Critical Mess: Spoilers and Censure


The first rule of Tickled is you don’t talk about Tickled.

The second rule of Tickled …. YOU DO NOT TALK ABOUT Tickled.

Such was my experience, and that of conceivably every other media outlet, in regards to this years Sundance and Hot Docs sensation. An outstanding documentary about the seedy underbelly of competitive endurance tickling, David Farrier and Dylan Reeve’s documentary is a superb investigative thriller.

But I can’t tell you why.

Let me start off by saying that this film truly is, without reproach, outstanding. It will leave you incredulous, baffled, and have you on the edge of your seat. It is insightful, intelligently constructed, and eye opening. The questions it answers seem to leave more questions bubbling below the surface – the sign of a successful documentary.

While some publications, such as The Hollywood Reporter, have opted to break down the film, plot point by plot point, publicists involved in its distribution have been diligently trying to put perhaps excessive boundaries on what gets written. I have been asked to write carefully, and to explicitly avoid talking about certain reveals. Meanwhile, suggestions were made that I reconsider my interview questions, the answers of which may reveal too much.

What this all comes down to is a major issue now plaguing media critics, columnists and other surveyors of cultural documents – **THE SPOILER**.

These publicists are doing incredible work trying to protect their product. If a review gets out revealing too much about the film, people may be less interested in seeing it. As with films like The Sixth Sense, for example, people were angry if the final plot twist was spoiled for them. Oft times, they then saw no point in even going to the theatre to see the film.

While something like this won’t do too much damage to a major Hollywood film, it could be a crippling blow for a small documentary out of New Zealand.

An article was published on May 5th by Matt Zoller Seitz on Vulture titled, Spoiler Alert: This Post Is About Spoiler Etiquette. Seitz raises several astute questions about the nature of spoiler culture: Why television shows and movies are somehow more delicate than, say, a sporting event, where the responsibility to avoid news of the game’s outcome, or a spectacular play, falls solely on the shoulders of the person consuming the media. In film and television, however, the responsibility falls on those who produce the criticism, the interviews, and the think-pieces. In other words: It is our fault, as critics, for doing our jobs.

Are there bits of information we should leave out of a piece in order to avoid spoiling rather large bits of the story? Absolutely. There always are. And, often times, that is very easy to do. However, it is becoming progressively more and more difficult to filter out what information is going to piss someone off. Our hands are tied, and it makes it incredibly difficult to do our jobs.

In the case of Tickled, there is so little I can talk about that I felt it more important to use the film as an opportunity to open a dialogue about spoiler culture.

Would you like to know more…?

Question of the Day: Are we at Peak Comic Book (Superhero) Movie?

Much like the Peak Oil analogy, the concept where all the easy oil-wells (cue The Beverly Hillbillies theme, or wailing Middle Eastern aria) have been tapped and exploited and now we either have to drill way off into the ocean, or remove copious amounts of sulphur to get good, usable hydrocarbons or by brute processing force, extract it from the sticky tar sands. Thus several treatments of Superman, Batman, Spiderman, and the popular mutants of the X-Men have yielded their massive cash bounties, nowhere more greater than the summer of 2012 where The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises reaping box-office windfall (albeit at very high production and marketing costs).

The origin story has been done to death (albeit, The Amazing Spiderman trotted it out once again.) And with it (hopefully) passing, it invites more complex things like the tableaux of societal anxiety in the Nolan Batmans, flirtations with classical tragedy in Ang Lee’s Hulk, period-pieces like Fist Class and Captain America, the universe-slash-continuity building with Marvel Studios across many different characters or even the risky The Last Temptation Christ experiment in Superman Returns.

My question to you is this, with smaller comic book properties such as Ant Man in production, but really, just a slew of sequels and spin offs (Ironman, Thor, Wolverine, Robin) or team ups (Avengers 2, Justice League, Guardians Of The Galaxy) or the eventual reboot of Batman, do you think we’ve hit the peak of Box-Office, at this point, and that the slide (slow or fast) down the curve (with ever increasing budgets to make these things) will convince the major Hollywood Studios to start looking for another trend to get on board with for their big summer tentpoles? Or do you think that things are here to stay, and a more experimental, extracting black gold from the tar sands approach will yield the continuation of a golden age of Comic Book Superhero Films?

