Monthly Archives: October 2016

Man vs Snake: The Long and Twisted Tale of Nibbler

I am too young to remember Nibbler from the arcade but it was on my computer at some point during university, along with Solitaire, Hearts, and Free Cell.  In Nibbler, the player controls a snake with the goal of eating all the dots on the board.  But every dot you eat makes your snake get longer (in a very non-sexual way), and if you let the snake run into itself then it dies (I guess because it is super poisonous?). All in all, a pretty simple concept, but like most 80s games, you can playmanvssnake-cartoon-billionpoints-700x374 the game forever doing the exact same thing over and over, just a little faster each time.

As a natural-born procrastinator, I played a few rounds of Nibbler while avoiding writing research papers.   Is it just me or has YouTube/Facebook/Twitter made all those games obsolete?  Anyway, back in the day I became quite good at Free Cell but mastery over Nibbler always eluded me.  Part of it was that I found the game extremely boring (possibly more boring than writing the paper I was trying to avoid), so I’d only last one or two games and then I’d move on to something else.

Unlike me, there are 40+ year olds who seem not to get bored by Nibbler, and who play that game for marathon sessions, 30 hours or more, in order to score a billion points.  Nibbler’s claim to fame is that the developer had the foresight to display a score nine digits long instead of the usual six, so Nibbler’s whirring numbers went that much higher than its contemporaries before flipping back to zero (which may be part of why we feared Y2K so much, because in all these games you could lose everything by playing just a bit too long).  Nibbler focuses primarily on the first player to hit a billion in the game, the unfortunately named Tim McVey.  He hit the high score back in 1983 and promptly moved on to other games because after playing the game for 40 hours straight he couldn’t bear to touch a Nibbler machine ever again, but hemanvssnake_1280-720x405 returns to the competitive Nibbler arena in his 40s when he learns he might not actually have held the world record all those years.

We’ve reviewed some very good documentaries on Netflix recently (like Ava DuVernay’s excellent 13th).  Man vs Snake does not come close to those heights.  It is unlikely to inspire you or educate you or show you anything worthwhile.  This lifelong quest for high scores in a dull, repetitive game is led by people who like dull, repetitive things and inevitably are stuck in the past due to their nature.  Certainly, the gameplay footage, which features prominently in a whodunit-type post-mortem of one marathon attempt, is going to hurt your eyes because it’s painfully archaic.  I don’t know how I ever stared at any of those screens.  It’s impossible for me to stare at them now or hear the incessant beeping that was a staple of the arcade experience back then, the equivalent of the bells on a slot machine, over and over and over.

While it is interesting to peek inside these people’s lives for a few minutes, my interest faded long before the movie wrapped up.  At its core, Man vs Snake is a dull, repetitive experience, much like Nibbler itself.  It’s a decent time-waster that you will likely get bored of before it ends, and you may want your quarter back.  There are much better documentaries to be found in the Netflix arcade.


Made In France

It starts out reasonably enough: we hear a lecture against pornography. But the words are angry, vehement, and even if we agree with the content, you can’t help but worry about the tone. Then it continues: the Internet is evil too. And so is “fraternization” – males and females hanging out together. Merely looking at each other. It’s all decadence that leads to adultery, and adultery is worse than murder because murder is permitted under certain circumstances, but adultery, never. Which is why women should be made to stay in the home.

This is of course rhetoric coming from a Muslim imam in an underground mosque in Paris. The worshippers gathered to hear him are mzfq1g0XnDg9STDVZPT219LTQh6.jpgdiverse. One, Sam (Malik Zidi), or “red beard” as they call him, is an honestly devout Muslim but also an undercover journalist hoping to get a juicy story on jihadism. His Muslim buddies are all young guys like him from a range of backgrounds, easily mistaken for a group of soccer-loving 20 somethings. But one of the gang, Hassan (Dimitri Storoge), leaves France because he’s ready to make holy war. When he comes back, he tells his friends they’re charged with forming a terrorist cell right there in Paris.

