Wylie Writes @ Hot Docs 2014: Fittingly Framed

Crime often features some prime subjects for documentarians. The stories sometimes serve up a ruthless criminal, unbelievable twisty pasts, and layers upon layers of aggressive activity with hopes that justice will prevail. The docs are even more riveting because none of this is fiction.

This year’s festival isn’t without a few crime docs. Let’s take a look at a couple of them.

Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger (DIR. Joe Berlinger)

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By: Addison Wylie

The trial of Boston’s infamous mobster James J. Bulger has reeled in documentarian Joe Berlinger.  It’s easy to see why since the details in Bulger’s criminal almanac share slight similarities to the crime he’s covered in his Paradise Lost trilogy.

Berlinger has a known knack for being able to describe defendants and properly dig up provoking materials that pin the audience with queries.  Those who are fans of the filmmaker’s crime work can get ready to chalk Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger as another success.

The doc covers those moments that would be covered by title cards at the end of a nonfictional crime flick.  The relatives of those who were killed by Bulger and his boys are brought together to testify.  Meanwhile, Berlinger goes back to the early days to figure out if Bulger was, in fact, an informant for the FBI.  Bulger swears this is untrue and that he would always keep his mouth shut.

Cameras weren’t admitted into the court room, but Berlinger (with the help of editors Joshua L. Pearson and Alex Horwitz) finds a way to involve the audience amongst the testimonials.  This style has pep to it, and has no trouble fitting in the doc.

The retracing through Bulger’s past is done respectfully, but doesn’t take away from how much hurt he’s caused.  We never sympathize with Bulger, but we comprehend why he feels strongly against allegations that state he was a rat.

Whitey is a documentary with many mysteries and blown covers, yet still remains grounded albeit a couple of moments of disjointed transitions.  It’s a documentary that’s very much alive during every second of its duration with striking tension.

It’ll be a difficult watch for some, but Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger is one of the best crime docs I’ve seen in recent memory.

Catch Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger at Toronto’s Hot Docs International Film Festival on:

Sunday, April 27 at 9:00 p.m. @ Bloor Hot Docs Cinema

Monday, April 28 at 1:00 p.m. @ TIFF Bell Lightbox

Sunday, May 4 at 9:30 p.m. @ Bloor Hot Docs Cinema

Click here for more details and to buy tickets.

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Mugshot (DIR. Dennis Mohr)

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By: Addison Wylie

Mugshot is nimble with its pacing and covers a lot of fascinating content.  However, I can see some people thinking Dennis Mohr’s doc is a bit too scattershot for their liking.  I would agree, except Mohr knows how to keep his flick grounded.

Mugshot is a fluent documentary.  It’s able to transition from one opinion to the next without dropping the ball or taking a breath.  Some stories may stay longer than you expect them to, but the diversity in the detailed explanations is appreciated.

The doc takes the topic of criminal mugshots taken for archival use and shows us each door these sights open.

Some find the photographs to be trivial tidbits used for a good laugh.  The Slammer, a publication showcasing dingy mugshots, fills their pages without a sign of guilt.  What ends up happening is a straight-down-the-middle split of readers who are morbidly entertained by the digest and others who find the act to be exploitive.

Audiences are introduced to crime experts who find mugshots to be strange and provocative, but don’t see any use for them beyond their initial use to document a dark past.  Meanwhile, authors and artists have found themselves transfixed with the stories behind each photo.  They explain what they find so captivating about each portrait in ways that avoid being ostentatious.  It’s easy to see both sides of the doc’s subject.

Mohr doesn’t settle on a side, and appropriately leaves final thoughts up to the movie goer.  We’re left to think what we want regarding how artistic one of these artifacts can be.

Watching numerous mugshots fly across the screen can become a bit tiresome, but you will leave the theatre feeling enlightened.  In fact, some of these photos will have a hard time leaving your thoughts.  I, for one, will be continuously curious about those mugshots featuring lawless children.

Catch Mugshot at Toronto’s Hot Docs International Film Festival on:

Monday, April 28 at 7:00 p.m. @ Isabel Bader Theatre

Tuesday, April 29 at 4:00 p.m. @ Isabel Bader Theatre

Saturday, May 3 at 1:00 p.m. @ Scotiabank Theatre

Click here for more details and to buy tickets.

Brick Mansions

By: Addison WylieBMposter

Recently, I reviewed the humdrum action flick In The Blood.  It was escapist entertainment that didn’t work because the filmmaker in charge couldn’t wrangle an action film.  He understood the music, but didn’t necessarily know how to play the song.

