see the negative implications and will not compromise, and those who see the path of least resistance and would like to keep a hand on the wheel.

After an hour or so of “good for basic cable but it ain’t HBO” style of drama which has earned Daredevil many fans (but man has that show also grown drab and tedious) we get the film’s centerpiece, a defining and damning moment – the big showcase battle royal – and in pro wrestling terms it is an indie spotfest that has all the weight of an arcade fighting game. For those uninitiated to the Sport of Kings, that means generic grapplers doing a lot of creative flipping with no selling (nothing hurts), no storytelling (are you working down a body part? do you have a strategy?), and no heat. And the “smart” indie fans lap it up in spite of knowing what actually makes a match any good.

Civil War has no heat. This is the movie that has divided up earth’s greatest heroes, telling us that a conflict has arisen where there is now no choice but to butt heads. And yet the process reveals no. goddamn. new. side. of. anyone. While Iron Man and Cap have their logical sides, and others have their loyalties, several others are there for no good reason at all, adding nothing to the shallow discussion, and damage their own characters in the process. Tom Holland makes a wonderful Peter Parker but a Spider-Man more eager to please new friends than do what’s right. Likewise Paul Rudd initially brings life with his fresh Ant-Man character but is quickly reduced to a bumbling fool showing none of the subtlety required in leading his own film. The time comes for battle, and there they go, and I buy their reasoning even less than Batman v Superman.

David Ehrlich summarizes the centerpiece better than I could have ever imagined when he writes:

“Watching “Civil War,” it’s easy to understand why the MCU is so hung up on the fight in New York — it’s the franchise’s only great action sequence. Joss Whedon’s visceral understanding of cinematic geometry and his symphonic flair for choreographing movement allowed that marquee set-piece to galvanize the separate threads of the Marvel Cinematic Universe into a unified whole. On the contrary, every action beat in “Civil War” is such a discrete hodgepodge of close-ups and medium shots that they might as well exist in a vacuum — at times, this feels like the first movie ever made entirely out of gifs.”

And it’s not just the action in this scene that is so clumsily shot, choreographed, and considered. What the Russo’s are interested in this big moment… is quips! This big moment, planned for years over the course of several films, is upended by a pair of red and blue underoos. This scene is the big coming out party, and more thought seems to have been invested in putting butts in seats for Homecoming than paying anything off. And the quip-slinger is the other side of the mediocre coin. His material is good for an open mic, but ain’t no HBO Special. After a series of groan-worthy one-liners where Holland and Rudd ask for autographs from their friends and adversaries, they are sent off on his merry way and proven irrelevant.

Would you like to know more…?

10 to see at Hot Docs 2016

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It’s that time of year where Documania runs wild in Toronto for the city’s second highest profile festival, one I myself have come to prefer every year. The selections for Hot Docs 2016 are stacked and wonderfully curated. If you pick a bad one, it’s probably on you. While the selections below are reviewed based on screeners, I highly encourage who can to get out and see these in the cinema. It’s so rare to see a documentary with a packed crowd, and the Q&A’s that happen during Hot Docs are so much more special than the ones you see at TIFF by nature of centering around real stories and real characters rather than the cloud of celebrity. You never know what to expect.

MY SCIENTOLOGY MOVIE
(dir: John Dower, 100 minutes)
Tickets

After a decade of videos from Wise Beard Men, numerous expose books, countless articles, and most recently, the dense info dump of Alex Gibney’s Going Clear, you’d think we’d had enough Scientology documentaries. And maybe so. But along comes John Dowler and well known UK presenter Louis Theroux to pull an Act of Killing by hiring actors, who with the help of former Scientologist Marty Rathburn, recreate bizarre and violent events from David Miscavige and others that he had witnessed during his decades as a high ranking church official. MY SCIENTOLOGY MOVIE is far less concerned with the usual informative points of interest regarding Xenu and obsession with celebrities than it is fascinated with the justifications in behavior made by past and present members of their secretive organization. What results is a lot of cameras directed at other cameras, paranoia, intimidation, and cheeky provocation. This documentary is in no way a great starting point for anyone wishing to learn more about L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology, but for those of us who thought we’d seen and heard everything, this fresh angle is for you.



