Life Itself (Flack’s Review)

Posted on | July 22, 2014 | 1 Comment

A young Roger Ebert celebrates winning the Pulizter Prize for Criticism in 1975

Early in this film, we hear a recollection of Robert Zonka, feature editor of the Chicago Sun Times, telling Roger Ebert that he would take over the job of the paper’s film critic. As he recalls in his memoir, Ebert was happy to have “a title, my photo in the paper, and a twenty-five-dollar-a-week raise”. We should be happy too, because without him we wouldn’t have had one of the most opinionated and important film critics of all time. Hey, without his writing, I might not be writing this review now. His reviews were some of the first I read, and they inspired this blog in many ways.

Now we have Life Itself, the film tribute Ebert deserves, a loving yet unflinching documentary by filmmaker Steve James. Based on Ebert’s 2011 memoir of the same name, the film tells the story of his life, using interviews, family photos, film clips, and footage James shot with Ebert in the last months of his life. In 1994, Ebert championed his basketball doc Hoop Dreams, which he called the “the great American documentary”.

As an only child growing up in Illinois, Ebert found a knack for journalism as a high school sports writer but blossomed as a reporter, and then editor, of the Daily Illini, while at the Univesity of Illinois. It was there he developed his thoughtful yet fervent writing style and, as colleagues attest to, his demanding, ambitious personality. It was there he even wrote one of his first movie reviews, for La Dolce Vita in 1961. Several years later, Ebert was a real film critic, writing during the early era of “New Hollywood”. He was one of the first to praise Bonnie and Clyde and 2001: A Space Oddysey. Ebert wrote about twenty-something art house auteurs like Martin Scorsese and Werner Herzog when they were just starting out. In the film, Scorsese talks specifically about the experience of being praised and panned by Ebert, and the surprisingly pivotal role the two played in each other’s lives. In 1975, Ebert became the first film critic to win a Pulitzer Prize for criticism in 1975.

Ebert wasn’t without his problems, however. For years, he struggled as an alcoholic, trading insults and stories at O’Rourkes, a Chicago bar. The film covers this time in depth, drawing from the memories of Ebert’s drinking buddies and the bar owner.

Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel during the heyday of their movie-review show At The Movies

Some of Life Itself‘s best moments involve Ebert and his turbulent yet deeply important relationship with film critic Gene Siskel. Ebert, as film critic for the urban Sun Times, wanted nothing to do with (or even talk to) his new rival, who worked for the more urbane Chicago Tribune. By 1975, however, the two worked to cohost Sneak Previews (later At The Movies), inspiring a new generation of film lovers. James uses television footage, outtakes, and numerous film clips to illustrate their rivalry and friendship with hilarity, friction, and, ultimately, warmth. Interviews with At The Movies producer Thea Flaum lend context and history, while Siskel’s widow, Marlene Iglitzen, tells some heart-rending stories.

Movie geeks will be particularly absorbed by a segment chronicling Richard Corliss fascinating but arguably unfair 1990 piece “All Thubs: Or, Is There a Future for Film Criticism?” He writes about At The Movies: “It is a sitcom (with its own noodling, toodling theme song) starring two guys who live in a movie theater and argue all the time. At The Movies is every kind of TV and no kind of film criticism.” Ebert’s response, from “All Stars: Or Is There A Cure for Critcism Film Criticism?”: responded by saying “it would be fun to do an open-ended show with a bunch of people sitting around talking about movies—but we would have to do it for our own amusement because nobody would play it on television.” This section of the the film is small, but memorable. With these think-pieces, Corliss and Ebert shone light on film criticism’s purpose-whether it is important to write lengthy reviews for the sake of integrity or to expand a television audience’s appreciation of film. As Martin Scorsese says of Ebert: “He made it possible for a bigger audience to appreciate cinema as an art form, because he really loved film.”

It may sound like this is a film focused on, well, films. And, because it is about Roger Ebert, movies are a central part of this story. But we learn about all aspects of his life: his drinking, yes, but also his personality, his late-in-life marriage to Chaz Hammel-Smith, and the thyroid cancer that cost him his ability to eat, drink, or speak. Communicating through voice synthesizers on his computer and introducing himself to a new generation of readers (myself included) through his blog and Twitter, Ebert plowed on; showing his endurance and strength during times of extreme pain and despair. After multiple surgeries and a multitude of blogged movie reviews, Ebert died on April 4, 2013 at age 70. Obama Oprah, Spielberg, Redford, and many more praised him. In Redford’s words: he was “one of the great champions of freedom of artistic expression” whose “personal passion for cinema was boundless”.