After having watched Brick Mansions, I feel the need to follow-up with my analogy.  Brick Mansions is that musician who knows the music, can perform the song, but has no desire to add any pizazz to the performance.  They’ve been playing the same tune for years and have grown quite bored with it.  The passion is gone and they’re only mashing out the chords to grab their share of the tips at the end of the night.

It wasn’t a surprise to find out Luc Besson was behind this turkey.  He’s the definition of someone who’s been hammering out the same ole’ stuff film after film.  There’s a slight exception with Brick Mansions, however, because the film is a remake of District B13 - a fast-paced, much better action film Besson produced.  Nonetheless. Brick Mansions could’ve at least freshened up the material, or given audiences a film that had guts to try something outside of the basic formula.  This just made me wish I was watching the 2006 cult hit.

What a generic drag this was!  Director Camille Delamarre hands off the usual genre ingredients to the audience in a film that’s painfully average.  Paul Walker (in one of his final roles) plays an undercover cop named Damien on a final mission to catch one elusive kingpin in a sectored-off area – Brick Mansions.  The main plot of haves and have-nots involves gangsters and drugs, and an attractive damsel is tied to a touchy bomb.  You could throw a stone in any direction and hit a movie that is strikingly similar to this that isn’t District B13.

Damien is paired up with a renegade named Lino (played by the light-footed David Belle) who gives him trouble and is smarter than your average criminal.  The two are supposed to have an odd couple chemistry as Belle leaps through the air and Walker tries to adapt to the parkour freestyling.  They even have scenes where they banter with each other while beating up the bad guys.  Please, stop me if I hit anything that sounds new or shocking.

Belle and Walker show that they’re capable action stars and can actually pull off some neat synchronized brawls, but they don’t click when they’re not fighting.  Walker is mildly engaging – possibly because he realizes that this role is played out by now – and Belle is trying to keep up with Walker’s plain performance.  Understandably, it’s hard for actors to work with characters this cardboard and stale.

The excitement in the fight choreography gets progressively watered down as well because of how these sequences are edited.  I haven’t seen District  B13 in a while, but I remember being mesmerized by the parkour because of how real the agility was.

Delamarre (along with editors Carlo Rizzo and Arthur Tarnowski) execute the same sort of synthesized “hard-hitting” motions you’ve seen in modern actions.  There’s a lot of wind-ups leading to the footage to be fast-forwarded and then slowed down while the actor is in mid-air or mid-punch.  This takes away from the parkour’s energy.  Before, we were really seeing these people leap and marvel anyone who watched.  Now, we see each calculated move and flip.

Everyone behind the camera and in front of it show zero interest towards the film.  Even Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA as the intimidating and intolerable boss of the criminals in Brick Mansions looks to be waiting for the film to hand him some juicy moments.  Until then, he mumbles monologues and looks as if he’s about to fall asleep.

If everyone involved is showing a lack of respect for the film and its entertainment, why should I care either?  All the public wanted was an enjoyable action flick.  Instead, the Hollywood lunch lady filled her ladle up with clumpy colourless mulch and walloped it onto our plate.  I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of eating mulch.

In The Blood

By: Addison WylieInTheBloodposter

In The Blood is what it is. It’s straight-down-the-middle B-movie schlock.  In this case, it’s easier to accept because of how many stunts made me giddily wince while I watched it.  But, director John Stockwell shows audiences that action movies may not be his “thing”.

Former American Gladiator-turned-actress Gina Carano plays Ava, a newly married gal trying to find the whereabouts of her missing husband Derek (played by Cam Gigandet).  While on their honeymoon, Derek disappears after a zip lining accident.  The ambulance transporting Derek goes missing.  After dealing with shady and stubborn police officers, Ava decides to take to the Caribbean coast to do the dirty work and investigating herself.

In The Blood has Carano doing what she does best.  She punches and kicks her way through muscly lunks to get the answers she needs.  Carano proves once again that she’s an ultimate bad ass who is able to deliver during forceful fights.  She has a laudable presence during brawls and it’s a pleasure to watch her wipe the floor with an assortment of goons.

The action flick serves no harm nor foul.  It’s not particularly great, but it’s able to keep you interested and fairly entertained from start to finish.

The film works best when it’s keeping matters simple.  However, screenwriters James Robert Johnston and Bennett Yellin’s refuse to stick to a straightforward revenge yarn and instead elaborate on the plot.  It’s a dicey move that the two have trouble escalating, leading In The Blood to farfetched conclusions.

