The streaming options are limitless right now during this isolation period and our Team gather together some Series and Films that might be on your radar this month!
DEFENDING JACOB (APPLE TV+)
Based on William Landay‘s best-selling Novel of the same name, this eight-part Series stars Chris Evans, Michelle Dockery and Jaeden Martell as a family navigating the son being accused of a deadly crime. The suspenseful Series throws in a few twists where we realize very early the outcome, but the story doesn’t end there as it goes a layer deeper and we learn about Andy (Evans), a successful lawyer navigating being a father to his son Jacob (Martell) and seeking justice for him, yet having to step aside from the situation based on conflict of interest. We learn that Andy has been covering a deep, dark secret about his family which is key to how the story unfolds. Evans shows us his true dramatic chops, while Downton Abbey‘s Dockery also transforms into a suburban housewife/mother who increasingly grows doubtful of her son’s innocence. Martell, who we loved in It, Knives Out and St. Vincent continues to show why he’s among this next generation’s top young talent. All episodes are available now to stream on Apple TV+.
JUDY AND PUNCH (A71) Set in Seaside, which humourously is nowhere near the sea, this Australian Black Comedy centers on a couple, Judy (Mia Wasikowska) and Punch (Damon Herriman), a pair of Puppeteers with a popular show. Taking place in an era of Paganism, where justice is sought through hanging and stoning, we see Judy frustrated by her husband’s drinking which leads to catastrophe and domestic violence. Just when we think Judy is dead, she isn’t and she bands with a group of misfits who help her find herself as she exacts revenge on her husband who manufactures a story about her disappearance, struggling to maintain his puppet act on his own. This Film, which got raves at Sundance last year, is the directorial debut by Actress and Writer Mirrah Foulkes, carried by a post-Me Too energy and fantastic performances from its two leads. Wasikowska emerges from the background as the Film progresses breathing a vulnerable courage into Judy, while Herriman who has played Charles Manson in both Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood and Mindhunter, brings a similar type of manic energy to Punch. Worth a watch if revenge stories are your thing. Available June 5, 2020 on Digital and On-Demand.
JEFFREY EPSTEIN: FILTHY RICH (NETFLIX)
This four-part Netflix series is based on the Book of the same name by James Patterson. Co-written by John Connolly and Tim Malloy, it gives us candid interviews with victims of the convicted sex offender, also exposing some of his high-profile and highly-guarded circle of friends who victimized these young, often under-aged women. Certainly a difficult watch and often enraging how successful Epstein and his legal team were for several years dodging conviction and receiving pardon. Being so secretive and cryptic, we never get a clear picture as to the Whys behind Epstein‘s action, although we commend this being largely about what this opportunity means to his many victims who never really had their justice or chance to be heard with him ending his life.
HONEY BOY (AMAZON PRIME)
Winning much Awards Season acclaim and a premiere at TIFF ’19, this Dramedy based on Shia LaBeouf’s life growing-up as a child actor with his alcoholic, sex offender father, played by himself. Noah Jupe (Mid-90s) plays a younger LaBeouf, as this story which doubles as therapy for LaBeouf who still maintains a close relationship with his father. Honey Boy explores the peculiar dynamic when a child is the breadwinner in the family and the power struggle between parent and child, set in a $40-a-night motel room where they live. A difficult watch at times, we gain insight and some empathy for this troubled, often misunderstood star who also wrote the Film, directed by Alma Har’el. This has been on Amazon Prime for a bit, but definitely worth a watch for their phenomenal work by the Film’s two leads.
FLAVORFUL ORIGINS (NETFLIX) This gorgeously-shot treasure is a quick watch and we easily zipped through this. Those who love to learn about other cuisine and cultures should definitely check this out. Season One draws you right in as we visit the Chaoshan region of Guangdong, China. Each episode we learn about native ingredients which define the region’s tastes and learn about the processes behind making dishes like Raw Crab, Fish Sauce, Master Sauce, Fish and Meat Balls, plus so much more. Highly-educational, giving you insight into the science behind foods also. Something to wind down to at the of the day. Both seasons are on Netflix.
This 2018 coming-of-age Comedy finally surfaces on Netflix and the timing is perfect with many of our grads missing out on their Proms this year, being at home. Directed by Kay Cannon, BLOCKERS centers on three girls about to graduate high school, making a sex pact together to each lose their virginities. Their parents get involved after learning of this and try to intercept this from happening. We see their adventure unfold as the parents try to find out where they each are headed to after Prom. Fantastic performances by our three teen leads Kathryn Newton (Julie), TIFF International Rising Star Geraldine Viswanathan (Kayla) and Gideon Adlon (Sam), and our three adult leads John Cena (Mitchell), Leslie Mann (Lisa) and Ike Barinholtz (Hunter). The jokes are relentless as the fumbling parents desperately try to go undercover and understand the lingo, but ultimately the Film is heartfelt and about each of the girls finding themselves. Blockers is so much more than a raunchy Comedy.
LAST MOMENT OF CLARITY (VVS FILMS) By Justin Waldman
First-time Writer/Director Duo Colin and James Krisel come together to bring Last Moment of Clarity to our viewing pleasure. While there are strong performances from the Cast, the familiarity of plot points and themes, along with a truly head scratching turn leaves the audience slightly dumbfounded. Sometimes the best mysteries would be the ones that are left unturned or without the resolution desired by the protagonist, however then one would always be chasing that final answer.
