Tag Archives: Canadian content

Everything’s Gone Green

When Ryan wakes up, his girlfriend is moving him out. He’s just not motivated enough. He gets suspended from work because of the morbid poetry he writes. But the day can only go uphill from here right? Well you are right! His mother calls with news: they’ve won the lottery! $4.3 million! Tiny catch though: dad can’t find the ticket. The lottery people are pretty understanding, and in the meantime, they offer Ryan a job. 

The script is by Douglas Coupland, so you know that’s not all there is to it. I have a perpetual love-hate relationship with Douglas Coupland (author of Generation X, Shampoo Planet, Hey Nostradamus! and more), and I do mean that literally. Well, semi-literally, because I assure you this is a very one-sided relationship in which I have thoughts about Mr. Coupland and I do not exist for him. But the gist is: I’ve found no middle ground between love and hate. But he’s an ideas guy, and this is an ideas movie. Like: capital-c Capitalism. Ryan tangles with middle class contentment. Swindles and scams are all around – even his parents aren’t settling for the status quo. So he’s corruptible. Ripe for corruption. God I wish someone would offer to corrupt me. I’m super for sale. I’d definitely do shady stuff for money. It’s just that I’m not worth anything. Politicians really hog corruptions. We should work on making that a little more equal-opportunity.

There are several things I like about this movie. First, Paulo Costanzo. Talented guy. Second, the Vancouver setting. Vancouver gives Toronto a run for its money in terms of Canadian cities that always stand in for American cities in movies. Vancouver has a booming film business, and Everything’s Gone Green gives us a nice little behind the scenes look at it. For once, Vancouver gets to just be herself. 

The movie wants to marry high-brow themes with an easy, breezy, quirky, indie romance, which works about as well as a palm tree in a conference room. Good intentions but a little out of place. It sometimes feels a little lectury. Although I often sound pretty lectury, so who am I to judge? I mean, I’m also pretty judgy. Not that that qualifies me. Some would call it a defect of character. I call it an endless potential for comedy.

What were we talking about? Oh yeah. Paulo Costanzo. He should get all the roles Jesse Eisenberg’s considered for, because Jesse Eisenberg is a twat and the world could stand to be a great deal less twatty. Everthing’s Gone Green isn’t going to knock your socks into next Wednesday but it might relocate them 16 minutes into the future. It’s dependably pleasant, little-seen, and a pretty decent flick.

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The Hummingbird Project

Not that the world needed another ode to American greed, but here goes.

Vince and Anton are cousins who work in high-frequency trading for Eva Torres. Eva (Salma Hayek) is interested in finding an even higher frequency: on the stock market, traders who could get into the best deals even a fraction of a fraction of a second faster would ultimately have a huge cumulative advantage worth billions of dollars over time. Vince (Jesse Eisenberg) thinks he can one-up her, so he leaves, taking coder cousin Anton (Alexander Skarsgard) along with him.

Their scheme involves digging a fiber-optic line in a straight shot between Kansas and New Jersey. And I do mean straight: through mountains and rivers and Amish country if necessary. Their plan means buying land and thwarting government agencies and raising millions in funding from greedy investors. It also means staying one step ahead of ex-boss Eva, but don’t think for a second she’s going to let them get away with this.

Alexander Skarsgard is nearly unrecognizable as a socially inept, worrywart brainiac who must be micro-managed by his bolder cousin. Jesse Eisenberg continues his one-note symphony, bringing the same manic chipmunk energy he brings to everything because he literally can’t do anything else. And to be honest, not only am I over it, I don’t have room in my life for being bombarded by a neurotic asshole. It’s too much.

The script isn’t doing much for me either. It’s single-minded in its pursuit of success, and boring as hell. All this wheeling and dealing: haven’t we seen this a hundred times before? And it ain’t exactly subtle. For every shot of aggressive drilling and invasive construction, there are literal scenes of both amber waves of grain and purple mountain majesties. You can practically feel an anthem swelling somewhere. But the characters are in fact caricatures: Vince is the hyper-achiever, Anton is the Beautiful Mind, and Eva is the Bond villain.