What kills me is that In The Blood could’ve been more memorable.  The main problem is that – aside from the clumsy script – Stockwell frequently stumbles with this particular genre.  He knows the music, but he has difficulty playing the song.

It appears Stockwell has watched enough “rock ‘em sock ‘em” movies from the Luc Besson camp to realize how a mindless action film like this should play out.  At times, In The Blood is a variation of Taken, but with a female lead.

Unfortunately, the filmmaker always finds a way to rob the audience of a satisfying good time.  For instance, a fight scene may be well choreographed, but it’s hard to see through P.J. López’s darkly congested cinematography.  It’s muggy camera work that Stockwell signed off on.

Other disjointed occurrences take place during more dramatically driven material.  A scene featuring Carano watching her hubby plummet into the forest due to a faulty zip lining strap is devoid of any sadness or devastation.  This scene sticks out as a sore thumb because of how pivotal it is, but – honestly – a lot of scenes featuring Ava being emotional end up ringing false.  Part of this phoniness may be because Carano’s acting chops are still developing out of a touch-and-go phase, but it doesn’t appear as if she was correctly given the right motivations in the first place.

It also feels as if Stockwell is trying too hard to push certain emotional tones to cover up for the lack thereof in the characters.  The romance between Gigandet and Carano is layered on with a lot of making-out and tantalizing shots of their hot Caribbean vacation.  But, the audience has a hard time buying their relationship because their chemistry feels manufactured.  The same mundaneness goes for the shallow crooks as well.

It’s also easy to see how cheap the production values get in the film.  Normally, if the glue holding the film together is strong, the lower-end technicalities can be overlooked.  It would take immaculate strokes to pass off In The Blood’s lame CG’d blood and bullet holes that have been slackly cooked up during post-production.

I thought I was sitting on the fence with Stockwell’s flick.  It didn’t bother me, but it didn’t wow me either.  When push comes to shove, I suppose my passiveness towards the tolerable aspects started to fold in when I dissect what I didn’t like about the movie.

John Stockwell’s film offers very little to recommend aside from Carano’s physical work.  It just depends on how much mediocrity you’re willing to sit through to watch her slug some villains.

Wylie Writes @ Hot Docs 2014: A Different Type of Doc

To movie goers who may not be doc-savvy, they may instantly think a documentary has to be a film where talking heads flap away while being accompanied with relevant b-roll.  That’d be unfortunate because that’s not always the case.

The Hot Docs International Documentary Festival tries to provide audiences with documentaries that set out to portray the genre from a different angle.  The festival does a solid job at providing plenty of examples.

However, there are risks.  Sometimes departing from the beaten path works wonders for the filmmaker.  Other times, this new route serves as too much of a challenge with muddy results.

Joy of Man’s Desiring (DIR. Denis Côté)

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By: Addison Wylie

For every filmmaker who understands the fundamentals of a documentary, there’s an unyielding boob who feels as if he needs to “spice things up” using stubborn strategies.  In this case, that alleged documentarian is Denis Côté.

Côté hit my moviegoing radar in 2010 when I was subjected to Carcasses, a “documentary” that felt the need to change the genre’s tempo.  What began as a ponderous doc about an enigmatic subject turned into an even more ponderous experience by adding in needless elements like supporting characters and weapons.  Almost as if Côté didn’t trust his original vision or had a change of heart halfway through the production.

There’s more of that in Joy of Man’s Desiring.

I’ll give the frustrating filmmaker the credit he deserves.  Denis Côté at least has a concept this time.  The film’s handling of monotony in an industrial workspace and those trapped in it is deliberately repetitive and raucous to create confining results.  There’s no escaping the clanging tedium.

However, Joy of Man’s Desiring is too staged to give the doc its indispensable naturalistic credibility, and is too much of a cyclical trudge to watch as an old fashioned movie.

Some will label Denis Côté’s definition of a doc as daring.  I’d love to hop on that arthouse bandwagon as soon as Côté figures out how to find a worthwhile voice within this new fangled way of making a documentary.  Joy of Man’s Desiring is daring in the same way a failing high school student skipping his final exams is daring.  All the filmmaker wants to do is show audiences that he’s rebellious.  Ok….so, what else d’you got?

Joy of Man’s Desiring is hardly worth talking about.  As Denis Côté was in Carcasses, the filmmaker becomes so lost in his own pretentious game changers, that he forgets he’s making a movie.  Whoops!