It was Ebert’s writing style that made him such an icon. Direct, encyclopedic, eloquent, and opinionated, his combination of old-fashioned newspaperman clarity, a film buff’s knowledge, and a TV host’s accessibility made him one of the most talented film critics of all time. Pauline Kael may have influenced the generation of New Yorker film critics that followed her, but you’ll hear Ebert’s impact in almost anyone writing newspaper movie reviews.

Back to Life Itself: how does it work as a movie? Steve James doesn’t break boundaries with his techniques, but cross-cutting between unflinching interview sessions with a hospitalized Ebert and a more conventional talking heads/archival footage documentary approach is a masterful move. Early on, the film suffers from Stephen Stenton’s dry readings of Ebert’s memoir and unfunny soundbites from Ebert’s old friends, making the early scenes feel like a weird combination of audiobook and television retrospective. But the film gets more insightful and affecting as it goes. Its two hour length feels exhaustively informative yet also brief considering how much happened during the man’s life.

Post-surgery Roger Ebert, still reviewing movies and living life

Ultimately, Life Itself‘s few flaws are overshadowed by it’s many strengths. Steve James and his team clearly have immense respect for Ebert, but they rarely shy away from giving us a warts-and-all study of the man. What we’re left with is a film about life and love, sickness and death, newspapers, criticism, and the movies. At times inspiring, poignant, hard to watch, and hilarious, Life Itself  tugs at your heartstrings, makes you laugh with joy, and will have both your thumbs pointed up.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (Flack’s Review)

Posted on | July 13, 2014 | Add Comments

Caesar (Andy Sekis) isn't sure if he can trust humans in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, an inferior sequel to the surpassingly enjoyable 2011 reboot Rise of the Planet of the Apes, truly pushes the boundaries of motion-capture (the process of using actors’ motions as the basis for creating animated characters) in ground-breaking ways. The scale is truly unparalleled: dozens of ape actors performing in the wild, not a green-screen box, and filmed in non-conversion 3-D. And the results are often extraordinary: a horde of running apes, a brutal simian showdown, facial performances with sentiment and humanity. “They’re just apes, man”, a human character tells another. “Do they look like just apes?”, comes the response. Thanks to a cast that stars Andy Serkis, as human-sympathizing ape Caesar, they look like apes, but also characters with thoughts and emotions.

It’s a shame, then, that director Matt Reeves doesn’t put the technology to use in a better movie. The action picks up long after James Franco has been wiped out by the Simian Flu, while what’s left of humanity congregate in a war-torn dystopia filled political metaphors. Power is running low, so a group of humans, led by Malcolm (Jason Clarke) and his new wife (Keri Russell) and son (Kodi Smit-McPhee), attempt to make peace with the apes and gain access to a hydroelectric dam that could restore electricity. Malcolm forms a bond with ape leader Caesar, but fellow chimp Koba (Toby Kebbell) wants to lead the apes to war against humans. Dreyfus (Gary Oldman), a human leader, also wants to protect his species in any way he can, which he thinks will lead his species to battle.

Reeves, a horror helmer known for Cloverfield and Let Me In, knows how to stage some rousing action sequences but struggles with making audiences care about his take on the end of the world disaster film genre. Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver’s obvious, unsubtle script is also to blame, with dialogue that rarely conveys that isn’t already clear, and human characters that seem plucked from disaster movie past. In action scenes, there are moments of laughably strained credibility. And the moments of human drama are nothing we haven’t seen in better, smarter movies.

The humans are torn against saving apes or killing them in Dawn of the Planet of the Planet of the Apes (2014)Jason Clarke, Keri Russell, Gary Oldman, and the rest of the human cast do little with the lines they’re given. Clarke, bland as can be, seems entirely miscast as Malcolm, while Russel and Smit-McPhee do their best with characters that seem like forgotten strands from a poorly-drawn first-draft. Oldman is surprisingly tender in his brief scenes and lends some depth to a not-quite bad guy, though even he succumbs to the laughably overblown script in his final moments.