The Movie focuses on Sam (Zach Avery), who is living in Paris, goes to a local cinema and sees his assumed dead partner, Georgia (Samara Weaving) as an actress in the Film and this causes him to question the world he left behind, and, if Georgia is actually dead. Upon launching his own private eye investigation, he runs into old acquaintance Kat (Carly Chaikin) as she tries to help him uncover the mystery.
What makes Last Moment of Clarity work well are the performances by Avery, Weaving and Chaikin. Avery is determined to find out if the woman he assumed was dead, is actually alive and stops at nothing from uncovering the truth, Samara’s performance is grounded and incredibly-focused, and Carly’s desire to reconnect and help her old friend is precise and heartwarming. The action that flows in the Movie while keeping you locked in suspense, including up to the last frame of the Movie, keeps you captivated, but the big plot twist, later explained by a Hitchcockian means, is a bit far-fetched. VVS Films release LAST MOMENT OF CLARITY on-demand June 5, 2020, and DVD/Blu-rayJune 30, 2020.
ABE (MK2 | MILE END)
We didn’t expect much from coming-of-age Dramedy ABE, but it was a pleasant surprise. The Film centers on a 12-year-old boy (Stranger Things’ Noah Schnapp) with a love of cooking, who must reconcile the conflicted feelings brought upon his grandparents. One side of his family is Palestinian, the other side Israeli and this is a recipe for disaster as family dinners often end in both sides not seeing eye-to-eye when it comes to harbouring past political and religious resentment. With him reaching the age for a Bar Mitzvah in the near future, Abe must choose which side of his heritage he will adopt. Abe‘s parents enroll him in a summer cooking camp which he realizes quickly is well below his skill set, and he winds-up studying under a professional Chef, Chico (Seu Jorge) without his parents knowing. Will his new skills help him prepare a meal that will being both sides of his family together at last? What happens when his parents find out he’s been hiding this secret?
Schnapp is wonderful in the titular role and the Film takes a genuinely-touching turn when the adults are forced to examine their deep hatred of one another. Abe examines the conflicted reality of growing-up with mixed heritage, the pressures of conformity and also the process of finding one’s self. All the while, Director/Writer Fernando Grostein Andrade presents the story in a fun, lighthearted way with plenty of mouthwatering moments. ABE will be available (to be confirmed) at virtual Imagine Theatres.
QUEER EYE: SEASON 5 (NETFLIX)
The Fab Five are back at it and hit-up Philadelphia this season and true to brand, they hit all the right feels at moments. We meet a diverse range of those in need of help including a Pastor grappling with his church and his sexuality; a Pet Groomer whose boyfriend cheated on her and is in desperate need of business advice; a hunky Jersey Shore DJ in his late thirties who has some growing-up to do; a teen Activist with a nervous energy looking to improve her living space and have people take her more seriously; a Seafood Shop Owner ready to launch a restaurant, coming at the cost of being there for his family; a Pediatrician who feels guilty not spending enough time with her daughter; and a mother and wife who is dealing with her husband’s ALS diagnosis. The latter is the emotional high point where we see the Fab Five connect with her on a level deeper than any other, revealing a raw, visceral truth about appreciating our past and present. We can never grow tired of these transformations and love that they aren’t about changing these subjects as much as they are about making them elevated versions of themselves. A perfect celebration of Pride, released in a timely manner!
SURVIVE THE NIGHT (VVS FILMS) By Justin Waldman
From Director Matt Eskandari and first-time Writer Doug Wolfe, comes Survive the Night, which at times feels aptly-named. Despite some brief moments of tension and action, sadly, even a solid Cast which features Bruce Willis, can’t salvage this.
The Movie focuses on brothers Jim (Shea Buckner) and Matty (Tyler Jon Olson) as they’re robbing a gas station and things go awry and Matty gets shot. They’re both worried about getting caught, but end up going to a hospital and following disgraced doctor, Rich (Chad Michael Murray) home. This is where they threaten his family, Frank (Willis) and Jan (Lydia Hull) included, so Rich can operate on Matty and save him, or his family will become collateral damage.
In addition to a lack of cohesion, we don’t feel these characters have enough at stake, which is baffling considering half the Cast is either trying to save their family or save their own skin and at times we felt this is a Film we’ve already seen. VVS Films release SURVIVE THE NIGHT, out now on-demand and on DVD/Blu-ray July 21, 2020.
THE POSTCARD KILLINGS (VVS FILMS) By David Baldwin
After traveling to London to identify his daughter’s mutilated body, New York detective Jacob Kanon (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) decides to stick around and help with the investigation. He quickly learns that a serial killer is on the loose, murdering people and setting their bodies up in positions similar to popular art pieces. The killer also seems to be sending out postcards to journalists – suggesting where they might strike next – and Kanon is eager to join the chase around Europe to find them.
The Postcard Killings is stylish and looks great. But for the most part, it feels very cold, clinical and by the numbers. Save for one shocking moment in the middle of the Film, everything plays out exactly as you would assume and it was almost too obvious to predict the Film would be based on a book with the way it moves from scene to scene. It makes for a Film that is neither thrilling nor dull – just one that strikes the balance somewhere in the middle. Morgan shines as the cop reeling from a tragedy, but he only gets a few precious moments to breathe life into the character. I wish the same could be said for Cush Jumbo (of The Good Fight/The Good Wife), who does a lot of heavy lifting yet seems to be playing a heroine character cribbed from any number of other thrillers. VVS Films release THE POSTCARD KILLINGS on-demand and digitally nowand on DVD/Blu-ray June 23, 2020.
