Blu-Ray Review: The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T.

Director: Roy Rowland
Screenplay: Dr. Seuss, Allan Scott
Starring: Tommy Rettig, Peter Lind Hayes, Hans Conried, Mary Healy
Country: USA
Running Time: 89 min
Year: 1953
BBFC Certificate: U


I read a couple of bedtime stories to my kids every night and there’s nothing worse than a dull or insipid children’s book (particularly when you’re begged to read the same ones repeatedly), so I do my best to try and find books we can all enjoy. My go to author is Dr. Seuss (or, to use his real name, Theodor Seuss Geisel). His rhyming prose, complete with wacky made up words is a joy to read out loud and his illustrations are wonderfully unusual and imaginative. His work has had a troubled history on the big screen though. There are some classic animated adaptations (largely shorts), but very few live action ones. In fact only one was made before his death in 1991, The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T., released back in 1953 when he wasn’t yet a household name. There might only be one because the special effects weren’t advanced enough before the turn of the millennium to capture Seuss’ wild imagination, but it might be largely down to the fact that Dr. T. was a huge commercial failure. It didn’t get much critical love at the time either and Seuss called the film a “debaculous fiasco”, omitting any mention of it in his official biography. So you get the feeling he didn’t let anyone make any live action features after it was released.

Over the years though, Dr. T. has been embraced as a bit of a cult classic and has since been seen in higher regard. As such, our friends at Powerhouse Films have seen fit to re-release the film on dual format Blu-Ray and DVD through their Indicator label. Being a big Dr. Seuss fan, I couldn’t resist requesting a copy to see whether or not it deserved this second life after being so cruelly rejected on its initial release.

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Review: The Closer We Get

Director: Karen Guthrie
Screenplay by: Karen Guthrie
Starring: Ann Guthrie, Ian Guthrie, Karen Guthrie
Country: UK, Ethiopia
Running Time: 87 min
Year: 2015
BBFC Certificate: PG


I‘m very much a family man at heart. I obviously care greatly for my wife and kids (although I spend far too much time watching, reading and writing about films when I could be spending more time with them), but I’m also quite close to my extended family. I see my parents regularly and although my wife’s family and the rest of mine live further afield (mostly in different countries), we find time to visit them whenever possible and are always more than happy to see them. This may sound common and I’m sure it is, but many people grow distant from their family and know little about their aunts, uncles and cousins as they grow older. These days, more and more families are broken up too, fractured or made more complicated at least by divorce. Director Karen Guthrie’s family have an unusual history in which they seem to be simultaneously distant and close and she explores this in her documentary The Closer We Get.

Karen’s parents, Ann and Ian, fell in love, got married and rushed out four children in five years. Family life seemed pretty normal at first, but when the children were still young, Ian began to travel to Ethiopia to work (or volunteer, I missed that detail). This seemed admirable as the country needed support, but he would spend very long periods of time there, only returning once or twice a year for holidays, when he would often just take Ann away somewhere exotic. He just couldn’t seem to settle at home. This seeming lack of interest in family life, on top of a shocking revelation that I won’t reveal here, caused the couple to split, leaving the children with Ann.

In more recent years however, Ann suffered a devastating stroke which left her unable to care for herself. So her grown up children came back home to look after her. In an unexpected twist though, Ian also returned, after 15 years of divorce, to lend his support. Karen, who had been documenting aspects of her family life before the stroke, uses her probably vast amount of footage to craft a film that tries to find out just what happened between her parents and explore the unique dynamic now present in their family home.

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Review: Inside Out

How do you measure happiness?

The latest Pixar movie makes a convincing argument, pitched at wavelengths that should be easily received to both to children and adults, that periods of sadness, be it mundane or profound, are crucial to living a full, exuberant existence on this remote little ball of mud spinning through the void of space. Inside Out offers a specific, universal, and staggeringly emotional journey that is the rares of birds, a bonafide family movie. There is no light without shadow, and all that philosophical, spiritual paraphernalia is packaged into the easy to digest tale of moving to a new place and struggling to acclimatize to new surroundings.

