30 Years of Garbage: The Garbage Pail Kids Story

I was probably too young for Garbage Pail Kids. I was possibly too young for Cabbage Patch Kids too, for that matter, but had one anyway, given to me when I was 2 years old and my dumb Mom replaced me with a brand new baby. My Cabbage Patch Kid was named Maud (they came pre-named, with a birth certificate) and she had red yarn hair. My babyGPK_8a_adambomb sister also got one, a brunette named Valerie, which I felt was unfair because she’d done nothing to deserve it besides poop and scream and steal my parents’ love.

Cabbage Patch Dolls were a huge phenomenon in the 1980s, and so too, eventually, were the little trading cards that parodied them. Topps bubblegum did Bazooka and other candy store staples. They’d paired baseball cards with bubblegum for years, and were expanding to “non-sport” cards as well. Failing to secure rights to do a legit Cabbage Patch line, they decided instead to do a “fuck you” line that would skewer these saccharine-sweet dolls.

30 Years of Garbage introduces us to the brilliant, twisted minds behind this idea that was obsessively collected by kids and doggedly censored by parents and principals. Jacques Cousteau, for some reason, cautioned parents that their Garbage Pail loving kids would inevitably end up on cocaine! I may have been too young to appreciate os4_132athis stuff at the time, but I have certainly been aware of them in retrospect. These bubblegum comic artists tapped into a vein of childhood rebellion and ended up making lasting work.

I was shocked to learn that a Garbage Pail co-creator was none other than Art Spiegelman, who wrote Maus, a deeply moving graphic novel about the Holocaust (he uses cats and mice effectively – if you haven’t read it, you simply must). I shouldn’t be surprised that I’d never known the connection – his publishers worked hard to keep it that way!

30 Years of Garbage provides equal doses nostalgia and insight. You don’t need to love
the product to find this documentary compelling: who got screwed, who got sued, who won the war between the First Amendment, and Product Disparagement?

But it’s also interesting because I see this fad repeating itself. My little nephew Brady is into something called Shopkins, which as far as I can tell, is a really stupid “toy”. It’s a tiny rubber thing, shaped like some grocery store item, about the size of a pencil eraser. cards21n-2-webHe’s got a bag of rice, and a bag of flour that looks almost identical to the bag of rice. How these are fun toys I have no idea. We usually pile them on Lightning McQueen and race. But Brady’s own counter culture is already budding at 5 years old: Shopkins are parodied by the Grossery Gang, the same basic shitty toy, but disgusting (ie, mouldy cheese). I don’t get it, but adults aren’t meant to. It’s kind of cool that he’s got his own little act of rebellion, but if you’re in the mood for some throwback rebellion, here’s a hint: the Garbage Pail Kids are back.

 

 

30 Years of Garbage is playing at the Toronto Jewish Film Festival this Sunday, May 7th, 5:30pm at Innis Town Hall.

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Joshy

Joshy has planned a fun bachelor-party weekend away in Ojai, just him and his buddies celebrating his upcoming marriage with as much booze and drugs and strippers as time and space allows. Except Joshy’s fiancee commits suicide, and the weekend’s now been downgraded to just a “hangout” among friends.

Only a few brave friends arrive, besides Joshy (Thomas Middleditch): stable Ari (Adam Pally), determined to keep things light, neurotic Adam (Alex Ross Perry) whose default mode is wet blanket, and Eric (Nick Kroll), the friend with coke and bad ideas. They pick 2f03a127a57d72e5de9a6d7fb71e9cf5up some hangers-on (Jenny Slate among them) and proceed to have a very weird weekend.

How do men mourn and commiserate with their grieving friend? They mostly don’t. They mostly tamp down their feelings in favour of whatever self-destruction’s close by. The film is largely improvised, making use of all the comedic chops, so the chemistry is crackling even if it feels like the plot goes absolutely nowhere. It’s really about the presumption of our perceptions, and maybe the unknowability of people. The characters disclose things to each other, and expose themselves to us, but we don’t come away really understanding them any better for it.

Joshy has a really ephemeral quality to it, a sense that nothing can last, good or otherwise, and things will inevitably be left unsettled. This may be a comment on closure and its real-life attainability, and that’s exactly when the movie feels the most honest.

This was a humbly entertaining watch for me because I like these guys, but it wasn’t exactly earth-shattering goodness. It’s kind of a cross between a raunchy comedy and mumblecore, so take that admonition with the grain of salt it deserves.

Ithaca

Should you tip the boy who brings you the telegram that says your son is dead?

