Tag Archives: Canadian content

Love On Ice

Spencer (Andrew Walker) came to town to coach skating prodigy Nikki to gold at regionals and beyond, but it’s her former skating teacher Emily (Julie Berman) who catches his eye. Emily is cute, single, and age appropriate, but she’s also a former pro skater herself. She gave it up 8 years ago to care for her dying mother, but Spencer thinks there’s still greatness in her, and when Emily finally allows herself to look deep within, she finds she’s still got the heart of a competitor.

Of course, there are a few obstacles, not even counting her (relatively advanced) age, or the many years she’s spent off the competitive circuit and not in competitive shape. There’s her relationship with Nikki, for starters, a very nice young girl who didn’t really deserve to have her coaching time split though it would seem she was still paying full price. And Nikki’s super alpha competitive mom, Mia, who doesn’t appreciate the interference or a less than militaristic style of coaching . And Nikki’s new coach slash Emily’s old coach, Lindsay, who is ruthless and plays dirty. And a local reporter who puts skating rink gossip on live TV as if people would actually care. And money, always money. And there’s the fact that Emily’s maybe falling in love with Spencer, and Spencer’s maybe falling in love with her. Just a few obstacles to an ideal comeback, but who’s counting?

Between training montages, diner fundraisers, obligatory skate sharpening cuts, and a very odd “kids these days,” “old ladies don’t like rap” scene (wherein the old lady was a 27 year old), there was very little time for romance. Which was just as well because I don’t think Andrew Walker is particularly good at acting in love, an unfortunately flaw when Hallmark is your bread and butter. As much as I rolled my eyes at the title, Take A Shot At Love was a much better skating-themed Hallmark romance, if that’s your jam.

Love on the Slopes

Alex (Katrina Bowden) wants to be a travel writer but her boss at the travel mag tells her that travel writers are courageous and impetuous, things that she is not. But Alex really wants this new job and is determined to show her boss he’s wrong, so she decides to go on an extreme sports vacation even though using a paperclip where a staple would normally be required is usually as extreme as she gets – and even that scenario makes her sweat a little.

Anyway: does she have a panic attack causing a human pileup on the chair lift? Possibly. Did Sean invent the word “helichopter” because helicopter just wasn’t extreme enough? Undoubtedly. Was that a Hannah Montana reference I just heard? No idea. But hang on to the seat of your snow pants, folks, you’re in for a pretty wild ride – ziplining, suspension bridges, extreme tobogganing (well, it was pretty regular tobogganing, to be honest, but down a larger than average hill). Nothing so extreme it smudges Alex’s lip gloss, but extreme for the Hallmark channel, thanks to her “guide,” adventure photographer Cole Taylor (Thomas Beaudoin). Now, it is difficult to sift the bad dialogue from Beaudoin’s awkward delivery, nay, impossible, but there’s more than enough blame to go around.

Well guys, what do you think? Will Alex uncover a roaring desire for extreme sports? I mean, it’s Hallmark. They’ve got to channel their horniness into something productive, amirite? Those hormones have to go somewhere – might as well be off the side of a very high cliff.

The Angel Tree

Hallmark imagines that Christmas is a time replete with journalists just desperate for soft, holiday-themed “news.” They’re visiting small town bed and breakfasts, boarding cross-country trains, trying to reunite lost items with their owners, sleeping on war ships, solving charity mysteries, hunting for vintage jewelry, and more. This particular writer, Rebecca (Jill Wagner), has been assigned to go back to her hometown and crack the top secret identity of the person granting wishes that are placed upon the town’s angel tree.

The Angel tree is a tradition that’s been going on now for decades. It was in effect when Rebecca was a child – and it seems she might the only one for whom the angel tree didn’t work. She wished that her family wouldn’t move away, but they did, and she’s kind of been harbouring a sort of resentment ever since. But for many, many others, perhaps 40 or 50 a year, the wishes have magically come true. Since Rebecca’s been writing about it, however, a lot of extra attention has meant a lot of extra wishes. And no matter who the mysterious benefactor is – and the townspeople are very protective of his or her identity – they couldn’t possibly provide for that many people. So Rebecca enlists the help of her aunt, her daughter, and her childhood friend, Matthew (Lucas Bryant) to take care of some of the overflow.