A primer of both the optimistic and not so optimistic views from last year, The Great Comic Book Movie Debate:

TIFF KIDS Preview (with Son of Mamo!)

Hey Toronto! Formerly Sprockets, but re-dubbed TIFF KIDS, the film festival for children is starting up April 10th and going until April 22nd. Mamo! Matt Brown and Son of Mamo! Max Price give The Substream the lowdown on what to go see: Child Werewolves, Haunted Bubbles, Chimpanzees, Bands of Misfit Pirates and an interactive Funky Forest (no, not the Ishii film) are part of the spread that they lay out before you in the below video; a cinematic picnic if you will.

Café de Flore: A Conversation

[We are back at it after a long hiatus since our first conversation post on Mammoth, but hopefully these will come out with more frequency thereafter. I am sure we do not cover everything there is to be said about Café de Flore, so feel free to extend the conversation in the comment section. Finally, this conversation is all spoilers, we get into the fine details so only read if you have seen the film.]

Synopsis From the director, Jean-Marc Vallée: “Cafe de Flore is a love story about people separated by time and place but connected in profound and mysterious ways. Atmospheric, fantastical, tragic and hopeful, the film chronicles the parallel fates of Jacqueline, a young mother with a disabled son in 1960s Paris, and Antoine, a recently-divorced, successful DJ in present day Montreal. What binds the two stories together is love – euphoric, obsessive, tragic, youthful, timeless love.”

Mike: There are certain films that require discussion upon leaving the theater, it seems impossible to just go on with your day after seeing something like Jean-Marc Vallée’s Café de Flore. We have been waiting since Mammoth for the right kind of movie to do a conversation post for and this seems to check all the boxes, from the meaty thematic elements to the open-ended aspects of what exactly happened. I have stayed away from the spoiler thread on Row Three so I am coming to the conversation completely fresh. Of the three of us, I believe I will be the most critical, but it is a fine distinction as, on the whole, I think it is a very good movie. Who knows, maybe my mind will change with this conversation, the more pieces that are put together. I would like to get a general sense of why the film spoke to you guys, because both of you have been praising this film hard.

Bob: Well, Café de Flore goes beyond the definition of a very good movie for me…Not that I think it’s perfect (how can a movie really be perfect with so many possibilities?), but that just about every moment of the film hit me in exactly the right way and at the right time to cause maximum impact. To my ear, it hits all the right notes as an exercise in technical filmmaking, as an inventive piece of art and as something that simply connected to me for a variety of personal reasons. On the technical side, it’s beautifully shot, naturally scripted and contains an abundance of wonderful performances (from first timer Kevin Parent to Vanessa Paradis, but especially all the kids). Vallée proves without a doubt that he is highly skilled when it comes to coaching his actors and letting them know when to go for subtle and when to go big. As a work of art, it becomes something altogether different and original in its approach to its two storylines. It’s impressive enough that he can balance the two, but he does so in the manner of a DJ (just like his male lead Antoine) – moving his overall piece from one side of the mixing board to the other and then cutting between them, mixing them up and bringing them both together towards the end. It’s like the best DJ set ever. Antoine even talks to his therapist at one point about how he loves to bring in silence to his sets because it sets up the whomp that follows and Vallée applies that very same strategy to his movie. This was used to fantastic effect to bring home its theme of letting go since not only will it help to avoid the emotional calamities ahead, but “letting go” will also allow a deeper appreciation of what your current life has to offer.