STEALING SCHOOL (GAME THEORY FILMS)
Director/Writer Li Dong examines racial injustice and deep dirty Academia secrets in Satire STEALING SCHOOL, where we see a bright young Chinese-Canadian student named April (Celine Tsai) defend her innocence before a tribunal, when an obsessive Teaching Assistant (Jonathan Keltz) accuses her of plagiarism. As the plot thickens, we learn of a darker web of corruption and the lengths others will go to sway the ruling and what’s in it for them. Despite this not being an issue of April’s race, it comes to the forefront the deeper we go and we realize things might not have been what they appeared at first. We’re afraid to reveal exactly why as it would be giving too much away, but everyone’s hiding something from the past here. Dong manages to keep us in suspense the whole ride with theatrics and a bit of melodrama from its lead characters, telling this story which at times feels more Drama than Comedy, neat and concise. Game Theory Films release STEALING SCHOOL on Vimeo-on-DemandJune 19, 2020 and Apple TV/iTunesJune 23, 2020.
BUFFALOED (VVS Films)
Zoey Deutch delivers pure fire in Tribeca Film Festival selection BUFFALOED from Director Tanya Wexler. Set in the chaotic, cut throat world of Debt Collection, we meet Peg (Deutch), just about ready to get into college and onto a bright future till she realizes she’s got to pay for tuition. Making the wrong choices to do just that, she pays her dues in prison only to come out and land a job where she realizes she has the strength of persuasion and is actually good enough to compete against her awful misogynistic boss Wizz (Jai Courtney). What ensues is a turf war between them and we wonder if Peg‘s gotten in over her head, so much that her family gets implicated in some of her sketchy dealings. While the Dark Comedy gets a bit rowdy at times, Deutch manages to capture our interest the entire way with her sheer charisma and despite its absurdities, the Film is making a statement about debt the debt crisis in America today facing every day people like you and me, struggling to afford rent, mortgages and medical bills and the greed that can destroy us. VVS Films release BUFFALOED on-demand June 16, 2020.
DA 5 BLOODS (NETFLIX)
Iconic Filmmaker Spike Lee is back with his latest Feature on Netflix, DA 5 Bloods. We meet four former Vietnam vets: Paul (Delroy Lindo), Otis (Clarke Peters), Eddie (Norm Lewis) and Melvin (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) who return to there on a search to find the remains of and some of the gold their fallen Squad Leader Norman (Chadwick Boseman) had helped them hide back then. The story follows these men, who had several loose ends untied, including coping with PTSD. The Film even explores some of the complexities and resentment locals have towards American soldiers still, being responsible for the deaths of their families in the war. Entering the picture is Desroche (Jean Reno), a Frenchman looking to buy gold off the Bloods and matters get complicated when they find their lives on the line in the name of completing their mission as things get bloody. Performances are very strong from this tight Ensemble, led by Lindo and at moments it feels too long. Lee always has something to say and it is incredibly-timely that he ties it all together in a Black Lives Matter framework, and once again displays his remarkable ability to tell the complicated stories, humanizing his characters with great detail in the African-American voice.
We still don’t believe she’s gone. We’ve been meaning to catch this 2018 Documentary about our beloved Whitney Houston and after watching it finally we only had regrets we didn’t see it sooner. Filmmaker Kevin Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland) gives us a very intimate look at the troubled life of this famed international Superstar who had it all. He also asks some very uncomfortable questions to those who were closest to her, exploring pressure for her to make her life seem perfect to the world. Macdonald interviews everyone from her ex-spouse Bobby Brown, who is uncomfortable discussing her drug use still, to those who worked closely with her like Tiffanie Dixon, her Hairstlylist who found her dead. One thing that is crucial for a Documentary about someone this high-profile to succeed is that it uncovers details that weren’t known prior and some shocking revelations are made about her family which are heartbreaking. This story, painted with a backdrop of her powerful catalog of hits makes this an empathetic, truthful portrait of the Whitney we never got to know.
DATING AROUND SEASON 2 (NETFLIX)
I’ll preface this by saying I dislike Dating Shows – the artifice and song-and-dance that comes with them. But I actually really enjoyed the fly-on-the-wall, unforced approach this very inclusive and diverse Series on dating takes. Each episode we follow along with a new person and their slate of potential suitors on dinner and drink dates. Sometimes you really feel the sparks, sometimes it’s just plain awkward and you’re begging for the date to end. By the end of each episode each subject picks the one person they choose to date again and sometimes these are shocking, sometimes not. We love the vast array of people we meet of varying orientations and ethnicities and that everyone is being as close to an authentic version of themselves as possible. We enjoy that uncomfortable subjects sometimes are brought to light in their conversations and we get why some people still remain single! Now in its second season, DATING AROUND was a quick and easy watch and a totally fresh take on a clichéd genre of Television.
(Photo/video credit: Netflix/Apple TV+/VVS Films/A71/Amazon Prime Video/MK2|MILE END/Game Theory Films)
D Films x Mr. Will want to give Readers a chance to win Run-of-Engagement Passes to see WHITNEY!