Riley is on the verge of turning 12, a single child with affluent, doting parents (at this moment I am certain there is a queue online to chew on white privilege, but I will not be one of them). Her inner-self, represented by anthropomorphic emotional avatars of Fear, Disgust, Anger, Sadness and Joy dwell in the construct of her developing brain. The latter rules the roost in a chirpy, but passive-aggressive, dominant manner, wanting everything to be happy all the time for Riley. There is even a way for these emotion characters to quantify their success: Every memory Riley makes is represented as a coloured crystal ball, a single-shot 360 degree video unit shaded in the hue of the emotion attached to it. Her memories are almost entirely hued yellow. Presumably Riley’s parents want also this perpetual happiness for their daughter as well. It’s a fools errand and we all race on this treadmill!

The bulk of the memories, at the end of each day, are pneumatically delivered to her brain’s storage archives and compartmentalized via a Brazil-like bureaucracy. A detail that I love about this representation are the various departments working at odds each other, be it clock-watching transport engineers, an over enthusiastic disposal crew (“She won’t need these phone numbers anymore, they’re stored in her phone.”) or the fact that there are simply memory spheres lying between shelves and in the nooks and crannies all willy-nilly. In this bright Pixar world, a way was found to make biology look messy and kudos for that.

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Blindspotting: East Of Eden and Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf

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There are some who believe that Good and Evil are two very distinct objectively defined entities and that things and ideas are black or white, true or false, moral or immoral. Some would say that thought could be extended to define people in these terms and to categorize them in one of two camps: “Pure as the driven snow” and “Face of an angel” OR “Pure evil” and “Rotten to the core” (phrases we all use to describe people with no middle ground). Of course, these are a fool’s definition and try to provide easy answers to explaining behaviours that please or enrage us. The “truth” is that it all depends on your perspective and viewpoint. The landscape is made up of thousands of shades of grey and they are all relative. And speaking of relatives…

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The sibling rivalry within East Of Eden and the spousal feuding of Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf traverse many degrees of that light to dark spectrum between good and evil. Hurting the one you love is always a complicated and confusing thing to do and that’s certainly the case in both films. You could be forgiven, however, if you didn’t see a lot of shading in that good/evil spectrum during the onslaught that is Virginia Woolf. From the first words spoken, it feels like a two hour blitz of spiteful bile and vituperative arguments. Most of the insult flinging occurs between the middle aged George and Martha, but they aren’t shy in sharing it and spreading it around. George (Richard Burton) is a History professor who lives within the campus grounds with his wife Martha (Elizabeth Taylor) and after an evening at a school social (with a few drinks) they set about their favourite sport – a little verbal sparring with each other. It seems to begin harmlessly – a barb here, a curt word there – but as it escalates, one can tell this is much more than just tiredness and booze stirred together into a cranky cocktail. It seems to be their lifeforce. The only way they can get through the day at this stage of their lives together is by tearing each other down. Even the moments of true passion which still exist between them can’t stem their craving for a verbal attack fix. “I disgust me” says Martha, sounding every bit like a drug addict. And when the young couple Nick and Honey arrive for some nightcaps (Nick is a new professor that Martha flirted with at the social event), the mixture of booze and disgust becomes downright toxic for all.

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VIFF 2014 Review: Force Majeure

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Relationships can survive through a lot but there are some things that are just too difficult, if not impossible, to get over. In Force Majeure, writer/director Ruben Östlund tackles one of those issues with laser fire accuracy and a cense of humour that comes as a welcome, if unexpected, surprise.

Tomas, Ebba and their two kids are on a family vacation in France. The trip is going well and everyone is having a good time skiing, eating and relaxing. While having breakfast one morning, the family watches as a controlled avalanche quickly approaches the patio where their food has just arrived and rather than slowing down, it looks as though the avalanche is gaining speed and power and that it will take out the patio.

Chaos.

Everyone runs.

Tomas pushes someone out of the way to get to safety while Ebba’s first concern is to protect her children. And then the snow fog settles and everything is all right. People laugh off their near death experiences and Ebba and the kids go back to their breakfast and are soon joined by Tomas.

The event starts to recede from memory until, over dinner later than night, Tomas and Ebba retell the adventure to a friend. Ebba calls Tomas a coward for running off. He claims to remember the events differently. What follows in Force Majeure is nearly 90 minutes of Tomas and Ebba trying to talk their way out of this impasse that has clouded their relationship. They’re constantly arguing, they can’t see eye to eye on anything and their kids are convinced that mom and dad are going to get a divorce. There’s nothing like a near death experience to highlight who we are at our core but also to force us to reconsider and re-examine our relationships.

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VIFF 2014 Review: Preggoland

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You know that moment when you realize you’re so deep into a lie there’s no easy way to turn back? Preggoland is exactly that. Except it’s also much more than that.