While the mo-cap animation is gorgeous, there’s simply too many apes to keep track of. Differentiating animated characters who speak in hand-gestures and look confusingly similar is not an easy task and the director and screenwriters are too busy dividing their time between two species to give either enough thought. Serkis and Kebbell, though, give phenomenally affecting performances, though their costars don’t get enough focus. The opening scenes, meanwhile, could’ve used a bit of cleanup from the animators.

Not everything about Dawn is awful. Michael Giacchino’s score is filled with eerily effective piano and stirring strings, while Michael Seresin’s cinematography is rough and real (and reminiscent of Wally Pfister’s work on The Dark Knight trilogy). If there’s one thing Dawn does better than Rise, it’s the sense that the characters are living in a fully-developed world, thanks to James Chinlund’s rough, real production design. Matt Reeve, meanwhile, makes a few daring directorial decisions: spending long stretches with the apes, killing off the first film’s lead characters before this movie even begins, and holding back on big acton for an hour. Speaking of which, the apes’ fiery attack on the humans is pretty thrilling.

Koba (Toby Kebbell) is ready to kill some humans in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)At the end of the day (or world, in this case), a few adventurous ideas and some neat technical tricks can’t save one of the most boring, bloated blockbusters in recent memory. Dawn of the Planet Apes is more clever than some action movies but it rarely makes us care about its characters without being formulaic. Yes, the motion-capture technology behind all those apes might create new opportunities for future films-but that doesn’t mean you should see this one.

A Hard Day’s Night (Flack’s Review)

Posted on | July 10, 2014 | Add Comments

The Beatles perform in A Hard Days Night (1964)In 1964, The Beatles were still four best friends who had recently found themselves on the top of the world. Sgt. Pepper, Yoko Ono, Linda Eastman, India, Brian Epstein’s death; that was all to come. After all, Ringo had joined the band a mere two years before. To many adults, they were just the latest pop act unlikely to have any lasting influence. In epitomizing this moment in the band’s career and being a riotously enjoyable piece of art, Richard Lester’s A Hard Day’s Night is practically perfect entertainment; a feature-length rock ‘n’ roll advertisement disguised as a cinema verite-style black-and white art film.

The Beatles goof around in A Hard Day's Night (1964)50 years after it’s July 6 release, the film still exudes the sincere spontaneity of the Fab Four with classic songs, indiscriminate wittiness, and an irreverent sense of what’s real and what’s plot. Lester, then an obscure British director picked by the band because of a Peter Sellers short John Lennon loved, has said the film’s on-the-go nature is due much to The Beatles’ inability to remember their lines. “The structure of the script had to be a series of one-liners,” he has said. “This enabled me, in many of the scenes, to turn a camera on them and say a line to them, and they would say it back to me. There was very little structure that was planned, except that we knew that we had to punctuate the film with a certain number of songs.” So unscripted was the film, that when filming was over there was only one song left to record- the title track, though the film didn’t have a title. (In the end the term a “hard day’s night” was a Ringo phrase that Lennon told Lester about at lunch, and then went to record afterwards). Turns out the approach worked just fine. When the group meets Paul’s “grandfather” on a train, the moment is so downright amusing and random that it seems like the band made up the entire scene right then (some of it they probably did).

Central to the appeal of the film, is, of course, The Beatles themselves. Whether they’re performing, dancing, or being interviewed, the four come off as goofy, surprisingly regular pranksters who want to escape the confinements of celebrity life and just party. Lester doesn’t do a lot to differentiate the group but the differences are there already. John is the cheeky bad-boy who happens to be leading the band; a sly jokester, yes, but also the one with the most obvious musical talent. Glad to simply party, Paul is the fun-loving pretty boy with the strange “grandfather”. George, comical but often quiet, might be the hardest to categorize but always seems to be having a good time. And Ringo is Ringo: droll, lonely, soft-spoken, and possibly the most distinct of them all.

John pokes fun at Paul's grandfather  (Wilfrid Brambell) in A Hard Day's Night

In limited re-release now, the film sports a spiffy new restoration, taken from the original 35mm negative, reverted to it’s original ratio, approved by the director, cleaned up by innumerable digital tools, and scanned in glorious 4K. And you really can tell the difference. The whole film has a newfound visual clarity, without totally altering the vintage, grainy beauty of Gilbert Taylor’s raw and real cinematography.