Synopsis: Whitney Houston broke more music industry records than any other female singer in history. With over 200 million album sales worldwide, she was the only artist to chart seven consecutive U.S. No. 1 singles. She also starred in several blockbuster movies before her brilliant career gave way to erratic behavior, scandals and death at age 48.
This documentary is an intimate, unflinching portrait of Whitney and her family that probes beyond familiar tabloid headlines and sheds new light on the spellbinding trajectory of the superstar’s life. Using never-before-seen archival footage, exclusive demo recordings, rare performances, audio archives and original interviews with the people who knew her best, Oscar-winning filmmaker Kevin Macdonald unravels the mystery behind “The Voice,” who thrilled millions even as she struggled to make peace with her own troubled past.
See the Trailer:
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D Films release WHITNEY as follows:
Running Thursday, April 27 through Sunday, May 7, 2017, the 24th annual HOT DOCS CANADIAN INTERNATIONAL DOCUMENTARY FESTIVAL takes over Toronto once again, bringing a world of wonder to our City, uniting upwards of 200k Film lovers. A vast array of Documentaries ranging from science to celebrity highlight the Festival this year and 200+ special guests are expected to be in attendance this year including the likes of comedian Gilbert Gottfried, fashion designer Zac Posen, activist Dolores Huerta, scientist Bill Nye and several more! The Festival kicks-off with opening night gala, spelling bee Documentary, BEE NATION.
Our Siobhán Rich and David Baldwin already have had a chance to preview some of this year’s titles, delivering us the inside scoop on some of the Films you absolutely must see at HOT DOCS this year. Some of the marquee titles at this year’s Festival include: 78/52 sees fans of iconic Hitchcock Horror Psycho pick apart that unforgettable shower scene. SPOOKERS takes us into the world of New Zealand’s famous scary amusement park. BECOME BOND centers on George Lazenby, the one and only actor to have starred in only one Film in the legendary franchise and why he walked away. Fashion lovers will rejoice knowing that Zac Posen will be in town for HOUSE OF Z, a Documentary about the powerhouse’s rise, fall and rise again. If you grew-up in the ’90s you’ll be thrilled to know Bill Nye not only has a Film screening at the Festival, but also he appears at a conversation as part of the Scotiabank Big Idea Series. GILBERT centers on funnyman Gilbert Gottfried who lets us into his world and the mind behind those famous potty-mouthed jokes. Hot off the heels of the popular Musical The Bodyguard playing in Toronto, comes WHITNEY “CAN I BE ME”, a deeply-intimate portrait about one of the most beloved songstresses of our time.
Siobhán Rich‘s Hot Docs picks:
This year’s Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival will open with Lana Šlezic’s Bee Nation which looks at children participating in Canada’s first province-wide First Nations Spelling Bee. Aided by supportive teachers and families, the students, ranging from grades 3 through 8, study their words in hopes of earning the chance to fly from Saskatchewan to Toronto and participate in the National Bee against kids from all over Canada.
Šlezic’s primary focus is the kids and their academic journey but she doesn’t shy away from highlighting reservation life and allowing her audience to draw their own conclusions. The Film includes some powerful imagery including a scene where one of the students is standing near a tattered Canadian flag blowing in the wind. If the future of Canada lies within its children then perhaps better funding for Indigenous schools would be a good place to start.
Thursday, April, 27 9:45 p.m. Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema
Friday, April 28 2:00 p.m. Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema
Saturday, May 6 6:45 p.m. Isabel Bader Theatre
CITY OF GHOSTS
Exceptional Films like Matthew Heineman’s City of Ghosts are why I love documentaries and return to Hot Docs year after year. This incredible Film looks at the men behind the website Raqqais Being Slaughtered Silently and the incredible risks they take every day to bring the truth to the outside world. With their digital and personal safety constantly at risk, they were forced to flee their homes and live in exile; their worked continued remotely thanks to informants back in Syria. As citizen journalists, the men of RBSS use cameras and words as their chosen weapons in the fight against ISIS.
Parts of the Film are difficult to watch including videos from ISIS and footage on the ground in Raqqa. But imagine living through them in a world where “death has become one of the most common things in my life.” Heineman wisely chose not to editorialize and instead allowed the men and work of RBSS on stand on their own merit. Part of Syria 360, Food & Film and the Scotiabank Big Ideas Series, there are multiple opportunities to see this Film and take a peek into lives so different from the ones we live here.
Friday, April 28 6:30 p.m. Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema
Saturday, April 29 5:00 p.m. Isabel Bader Theatre
Saturday, May 6 9:30 p.m. Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema
Sunday, May 7 12:45 p.m. Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema
HOUSE OF Z
Anyone who thinks the red carpet preshow is the best part of the Oscars will love Sandy Chronopoulos’ House of Z which looks at the rise and fall of fashion wunderkind Zac Posen. When he burst onto the scene at age 21, Posen was the darling of the fashion industry; his dresses were exquisite and his antics on and off the runway were infamous. With everyone from Anna Wintour to Diddy in his corner, Posen’s success seemed all but guaranteed.
Alas, every good story needs villain and Posen was his own worst enemy by “trying to be too creative.” In the Film’s climactic third act, Posen must rebuild his fashion house and prove his personal motto that “the art is the brand” with a revolutionary runway show hosted at his expensive New York-based atelier.