Sonja Bennett stars as Ruth, a single 30 something who lives at home with her dad. All of her friends are married with kids and her younger sister is the bane of her existence, making Ruth feel like a teenager and in a way, she is. She works at a local grocery store where she’s worked since high school, she hangs out with co-workers who are half her age and generally doesn’t appear to be doing much with her life. And then she’s mistaken for being pregnant. And she goes along with it. But then she tells her friends she’s pregnant and then suddenly her life seems to be taking on some meaning and actually moving forward except the whole time she’s living one big sham and lying to everyone.

The idea of going along with a misconception isn’t exactly new but Bennett, who also wrote the script, brings a charm and likability to Preggoland which I haven’t seen in other movies which feature the female version of the “man child.” Part of it is Bennett herself who fully commits to the role an delivers a great performance complete with outstanding comedic timing, but there’s also the script which takes a ridiculous premise and goes in some interesting directions with it exploring everything from friendship to strange and complicated family relationships and though it ends with a sort of happily ever after, it earns that ending.

Preggoland reminded me a little of Starbuck, that other Canadian gem from a few years ago. It features similar characters with similar story arcs about growing up and becoming better versions of themselves and I expect that when this lands a Hollywood re-make, it will turn out just as badly as the Starbuck one did. Thankfully, we’ll always have the original.

Preggoland has been picked up by Mongrel Media who will open the film Spring 2015.

VIFF 2014 Review: Still Life

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For most of us, death is a reality we don’t give much attention to. We’ll all do it eventually but it’s not something most of us want to be reminded of but in the case of John May, death really is his life.

Uberto Pasolini’s Still Life, stars the great Eddie Marsan as John, a government employee whose job is to track down families and arrange funerals for individuals who have died seemingly alone. He spends his days playing investigator and dealing with distant families who often want nothing to do with the deceased. It’s a depressing job but John seems to take pride in tracking down the missing relatives and occasionally re-uniting families but the government sees little usefulness in his role and as a cost cutting measure, John is given his walking papers and a few days to tidy up his years of work and wrap his last case.

Still Life, which Pasolini wrote and directed, offers a beautiful and often very funny look at death. It’s not often you can laugh at such a dark subject but Still Life makes light of the subject without making fun of it. The comedy in the movie isn’t so much laughing at death but realizing that it comes for us all and that all we can do is live each life as if it were our last. It’s a familiar and even eye rolling anecdote but one that is beautifully portrayed here.

Still Life could easily have strayed into cheesy territory, particularly with the events of the third act, but Pasolini’s script it wonderfully balanced and shines thanks to Marsan’s low-key performance and Rachel Portman’s stunning score, the theme for which still haunts me days after seeing the movie.

Still Life is a quietly effecting and precisely memorable because of its lack of flash; a beautiful story about life and death.

Still Life plays VIFF again on October 6th and 8th. Check out the VIFF program for tickets and additional screening information.

Review: The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them

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Director: Ned Benson
Writer: Ned Benson
Producers: Cassandra Kulukundis, Todd J. Labarowski, Emanuel Michael
Starring: James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Ciarán Hinds, Isabelle Huppert, William Hurt, Bill Hader, Viola Davis, Nina Arianda
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 122 min.


Somewhere down the line we’ll get a chance to see the great story of Eleanor Rigby but The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them isn’t it.

This new version of Ned Benson’s movie is very clearly an abridged, highly edited concoction made for the benefit of… good question, I don’t know who this is made for because it mostly lacks a through line and any sort of emotional connection to the characters.

James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain star as Conor and Eleanor, a young married couple who are having marital trouble. For a while it’s unclear where the trouble starts but we see enough to know that they were once in love and are still in love but that something has happened to separate them. The cause of the separation is played as a great mystery, this secret thing that is only hinted at and then slowly revealed in the movie’s second half and for a while, I found myself completely caught up in the mystery. What could it be? Did he cheat? Did he beat her? Why is she depressed? When it is eventually revealed, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them finally finds its groove but up until that moment, it’s as much of a guessing game as a movie about two people who no longer recognize each other.

I relish stories like this, tales of people with relatable life problems who struggle to find their way through the problems to a better place and The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them certainly does that. The issue with the movie is that it jumps around from scene to scene, from the present to the past, with little connection. It doesn’t feel like a cohesive whole but more like someone took a pile of scenes and compiled them in a way that told a story that sort of makes sense but that has big gaping holes in it and which lacks any deep emotional connection.