TONY ROBBINS: I AM NOT YOUR GURU
(dir: Joe Berlinger, 115 minutes)
Tickets

Speaking of cults, Tony Robbins and his self-help seminars have themselves often been thought of as such, and similarly have been behind closed doors as well as very expensive. From Joe Berlinger of PARADISE LOST / METALLICA: SOME KIND OF MONSTER fame comes this unprecedented look at Robbins’ Date With Destiny series, and if there’s a twist to be found, it’s that Tony Robbins comes out of this looking really really good, to the extent that some have accused I AM NOT YOUR GURU of being an informercial. While the film generally takes Robbins at his word and some subtle touches (fonts, establishing shots) might give off a brochure esthetic, these criticisms fall on deaf ears when Berlinger lets the confrontations take center stage, where attendees are pushed to their emotional breaking points by the charismatic, foul-mouthed, no-bullshit-taking Robbins. Robbins operates as a Gordon Ramsay for your life, and Berlinger’s concert film/cinema verite approach allows the viewer to walk away deciding for themselves if this is a good thing. Robbins is appearing at Hot Docs which makes this an especially hot ticket, but you can catch this when it comes to Netflix on July 15th.



LO AND BEHOLD: REVERIES OF THE CONNECTED WORLD
(dir: Werner Herzog, 98 minutes)
Tickets

I have to wonder if I could have accepted a film like this from anyone other than Werner Herzog. LO AND BEHOLD is a meandering series of anecdotes about the wired age that almost feels like a proof of concept for a Cosmos-type TV series. Which is to say, it’s entertaining and Herzog’s trademark calm, collected nature makes it feel like a stream of consciousness. From the unbreakable box that represents the invention of the Internet to the solar flares that will destroy us all to all of the harassment in between, Herzog’s fascinations and questions make this a very personal look at the increasingly impersonal. A favorite segment finds Werner visiting with those suffering from the very real EHS that fans of Better Call Saul will recognize, literally having gone off the grid, paying a personal price for our need to Google the name of that one guy who was in that thing. Admittedly, LO AND BEHOLD does feel like it could end at any moment, and there is an opportunity for a stronger final thought that isn’t there, but 98 minutes with Herzog is always worth your time.



CREDIT FOR MURDER
(dir: Vladi Antonevicz, 87 minutes)
Tickets

If there is one documentary I have been pushing people to see, it is this film from Israeli director Vladi Antonevicz, a jaw-dropping, cinematic undercover procedural adventure which finds him posing as a white supremacist in Russia to solve the horrific murder of two immigrant men which had been posted to Youtube and ultimately became an infamous viral video. CREDIT FOR MURDER draws you in with the sordid allure of your first convincing conspiracy video and never lets up. The intricate detective work, superb presentation of event timelines, and mind-boggling admissions from far right nationalists are astounding. These Neo-Nazi antagonists fear nothing and if anything are trying to impress the viewer with how hateful they are. They are too trusting of the man with the camera, and too secure that there will be no reckoning for their actions, which makes for great viewing. This is provocative, detailed, vital documentary filmmaking and will almost certainly be in my year end top 10.



TICKLED
(dir: David Farrier, Dylan Reeve, 92 minutes)
Tickets

The less said about TICKLED is to your benefit, and the filmmakers would prefer it stay that way. All you need to know is that co-director and journalist David Farrier found a video online for something called “competitive endurance tickling”. Huh. Considering that we have pillow fight and ax throwing leagues, it was not absurd to want to make a short quirky news story about this oddball sport. But it became clear very quickly that the people behind this “sport” did not appreciate the publicity, opening the door to an investigation that keeps paying off sinister revelations and mysterious puppeteers. TICKLED easily surpasses Catfish in the WTF is With People department, and will keep you guessing.



THE SLIPPERS
(dir: Morgan White, 90 minutes)
Tickets

Just a bit over a year ago I finally laid eyes on THE REP, Morgan White’s excellent documentary about the rise and fall of the beloved and sadly out-of-business Toronto Underground Cinema. I went into this follow-up unsure if a focus tracing the cultural impact of a single piece of film memorabilia could sustain a feature length, and was more than pleasantly surprised to see that not only will THE SLIPPERS satisfy film lovers let alone Ozheads, but that White has significantly leveled up in his craftmanship in a short period. This is a slick, professional piece of work that indicates a passion for the subject matter that rivals that of his wealthy subjects. The story of the titular ruby slippers keeps going into unexpected places – conspiracy theories, capers, failed dreams, and deep envy. The lively talking heads, including a healthy dose of Debbie Reynolds, collectively reveal the rise of memorabilia collecting and how these props take on iconic and symbolic significance that transcend their original context into objects of inspiration, achievement, and how sad it can be to watch what happens when they fall into the hands of someone who doesn’t appreciate them.