It’s scary to watch something this topical when in fact Paris has been hit several times now by terrorists. The threat is real. Al-Queda isn’t just “over there”, it can be home-grown and just as serious. That’s why this movie strikes such a nerve. As Sam says in the film, the mosque is very good at radicalizing young men. The imam have the subtle traits of cult leaders, and though the young men may originally wander in out of curiosity, they stay out of belief, and then develop fanaticism. The inherent misogyny in the system seems to be attractive to a certain kind of disenfranchised young man.

Made In France is scarier than any horror movie you’ll see this year, and for that reason I wish the film was more analytical as to what would truly encourage a regular Joe to turn extreme. As it stands, the movie’s characters are one-dimensional in terms of motivation. It’s a fairly effective thriller but not overly insightful. Shot before the attack on Charlie Hebdo, director Nicolas Boukhrief struggles to find a balance between the genre and its real life inspiration. He achieves a tense atmosphere that’s gripping and heart-pounding, and a couple of punchy, taut action sequences. Ultimately succumbing to generic twists and beats, though, Made In France doesn’t quite deliver on its socio-political promise. But it does serve as a reminder that anyone can be a terrorist, with a camera’s simple panning of a nondescript residential street that could be my neighbourhood or yours, and the clever casting of “the guy next door”, Made In France taps into our panic and forces us to confront our worst fears.

This review appeared first at Cinema Axis – check them out for more CineFranco coverage!

Hacksaw Ridge

hacksaw-ridge-2016-andrew-garfieldThere are two main takeaways from Hacksaw Ridge: (1) even American acting jobs are now going overseas, as aside from Vince Vaughn every American soldier in this movie seems to be played by an Australian (included in that tally is Andrew Garfield, who I have since learned is British, not Australian, but still…); and (2) if the Japanese had just prayed harder they might have won the Second World War.

The Australian angle is natural since this movie is brought to you by “the director of Braveheart”. A similar thing is happening right now to Ben Affleck, now known as the artist who formerly directed Argo and the Town. Is this going to be a thing? Because I find it annoying that their actual names aren’t mentioned in the promotion of these movies at all. If the reference to their past movies means anything to you then you know who’s being referred to, so let’s say their name already and move on! Conversely, if the reference to the movie doesn’t mean anything to you then it’s unlikely to be a selling point. Either way, it’s wasted trailer time that could be better spent on spoiling more of the plot.

hacksaw_ridgeIncidentally, if the intent behind not putting Mel Gibson’s name up front in the marketing was to create some separation from those all-too-frequent racist comments in Mel’s past, it might also have been a good idea to cast at least one non-white guy. Just saying.

The prayer angle refers to Desmond Doss, a devout Seventh Day Adventist who was the first American conscientious objector to receive the Medal of Honor. Doss doesn’t want to kill anyone or even hold a gun, but he still enlists during WWII to serve his country as a medic. In typically American fashion, his refusal to carry a gun while training to march into a hail of bullets is viewed as a sign of cowardice rather than bravery (or insanity, or a mix of both). His objection is based on religious grounds as well as a bad childhood, and due to his objection every soldier he comes across in basic training looks down on him and tries to force him out. Fortunately for them,hacksaw-ridge-2016-ryan-corr-vince-vaughn he doesn’t hold a grudge, and hauls 75 of them off the Okinawa battlefield even after they made his life so rough.

Doss’ story is an incredible one and Mel Gibson’s direction does it justice. It’s a bit over the top at times, and you may get tired of the battleground shots being blurred or showing just the barrel of a firing gun or being in slow motion complete with matching audio. Despite that, the movie shines at the important moments, naturally displaying Doss winning over his detractors and putting the audience at Doss’ side as he sneaks through enemy territory looking for one more wounded soldier to save. Though the characters are largely one-dimensional, the cast led by Andrew Garfield, Vince Vaughn and Sam Worthington deliver quite a few memorable moments, including some well-timed humour amongst the horrors of war.

Hacksaw Ridge is cheesy and over-the-top in a mostly good way, and the sum of its parts is enough to overcome some significant flaws. Its unusual perspective and celebration of a dogged outlier makes it a worthy addition to the bloated catalogue of WWII movies.  Hacksaw Ridge earns a score of eight cringe-inducing battle wounds out of ten.