That dilemma and others covered in Ithaca, loosely based on William Saroyan’s The Human Comedy, which is not remotely funny. But it did give Meg Ryan some comfort when she was going through her divorce from Dennis Quaid, so what better material to use in her directorial debut?

ithaca9f-2-webShe plays the mother of sons, a hard thing to be in 1942; Marcus, who is off to war (played by Jack Quaid, Ryan’s actual son), Homer (Alex Neustaedter) who struggles with being the 14 year old man of the house now that his father (Tom Hanks) is gone, and little Ulysses (Spencer Howell) who doesn’t remember anything different.

This is really Homer’s story and the growing up he had to do. He’s such an exuberant kid at the start of the film, determined to be the best and fastest bike messenger in town. But 1942 means WW2, and WW2 means lots of devastating telegrams. How does it transform a 14 year old kid to deliver grief in an envelope? To witness the moment a woman is made a widow? To see a mother torn apart by pain? That’s pretty heavy stuff to be grappling with when you’re also mooning over your first crush and taking your little brother down to the local fishing hole. It makes for a heightened existance, but it’s also just life for Homer, who has his own little odyssey to live.

The film is a little under-achieving, a retread of themes we’ve seen elsewhere, and often. Sam Shepard has a pretty compelling role, which makes up for the very rare glimpses we get of Hanks. If it doesn’t quite live up to its potential, it’s still bittersweet in its nostalgia, and tucked sufficiently at my heart strings. Meg Ryan hasn’t hit it out of the ballpark on her first swing as director, but don’t count her out.

 

 

An Israeli Love Story

Margalit meets Eli on a bus and – zing! – for her, it’s love at first sight. He takes a little convincing, his head already crowded with ideas and responsibility. The catch in this little love story is that it’s Israel 1947. Things are…complicated.

Eli (Avraham Aviv Alush), son of the second President of the State of Isreal, lives on a kibbutz where he works all day every day. When Margalit (Adi Bielski) pursues him An-israeli-love-story-1-1024x576there, she finds that he’s also helping the Palmach to smuggle Holocaust survivors into Palestine. This only make her love him harder, but his reality is very different from hers, a drama student and theatre lover who is reluctant to give up a life of creativity. Her love is strong enough to make the necessary sacrifices, but the turbulent state of things in Israel means that love will not be enough to overcome all.

This is the true story of the love affair between Pnina Gary (who contributes to the script) and Eli Ben-Zvi. The film sets this passionate love story amid the political turmoil of pre-state Israel.

An Israeli Love Story makes its Canadian premiere as part of the Toronto Jewish Film Festival. Check below for dates and times – added bonus: director Dan Wolman will be in attendance.

Through the presentation of international and Canadian films, the Festival aims to be both a window to and a mirror of Jewish culture.  The Festival strives to be inclusive of all aspects of the Toronto community, regardless of age, affiliation or income.  We undertake to show films for their contemporary, popular value, and for their ability to address the subject of Jewish identity.  That is, to be a Jewish Film Festival, and not a film festival for Jewish people.

 

TJFF screenings for An Israeli Love Story:

Thursday 11 May, 6:15 PM – Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema

Saturday 13 May, 9:00 PM – Famous Players Canada Square 2

 

Shiners

Shoe shiners: at the airport, a busy subway station, a kiosk in your local mall, even on the street corner. There they are, every day, providing a service to the people walking by. Yet this humble profession is often overlooked. Who goes into shoe shining, and why? Director Stacey Tenenbaum gives us a documentary that gives us the answers by putting us in the shoes of shiners around the world.

Filming in cities as diverse as New York, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Sarajevo, La Paz, and more, shoeshining-640x480Shiners gives a good sense of the universality of pride in one’s work. However, it is also clear that the profession is not viewed the same from one country to the next. In America it is being reclaimed by hipsters who deride the neglect of older crafts. In Japan we see a lot of honour in the skill, in making something old new again. But in other places, it’s seen as degrading work, and the shiners work on the street, earning little money and even less respect.

In that way, Tenebaum quietly addresses poverty and social justice without quite mentioning it directly. Shiners is a character-driven documentary, the shiners speaking for themselves. A mother of young children barely earns enough to feed her family; she refuses to be shamed for her position but insists that her children will be ‘professionals.’

Don, a.k.a. the shoe dude, working a street corner in Manhattan, has a vibrant personality. A former accountant and pastry chef, he’s chosen shoe shining for the sense of freedom it gives him. He talks candidly about the racist connotations of shoe shining, and the satisfaction he’s derived from telling “uppity people” their shoes are dirty.

Shiners excels at providing an insider’s view. It cracks the humanity wide open, and guarantees that you’ll never walk by these people without seeing them again.

 

This review first appeared at Cinema Axis.

 

 

The Accidental Husband

A “love doctor” radio host counsels a caller to break up with her fiance. The jilted ex vows revenge on said love doctor. Hilarity ensues?