There is no such thing as cinematic drilling. Or fascinating drilling. Or interesting drilling. It’s just drilling. So unless you’re into some weird engineering porn, this movie is really not suitable for viewing. I think there might have been some potential for satirical commentary buried deep in there somewhere, but in this one case they didn’t drill deep enough. The Hummingbird Project is ultimately shallow, and you only wish its runtime was operating at a higher frequency so you could put this one to bed already.

Ballerina

Victor and Felicie look and sound like adults, but they act like children. They ARE children, supposedly. In fact, they’re orphans in an orphanage who manage to runaway to Paris – she, to be a ballerina, he, to be an inventor.

Once there, they immediately get separated in the most unimaginable way possible, and quickly make a pact to meet on the bridge the next day. Which is incredibly stupid since Paris is like 87% bridge. And yet they do manage to make their rendez-vous, and she’s already enrolled in in the dance academy (under false pretenses, sure), and he’s already met famed inventor Gustav Eiffel (his eponymous tower is visibly half-built).

Felicie (Elle Fanning) makes friends with a cleaner with a limp, Odette (Carly Rae Jepsen), which is how she earns her room and board. Odette is somewhat suppressed herself, by a real evil stepmother type (which describes her general attitude and cruelty, not her parentage). There are several Cinderella types, so I suppose it evens out, but the sheer volume of adults being cruel and hostile toward children is a little alarming. Meanwhile, Victor (Dane DeHaan) is working in Gustav’s atelier, where they’re hard at work on the Statue of Liberty. It defies incredulity that these two parentless waifs have managed to make their dreams come true in under 24 hours with no resources or connections or experience. But let’s sweep that under the carpet for now.

Ballerina, also known as Leap!, has some stunning animation where the dance scenes are concerned. But the story is too familiar. Lazy, in fact. I suppose some little girls who love ballet themselves may be enchanted, but there’s no crossover potential for adults , and little to entice other kids into giving this a passing chance. I found it boring, and I’m what might be described as a grown human adult person. The movie veers drunkenly from heavy-handedness to negligence, from unabashed cruelty to unmitigated forgiveness, both unearned. To call it inconsistent is to besmirch the word. And then there’s the not inconsequential fact that a mother tries to go all Tonya Harding on a kid with a sledge hammer. That’s dark, y’all. I’m glad I didn’t spend any money to see this movie, but I’m a little sad that my taxes went toward making it. Canada makes some truly beautiful films, but this isn’t one it’ll be remembered for.

Paper Year

Franny (Eve Hewson) and Dan (Avan Jogia) are young and broke but they’re terribly in love so they get married at city hall, keeping mum until after the fact.

The first year of marriage is supposed to be the easiest. You’re literally still in the honeymoon period. You’re still writing thank you cards for all the wonderful gifts you received at the wedding. You’re blind with bliss and you’re killing it so hard at this marriage thing that you practically think you invented it. But it’s also a time of transition and adjustment. Now that you’re officially bound to another human being, you have to make real compromise.

Franny and Dan are in for a bumpy ride. He, an out-of-work actor, takes a job house sitting/ dog walking while some other, luckier actor is out of town. She, a writer, finally lands a job writing for a terrible reality TV show. It’s not a glamourous job but she does respect her boss, head writer Noah (Hamish Linklater)….maybe a little too much? Because it certainly causes friction at home, her landing a dream-adjacent job, and him taking a job that forces him to admit that acting is not a thing he gets paid to do. Their paths diverging, they grow apart.

Paper is the traditional anniversary gift for a first anniversary. But I think in this case, it’s also referring to the fragility of that first year. Paper is so easily creased. So easily ripped, in fact. By the third year you’re into leather, which, whoa, is a lot more durable. Also durable: fifth year’s wood, 10th year’s aluminum, and motherfucking 60th anniversary’s diamond. Jeez Louise. Marriage, as an institution, makes less and less sense. And yet most of us are still making the attempt. Lots of us fail in that attempt. Some of us fail multiple times. I mean, can you even imagine being with someone for 60 years? When marriage was invented, it was a social bond, a partnership wherein financial stability and child rearing were emphasized. Today we expect everlasting romance. For 60 years? Yikes.