Catch Joy of Man’s Desiring at Toronto’s Hot Docs International Film Festival on:

Saturday, April 26 at 9:45 p.m. @ TIFF Bell Lightbox

Sunday, April 27 at 7:30 p.m. @ Scotiabank Theatre

Saturday, May 3 at 7:30 p.m. @ TIFF Bell Lightbox

Click here for more details and to buy tickets.

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A Dress Rehearsal For An Execution (DIR. Bahman Tavoosi)

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A Dress Rehearsal For An Execution is a fine example of how a filmmaker can take on an unconventional approach correctly.

Tavoosi’s doc inhabits a billowy structure as viewers are escorted through the artistic process of recreating an affective photo taken by an anonymous Pulitzer Prize winning photographer.  However, it’s Jahangir Razmi - the photographer himself – who wishes to recapture the tragedy.

The photo, which features a execution of blindfolded individuals in Iran during its post-revolution era, is an artifact that has set off a collection of chills.  It’s an image that easily becomes embedded in our brain.  It’s a type of haunting fascination that drives Razmi to emulate every detail.  Using a variety of actors – who are also dedicated to the project – and months of location scouting including rebuilding landscapes, Razmi is finally ready to shoot the photograph after two years of preparation.

A fair amount of pre-determined choreographing has been put forth in Tavoosi’s production to capture alluring shots and articulate theatrics.  However, the staginess nicely blends in with the passion being shown in the development of Razmi’s recreation.

Tavoosi chooses his moments to get involved.  For the most part, he allows the artistic loyalty and persistent integrity to take the spotlight and speak volumes.

Occasionally, A Dress Rehearsal For An Execution takes detours that don’t initially feel as if they contribute a lot.  For example, whilst her story is interesting, one interview in particular with a daughter of an actor has a hard time fitting in.  However, the one-on-one ends up making a central statement as to how a labor of love has the power to consume.

A Dress Rehearsal For An Execution leaves you thinking of more than what you thought Tavoosi’s doc was about.  It may be one of the shorter films at the festival, but it’s messages are just as dominant.

Catch A Dress Rehearsal For An Execution at Toronto’s Hot Docs International Film Festival on:

Friday, April 25 at 8:30 p.m. @ TIFF Bell Lightbox

Sunday, April 27 at 5:00 p.m. @ Scotiabank Theatre

Click here for more details and to buy tickets.

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Gun Porn (DIR. Brahm Rosensweig)

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By: Addison Wylie

What happens when a school bus gets blown up real good?  Brahm Rosensweig’s short form doc Gun Porn shows us.  Unfortunately, he shows us too much of the lead-up and skimps out on the film’s meaty discussion piece.

I suppose Gun Porn should be a guilty pleasure before its big reveal.  I mean, who wouldn’t want to see five good ol’ boys annihilate a vehicle using various firearms?  I bet a few will object since seeing a school bus as a target is never something that sits well.  I just found it a bit boring after a while watching other people have their fun.  But, the professional shooters and the doc’s filmmaker aren’t out to offend during the conception of what’s to come.

Within the final moments of Gun Porn, we see what Rosensweig is wanting to do with his documentary.  He and Toronto-based artist Viktor Mitic use the shambled bus as a provokingly grim but relevant message.  It’s powerful to look at in its context and the comments we hear from onlookers are just as interesting.

It’s too bad that Rosensweig spends a ballooned amount of time on the doc’s mindless creation – which could’ve been taken care of with quick cutaways – instead of using his film to provide additional support behind Mitic’s art and the opinions that followed.  The ratio should’ve been: 25% focused on prep, 75% on the reflection period.

Gun Porn is “OK”, but Rosensweig’s film is certainly a case where its intentions are better than the film as a whole.

Catch Gun Porn with A Dress Rehearsal For An Execution at Toronto’s Hot Docs International Film Festival. The doc precedes the feature film.

Click here for more details and to buy tickets.

Wylie Writes @ TIFF Kids 2014: A Day With the Industry

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By: Addison Wylie

I’ve enjoyed covering the TIFF Kids International Film Festival in the past, but this year was especially cool.

This marked the first year for any festival where I obtained an industry pass.  The TIFF Kids Industry pass entitled you to sit in on exclusive conversations, workshops, keynotes, and Q&A’s.  The team behind the festival made sure they delivered on guests who could provide truthful insight about the world of filmmaking and children’s entertainment.

The first event I observed was an unforgettable one-on-one with Sesame Street’s Caroll Spinney.  Spinney’s puppetry and voice talent allowed Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch to leave an impacting impression on many childhoods.