Kurt: First off, fellas, I am glad that we have resurrected this feature, and since Café De Flore has left Toronto Cinemas after a mere two week run, it seems that this film certainly needs a little help to get recognized outside of French Speaking Canada. So our cause is both fun, stimulating (hopefully) and ah, heck, noble even. OK, down to brass tacks: There is a scene late in the film, when the two story lines start to gel that features the most interesting and sophisticated cross cutting I’ve seen in a film in 2011, perhaps the last ten years even. The DJ mixing analogy is apt, and the emotional beats, in this stretch of the film, are not revealed by plotting information (that is to come later) but rather completely by editing strategy, as if you are being primed by a collection of images and asked to inject yourself into things (Terence Malick actually does a similar, if slightly different riff of this in a different fashion in the construction of a Tree of Life). That the ebb and flow of the editing is actually non-intuitive (pauses and shot lengths) is kind of a small miracle.

Would you like to know more…?

The Good Dr. Bordwell on the Nature of the SPOILER and our historic quasi-acceptance of it.

Everyone seems to have a different idea of what constitutes a *SPOILER* in terms of a book or o movie. There is a lot of nuance in what is enticing to watch a film, and what spoils the fun. Many people say, “I enjoyed that movie so much because I walked in totally blind to what it was!” On the flip side of things, the films of Wes Anderson, The Coen Brothers, Federico Fellini, Michael Haneke, and many more become more enjoyable after multiple viewings.


David Bordwell (with Kristen Thompson) discusses Spoilers in Film and the old form of distribution makes this an even more complicated argument in light of cinema history. Well worth a read!

Who doesn’t come to Casablanca knowing about “Here’s looking at you, kid,” or “Play it, Sam,” or “Round up the usual suspects”? You likely saw the ending of King Kong in compilation films before you saw the whole movie, yet you probably still watch it with enjoyment. I saw Potemkin’s Odessa Steps sequence many times, on an 8mm reel I bought as a kid, before I saw the whole movie. I still enjoy Potemkin, possibly more than many who see it for the first time. Yet people complain about trailers that tell too much, and critics who give plot twists away. Accordingly, it’s been a convention of fan and Net writing that if you’re going to give away major story information, you alert readers with the word “spoiler.”

Surely people want to know something about a film’s story. Viewers clamored for the most basic information about Super 8. And evidently many moviegoers would feel less disgruntled about The Tree of Life if they had known in advance a little bit more about what they would encounter. It seems we want to know about the story’s basic situation, but not too much about how things develop. Say: bits from the first half-hour or so, up to the beginning of the Second Act (or what Kristin calls the Complicating Action). Beyond that, we want things kept quiet. Above all: Don’t tell the how things turn out in the end.

Also, see Jim Emerson on the subject (linked within the above article and here as well)

Evokative’s Food for Thought: American and Canadian Fans of Upscale Foreign Cinema


Here is a worthy discussion for those of you who spend your money at film festivals, or like to watch foreign cinema of all stripes and colours. American (and Canadian) exhibition of foreign language cinema (outside of Japanese genre flicks, Bollywood imports and the occasional break out Euro-hits like The Millennium Trilogy films, Downfall, Tell No One or Cache) has been taking a nose dive for years. Some blame the ever expanding festival market which cannibalizes art-house releases, others blame a glut of product on the domestic and foreign markets and an overall decline in importance of film with so many other entertainment distractions. For that matter, subscription packages like Netflix and overall apathy with the theatrical experience are contributors as well. Well Stephanie Trapanier, founder and owner of Evokative Films, put out a clarion plea for the very survival of the few boutique distributors that want to give quality and unique foreign cinema a go on this side of the pond. A motivator? A guilt trip? A State of the Union? Either way, a worthy discussion for film lovers. Stephanie’s entire note is below:

“Hey there friends and cinephiles,

Today I’d like to exchange on a very important subject with you, one directly related to Evokative’s very existence: Let’s talk about your interest in International films. It’s a bit of a long read, but I promise I get to a point.

For a long time, mostly when I was lining up for films at Fantasia and later on when I became part of the staff, I kept hearing the film fans complain about the lack of decent releases for International films, dissing the Bad Big Distributors who didn’t give the proper love to the titles they did pick-up and deploring all the great films that had been left on the side of the road after festival acclaim, because they had been deemed “Not Commercial Enough” by the Bad Big Distributors. I totally agreed on the discourse.