Live in Concert

Last week I reviewed the Netflix concert documentary, Justin Timberlake and the Tennessee Kids, directed by Jonathan Demme. It was all right, but was pretty much just high-quality concert footage with almost no bells or whistles. It put me in a nostalgic kind of mood, reminding me of a time many moons ago when I was an avid consumer of concert videos myself.

When I was a very little girl, the inside cover of my unicorn diary was plastered with NKOTB stickers. That’s New Kids On The Block, for the uninitiated. I loved Joey McIntyre in particular, and practiced writing my future married name over and over as only a 7 year old could (as an old married lady, I have never signed myself as Mrs anything). My mother called me “boy crazy” but dc12b288ae1a4e8c32910bd614d7a701.jpgshe fueled the fires of my pre-lusty desires with posters and t-shirts and perfume (I have no idea how to distill an entire boy band into one scent, but they did, and I wore it). I also had not 1 but 2 Joey McIntyre Barbie dolls. I still remember the jeans and the red jacket that he wore, and the backwards baseball cap like the baby-faced faux-bad-boy he was. My Barbies loooooved to date him, enjoyed extended closed-mouth kissing with him, and were serenaded on the reg. I never owned anyone besides Joey although the whole Barbie band was available for purchase – until a certain milestone birthday when my youngest sister paid I don’t want to know how much to assemble the boys for a reunion tour in my bedroom: she tracked down every last NKOTB Barbie and sent them to me, mint in their boxes. My childhood toys are now collector’s items. I am old.

When I was still young and fresh and musically ridiculous, I wanted nothing more than to listen to my New Kids tapes on my Walkman. Being quite small at the time, I never got to see them in concert, but I did have the next best thing: their concerts on VHS. I can’t recall how many of those I had, but it was new-kids-on-the-block-vhs-lot-oflikely all of them. But they weren’t stingy like Justin Timberlake’s, they were full of priceless nuggets, like the sight of 14 year old Joey “shaving”  before a gig, proper rat tail maintenance, and the guys discussing their astrological signs. You know, really important stuff. I ate it up. And I was starved for it because the New Kids cartoon played at noon on Saturdays and I almost always missed it because it clashed with my mother’s Nutri System weigh-ins. True story. I had a rough childhood, you know. I would wait in the Ford Aerostar, playing with my 2 Joes to console myself, waiting to see if my mother was any skinnier, and if missing my favourite show would be worth it (it pretty much wasn’t).

I must sound awfully wistful when I talk about the New Kids glory days, because not only did my sister assemble the whole band in 12 inch, non-anatomically-correct plastic form, my husband bought me tickets to their real, flesh and blood reunion tour (twinned with The Backstreet Boys, who I could live without). We had floor seats so my inner 7 year old really geeked out (how I managed not to bring a glitter poster with me, I’ll never know). It was wonderful.

That had to have been the hey day of concert documentaries, though. I haven’t seen any of the recent ones, though I know that both Beiber and Katy Perry had rather successful ones. But now that I’m thinking about it, The New Kids On The Block aren’t the only concert videos I’ve owned.

At home, somewhere in my DVD collection, is concert footage of Our Lady Peace, a band you probably haven’t heard of outside of Canada, but was the height of the alt-rock scene here in the late 90s, when I was in high school. By then I was old enough to go to concerts and boy did I. I probably saw those guys in concert dozens of times. In fact, I sang with them once. I was in the front row, singing along to every song, when the lead singer (Raine Maida), held my hand and gave me the mic. Jesus Murphy. Have all your dreams ever come true in one ecstatic moment? I remember stumbling in the door so late that night, a week night of course, and shaking my mother awake so she could listen to me recount my story in a still-trembling voice. It was golden. Our Lady Peace has stayed relatively active despite the fact that music these days seems to have shifted decisively toward a poppier sound. I saw Raine just a year or two ago at Osheaga doing some solo stuff. But this autumn they’ve banded together with another Canadian indie-alt band, I Mother Earth, to bring the 90s back. So of course someone bought me tickets. God I’m shameless. I can’t decide if I have the best life ever or … oh who am I kidding? It may be slightly embarrassing, but I’m having a damn good time.