HOW TO BUILD A TIME MACHINE
(dir: Jay Cheel, 82 minutes)
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Like THE SLIPPERS, Jay Cheel’s first documentary feature since 2011’s terrific, hilarious BEAUTY DAY dials back the lunacy into a more contemplative but equally compelling place through two obsessed men and an iconic piece of film memorabilia – the HG Wells time machine. Animator Rob Niosi has been replicating the prop for years in extreme nitpicking detail. Rob Mallett became a theoretical physicist for tragic reasons. Cheel’s Errol Morris influences shine through even more so than his previous effort as he ties both stories together via the power of cinema as it’s own time machine, and milking emotion out of hobbies and fields of studies often thought of as cold and impersonal practices. If any film has convincingly proven that the journey is as important as the destination, it’s this one.



SOUTHWEST OF SALEM: THE STORY OF THE SAN ANTONIO FOUR
(dir: Deborah S. Esquenazi, 89 minutes)
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The wave of interest in true crime stories laced with a dose of injustice is still in full swing, and another to add to your list is this film, which like PARADISE LOST before it, comes out of the last gasp of the Satanic Panic, and led to four Texan women subject to a homophobia-driven, literal witch hunt. This film, faced with the problem of not much footage from the time of the trial, forgoes suspense for an emotionally charged story about the exoneration process 15 years later, the difficult reintegration process, solidarity in clearing their name as one, and the regret and trauma of someone who had been manipulated into a false confession as an act of revenge.



HOLY HELL
(dir: Will Allen, 105 minutes)
Tickets

*ANOTHER* cult documentary? Actually, HOLY HELL might be *THE* cult documentary. Director Will Allen spent 20 years within the Buddhafield, a hippie-ish cult, where he served as the official documentarian and too-close friend of Michel, a guru clad mostly in speedos, obsessed with his own appearance to levels that would make Liberace blush, and of course – dangerously drunk on power, spiritually and emotionally abusive. Michel is as creeptastic as they come, always staring through you, looking like a melted Martin Short even as he holds himself up as a paragon of beauty through the bizarre films and awful 80s-tastic music videos Will Allen created to glorify his master. This is an escape film, a revenge film, an ode to lost friends, and it has the most satisfying ending sequence(s) of anything I’ve seen from this year’s festival. And it may be coming to a theater near you sooner than later.



MAGICIANS: LIFE IN THE IMPOSSIBLE
(dir: Marcie Hume, Christoph Baaden, 85 minutes)
Tickets

Of all things, MAGICIANS reminds of the Jerry Seinfeld COMEDIAN documentary, as well as the pro wrestling documentary BEYOND THE MAT. In all cases these are entertainers who face a stigma around their chosen profession, a struggle to attain a certain level of skill, and an even greater struggle to stand out among the field. And then there’s the unique hits to relationships, jealousy and finances that almost all performers face. Hume and Baaden’s film follows four extremely talented magicians in different stages of their careers, from a Tonight Show regular to a master of cards to the flashy Vegas showman who has to worry about bigger names stealing his act right when he’s finally on the edge of his big break. There’s something wonderful about watching people who are so very good at one specific thing weave their (wait for it) magic. Not being told how they do it just adds that extra level of intrigue, and finding out why these wonderful weirdos do it more than makes up for it.

Soundtrack Of Your Life #17 – Save The Last Dance

Ain’t nobody listenin’ to you but me..

Each episode, Corey Pierce welcomes a guest (or guests) onto the show who has chosen a compilation or soundtrack that speaks to a memorable era of their life. The soundtrack will play underneath and serves as a springboard to discussion about the music itself, how it works within the film, and what was going on with their life at the time of its release.

For episode 16, Corey finally welcomes self-described gaylord farquad film blogger, the ever fabulously foul-mouthed and never boring Paolo Kagaoan to discuss the late 90s/early 00s R&B-laced soundtrack to Save The Last Dance, as well as stories of arriving to inner-city Toronto as a gay immigrant. Nikki also is back to mostly listen in as we reminisce over wine and Easter cake.

Follow Corey Pierce on Twitter at – @coreypierceart
Follow Paolo Kagaoan on Twitter at @paolocase
Follow Soundtrack of Your Life on Twitter at @thisisyourOST

Soundtrack Of Your Life #16: Tank Girl

Look, if you want to torture me, spank me, lick me, do it. But if this podcast shit continues, shoot me now, please...