You might guess that Rebecca and Matthew engage in some pretty heavy reconnecting while doing good for their community. But will their budding romance survive Rebecca’s needling? Will she really betray the community’s secret? Will she get fired if she doesn’t? Will anyone be able to grant Matthew’s nephew’s wish, that his deployed mother join him for Christmas? And aren’t there some things in life just better left as mysteries anyway? Find out with The Angel Tree.

Queer Japan

Director Graham Kolbeins’s Queer Japan has a big, open heart. The documentary examines the multi-faceted queer community in Japan with a generous cross-section of its members. Tomato Hatakeno is a transgender activist and video game guide book author; Gengoroh Tagame is a gay erotic artist known internationally for his hardcore BDSM-themed manga; Vivienne Sato is a famed artist and drag queen. But despite the film’s depth of  trailblazing artists and activists, it punches most heavily when it’s sitting with everyday people, people who are making compromises and taking risks just to live some part of their truth. One young person, a misfit, a gender outlaw, commented at a pride parade “I don’t give a shit about love, I need toilets” – a brutally honest reminder of a hierarchy of needs and rights that are not addressed equally within the community (or, I suppose, without).

Curating from over a hundred interviews conducted over 3 years in various locations across Japan, Kolbein has more than enough colour to paint a rainbow. We get a back stage pass to the glossy parties and the seedy underground, meeting people living boldly in all walks of life. It’s truly a prismatic view of Japan’s deliciously diverse queer culture, and a glossary of terms is helpfully provided so we enjoy as immersive an experience as possible.

Queer Japan is a celebration of non-conformity, of alternative thinking, of living life without apology. But this party is also well-informed by that same community’s hardships, struggles, and minority status. While much of it is still lived in the margins, the documentary’s hopeful, irrepressible tone makes it clear that change is coming, and this vibrant, resilient community is not just ready for it. They’re making it happen.

Queer Japan is available in virtual cinemas and on demand December 11.

A Cheerful Christmas

Lauren (Erica Deutschman) and Colleen (Tianna Nori) have found a way to channel their mutual love of Christmas into a career: Christmas coaching! Between you and me, Christmas coaching seems terribly seasonal and not a great business model for year-round solvency, but it would defeat the purpose of a Hallmark movie to think too deeply about their business’s viability so let’s just pretend this makes sense as a career move. And in that spirit, we’ll also gloss over the fact that just days before Christmas they have no clients. I mean, if nothing else, it’s terribly convenient to the plot that when the “aristocratic” Anderson family engages their services, Lauren is extremely available to devote her entire season to their home. It’s a little unorthodox – usually she’d prefer to to coach people, but the home owners are overseas and have simply left her a list to deck their halls and plan a party for their return. Their son James (Chad Connell) is around but buried under work and dismissive of holiday merry making.

Poor Lauren has to make do with housekeeper Joyce (Jennifer Vallance), who’s warmer anyway, and a readier source of family tradition and expectation. Colleen finally has a client or two of her own, so Lauren and James are alone together a lot of the time, and Lauren’s persistence is pretty legendary. She badgers him into reliving some happy childhood memories and soon they’re bonding over the spirit of the season. It starts to look like the magic of Christmas may have worked its way into their hearts when an obstacle presents itself, and her name is Maryam.

Will Lauren fist fight Maryam for James’ heart? How many vintage hats will be sacrificed to snowmen? Answer these burning questions and maybe even see them skate down the Rideau Canal, identifiably the world’s largest skating rink, even though the film is not set in Ottawa. Who doesn’t want Christmas cheer forced upon them? All this and more, guaranteed by Hallmark, and presented by your favourite Assholes. `

Hometown Holiday

Krista and Ashley are sisters who co-own a florist shop together in their tiny hometown of Rust Creek, but working around weddings and romance all the time hasn’t translated to luck in love for them. Krista (Sarah Troyer) has recently vowed to be more selective about who she dates while Ashley (Samantha Gracie) is pining over a guy she crushed on back in high school. It seems an almost hopeless situation until Ryan (Bradley Hamilton) comes to town.