I thought, “Hey, isn’t there a market right here, film fans who are passionate about the art and want to see someone go out there and nurture these films? Wouldn’t they be happy about that and support that company that would go against the mentality of the Bad Big Distributors to be a Nice Small Distributor?”. Then I started out in the business and more seasoned folks would tell me how “courageous” I was to venture out in this type of film, and I would always reply with confidence that I knew that the audience was out there, it just never had been properly listened to.

Would you like to know more…?

Follow RowThree on Google Buzz

If you’ve been keeping up with social media these days, which is becoming increasingly difficult and time consuming with all of the avenues available to us, you’ve maybe heard the BUZZ (and grumblings) about Google’s new social media linkage called…. well, BUZZ.

Social media sites are fantastic tools for hooking up with long lost friends, finding new friends, keeping tabs on (stalking) current friends and lovers, getting all the latest gossip on any subject you can think of and finding interesting articles, stories and video. The possibilities are almost endless. RowThree has been carefully linked with both Twitter and Facebook (et. al.) for some time and it really has been a blast chatting it up and sharing movie info with so many people all around the globe.

Google has, quite honestly, blown my mind over the past few years with almost every app and service that they provide (WAVE is a bit of a debacle, but leave that aside). If you’re not on Gmail, you’re using an inferior service. Period. The Google browser, Chrome, is the perfect browser that I’ve been searching for for over 3 years (and believe I tried alot of them!) and it actually exceeded my expectations. Enter Google BUZZ.

After playing around on Google BUZZ for about 2 minutes yesterday, I could tell that it continues in the excellence and innovation Google was shown us time and time again. It reminds very much of Twitter, but is capable of so much more; including posting pics and video. Not to mention you’re allowed more than 140 characters (actually unlimited I think) for your updates. Beyond the posts, followers can then comment and discuss with their own words and images. It takes everything that is great about Facebook updates, Tweets, YouTube and Picassa and smashes them all together in one great application.

Quick to join the fray, RowThree is now available to follow on BUZZ and as the days and weeks go by, we’ll continue to update and follow plenty of web sites and film fans while sharing all of the great news and op-ed stories we find in the online film world. BUZZ is yet another way to keep the spirit of RowThree expanding. We’re all about discussion here and BUZZ bridges all of us together with even more possibilities and furthers the horizon of discourse. I foresee BUZZ being quite the large bandwagon and one would do well to be on it. We’ll see you there.

For more information about Google Buzz, click here or check out the video below the seats explaining it better than I ever could in words…
Would you like to know more…?

A Mammoth Conversation


A number of us managed to see Lukas Moodysoon‘s global-intimate drama, Mammoth, on the festival and VOD circuit (the film was woefully neglected in Canada and the United States) and instead of posting reviews and hashing things out in the comments section amoungst ourselves, we tried the below experiment: Marina, Mike and Kurt simply had a lengthy email conversation on the film, thus allowing things to flow like a conversation and (bonus for you, the reader!) generating a transcript in ‘real-time.’ This is presented below. We assume those reading it have either seen Mammoth, or do not mind treading in *SPOILER* territory. Two of us, at least, feel quite passionate about the films timeliness and relevancy and believe Moodysson has a lot of things to say (with no small amount of eloquence and grace). We mine the movies themes and influences at length:


MIKE: To get the ball rolling, I thought we could talk first about our initial expectations for Mammoth, and put our biases on the table. I had never heard of the director, Lukas Moodysson, so it had nothing to live up to, in fact I knew nothing about the film other than that it stars Gael García Bernal and Michelle Williams. Admittedly I adore Michelle Williams and that was the sole reason I wanted to see this film. When it started, immediately there was something ominous to it. This happy mother, father and child playing in their beautiful home, but the score right away takes on a kind of menace out of sync with what is onscreen. Right then I was hooked.

Would you like to know more…?