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Review: The Fault in Our Stars

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Director: Josh Boone (Stuck In Love)
Screenplay: Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Webe, John Green (book)
Producer: Brendan Prost
Starring: Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Nat Wolff, Laura Dern, Sam Trammell, Willem Dafoe
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running time: 125 min.


Cancer sucks and generally speaking, movies about cancer suck. They’re saccharin and overtly manipulative of emotions and show you beautiful people dying and those around them suffering and in the end there’s a moment of happiness when you remember the dead soul who so deeply touched the life/lives of the central characters in the short time they knew the sickly person. The Fault in Our Stars is exactly that movie. The only difference here is that this features such charismatic performances that it doesn’t feel like emotional manipulation but more like some sort of catharsis.

Emerging writing superstars Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber are starting to corner the market on touching teen dramas starring Shailene Woodley. Last year they were behind the script for the much loved The Spectacular Now and here they are again adapting from John Green’s best selling novel about cancer kinds falling in love. Hazel (Woodley) is really sick and Gus (Ansel Elgort) is in remission. The pair meet at support group and immediately strike up a friendship that later develops into romance before tragedy strikes. After all, you can’t have a movie about cancer without some sort of tragedy (because having cancer isn’t tragedy enough).

The thing is that in the case of The Fault in Our Stars, the tragedy and emotion that goes with it works. Part of it is the fact that Green’s novel has a streak of bluntness running through it. It’s not all good moments and bad moments but a mix of the two, comedy hand-in-hand with tragedy, and Hazel and Gus tackle life with a sarcasm and sense of mortality that is refreshing. They talk about death, about what comes after (if anything) about the limitless living one can do in our limited time on earth and rather than feel sorry for the sick kids, I couldn’t help but think about what I’m doing with my life. Nothing like seeing young people suffer and possibly die to make you consider if you’ve done enough with your 30 years on earth.

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New Annie trailer lacks dance numbers. Maybe they did it on purpose?

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Musicals are not typically my thing but even my coal heart couldn’t say no to the adorableness of Quvenzhané Wallis in the upcoming Annie remake.

Wallis stars as the titular character, an orphan girl living with a mean foster mother, played here by Cameron Diaz, who finds herself at the center of a media circus when a business tycoon and mayoral candidate, Jamie Foxx as Benjamin Stacks, takes advantage of the media’s love with the little girl in order to advance his career.

I was vaguely curious about the project because of Rose Byrne’s involvement and the fact that it’s directed by Will Gluck, but beyond that, I had no interest in Annie pre-trailer but now that I’ve seen Wallis being all cute and big haired and charming and stuff, I can’t help but think that this might be really sweet. Still not sure it’s for me but boy, that Wallis sure is adorable.

Annie opens December 19th.

DVD Review: Stories We Tell

Director: Sarah Polley
Screenplay: Sarah Polley
Starring: Michael Polley, John Buchan, Mark Polley
Producer: Anita Lee
Country: Canada
Running Time: 108 min
Year: 2012
BBFC Certificate: 12


The run of great documentaries dominating my list of films of the year continues with Sarah Polley’s excellent Stories We Tell.

Sarah Polley is probably known best as an actress, starring in films such as Go, Dawn of the Dead (the 2004 remake) and Splice as well as a long stint on US TV series Avonlea as a child. However, over the last decade she’s been quietly making quite a name for herself as a director. Although her feature debut All I Want For Christmas in 2002 came and went with little fanfare (I can’t find any information about it online), Away From Her, released in 2006, picked up some fantastic reviews. In 2011 she directed Take This Waltz which also had a number of admirers and now that Stories We Tell has been pulling in awards and plaudits on the festival circuit she is becoming a force to be reckoned with, even if her films aren’t setting the box office on fire.

Stories We Tell shows a new side to Polley’s talents, turning her hand to documentary filmmaking to create a deeply personal piece. The film takes a look at the Polley family, focussing largely on Sarah’s mother Dianne Polley. I wouldn’t like to say too much as to what exactly happens within the family, as part of the strength of the film is the way its story is told, but basically the family has secrets, some of which hadn’t been unearthed until quite recently.

The unravelling of these mysteries is masterfully controlled, told through talking heads with all available living relatives and friends relevant to the story. The appropriate soundbites are held off until just the right moment, making my note-taking during the film a mess as I tried to anticipate where things were going but failed throughout.

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