Franny and Dan are having a heck of a time just making it to year one. I remember my own year one: we bought a house, we got a third dog, and a new car. My nephew was born. My sister got married. Sean changed jobs. We traveled to New York City, and to Vegas where we renewed our vows for the first time. It was a good year. But Sean and I were not young newlyweds – Sean was an old maid in his 30s, in fact. We already had homes and careers and lives. We didn’t need to complete each other. Franny and Dan have a lot more working against them, and let’s be honest: they’re not half as charming as Sean and I. So while it’s understandable that you’d keep coming back here because we’re so damn irresistible, I’m not sure even 89 minutes is worth spending with Franny and Dan. Dan and Franny (do couples always agree on who’s name goes first?). Paper Year is an okay movie, strictly speaking, but it didn’t move me, it didn’t inform me, it didn’t delight me or captivate me. And those are all things I continue to get from my own marriage, on a surprisingly daily basis. And it’s just plain old Sean going about his ordinary life, being a (mostly) wonderful person and (largely) thoughtful husband.

1ST YEAR: Paper
2ND YEAR: Cotton
3RD YEAR: Leather
4TH YEAR: Fruit & Flowers, or Linen & Silk
5TH YEAR: Wood
6TH YEAR: Iron / Candy
7TH YEAR: Wool/ Copper
9TH YEAR: Pottery
10TH YEAR: Tin/ Aluminum
11TH YEAR: Steel
12TH YEAR: Silk
13TH YEAR: Lace
14TH YEAR: Ivory
15TH YEAR: Crystal
20TH YEAR: China
25TH YEAR: Silver
30TH YEAR: Pearl
35TH YEAR: Coral
40TH YEAR: Ruby
45TH YEAR: Sapphire
50TH YEAR: Gold
55TH YEAR: Emerald
60TH YEAR: Diamond

Take This Waltz

Margot and Daniel meet over the whipping of an adulterer in old Montreal (one of this old-timey reenactment thingies). It’s brief, and it’s awkward, but they’re not exactly displeased to find each other sitting side by side on the plane ride home to Toronto. They’re pithy and flirty with each other, and it seems fairly cracking until the split cab ride home reveals two alarming truths: Daniel (Luke Kirby) is Margot’s neighbour, which prompts Margot (Michelle Williams to hurriedly confess that she is married. Happily. To Lou the cookbook writer (Seth Rogen).

Gem Sarah Polley writes and directs, and through her scenes of mundane domesticity, we see a content and comfortable marriage. The detail in their MV5BMTQwMTc2MTY2MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNDQ5NjU3Nw@@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1503,1000_AL_coupledom, the weird little quirks that pepper their relationship, these things are so specific they feel true. This couple feels solid. But while Margot knows inner contours of Lou’s every thought, Daniel is tantalizingly unknown. It’s hot: both the steaming Toronto summer and the relationship growing between neighbours. Maybe it’s even hotter because they’re trying to be good. Margot’s trying to be married to Lou, who gives her no reason to stray, and yet. And yet Daniel is mysterious and alluring. He’s new. Falling in love is not just about this other person, it’s about seeing your best self through their eyes. Of course Lou still thinks she’s beautiful, but beautiful in the way of a couple who’s been together a long time and hardly notices each other anymore. Beautiful even though he’s seen her bloated, he’s seen her blemished, he’s seen her hangry and petty and wearing sweat pants for 3 days straight. Beautiful in a way that when she’s naked in the shower, he’s more concerned about pranking her than ogling her body. Meanwhile, Daniel is deeply fetishizing her. She’s still a manic pixie girl to him, full of dark corners and intoxicating unavailability.

And here’s the true truth that Sarah Polley eventually gets around to: the grass isn’t greener. Or rather, the grass is greenest where you water it. Don’t take love for granted and don’t mistake novelty for connection. Take This Waltz is bittersweet and filled with melancholy despite having a saturated look about it, with reds that pop and yellows that burn like sunshine. It’s a great little movie that’s depressingly honest – a romance that defies its genre.