Each episode, Corey Pierce welcomes a guest (or guests) onto the show who has chosen a compilation or soundtrack that speaks to a memorable era of their life. The soundtrack will play underneath and serves as a springboard to discussion about the music itself, how it works within the film, and what was going on with their life at the time of its release.

For episode 16, Corey finally welcomes RowThree’s own /Kurt Halfyard for, in proper Kurt fashion, a long and meandering journey into the wonderful world of white men talking about feminism, what you believe vs how you believe it, collecting items as a metaphor for life, falling off trends, curating preteens’ tastes, and more. All of this set to the acclaimed soundtrack of the 90’s bomb/secretly good Lori Petty vehicle (no pun intended), Tank Girl.

Follow Corey Pierce on Twitter at – @coreypierceart
Follow Kurt Halfyard on Twitter at @triflic
Follow Soundtrack of Your Life on Twitter at @thisisyourOST

Soundtrack Of Your Life #15: The Wrestling Album / Piledriver

Stand back before we grab your cakes..

Each episode, Corey Pierce welcomes a guest (or guests) onto the show who has chosen a compilation or soundtrack that speaks to a memorable era of their life. The soundtrack will play underneath and serves as a springboard to discussion about the music itself, how it works within the film, and what was going on with their life at the time of its release.

Well this is different. For the first time Soundtrack of Your Life delves into TV and sports with a double length episode: The Wrestling Album and Piledriver: The Wrestling Album 2. Featuring originals and entrance themes that captured the height of 80s Rock N Wrestling cheese, this somehow serves as the backdrop to a nearly 2 decade long friendship with former roommate, best friend and best man /Anthony Brennan.

Follow Corey Pierce on Twitter at – @coreypierceart
Follow Anthony Brennan on Twitter at @anthbrennan
Follow Soundtrack of Your Life on Twitter at @thisisyourOST

Soundtrack Of Your Life #14: Dazed And Confused / The Rainbow Connection

We checked you much later than intended.

Each episode, Corey Pierce welcomes a guest (or guests) onto the show who has chosen a compilation or soundtrack that speaks to a memorable era of their life. The soundtrack will play underneath and serves as a springboard to discussion about the music itself, how it works within the film, and what was going on with their life at the time of its release.

After a 5 month hiatus (which the show will get into, perhaps too much), Corey returns with episode 14 with Toronto documentarian/professional editor /Lindsay Ragone in tow. After an extended intro about Linsday’s upcoming feature Braingasm, we jump into one of Corey’s very favourite soundtracks, 1993’s beloved Dazed and Confused, known for being one of the very best “all in one night” stories, one of the best coming-of-age stories, and for being stacked front to back with 70s rock radio hits. This episode also gets pretty weepy in its bookends, with an update on what this absence has been all about.

Follow Corey Pierce on Twitter at – @coreypierceart
Follow Lindsay Ragone on Twitter at @lindsayragone and @BraingasmFilm
Follow Soundtrack of Your Life on Twitter at @thisisyourOST

Soundtrack Of Your Life #13: Spawn

How come God hogs up all the good podcasters, and we’re left with… .

Each episode, Corey Pierce welcomes a guest (or guests) onto the show who has chosen a compilation or soundtrack that speaks to a memorable era of their life. The soundtrack will play underneath and serves as a springboard to discussion about the music itself, how it works within the film, and what was going on with their life at the time of its release.

For episode 13, Corey once again dips into his wedding party, welcoming comedian/voice actor/Classic Simpsons Trivia Toronto host Chris Brazeau . After an extended intro featuring talk of Harry Shearer and a game of Stump The Guest, we dive into 1997’s critically reviled Spawn, known for it’s collaborative efforts between then-hot alterna-metal acts and emerging heavyweights of the genre we then called electronica. We find the film to be surprisingly campy fun whilst reflecting back on stories of teenage rebellion and finding ways to set yourself apart via clothing. Stay tuned to the end where we also discuss a recent local controversy around women in comedy facing sexual harassment.

Follow Corey Pierce on Twitter at – @coreypierceart
Follow Chris Brazeau (Simpsons Trivia Toronto) on Twitter at @woohootriviaTO
Follow Soundtrack of Your Life on Twitter at @thisisyourOST

7 Worth Seeing At Hot Docs 2015

THE SANDWICH NAZI

Male escort. Art collector. Musician. Blowjob connoisseur. Sandwich maker. Salim Kahil’s deli is not for the faint of heart, plastered with warnings of verbal abuse and countless do-not-do’s. Customers recount the first time they saw his penis as if this was something one would expect as a regular lunchgoer. This crass Surrey BC restaurant owner seems to have one-upped New York’s famous Soup Nazi.