Using home movies and interviews, Chronopoulos gives the audience an intimate look into the life of one of fashion’s most important personalities. The opportunity to see Posen’s beautiful creations on the big screen should not be missed by any fashionista.
Wednesday, May 3 9:30 p.m. Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema
Thursday, May 4 1:45 p.m. TIFF Bell Lightbox
There is a house in Rosedale that defies expectations. Built by the late mathematician, violinist, and activist James Stewart, Integral House was designed to be more of a private concert hall than a home. When hunting for architects to help him realize his dream house, Stewart put a call out for people with “conviction, imagination, and a willingness to take risks.” With its graceful curves and intense attention to detail it is a shrine to modern architecture.
Great Documentaries often change shape during filming and Integral Man is no different. What was supposed to be a simple film about a magnificent house turned into a memorial of Stewart’s final months. Director Joseph Clement was granted incredible access to both man and house and his admiration for both shines through.
Tuesday, May 2 7:15 p.m. Isabel Bader Theatre
Wednesday, May 3 10:00 a.m. TIFF Bell Lightbox
Friday, May 5 4:30 p.m. Fox Theatre
Legends of “women of the water” appear in lore from cultures around the world, so the modern obsession with mermaids is nothing new. What may be new is depths people take their love: from “dive bars” to meet-ups there is an entire subculture of mer-sisters. Ali Weinstein’s Mermaids dives into a world of tails, sisterhood, and the joy of finding your people.
Lest you turn up your dorsal fin and snub mermaiding as a new fad, the Canadian funded documentary visits Weeki Wachee Springs State Park where the Mermaid Show has been amazing audiences since 1947. From there, mer-weddings and MerFest seem like a delightfully natural progression.
Mermaids will be preceded by Ryan Freeman’s Short Film, Being Batman.
Friday, April 28 9:30 p.m. TIFF Bell Lightbox
Saturday, April 29 2:30 p.m. Isabel Bader Theatre
Monday, May 1 10:30 a.m. TIFF Bell Lightbox
Friday, May 5 12:00 p.m. Scotiabank Theatre
Luke Walker’s Documentary about the two Super PACS which raised money for Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson is a painful look at dwindling hope rather than an in-depth look at the American electoral system. The movie naturally positions Trump’s successes against Carson’s many gaffes and it is up to the viewer to distribute the blame for his defeat amongst his adversaries, the overeager press, and even the unrelenting optimistims of the self-proclaimed Carsonators.
Witnessing Carson’s rise and fall may prove interesting for Canadian viewers as the film takes the audience on a journey through the lengthy American Primary season and its odd traditions. It is difficult to watch this film without cringing since, unlike his supporters, we know how Dr. Carson’s campaign ended. As one supporter laments, “This will not be an easy win – in part because he keeps talking.”
Tuesday, May 2 7:00 p.m. TIFF Bell Lightbox
Wednesday, May 3 3:30 p.m. Hart House Theatre
Friday, May 5 11:00 a.m. TIFF Bell Lightbox
Saturday, May 6 12: 30 p.m. Fox Theatre
If you have ever wondered what the Westminster Dog Show would be like with chickens instead of dogs then this is the Documentary for you. The competitive world of poultry pageantry is finally getting its due in Slavko Martinov’s new Film, Pecking Order. Set in New Zealand (home of a lot of quirky Documentaries during this year’s Hot Docs), the Film takes us on a guided tour of chicken humour, poultry club politics, and introduces a cast of truly likable characters with a drive to win.
From ruffled feathers to coups in the coop, this film treats the members of the Christchurch Poultry, Bantam and Pigeon Club with great respect even as it pokes fun. One of the more amusing threads in the movie demonstrates that these chicken enthusiasts have no misconceptions about the eventual fate of their beloved chooks; and no amount of spider web theatrics will save the ones who don’t measure up.
Saturday, April 29 4:15 p.m. TIFF Bell Lightbox
Sunday, April 30 10:30 a.m. Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema
Saturday, May 6 10:00 a.m. TIFF Bell Lightbox
My winter boots are so dirty I think they may have personally Kickstarted this Documentary in self-defense. Stacey Tenenbaum’s Shiners focuses on shoe shiners and the pride they take in a job that gets very little societal respect. From a man in Tokyo who serves his customers champagne while they wait to a man who has worked the same corner in New York City for 15 years, the men and women profiled seek to end the stigma attached to their chosen career. And yes, there are some harsh social obstacles to overcome. In Bolivia, for example, Balloo and his fellow shiners must cover their faces as they serve their well-heeled clients.
Even clocking-in at a gentle 75 minutes, one cannot help but think this average feature could have been an excellent short. With compelling characters and great camera work, this Canadian-funded Film is a reminder that not all dreams end in the board room.
Shiners will be preceded by Jessica Beshir’s Short Film, He Who Dances on Wood.
Saturday, April 29 7:30 p.m. Isabel Bader Theatre
Sunday April 30 1:00 p.m. Hart House Theatre
Thursday, May 4 9:30 p.m. Hart House Theatre
Sometimes you watch a Movie and immediately know it will be an audience favouite. Amanda Lipitz’s Documentary relies on the proven trope of sports/the arts helping improve the lives of people from disadvantaged backgrounds. The story’s familiarity, however, doesn’t make the Film any less compelling.