It’s a testament to the film’s power that the songs never overshadow the other scenes.With songs like these, that’s no easy feat. Cleaned up with a 5.1 Dolby mix, those gorgeous pop harmonies have never sounded so infectious, nor has the simple, iconic instrumentation sounded so musically brilliant. Apart from the title track (possibly music history’s greatest single chord) and the wonderfully danceable “Can’t Buy Me Love”, few of the songs are the type of Beatles classics that anyone on the street would recognize, which makes rediscovering the soundtrack such a joy. John’s harmonica part on “I Should Have Known Better”, Ringo’s punctuating drums on “I’m Just To Dance With You”, Paul’s beautiful, surprisingly melancholy “Things We Said Today”, George’s gorgeous guitar on “And I Love Her”: rarely is pop this infectious, influential, and flawless.

The Beatles are chased by a mob screaming fans in A Hard Day's Night (1964)The classic songs, the extempore hysterics, the raw cinematography…it all comes together in A Hard Day’s Night, one of the most delightful and important moments in the last of fifty years of music, movies, and culture. For proof, see the opening-credits scene. John, Paul, George, and Ringo flee a mob of screaming fans, as they dodge girls, run through cars, and hop on trains, all to the sounds of “A Hard Day’s Night”. Some things come and go. The Beatles isn’t one of those things.

Belle (Flack’s Review)

Posted on | June 10, 2014 | 2 Comments

Belle 4 Stars

Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) is a mixed-race adopted aristocrat who can't dine with her own family
Early on in Belle, a thoughtful and often engrossing new period drama, the title character asks her aristocrat uncle/caretaker, who happens to be William Murray the Earl of Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson) a question: “Papa, how may I be too high in rank to dine with the servants, but too low to dine with my family?” So lies the central question of the film, which manages to tackle important issues of race and class but also function as a riveting romantic drama.

Belle begins at a bustling seaside port where a Royal Navy widower (Mathew Goode) reunites with his illegitimate mixed-race daughter, Elizabeth Dido Belle. Belle is then taken to England, where she will be raised by her father’s aristocrat family. After a tense argument between her father and his, she begins living a privileged life with her uncle, two aunts (played by Emily Watson and Downton Abbey‘s Penelope Wilton), and blond cousin Elizabeth (Sarah Gordon). For a while, the family lives together peacefully and pleasantly.

Once Belle and Elizabeth are put on the marriage market, however, everything changes. Belle’s suitors wouldn’t dare marry someone of color, but if she doesn’t find a suitor she’ll live a life of shame. In a clever yet confusing twist, Belle has the benefit of a guaranteed inheritance, while her white cousin does not. Still, marriage problems seem trivial when Belle discovers her uncle is the judge of the Zong massacre court case, which focuses on the Zong slave ship crew that, when in low supply of water, threw some of 142 African slaves into the water. The polite and business-like Mansfield doesn’t want to go against the Zong’s insurers, who are central to British trade, despite a young British lawyer (Sam Reid) who tries to convince him otherwise. Oh, and the young lawyer is love with Belle.

The film, from Misan Sagay’s script, is part soapy love story, part tense legal drama. To great effect, director Amma Assante combines the historical elements of both genres to create an engaging and surprisingly fresh period piece.

It can’t hurt that Assante has such a talented cast to work with. As Belle, newcomer Gugu Mbath Raw is powerful and moving, while Sam Reid brings political vigour to the role of love interest. In the supporting cast, Tom Wilkinson is suitably stiff yet tender at heart and Emily Gordon, Penelope Wilton, and Sarah Gordon make layered and flawed female relatives for Belle.

Story-wise, there’s plenty of historical significance and relevant themes on display. Though the Zong massacre trial is filled with enough thought-provoking ideas for an entire movie, the film questions Belle’s suspended cultural status, portrays Mansfield as a conflicted and layered character, and pits the two cousins against a pair of nasty suitors without resorting to laughable stereotypes. One particularly saddening moment comes when the aforementioned suitors’ mother meets Belle and remarks “I had no idea she’d be so…black.” It’s Assante’s unflinching willingness to wrestle with big ideas about slavery and marriage that truly sets Belle apart.

Godzilla (Flack’s Review)

Posted on | May 28, 2014 | Add Comments

Godzilla isn't happy in this 2014 rebootGodzilla 2 1/2 Stars

The biggest surprise in Godzilla isn’t a twist or unpredictable character death. Instead, it’s a lack of fun. And isn’t fun all you could ask for from a summer blockbuster?