This plot is so predictable. Jeffrey Dean Morgan plays the fire fighter who gets left in advance of the alter. He doesn’t stop for even a second to ask himself if perhaps his gaping immaturity might be a contributing factor, and instead hatches a plan for vengeance against the well-meaning woman (Uma Thurman) who suggested that a caller follow her own intuition and call off a hastily planned wedding to a guy she’d only known a few months. His plan is to of course humiliate the good doctor in her own love life, making it impossible for her to wed her intended (Colin Firth).

1533_largeIf you’ve seen more than 5 movies, then you already know what’s going to happen: she’s going to hate the hell out of Jeffrey Dean Morgan right up to the moment when she falls madly in love with him. She will ditch her fiance, who is not a bad guy, whose only flaw seems to be believing his girlfriend isn’t a complete whack job.

I loathe this movie. I detest all movies like it. I can’t even decide if it’s more demeaning to women or to men but it’s god-awful and doesn’t even have the courtesy to make sense. Spoiler alert: this movie is for the brainless. If this is your idea of a romantic comedy, you deserve to die alone, your bloated corpse eaten by your cats who never respected you anyway.

The Accidental Husband has a 6% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and this had made me FURIOUS. Who is the piece of shit 6% who’s ruining it for the rest of us? Well, I was incensed enough to track her down: her name is S. Jhoanna Robledo and she’s the ONLY critic who gave it a fresh rating, and I’m assuming also the only critic to have guzzled the sperm of this movie’s lousy director, Griffin Dunne (who has not been allowed to direct a movie since, thank fuck). Robledo writes for Common Sense Media, a website that – get this! – helps parents decide if a movie is okay for kids to watch. She told parents that The Accidental Husband is “teen-friendly” but forgot to mention the part where it makes monsters and rapists out of boys and pathetic, subservient nincompoops out of girls. Christ Almighty.

Hot Docs: Do Donkeys Act?

Did you ever have existential questions about donkeys? No? Well, move on.

Or not. The truth is, you haven’t seen anything like Do Donkeys Act? It’s a documentary about donkeys (a donkumentary?), made reputedly by humans (Ashley Sabin and David Redmon), for the enjoyment of – donkeys? There are no talking head interviews in the film, very little input from people, period. There are, however, extended shots of donkeys just “being.” Filmed on a few different donkey sanctuaries where tired and abused donkeys go to live out the last years of their lives, there are no donkey facts, no never-before-seen donkeys in the wild. What the film does offer is plenty of space to contemplate the life and death of these beasts of burden.

Do_Donkeys_act_1How do donkeys cry? Do they tremble inside? Do they dream? These are the types of insights and reflexive cues provided by poetic narration provided by Willem Dafoe. We might spend several minutes just gazing upon a bunch of donkeys eating communally from a trough. We may consider the different utterances we hear and attempt to interpret each one. The donkeys are communicating – are you listening?

The documentary takes the humble donkey and elevates him to the star of his own movie. I started to wonder, listening to them honk and hee-haw, if they were perhaps translating the poetry we were hearing from Dafoe. But then, in a mind-bender, I wondered: is it maybe we who are translating their poetry? Mind blown.

Although its run time is brief and it takes a while to get into its unique rhythm, Do Donkeys Act? has an embracing kind of empathy that came to be quite moving. I’m not sure I’ve come away with specific meaning, but I’ve just spent 72 minutes thinking about donkeys, which is 72 more than I’ve ever given them before, and there’s a kind of grace in that,  triumph for the film makers, dignity for the film’s brave subjects.

 

 

This review first appeared at Cinema Axis, where you can find lots more excellent Hot Docs coverage.

Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent

Jeremiah Tower, if not the father of American cuisine, is at the very least its very fun uncle. But a case for fatherhood can be made. He burned bright and then disappeared. This documentary finds him.

One of Tower’s earliest memories: sitting on the beach, maybe 6 years old, watching an old man prepare barracuda for dinner. Holding his hands as they held the knives, watching him rub some spice from the jungle on them, the aroma as the fish cooked. The old man said that next they would eat snake, or perhaps iguana, and those exotic dishes got confused as the old man also referred to the “little lizard” in young Tower’s pants. That child’s confusion, food and sex already mixed up in his head, is perhaps why he went on to be a renowned chef. But it’s not the only reason.

CNN Films: Jeremiah Tower documentaryHe had an unconventional childhood and perhaps not a happy one, travelling extensively with his parents who exposed him to culture and glamour while largely forgetting he existed. Food became his friend and companion, and he’d gluttonously study the menus of all the great restaurants he visited, making friends with the kitchen staff in all the best dining establishments in the very best of hotels.