What was YOUR concert doc obsession? I can’t be the only one!

The Secret Path

You may have noticed there was a day this summer when Canada “went dark.” It was August 20th, the day the Tragically  Hip performed for the last time. Hip lead singer, front trudeau-the-hip-concert-kingstonman extraordinaire, Canadian superstar Gord Downie had recently announced that he had a brain tumour and was terminally ill. Since making music has always been his passion, he and the Hip went on a farewell tour and despite the ravages of cancer, he performed full-throttle at each and every show, somehow finding the energy and the courage to power through. Their final trudeau-downiedate was in their hometown of Kingston Ontario, just a little ways down the road from Ottawa. Our Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, was in the front row, and spoke for all of Canada when he thanked Gord and the whole band for their decades of artistic serviced to the country. It was a stirring night. The end is coming for Gord and he knew it, you could see it in his eyes, feel it every time he was overcome by emotion, but instead of making it about him, he chose to use this spotlight (and believe me, about 32 out of our 33 million strong l3z58mkrpopulation were tuned in one way or another) to speak on behalf of Canada’s indigenous population.

Since that night, as Downie inches closer to his final days, he’s still pouring his last energies into speaking up for our Aboriginal people. His latest endeavor is a tribute to Chanie Wenjack – in music, graphic novel, and animated form. 10 poems were turned into an album, which was turned into a graphic novel, which was turned into an animated film. They all tell the story of one boy, who represents the many, many more just like him, our first nations children ripped from the arms of their mothers, out of their communities, and into residential schools. Residential schools were run by church and state with the sole purpose of ‘civilizing’ the savages. gord-downie-sheila-north-wilsonProhibited from speaking their languages, practicing their spirituality, or honouring their cultures, teachers stripped them of their identity. Many children suffered terrible abuse, but all of these kids were deprived of their childhoods, and all of the families suffered terribly as I’m sure you would if your child was removed, perhaps never to be seen again, or if you were lucky enough to be reunited, we can only hope that you can find a common language in which to communicate. Communities were destroyed in what many Aboriginal people refer to as a genocide. It’s a dark part of Canadian history that wasn’t acknowledged until very recently. Today our First Nations peoples often live in poverty and other consequences of this intergenerational tragedy. Healing is not an Aboriginal problem, it’s something we need to address as an entire country. Gord Downie is doing his part.

If you are so inclined, The Secret Path can be streamed here for free (or in fact, down below). I hope you take the time to do so, and to share it with a friend. The images are haunting, but the lyrics will punch you in the gut. I was in tears by the third track.

Chanie Wenjack was only 12  years old when residential school became unbearable to him and he tried to find his way home. Not knowing where he was or where he was going, he walked until he collapsed in the snow, tired, lonely, starving, and he died. But there are dozenssecret-path and hundreds and maybe even thousands of Chanies dotting our countryside. Lonely and miserable, many children made an escape an attempt only to lose digits or limbs to frostbite, arms and legs on traintracks, or lives to exposure, or to punishment when recaputured. How many tiny bodies are still unaccounted for? The fact that we don’t even know is proof of how little white Canada cared for Aboriginal people, and this is a guilty fact we struggle to reconcile even today.

One day, likely sooner than later, Gord Downie will die and our whole country will mourn a great man, and a good man too. But Downie’s using his last work, and his last breaths to remind us that there are many others worth mourning too.




[As great and heartfelt as Gord Downie’s work is, it’s also really great to hear from Aboriginal artists themselves. Check out our coverage of the ImagineNative film fest]

Queen Mimi

Director Yaniv Rokah is a barrista\wannabe actor in Santa Monica, where he encounters the woman who lives in the laundromat across the street.

Marie ‘Mimi’ Haist was born in 1925, married young and ‘obeyed’ her domineering husband. After 29 years of marriage she was left with nothing when he preferred his mistress. She was out on the streets in her 50s, homeless, spending her days in a renee-zellweger-062313-kiss-10__optlaundromat until one cold night a kind laundromat owner didn’t kick her out at closing time. She’s been living in Fox Laundry ever since – some 25 years now.