Ostensibly Ryan is visiting his pregnant sister in Rust Creek but truthfully he’s also got his eye on a potential new client, a local widower turned viral country singing sensation. As an entertainment lawyer, he’s eager to sign Wes Gently (Kevin McGarry) to a big contract and has tracked him down at an event, but Wes is hesitant and will need some wooing. Luckily this gets Ryan into wooing mode so when a stunning local florist (it’s Krista!) working the event asks him to dance, he starts up a light flirtation and a medium-heavy get to know you with her, while routinely stepping on her toes. And wouldn’t you know it, this leaves just enough space for Ashley to swoop in on her high school beau…who just happens to be THE Wes Gently! Is it possible we’re about to have a double holiday romance?

Answer: yes, yes it is. But first we’ll have to suffer through a mild case of mistaken identity, slight interference by a kid, a couple of scenes from Dickens at a local play house, and like all good Christmas stories since the very first, a child is born.

These Christmas romance movies never overstay their 90 minute welcome (this one checks out at 84, and that includes the credits), so there isn’t a lot of time to divide between two blooming relationships, especially when there’s a break because someone’s worried about being used. And like the formula dictates, the physical side of romance is non-existent until perhaps a post-engagement, close-mouthed kiss, which is a crazy yet extremely strict and carefully followed rule. This movie will win no converts but will likely please fans of the genre.

TIFF20: Beans

The Oka Crisis. It’s an ugly piece of Canadian history that those of you outside our borders will not have heard of and those of us inside find shameful and painful to own. But own we must.

In brief: white people set sail to find a route to Asia and landed in and around Canada instead. White people are lousy sailors but they’re awfully good at taking what isn’t theirs. We even gave it a fancy word: colonization, a polite term for stealing land and dispossessing current inhabitants. By 1956, the Mohawk First Nation had just six remaining square kilometers from their original 165 around the Oka area and in 1959 the town (of white people) approved the development of a private nine-hole golf course on a portion of that land. The project bordered a sacred Mohawk burial ground in use for nearly a century but the Mohawk were not consulted and soon a parking lot bordered their cemetery. In 1990, it was announced that the golf course would be expanding by an additional nine holes and even more land would be bulldozed to make room for condos. In protest, the Mohawk people erected a barrier blocking access to the area. This land dispute lasted 78 days, with 2000 provincial police and 100 special operatives, as well as 4500 members of the Canadian Forces deployed to “keep the peace.” Tactical units used tear gas and concussion grenades on the barricade, prompting gunfire exchanged from both sides, killing one. At the time, there were only about 30 armed Mohawks behind the barricade. That number doubled after the raid, but obviously the sides were still incredibly uneven. The Mohawks had support from other First Nation communities across Canada but their white neighbours lined the streets to throw rocks at cars of evacuating women and children.

The Oka Crisis wasn’t so much resolved as ended with both sides feeling used and bruised. It was a dramatic stand-off for sure, but only a symptom of a much larger problem in Canada and in many countries where indigenous populations were pushed aside and marginalized in their own territories. The relationship between Canada and its Aboriginal people is still uneasy, with systemic racism practically baked right into the foundation of our country.

There have been many documentaries about this turbulent time in Canadian history, but Beans is the first narrative film, one that captures the time and the tension rather eloquently. The film is told from the perspective of an 11 year old girl behind the barrier called Beans (Kiawenti:io Tarbell) and largely divorced from politics. It is a humane and personal account of the crisis, which writer-director Tracey Deer experienced herself as a child.

Beans has no agenda. She’s just a kid who loves riding her bike and is excited to meet the new baby her mom Lily (Rainbow Dickerson) is carrying. Beans is a bright kid but she’s young, and susceptible to peer pressure. She doesn’t realize she’s living through a historical event, she’s just trying to make it through the summer without embarrassing herself in front of the older kids she’s been hanging out with. But as the tension becomes undeniable and the violence ever closer to her home, Beans is about to face things no kid her age ever should.