Step follows three young women from the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women and their Step team, the Lethal Ladies. To Blessin, Tayla and Cori “step is life” and a successful senior year both academically and for the team is ticket to a future filled with possibilities. Set against the backdrop of the riots that erupted after the Freddie Gray verdict, the girls are use their chosen art form to express what it’s like be young, African American women today.
Friday, April 28 8:45 p.m. TIFF Bell Lightbox
Sunday, April 30 3:30 p.m. Hart House Theatre
Sunday, May 7 5:45 p.m. The Aga Khan Museum
Danny Houck lives in Laurelville, Ohio and has devoted most of his life to his love of violins. From his biker-style vest to his license plate, his love of Stradivarius violins is no secret to those around him. When he discovers violinist Razvan Stoica through a YouTube video, he reaches out to the musician and promises to create a replica of Giuseppe Guarneri’s famous Il Cannone del Gesù. With no formal training in the art of violin making and a looming deadline, it becomes clear that Houck may have bitten off more than he can chew.
An introvert living with bipolar disorder, Houck’s desire to duplicate the world’s most famous violin for his new friend will have audiences wincing with every setback and crossing their fingers as the big day nears. You do not need to be an expert luthier or lover of classical music to enjoy Director Stefan Avalos’ Strad Style. You only need compassion and a desire to cheer on an underdog.
Friday, April 28 5:30 p.m. Scotiabank Theatre
Sunday, April 30 1:00 p.m. TIFF Bell Lightbox
Friday, May 5 6:00 p.m. The Revue
Sunday, May 7 6:30 p.m. TIFF Bell Lightbox
THANK YOU FOR THE RAIN
Director Julia Dahr’s Film Thank You for the Rain seeks to put a personal face on the devastation wrought by climate change for millions of people around the world. Seasons of drought followed by flash flooding are the harsh reality for farmers in Kenya but Kisilu Musya hopes to change that through tree planting. Musya is credited as a Co-director on the Film which takes him from meetings talking to local farmers all the way to the UN Convention on Climate Change.
I recommend this Film not only because Kenya is one my favourite places I have ever lived but because Kisilu Musya is an activist who truly deserves to be heard. His strength of character and laughter in the face of tragedy make him a leader you will find yourself cheering for and as he discusses his local solutions with global leaders.
Tuesday, May 2 6:30 p.m. Scotiabank Theatre
Wednesday, May 3 1:00 p.m. TIFF Bell Lightbox
Sunday, May 7 10:30 a.m. TIFF Bell Lightbox
David Baldwin‘s Hot Docs picks:
The shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece Psycho is one of the most popular and well known scenes in all of film history. Through a variety of black and white interviews with directors, actors, editors, sound designers and film scholars, Director Alexandre O. Philippe has put together an exhaustive semiotic study of the scene and why all 78 camera set-ups and 52 cuts have become so historically significant.
Whether you are a fan of Film or just Hitchcock, 78/52 is ridiculously-interesting to watch from beginning to end. The level of detail that comes from each interview subject is astounding, and it is scary to hear how wildly different each one reads the scene and the build-up to it. They do an even better job analyzing Hitchcock himself, and emphasize how important Psycho’s place is within his filmography. 78/52’s lax structure is initially daunting to immerse into, but its jumpy nature actually makes the Film stronger. Interviews with Janet Leigh’s body double Marli Renfro and Hitchcock’s granddaughter Tere Carruba further enlighten us on what actually happened on-set, but that is only icing on the cake. This is a Documentary that is truly a Film lover’s dream.
Thursday May 4 @ 9:30PM Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema
Friday May 5 @ 3:00PM Scotiabank Theatre
CATEGORY: Singular Sensation(s)
If the name George Lazenby does not ring a bell, then you are obviously not that big a fan of James Bond. The star of 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is profiled in this wildly-entertaining and stylish documentary that may or may not be slightly embellished. Through dramatizations featuring actors like Jeff Garlin, Dana Carvey and Bond Girl Jane Seymour, we learn how Lazenby went from being a child with half a kidney to a used car salesman and model to landing his first acting job as 007.
Josh Greenbaum’s dDocumentary is fluffy and often silly, but it is incredibly fun to watch. Lazenby is a fantastic interview subject and is very forthcoming with his unbelievable life stories. The sheer amount of archive material and behind-the-scenes videos from the Bond set Greenbaum uses are simply stunning. As exciting as that all is, the Film takes way too long to get to that part of Lazenby’s life and just kind of fizzles out immediately afterwards. Why spend so much time detailing his early years if you are going to say virtually nothing about what happens later? I just wish Greenbaum did not waste the only moment Lazenby displays genuine emotion and regret by jumping so quickly to the next topic.
Wednesday May 3 @ 8:30PM TIFF Bell Lightbox
Thursday May 4 @ 3:45PM Isabel Bader Theatre
Friday May 5 @ 7:00PM TIFF Bell Lightbox
BLURRED LINES: INSIDE THE ART WORLD
Blurred Lines works as a fascinating crash course for anyone who has ever wanted to understand modern art and the astronomical prices they sell for. Director Barry Avrich uses a plethora of talking head critics, artists, dealers and collectors to push forward his thesis of art being a commodity that defines status and worth. But he jumps around his topics so rapidly that he leaves no time for deeper analysis or detail.