A Kandahar Away

Kandahar, Saskatchewan.  Population: 15.  A world away from Kandahar, Afghanistan both in size (the original Kandahar had 557,000 residents in 2015) and circumstance (as the larger Kandahar is under constant threat from the Taliban).  

Kandahar_Away_1But a name is a powerful thing, and Kandahar, Saskatchewan (named in honour of the 1880 battle of Kandahar, Afghanistan) is about the only link to his home that Abdul Bari Jamal can find.  Jamal came to Canada in 1991 with his wife and five children, refugees all, fleeing their conflicted homeland as the Taliban were taking control.  On an impulse, and without telling any of his family, Jamal bought eight plots of land in Kandahar, Saskatchewan, for himself, his wife, and his kids.  Ten years after that impulse purchase, Jamal takes his family on a trip to Canada’s Kandahar to let them in on the secret.

Their trip is chronicled by director Aisha Jamal, who not coincidentally is one of Jamal’s five children.  The whole family, including their parents, are urbanites to their core, so coming face to face with a dwindling prairie town approaching “ghost town” status is a huge adjustment.  But a far more problematic matter soon arises when Mr. Jamal comes up with the idea to use their land to memorialize the 158 Canadians who lost their lives in Afghanistan.  Judging from Mrs. Jamal’s shoulder-shrugging reaction, this is not the first such idea that Mr. Jamal has come up with, but his children are greatly shaken by the idea that their father wants to commemorate a force that invaded his homeland rather than the thousands and thousands of Afghans who’ve been killed in the conflict. 

It is fascinating to get an inside look at these discussions and disagreements between  a family that is clearly close-knit.  They have a lot of commonalities to larger issues in our society.  In particular, they give great insight into the refugee experience and the differences in attitude between an Afghan-Canadian and his Canadian children.  The elder Jamal seems afraid to voice any concern or raise any controversy over Canada’s military involvement in Afghanistan, while his children have no such qualms.  There’s something significant there about the importance and value of freedom of expression, as well as Canadian identity. 

Director Jamal handles these discussions brilliantly, letting both sides exist and allowing viewers to draw their own conclusions while the family drama, which would be sufficiently entertaining on its own, plays on.  It is a delicate balance to strike but Jamal successfully melds both aspects together to create a memorable and effective exploration of a very sensitive subject.

Tough Guy

After a year of getting beat up, the Detroit Red Wings “drafted big”, big guys across the board, which landed Canadian novice Bobby Probert was on the team. Bob Probert wasn’t just big, he was tough, and he had a reputation as a fighter. You know, to “protect his teammates.” As you do. This was the 80s, so hockey was rougher and refs were scarce. On-ice brawls were a lot more common than they are today, and Probert was only too happy to oblige. But Probert’s lack of restraint wasn’t just on the rink; off-hours, he drank heavily and did drugs. When stories of DUIs and police altercations hit the papers, the NHL forced him into treatment, and a lot of good that did – he hooked up with one of the counselors and brought her home. He must have been a charming schmuck because not only is that a huge breach of professionalism, it’s also pretty hard to overlook his chronically missing teeth.

The documentary shows the Red Wings management selfishly slapping bandaid solutions on the troubled kid. Their franchise was having a couple of difficult seasons, and if there weren’t any goals to get the hometown crowd excited, a fist fight would do it, and “The Bruise Brothers” (with Joey Kocur) became marketing gold. The coach kept indiscreetly mouthing off to the press, and Probert was now skating high, a cocaine-fueled rage machine waiting for a target.

Back and forth between Detroit (USA) and Windsor (Canada), it was only a matter of time before border patrol found drugs in Probert’s possession. Sure jail was a possibility, but so was deportation, and that was a threat to his career. The NHL failed him in more than one way: he was constantly told that he played better (meaner) when he was drinking than sober, but a contract with serious money was the best incentive for sobriety, and for a time, it worked.

Tough Guy interviews former teammates, former rivals (Tie Domi!), family members, even Don Cherry. It’s a Canadian wet dream, except it tells a dark tale with a mean downward spiral.