After flashbacks to 1954 and 1999, the film jumps to the present day. Following a visit to his wife and son, bomb disposal Navy officer Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) travels to Japan to bail out his father, Joe (Bryan Cranston), recently jailed for trespassing. Cue the “there’s something out there” monologue from Joe, who feels the government’s earthquake tests are really trying to stop something greater. Of course, Ford ignores his father’s warnings and Godzilla and two new beasts are soon stomping all over the world. While Ford regroups with the Navy to save everyone, a pair of scientists try to stop a no-nonsense admiral (David Strathrain) from dropping a city-destroying bomb on Godzilla. The scientists predict Godzilla will save us all, but can the government risk the fate of mankind using a unprecedented scientific theory?

Joe (Bryan Cranston) and Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) are worried...very, very worried in Godzilla (2014)

From Max Borenstein’s formulaic script to the emotionless performances, Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla is as conventional as you might expect. The film’s fatal flaw, however, is the ultra serious tone. With a wit-less plot and constant dread, Edwards makes everything feel as serious as if this was really happening (not all action movies have to be so dark and brooding). Amidst all the docudrama-levels of horror, it would’ve been nice to have at least one joke about scaly reptiles taking over the world.

Edwards manages to waste an all-star cast (also including Sally Hawkins, Ken Watanabe, and Elizabeth Olsen) on cliched roles. And it shows; none of the actors seem to be having fun, even though they’re starring in Godzilla.

Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) leads a bomb disposal team in Godzilla (2014)Cheesy dialogue, a disappointing ending, overlong build-up…the problems are many. Yet, occasionally this is a fascinating beast. Early on, there’s some plot twists that truly catch you by surprise. Meanwhile, Edwards and Borenstein’s messages about nature manage to pose some interesting, important questions about mankind’s ignorance towards the environment. In the technical departments, Seamus McGarvey’s cinematography is often brilliant, like the gorgeous tracking shots during the film’s climax. And there’s a truly exhilarating action scene near the beginning that’s one of the most nail-biting in recent memory.

Godzilla wreaks havoc on the Golden gate ridge in Godzilla (2014)

And then there’s the monster fights, which are actually fun. Every so often, the film indulges in the kind of head-to-head kaju (Japanese for monster) fights Guilermo del Toro dreams about. When Godzilla finally breathes blueish lightning down a predator’s throat, you’re reminded of why you came to this movie, and of the kind of uproarious summer adventure Godzilla could’ve been.

Digital Foosball and Virtual Reality at DigiPlayspace (Flack’s Review)

Posted on | April 25, 2014 | Add Comments

Playing with light, water, and sponges at DigiplayspaceWhat is DigiPlayspace? Certainly not your typical museum exhibit. Walk inside and you’ll find a virtual reality headset, two-person videogames, and a greenscreen all fighting for your attention. Wow is the word that best describes the sight. Coinciding with TIFF Kids, I got to experience all the excitement at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.

The first display is a French installation titled Water Light Graffiti. Participants use wet sponges to turn on hundreds of LED lights and create a drawing. Water Light Graffiti pretty much defines what DigiPlayspace is all about: cutting-edge digital fun for all ages.

Of course, the fun doesn’t end there. Perhaps the exhibit’s most impressive achievement is the range of installations. One moment I was playing a two-person videogame, then I created digital paintings by waving my hands around and, eventually I wound up starring in a stop motion film.

Playing PaperDude VR with the Oculus Rift at Digiplayspace If there’s one thing you won’t find here it’s boredom. Still, three setups stand above the rest. First is PaperDude, a not-your-average-videogame videogame. After hopping onto a bike, I strapped on the much hyped Oculus Rift headset. In the game, you pedal your bike and move your hands around to toss newspapers to neighbors. The exciting part, however, is experiencing Oculus Rift’s virtual reality. As I frantically turned left, right, up, and down, all I could see was the world of PaperDude. The feeling is novel, fresh, and weird; unreal technology paradise.

Playing SuperPong at DigiplayspaceSimpler than PaperDude, yet just as fun, is SuperPong. Designed in Brazil, the game combines the look and rules of foosball with the digital simplicity of Pong. And the result? Like playing both those games at the same time on a big, bright screen.