The film is literally the definition of all style and no substance. It is absolutely gorgeous to look at, but everything his interview subjects say comes off as superficial. The art market is ludicrous, and Avrich is content to simply capture the chaos. He inexplicably uses a clip from The Expendables 3 to explain art buying part way through the film, and it comes off as even more absurd than some of the prices the art goes for. Yet the biggest drawback for Avrich’s eye-opening documentary is that his most interesting film subjects – specifically Artist Damien Hirst whose legendary 2008 Sotheby’s auction acts as Blurred Lines’ introduction – are only seen in archived clips from other sources.
Friday April 28 @ 7:00PM TIFF Bell Lightbox
Saturday April 29 @ 1:00PM Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema
Sunday May 7 @ 11:00AM Isabel Bader Theatre
CATEGORY: World Showcase
For Ahkeem centers around 17-year-old high school student Daje. She is struggling to graduate from her St. Louis alternative high school when she discovers she is pregnant. And as this is all happening, all hell is breaking loose in Ferguson, Missouri after the shooting death of Michael Brown.
Unlike many other Documentaries at this year’s Festival, Director Landon Van Soest and Jeremy S. Levine never stop the action in For Ahkeem to interview any of the Film’s subjects. They let the harrowing events play out naturally and more cinematically, focusing on different moments over this period of Daje’s life. I am curious to know what the Film was about before her pregnancy, as it never truly finds its footing until she finds out part way into the second act. I also thought the incidents in Ferguson would help move the Film towards some deeper meaning – but they only really suggest a timeline more than anything else. This is a deeply emotional passion project, but I feel it could have been stronger if it had more of a concrete purpose.
Sunday April 30 @ 6:00PM TIFF Bell Lightbox
Monday May 1 @ 10:45AM TIFF Bell Lightbox
Friday May 5 @ 6:45PM Fox Theatre
Sunday May 7 @ 3:00PM Hart House Theatre
THE GENIUS AND THE OPERA SINGER
CATEGORY: World Showcase
91-year-old mother Ruth has just returned from a nursing home to live in the New York City apartment she shares with her 55-year-old daughter Jessica. But the pair do not get along, and the animosity between them is stifling. They love each other in one moment, but then treat and say terrible things to each other the next.
Director Vanessa Stockley captures all of this drama and more over the course of the Film’s challenging 70-minute running time, but never properly defines her thesis. Why are we watching these two women bicker at each other? We understand the illnesses that plague both characters, but are barely afforded the opportunity to really understand how they got to this moment in their lives. Stockley tries to coax some discussion and reasoning out of these women, but never seems able to crack through their hardened shells. The sheer amount of collected junk that litters their apartment is horrific and gave me anxiety to see continuously. But it acts as a means of defining who these women are, or at least who they were, more than the Film does.
Sunday April 30 @ 6:00PM Scotiabank Theatre
Monday May 1 @ 3:30PM TIFF Bell Lightbox
CATEGORY: Special Presentations
When we think of actor and comedian Gilbert Gottfried, we think of his loud, shrilly voice and his disgusting and raunchy sense of humour. But Director Neil Berkeley pulls back the curtain with his documentary Gilbert and reveals a quiet and reserved man with a deep love for his wife, kids and sisters. I will admit it readily – I was shocked seeing Gottfried portrayed this way, and even more shocked by how deeply emotional a Film this was to watch.
Berkeley talks to different comedians about who Gottfried is and the varying responses paint a deep-seated portrait of a man with a real life completely divorced from his public persona. The access given into Gottfried’s notoriously private life is staggering. The man rides alone on a coach bus for some of his shows! Berkeley goes through his early beginnings and eventual rise to stardom, using some hilarious archived footage from Gottfried’s old comic sets, and eventually rolls through his moments of controversy with jokes about 9/11 and the 2011 Japanese tsunami and earthquake. It is a very personal and candid picture, and one where I managed to laugh just as often as I teared up.
Monday May 1 @ 9:30PM Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema
Tuesday May 2 @ 12:45PM Hart House Theatre
Sunday May 7 @ 9:00PM Hart House Theatre
Spookers is the largest and most successful “scare park” in New Zealand – think Halloween Haunt at Canada’s Wonderland or Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios, but year-round and turned up past 11. The park was built on the site of the former Kingseat Psychiatric Hospital and employs actors who can play whatever horrific character they want each night. If that does not sound terrifying to you, I am scared to find out what does.
I was really excited to watch Director Florian Habicht’s Documentary unfold, but was left ridiculously disappointed. Habicht has fun showing the detail that goes into the actors’ costumes, make-up and personal histories, interviews the key staff members about the history of the hospital and what makes the park so successful and even shows some of the scares in action. But none of this material adds up to being nearly enough content or substance to warrant a feature-length Documentary. Instead, he pads out the rest with obscure dream sequences featuring the nearly unintelligible Spookers actors – and they have no real purpose aside from being filler. The first two or three are creative enough, but Habicht seems to add one after each five-minute interval. I found myself questioning what the point of these useless sequences was constantly, hoping for some sort of in-depth discussion that never came.
Sunday April 30 9:30PM Hart House Theatre
Tuesday May 2 @ 4:30PM Isabel Bader Theatre
Saturday May 6 @ 9:00PM Revue Cinema
Find out the schedule and how to get tickets here.
Anyone with a passing acquaintance to this writer could tell you that the opportunity to spend 11 days in a series of darkened theatres watching nonfiction programming is one the highlights of my year which is why Hot Docs remains one of my favourite Toronto Film Festivals. This year’s Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival will feature 230 Films including 53 Canadian productions and co-productions. Filmmakers, 48% of whom are female, representing 58 countries will share stories on topics ranging from science to Syria and media to mermaids.