He never intended to become a chef, but circumstance had made him a cook, and when opportunity knocked, Jeremiah Tower answered. Not only did he answer, he opened the door to a transformation of food and ingredients, and how we thought of them. He was perhaps the first celebrity chef but abandoned it all at the top of his game. Wolfgang Puck, Mario Batali, Anthony Bourdain, and Martha Stewart all speak of him reverently, but it’s clear his legend is still shrouded in mystery.

A couple of years ago, Jeremiah Tower resurfaced, and the foodie community went bananas foster (that’s me making a foodie joke, fyi). He was to be the new Executive Chef at Tavern on the Green, a large restaurant in New York known more for its touristy location than the quality of its food. It seemed a strange move for such a king of the kitchen, but then again, what do we really know of this culinary superstar who walked away from his own fame and success?

This documentary is fun and interesting from start to finish, but a lot of Tower’s mystery remains intact. Lydia Tenaglia shoots him like the lone wolf he is, perhaps a little scattered and deliberately artsy at times, but the truth is, Tower is a force that pulls you in, his charisma alone enough to compel. The Last Magnificent made me hungry – sure, for some of his California cooking, but mostly just for more of him, of this fascinating, elusive man.

 

 

 

Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent opens Friday May 5th in select cities: Toronto,
Vancouver, Calgary, Halifax, and right here in Ottawa, luckily enough.

 

 

The Whole Truth

It’s possible that if Keanu doesn’t play a lawyer at least once per decade he’ll die. That’s the only reason I can think of to explain his casting as a lawyer ever, because he’s barely credible as the sandwich guy who delivers lunch to law firms.

hero_TheWholeTruth-2016-1In The Whole Truth, Keanu does indeed play a lawyer who is defending the son of a former colleague and longtime friend. The son is accused of killing his father, that very same former colleague and longtime friend. I’m sure Keanu would like to believe that his client is innocent, but his client isn’t talking. And his client’s mother (Renee Zellweger) is mostly weeping, and begging Keanu to save her son’s life.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who is above this material, plays a lawyer assigned to help Keanu, and be less of a dick in the courtroom than he is, which is a role that could have been fulfilled by Andy Dick or Jeremy Piven or goddamned Jim Belushi, who was actually busy playing the murder victim, but you catch my drift. It wasn’t a high bar.

Anyway. It’s derivative. It’s one of those “unravel the plot” movies probably based on a mystery novel only sold in drug stores. When “the whole truth” is finally revealed, you probably won’t be around to hear it, having already changed the channel, and you certainly won’t give a shit. The ending isn’t earned, it doesn’t pack a punch, it’s just a fart in the wind (is that a saying?).

I’m dubious, Keanu.

SXSW: M.F.A.

MFA-movieShortly after we are introduced to Master of Fine Arts candidate Noelle (Francesca Eastwood), she is raped by a classmate.  When she confronts him the next day, he denies doing anything wrong and winds up dead in a mostly-accidental way.  Somewhere during the events that caused Noelle to be a victim of sexual assault and a murder suspect, she snaps.  Formerly introverted and a loner, Noelle starts going to frat parties in order to seduce and murder other rapists who, due to a faulty system, got away with their crimes.

It will not be surprising to anyone who has seen the excellent documentary The Hunting Ground (or really, anyone who has attended a post-secondary institution) that despite her school having reported no sexual assaults at all, it is all to easy for Noelle to find rapists to kill on her college’s campus as she goes full vigilante.   In carrying out a series of increasingly violent kills, Noelle has no real fear of being caught even though she knows the police are closing in.

Eastwood is INTENSE in M.F.A.  Like, maybe more intense than her father has ever been, and that’s saying something because that guy’s face is frozen in a permanent, angry, “Ima kill you” sneer.  She is the best part of this movie and while she can’t make Noelle relatable, she keeps the audience on her side throughout the film, and that is no small feat in the face of her bloody killing spree.

M.F.A. offers an interesting twist on the typical slasher flick, and Noelle’s numerous kills are well-executed and, as is traditional in the genre, get more gory as she goes.  If nothing else, M.F.A. calls attention to the conversation we all should be having, namely why so many women are being sexually assaulted on college campuses and why the colleges are in many cases turning a blind eye to the rapes, or even discouraging victims from reporting these assaults!

The scary part about M.F.A. is not Noelle, it’s that the rapists and the evil administrator who blames the victim and covers up assaults are all too real, and are on your campus, or your friend’s, or your daughter’s.  We need to find an alternative solution, other than murder, so that a campus rape stops being a standard part of a Saturday night frat party, and so that when a college claims to have had zero rapes it’s not because the administration successfully intimidated and discouraged all potential complainants.  No more sexual assaults should be swept under the rug.  M.F.A. helps to shine a light on the problem.