Everyone has been stuck on the bus with someone like Salim Kahil, or seen them berating people on a streetcorner. At first their outbursts seem funny-random, sad, just plain creepy (or all of the above), but you get used to them to the point that most of their stories start to run together. Such is the case within The Sandwich Nazi, a short film now expanded to feature length, whose stories and rants are almost entirely sexually based, and carry the film rather than punctuate a well told life story. As such one’s mileage may vary depending on how you take on a personality like Salim’s. He may grate on you immediately or over time. You may be laughing from start to finish. You may gradually find him endearing after being initially shocked.

Would you like to know more…?

Soundtrack Of Your Life #12: Transformers The Movie

Beyond good podcasting. Beyond evil podcasting. Beyond your mildest expectations..

Each episode, Corey Pierce welcomes a guest (or guests) onto the show who has chosen a compilation or soundtrack that speaks to a memorable era of their life. The soundtrack will play underneath and serves as a springboard to discussion about the music itself, how it works within the film, and what was going on with their life at the time of its release.

For episode 12, once again Corey welcomes 2 guests. Greg Aikenhead has been a close friend for over 15 years dating back to Sheridan College’s Illustration program and is the foremost robot and yogurt expert in Corey’s wedding party. Also welcome Shaun Hatton, a well known media personality in Toronto who currently runs Nerd Noise Night, and relevant to this episode is Rumble in Tranfromers-based band The Cybertronic Spree. We bring them together to geek out to 1986’s Transformers The Movie, the animated film bridging season 2 and 3 of the still wildly popular franchise. This hard rock and synth-score heavy soundtrack opens up various discussions surrounding nostalgia and toy marketing via childhood trauma.

Follow Corey Pierce on Twitter at – @coreypierceart
Follow Shaun Hatton on Twitter at @megashaun
Follow Greg Aikenhead on Twitter at @Greglactus
Follow Soundtrack of Your Life on Twitter at @thisisyourOST

Soundtrack Of Your Life #11: New Jack City

Am I my podcast’s keeper? Yes I am..

Each episode, Corey Pierce welcomes a guest onto the show who has chosen a compilation or soundtrack that speaks to a memorable era of their life. The soundtrack will play underneath and serves as a springboard to discussion about the music itself, how it works within the film, and what was going on with their life at the time of its release.

For episode 11, for the first time, Corey welcomes 2 guests at once. First there is Petula Neale, a local film fan who in her own words rightfully proclaims: “Gives good voice” . Additionally welcome David Voigt, a critic within Toronto for many years who recently has started up his own site, In The Seats. We bring them together as both have chosen 1991’s New Jack City, a goofy Scarface-influenced crime film with a soundtrack loaded with big rap & R&B hits, but more importantly the influential fusion genre of new jack swing. Tune in for discussions of explicit lyric stickers, hiding tastes from friends, hanging around the wrong crowd, and trying to find any crowd at all.

Follow Corey Pierce on Twitter at – @coreypierceart
Follow Petula Neale on Twitter at @obesacantavit
Follow David Voigt on Twitter at @PopCulturePoet
Follow Soundtrack of Your Life on Twitter at @thisisyourOST

Soundtrack Of Your Life #10: Angus

This episode will give you a boner in your stomach.

Each episode, Corey Pierce welcomes a guest onto the show who has chosen a compilation or soundtrack that speaks to a memorable era of their life. The soundtrack will play underneath and serves as a springboard to discussion about the music itself, how it works within the film, and what was going on with their life at the time of its release.

For episode 10 Corey welcomes Dan Gorman, one of the brainchilds behind the Toronto podcast network Modern Superior, where you can find him as one of the co-hosts of See You Next Wednesday and Time Bandits. Dan has chosen this series’ most obscure selection to date, 1995’s Angus, a pop-punk laden teen film about a fat 14 year old boy who turns what would be a nasty Carrie-ish prank into opportunity. Tune in as we wax about true punk vs. mall posers, fading into the background at school, VHS collecting, and find out who the Grunge Bon Jovi is.

Follow Corey Pierce on Twitter at – @coreypierceart
Follow Dan Gorman on Twitter at @yckmd_
Follow Soundtrack of Your Life on Twitter at @thisisyourOST