Hot Docs will open with the world premiere of Canadian Filmmaker Lana Šlezic’s Bee Nation, which follows students in Saskatchewan’s First Nations community as they compete in a provincial spelling bee and prepare to compete nationally. First Nations subjects will be front and centre this year with several strong titles including Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World, a music Documentary which shines the spotlight on First Nations musicians who helped shape popular music.
Some other titles to fit into your schedule include:
Algorithms seek to predict future crimes before they happen in the world premiere of Pre-Crime. Matthias Heeder and Monika Hielscher look at the frightening future of law enforcement as science fiction melds with modern technology.
Bill Nye: Science Guy looks at the man who helped generations of kids learn to love science. The Scotiabank Big Ideas screening of the Film on Tuesday, May 2nd will include a talk from Directors David Alvarado, Jason Sussberg, and Mr. Nye himself.
The Media are examined in several Films this year including Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press, City of Ghosts and Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower. These disparate Films are all part of the Scotiabank Big Ideas program and will feature in depth Q&As at specified screenings.
Fans of the Festival always turn out in droves for the Nightvision selections. 78/52 looks at the iconic shower scene in Hitchcock’s Psycho. Florian Habicht’s Spookers will be the Movie of choice for horror lovers as it looks at a former psychiatric hospital turned “scare park” in New Zealand where zombies and chainsaw toting clowns are the main attraction.
Deadheads are sure to be thrilled with Amir Bar-Lev’s Documentary Long Strange Trip, which looks at rock icons the Grateful Dead through the lens of archival footage, and rarely seen live performances.
Long before Beyoncé was declared Queen, Whiney Houston was thrilling fans around the world with her incredible voice. Whitney “Can I Be Me” looks at the rise and tragic fall of this brilliant star.
Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival will run from Thursday, April 27th through Sunday, May 7th. Tickets are already on sale. Ticketing and schedule information can be found on Hot Docs website, https://www.hotdocs.ca.
Running February 11 through April 9, 2017, THE BODYGUARD THE MUSICAL graces Toronto’s Ed Mirvish Theatre after a smashing debut in London’s West End from 2012-2014. Since then, the production based on the 1992 Blockbuster starring Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston, has toured Seoul, the U.S., Netherlands, and Cologne, among other parts of Europe (including a London revival!) and it next is set to reach Australia. Reprising the lead role is award-winning British Soul Songstress Beverley Knight, while others like Deborah Cox, Heather Headley and Alexandra Burke also have had the distinction of playing the lead role of superstar diva Rachel Marron.
After much debate, we decided finally to see THE BODYGUARD and although we were expecting some degree of melodramatic campiness based on our recollection of its source material, we pleasantly were surprised by some of the performances which the Musical very much is dependent on. Penned by Alexander Dinelaris, this stage adaptation incorporates even more of Whitney Houston‘s phenomenal repertoire, doubling as a tribute to the career of the deceased megastar and also a stage translation of the Film.
Knight is outstanding, a vision of stamina who powers her way through the show’s two-and-a-half hours plowing through Houston’s demanding catalog of hits. Also fantastic is Rachel John, who plays Rachel Marron‘s sister Nicki. While Knight and Lead Actor Stuart Reid Frank Farmer might lack the chemistry Houston and Costner had on-film in part due to issues with the script, this is outshone by the dazzle of Knight‘s solo numbers. It is impossible not to be affected by the power of nostalgia when you hear Run to You, I Have Nothing and powerful finale I Will Always Love You. You come to The Bodyguard wanting to reconnect with Houston‘s legacy and because you want carefree, soapy escapism and that you get.
Don’t forget to check-out the “I Will Always Love You“-inscribed cookies and the official Queen of the Night Cocktail!
We’ve long been touting the brilliance of Sam Smith. And if this Cover of Whitney Houston‘s How Will I Know doesn’t win you over, we don’t know what will. The fact also that this Song still sounds fresh is a true testament to its timelessness!
We were one of the few lucky enough to meet Smith in his Toronto visit earlier this year. More on that here.
Although it’s almost been a year since her untimely Passing, you can own a piece of Whitney Houston‘s Music with the upcoming release of her finest Work, I Will Always Love You – The Best of Whitney Houston. The 18-track Collection includes a brand new Track titled Never Give Up, in addition her most timeless Classics.
Tracklisting is as follows:
1. You Give Good Love 2. Saving All My Love for You 3. How Will I Know? (Remastered) 4. Greatest Love of All 5. I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Remastered) 6. Didn’t We Almost Have It All 7. So Emotional (Remastered) 8. Where Do Broken Hearts Go? 9. I’m Your Baby Tonight 10. All the Man That I Need 11. I Will Always Love You 12. I’m Every Woman 13. I Have Nothing (Remastered) 14. Exhale (Shoop Shoop) 15. I Believe in You and Me (Film Version) 16. My Love Is Your Love 17. I Look to You (with R. Kelly) 18. Never Give Up
Here’s a Preview of the greatness you can expect on I Will Always Love You – The Best of Whitney Houston:
I Will Always Love You – The Best of Whtiney Houston is in-stores Tuesday, November 13, 2012 via Sony Music Canada. Click here to order the Deluxe Version.