Because Deere (along with co-writer Meredith Vuchnich) is recounting events from the perspective of a child, the conflict itself is simplified and we experience it on a visceral rather than diplomatic level. We feel her fear, her shame, her confusion. There may be two sides to every dispute, but there’s no excuse for terrorizing a pregnant woman and her children. There are certainly challenges for Beans and her peers growing up on the reserve, but outside of Mohawk territory, the racism alone poses a real danger and threat.

Deere isn’t condemning anyone with her film, but she is exorcising some ghosts she’s clearly carried with her into adulthood. Her images are beautiful, her story is balanced, and she’s made an important contribution to our cultural legacy – for better or for worse.

TIFF20: The New Corporation: The Unfortunately Necessary Sequel

In the first 5 minutes of the film, I’ve already heard at least 3 words that made me seethe: marketized, economization, financialized. Directors Jennifer Abbott and Joel Bakan are clearly frantic to establish themselves as a credible source, editing in ten dollar words and professor speak to blunt us into submission. Considering you sufficiently dazed, they move on to the second step of their totally necessary sequel: patting themselves on the back.

In their first doc, The Corporation, they compared corporations to psychopaths and they cannot wait a second longer to tell you about it or to line up people desperate for screen time to testify in their favour – “watershed moment,” they might say, “cultural touchstone,” and all the bullshitty words that don’t mean much. Did they hurt corporations’ feelings? Not bloody likely.

Today many if not most corporations appeal to our social consciousness by claiming to do (some) good. Dove is pretending that it loves your body just as it is while selling you products to change and improve it. Hotels claim they’re saving the environment by not washing your sheets but what they’re actually saving is time and money. Apple is encouraging people to vote but they have more money than the US treasury and only pays 2% tax on its profits so to them, it doesn’t really matter who you vote for because they already own Washington either way.

“Corporate responsibility” is a marketing ploy to trick you into thinking it cares, and that your consumerism is somehow for a higher good, but the “cult of shareholder value” is only getting more real, and nothing else besides lining their pockets ever matters.

The New Corporation wants to hold your hand, look deep into your eyes, and tell you the following newflash: corporations secretly want to make money. They like tax cuts. They hide money in tax havens. Was the first film this smug? I don’t even think Michael Moore himself sounds this self-righteous. It’s actually giving me a sour stomach.

Many of my favourite films this TIFF have been documentaries, but not this one. I can spot companies acting out of self-interest just as easily as I can spot a cash-grab sequel that offers very little in the way of new information.

Random Acts of Violence

Todd (Jesse Williams) writes a comic book inspired by a real-life serial killer known as Slasherman. The murders took place in and around the small town where Todd grew up and caught people’s interest because of their brutal and seemingly random nature. The killer was never caught but Todd has made him the hero of his graphic novels. Slasherman doesn’t just kill, his murder scenes are the canvas to a very bloody work of art.

The Slasherman comic books are coming to an end. Todd’s publisher Ezra (Jay Baruchel) has arranged for a little book tour of sorts, through small town Americana, where Todd can draw inspiration and push through the writer’s blog that’s plaguing his last issue. Joining them on the road is his assistant Aurora (Niamh Wilson) and his girlfriend Kathy (Jordana Brewster). Kathy’s got a mission of her own. She’s interviewing anyone with ties to Slasherman’s actual victims. She’s worried that Todd’s work fetishizes horrific crime and glorifies the perpetrator. She wants to keep the victims in people’s memories, but to Todd, and from the story-teller’s perspective, the victims’ stories are finished but Slasherman lives on. As you can imagine, it’s a point of contention between them.

But ethical debates are soon going to fall by the wayside because this little press tour is going to attract more attention than they’d planned for. Someone is committing the exact same murders Todd has illustrated in his book. Shit’s about to get real, boiiiiii.

Jay Baruchel turns director for this film (he cowrote it as well, with Jesse Chabot, based on the comic by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray) and clearly has a handle on what a slasher flick should be. He plays around with colour in an interesting way, he fleetingly touches on themes like our fascination with anti-heros and whether they legitimize violence, but ultimately, it styles itself a horror film and it delivers the goods: dread and gore.