The documentary is pretty low-key about how the laundromat guy, Stan Fox, was really her saviour. Not just for letting her stay, but for knowing her story, and for putting up with her. She’s not exactly a picnic; if she doesn’t like you, you’ll know it. But if you show her kindness, she’s a blast. She doesn’t work for Stan Fox but she does work in the laundromat, undercutting his business and often making more money than the actual employees. She likes nothing better than putting on some tunes and dancing her head off.

She’s 88 years young in the film and dresses like she’s 12. Her face is one of years hard-lived. Her teeth are nonexistent. Her back hunched, perhaps a side effect of sleeping scrunched up in a lawn chair in a laundromat for so long.

You kind of have to watch this film. Queen Mimi is a character, one you’d hardly credit in a movie, and one you have to see in a documentary to believe. She’s got her philosophies, screen-shot-2013-09-24-at-2-05-59-pmher hard-won wisdom, and an outlook that’s totally unique. She’s cantankerous and whimsical and totally intolerant of homeless people (she doesn’t see the irony). And she has a knack for making famous friends: Zach Galifianakis has taken her to movie premieres (he met her while doing his laundry some 18 years ago), Renee Zellweger takes her shopping, and if you promise to keep a secret, Zach’s about to put her up in an apartment all her own. She hasn’t had a home since 1976.



What a fascinating portrait of a complex human being. We step over homeless people all the time, but everybody has a story, and this is Mimi’s. It’s heartening to see so many people rally around her, wonderful to see that people care. I kind of wish the same for all those lining the sidewalks.


Wiener Dog

I love dogs. I have 4 dogs and I like them more than I like most people. They’re just more genuine, you know? You always know where you stand with a dog. I have 2 shih-tzus, 1 yorkie, and 1 beautiful little mutt. No wiener dogs, but not because I don’t like them. It’s because Sean thinks it’s cruel to breed a dog to be disabled. And he’s right; the short legs and long back of a Dachshund causes them to suffer from ruptured vertebral discs on top of bowed legs and elbow dislocation. Seeing my dogs joyfully running around outside, I would be heartbroken to have one little dog who just couldn’t join in.

Wiener-Dog is a movie ostensibly about a super cute Dachshund who gets homepage_wiener-dog-2016-2passed from one weird owner to another. The film is more like 4 shorts that only have a dog in common. I didn’t even believe that it was the same wiener dog in all 4 vignettes. The first two are clearly linked, the last 2 not so much. The shorts also become increasingly non-entertaining. I thought the first one was the strongest: a father picks up a puppy for his young son, who has recently survived cancer. The dog sparks many serious conversations between mother (Julie Delpy) and son – motherhood, personality, free will, death. But all of the conversations are straight out of a what-not-to-say handbook, with Delpy literally telling her son that her childhood dog Croissant was raped by a dog with AIDS named Mohammed. The satire is delicious. There’s an explosion of joy on the screen as a boy and his dog play together, but this outburst of happiness is quickly punished, and the dog changes hands.

This is how it is with director Todd Solondz. He doesn’t care about your wiener-dog-film-trailer-stillcomfort, he’s not here to cushion the blow. And he’s sure as hell not here to give you a happy ending, so keep that in mind. Next up for Wiener Dog, she gets adopted by a character from another Todd Solondz movie, Welcome to the Dollhouse. Dawn is all grown up now, and played with Greta Gerwig. She runs into childhood…acquaintance (?) Brandon (Kieran Culkin) in a 7-11, and suddenly Wiener Dog’s on a road trip through some really heavy issues. She also meets disgruntled professor Danny DeVito and bitter old hag Ellen Burstyn. Through it all, Solondz’s camera is unflinching, perversely lingering over the gross and unbearable.

Solondz’s rage is evident in spades, from the meta film school vignette to the open mocking of the audience’s queasiness with a tongue-in-cheek intermission (and a great song – The Ballad of the Wiener-Dog). Solondz is all about finding humour in the darkness, and Wiener-Dog is an innocent bystander to all kinds of human stupidity. The film drips with cynicism. It was too much for Sean. And while I can’t really profess to enjoying it, I deeply appreciated the fuckedupness of it.