Green-screen goofiness at DigiplayspaceThe third highlight of DigiPlayspace is a greenscreen set-up where participants are placed in blockbuster films and foreign locations. With the help of the latest Hollywood technology, I put on a green blanket, looked up at the screen, and saw myself as…Wolverine!?

3-D printed toys at DigiplayspacePast the main space is a back room that turns out to be a “Micro Maker fair” filled with programmable videogames, 3-D printed toys, and robotic balls controlled by iPods.

Of course, you can’t love all of DigiPlayspace’s activities but, hey, there’s something for everyone. Filled with interactive digital awesomeness of every kind, this is pure, unbridled fun for kids and adults. So what is Digiplayspace? Imagine playing with the future and you’re close to understanding.

DigiplayspaceDigiPlayspace ran March 8-April 21 at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto, Canada. It’ll be back for it’s fourth year in 2015.

Shorts and Superheroes at TIFF Kids Day 3: Flack’s Report

Posted on | April 24, 2014 | Add Comments

In Amar, audiences get a slice of a hard-working Iranian boy's lifeTwo shorts programs and a kid superhero rounded out another incredible year at TIFF Kids. Without further ado, here’s my opinions on our last day at TIFF (April 21)…

What do the daily lives of children look like? That’s the theme of the “Slice of Life” shorts program, a continent-spanning collection of four very different, very interesting documentaries. Jamey’s Fight tells the story of an aspiring soccer player with a serious stammer and uses traditional documentary techniques (talking-heads interviews mixed with clips). On the other end of the spectrum, Amar examines a day in the life of a  hard-working Indian boy with a unique, if confusing, interview-free style that puts us right into Amar’s life. Meanwhile, in Youseff, Please Say No!, an over-busy teenager is forced to reconsider his hectic schedule. The highlight here is To Be a B-Girl, an inspiring look at a German break-dancing girl that discusses gender stereotypes and the culture of this interesting sport.

Chikara-The Sumo Wrester's Son tells the true-life tale of sports, determination, and parental pressureAnother group of short documentaries, Strength Through Struggle focuses on children and their courage, resourcefulness, and wit during times of hardship. In Chikara- The Sumo Wrestler’s Son, a Japanese ten-year old trains to be a winning sumo wrestler, like his over-enthusiastic father. The question is, does Chikara want this future for himself? With haunting cinematography, thrilling editing, and narration from Chikara, director Simon Lereng Wilmont  creates a captivating portrait of childhood and one of the best short films I’ve ever seen. Two more moving tales of kids struggling with parental issues finished the program: Layla’s Melody, about a girl’s uncertain life in Afghanistan, and Hear This!, about a Danish kid-soccer player and his deaf dad.

Antboy isn't your average superhero (he's a kid!)The only feature film I saw this day was Antboy, a superhero hero adventure starring (refreshingly) a kid. Pelle is just a regular kid living a regular life until he gets bitten by an ant (sound familiar?) and receives incredible powers. Before long, Pelle is Antboy, a crime-fighting superhero. But does Pelle just want to be the “popular kid” or will he take advantage of his gifts? Parents looking for a safe alternative to the dark, brooding state of comic-book cinema will love taking their kids to this entertaining, kid-friendly superhero comedy.

From a jazz prodigy and flying meatballs, to engrossing true-life tales and a comic-book super-kid, TIFF Kids 2014 was filled with wondeeful movies of every variety. Another memorable year at TIFF is over but I have some unforgettable movie-going experiences to remember!

Poignant Family Dramas and a 3-D Food Adventure at TIFF Kids 2014: Flack’s Day 2 Report

Posted on | April 23, 2014 | Add Comments

Lauren and Harvey are on-the-run-siblings searching for a lost grandfather in Side by SideA heartrending family adventure, raining hot dogs, and shorts from up-and-coming (kid) filmmakers rounded out our second day (April 19) at the Toronto International Film Festival Kids. Here’s my thoughts on everything I saw.

Side by Side 4 1/2 Arthur Landon’s coming-of-age family adventure, is easily one one of my favorite films of the year so far. Lauren, a skilled runner, and her younger brother/obsessive gamer Harvey, are tired of their mundane and tragic lives. When their elder grandmother moves to a retirement home and Lauren enrolls in a distinguished running university, Harvey runs away. He’s soon joined by his sister-and a life-changing adventure begins. Filled with Scottish vistas and wonderful cinematography, Side by Side is a poignant drama that’ll have you laughing, crying, and smiling in equal measure.

Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader) realizes his food making machine actually works in Cloudy With a Chance of MeatballsTIFF Kids isn’t just about “watching” movies; it’s about thinking, enjoying, and connecting with film on many levels. Storymobs, a Canadian organization where “great kids’ books meet flash mobs”, worked with families to create costumes and props for an exuberant reading of Judi Barret’s Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. During the final performance, kids and adults took turns reading, as the audience looked on with hunger. Chris Miller and Phil Lord’s zany 2009 blockbuster adaptation was screened (in mouth-watering 3-D) later that day.

Films like Side by Side and Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs are made for children but the Jump Cuts Young Filmmakers Showcase: Grades 7 and 8 featured films made by children. The featured shorts were all over the place, from a claymation commentary on global warming to a live-action zombie thriller. Some were made by schools, others by individual kids. The range of themes, stories, and mediums was incredible and a joy to watch. Precious Cargo, a touching tale about an elder man contemplating his future, had stunning cinematography and a thoughtful plot that could have you convinced the film was made by a professional. Safety Man and Man VS School were also standouts, with inventive, amusing stories signaling a bright future for film.

It was an impressive day at TIFF but there’s still more to come…

TIFF Kids 2014 Day 1: Flack’s Report

Posted on | April 20, 2014 | Add Comments

Felix is musically gifted but can he win over his mom?Comfy chairs, delicious popcorn, fascinating Q&A’s, and, of course, wonderful films… Flick and Flack have arrived at the Toronto International Film Festival Kids! For the next few days, we’ll be reporting on the festival (read our festival preview here). Here’s my take on our first day (April 19) at TIFF…

Felix 4 1/2 Felix, a South African teenager, has phenomenal musical talent and can’t wait to audition for his new private school’s jazz concert. His mother, however, feels that his musical passion will lead him down the path of his late father. As tensions rise, Felix is faced with a question: will he choose his mother or his music? Director Roberta Durrant displays adept filming skill by transforming a often-told theme into a tear-jerking, often witty must-see. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll tap your foot to the beat.

A group of friends discover the mystery of their evil school in Zip & Zap and the Marble GangZip & Zap and the Marble Gang 3 1/2 When brothers Zip and Zap are sent to an evil boarding school, they decide to challenge the cruel dictatorship residing over the school. Along with some new friends, Zip and Zap hunt for treasure, get chased by dogs, and uncover the mysterious past of their school. This amusing adventure is part Harry Potter, part Goonies, and all fun! An often comical and exhilarating roller coaster of a film.

So, that’s it for now… More TIFF Kids reviews coming soon!

A Look Ahead To TIFF Kids 2014

Posted on | April 13, 2014 | Add Comments

We can't wait to see Felix at TIFF Kids 2014For the past two years, Flack and I have taken the long drive up to Toronto, Canada to attend the TIFF Kids film festival to find films for the PCFF. We’ve seen some incredible films, not to mention the pleasure of reclining in the irresistibly comfy theater chairs, perusing the building’s movie bookstore, and just staring in awe at the Bell Lightbox building. This year, we’ll be back again and the lineup of films looks as good as ever. We’ll hopefully be bringing you written updates all throughout next weekend, starting on Friday and going through Sunday. For now, here are the films we’re looking forward to.


A fourteen-year-old boy wants to become a proffesional musician just as his late father was. His mom, however, isn’t supportive of this dream. Felix will have to win over his mom, face up to school bullies, and find the aid of his dad’s bandmate in order to follow his dreams. This has all the makings of an feel-good family drama.


Pelle, a 12-year-old living in a small Danish town, has a boring, average life. But all it takes is a bite from an ant and he’s given superpowers. Pelle must face the villain Flea who is terrorizing his town and in doing so, cope with his new powers and learn the meaning of being different. Enter Antboy. Could be the perfect superhero adventure for younger ones.

Side by Side

The intriguing trailer for this brother-sister runaway film manages to clip together a lot, while still leaving questions unanswered. Equal parts adventure, drama, and coming-of-age story, the film promises to be both exciting and harrowing at the same time.

In addition to these films, we’ll also have access to the “Screening Room”, where we’ll be able to choose from a library of DVD’s (from this year’s festival) to watch on a computer workstation. It’s one of the many privileges of having Industry Passes.

See you in Toronto!

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