This is a movie based on a comic book about a guy who writes a comic book about a serial killer protagonist who then gets stalked by a serial killer himself. There are so many levels of meta it’s best not to do the math. It wants to say something about the implications of consuming graphic violence while also presenting graphic violence. It has a brain, but most of all it has guts. Guts galore. The violence may or may not be random, but it is brutal and it is varied. Enjoy.

Fearless

I’m sorry to have to tell you that Fearless (Fe@rLeSS_) is a not very good animated film on Netflix. It’s not even a very good video game handle, but that’s what we’re dealing with.

Reid is a teenage boy who is definitely “not” going to sit on his couch playing video games all weekend while his parents are away (at least that’s what he tells his mom when she calls to check up on him – he’s not even that convincing). Logged in as Fe@rLeSS_, Reid (Miles Robbins) is on the last impossible level of a very difficult game into which he’s already sunk many, many hours of play. When fat shaming the monster (I guess this is what passes for PG trash talk?) doesn’t work, he realizes that his character, Captain Lightspeed (Jadakiss), doesn’t have the necessary weapon to defeat the ultimate boss, Arcannis (Miguel). As Fe@rLeSS_ and sidekick/teammate Fleech (Tom Kenny) discover, Captain Lightspeed has one weapon in his arsenal they’ve never deployed: babies. Babies? What kind of creepy code name is that? It’s not. They’re actual babies, triplets actually, who all have some sort of super power like their dad, only they’ll have to be deposited into daycare so they can “grow” into them, or something like that. Obviously they should have been cultivating the baby potential a long time ago. But then something really weird happens (bear with me, and don’t shoot the messenger): the babies end up in Reid’s living room. Reid who is a real, human, teenage boy, with science homework due on Monday, and the babies, who are fictional video game characters, just a bunch of 0s and 1s, are now living and breathing and crying and pooping in his living room. As babies do. Real ones, anyway, which these ones aren’t…and yet here they are, adorable, needy little monsters, encouraging the awful screenwriters to commit a multitude of heinous poop puns. Thank goodness for Melanie (Yara Shahidi), Reid’s unsuspecting lab partner, who shows up to do “homework” (I see you, Melanie: don’t go thinking you invented that move yourself) but gets redeployed into babysitting/saving the world. Which is when this movie tries to rip-off The Incredibles but clearly got a pirated version and a bad stenographer.

Which may still satisfy young audiences, who have notoriously bad taste in EVERYTHING (sorry, but: velcro, Lunchables, Caillou, Baby Shark, toys with sirens, etc, etc), but it lacks Pixar’s more universal appeal. In fact, it’s so far out of Pixar’s league it would be unfair to compare them had they not brought it on themselves by making a carbon copy of The Incredibles and delivering the 7th or 8th carbon down and not pressing nearly hard enough. If you got that reference, you’re way too old for this movie. But you will get the one throw-away E.T. reference, which is hard to miss because it’s both lazy and obvious. I can’t seem to keep the contempt out of this review even though the film itself is relatively harmless. It just reminds me of the kind of forgettable movie Dreamworks would have put out 12 years ago, the kind that only ever gets played in the back seats of minivans (a local car dealership once had a “promotion” – buy a car, get some dijon mustard. Incredible, I know. Yet true. I never saw the numbers on the avalanche of deals that were made that day or just how enticing that $4 jar of mustard was on the back end of a $20 000 investment that starts depreciating the minute you sign on the dotted line ((did lines used to be dotted, or is that just a really stupid expression?)), but I’m sure the Grey Poupon ((I hope it was Grey Poupon)) was better bait than not one but TWO copies of Megamind. Two because mini vans come standard with not one but two screens that have better picture quality in a moving vehicle than even the movie theatre itself had when I was a kid, and how dare you ask your glazed-eye children to choose between The Lego Movie and The Lego Batman Movie for the 6 minute drive to Nana’s?) (Whew, someone sure woke up on the ranty side of the bed this morning!)

Anyway, what was I saying?

Oh yeah, Fe@rLeSS_.

More like Dickless.

Heh. Cross that off the old bucketlist: end a children’s movie review with a swear. Peace out, motherfuckers!