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Spinney came across as a very kind, soft spoken gentleman who loved to tell stories.  One story in particular about Spinney almost falling multiple levels off a stage early in his career had us gasping, but it was bittersweet since this was one of the first moments the puppeteer met Jim Henson.

He explained the collaborative process behind creating Big Bird (Henson said he wanted to make “a big goofy guy”) which also included Spinney trying to figure out why Big Bird would have childlike sensibilities.

He also explained the process behind Oscar, and how there’s a difference between being grumpy and being mean.  One wrong misstep would have parents writing into the show.  Luckily, that rarely happened.

I was then treated to a visit from Oscar himself, and Spinney showed how he’s a master at bouncing conversations off of himself and Oscar.  It was flawless.

Spinney left producers and writers with a bit of advice for creating content for a young audience.  ”Don’t speak down to them,” he made clear.  ”The image of a grown adult trying to act like an eight-year-old face-to-face with a young audience is embarrassing.”

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Up next was a keynote presented by Graham Annable, co-director of this Summer’s The Boxtrolls.  As a graduate of Sheridan college, Annable made a name for himself at LAIKA, the studio responsible for the exquisitely animated Coraline and Paranorman.  He worked as a storyboard artist on those two films, which led him on a path to co-direct the studio’s next smash.

Annable swiftly walked the audience through the steps behind animating a LAIKA film.  He mentioned that most productions make two versions of their film – the rough cut with storyboards and animatics and the finished product.  Because the stop motion process is so extensively detailed, LAIKA makes four versions of each scene.  Annable also highlighted how many facial expressions are utilized in the process.  According to him, the character of Coraline used up to 200,000 expressions.  Whereas the character of Eggs in The Boxtrolls has 1.4 million.

The crowd got a sneak peek at The Boxtrolls, and it looks like another winner from LAIKA.  The gibberish-speaking trolls look to give those overrated yellow minions a run for their money.

The last discussion I sat in on was called Going Big: The Busiess and Art of Long-Form Storytelling with featured speakers who have been in the industry for quite some time.

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Prodcuer Michael Hirsh and writer Patricia Rozena had interesting things to say about their past as well as their upcoming adaptation of Robert Munsch’s The Paper Bag Princess.  Their collaboration with Ellen Page is still looking for funding, but they’re making steady progress.  The sneak peek of a still we were shown looks to lean on How To Train Your Dragon, but Rozena’s quirky sense of humour is sure to make this project stand on its own.

The other speakers were Cal Brunker and Bob Barlen. Brunker and Barlen wrote Escape From Planet Earth, and Brunker directed it.  After their insight, Peter Lepeniotis – director and co-writer of The Nut Job – spoke.

If you’ve read my review of The Nut Job (psst, I hated it), you’ll see that I have a theory that The Weinstein Company hates your children and invest little care into these movies for youngsters.  Both Escape From Planet Earth and The Nut Job had this company attached to the films.  Questions will be answered!

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It turns out I’m kind of right about The Weinstein Company.  My words, not theirs.  The speakers made it clear that a number of compromises and worrying feelings came up in the productions.  However, not one director or writer had an ego and they were careful not to bite the hand that fed them.

Brunker, Barlen, and Lepeniotis had passion for their projects, but were also in the know that this was a job and that this type of stuff would happen.  They were all very thankful.  They’re proud of their work, but they recognize the hangups and have a good attitude about the past.  When mentioned that The Nut Job had been greenlit for a sequel, Lepeniotis gave a joking exhale suggesting, “I can’t believe it either.”

All three spoke about how a script will go through numerous drafts.  And, if writers already knew that, they were still underestimating how many times a script would be tweaked.  The filmmakers made it clear that future writers, producers, and directors will have to pick their battles and choose which ones should take priority over the others.  Sometimes, a kink can work itself out given time.

This was a great capper to a day full of useful information and advise.  Next time the TIFF Kids International Film Festival rolls around, I highly suggest you try looking into one of these industry passes.  Especially if you have plans to contribute to children’s entertainment.

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Photos of Industry Events Provided By: TIFF

Visit the official TIFF Kids webpage here!

Visit the official TIFF webpage here!

Other TIFF Kids Coverage:

Read my review of Knight Rusty here!
Read my review of The Numberlys here!
Read my review of The House of Magic here!
Read my review of School of Babel here!

Do You Tweet? Follow These Tweeple:

TIFF: @TIFF_NET
Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie

Wylie Writes @ Hot Docs 2014: Baring It All and Barely Keeping Quiet

The Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival is fast approaching, which means it’s time to  check out some of the docs that will be playing this year.

The festival has been known to feature a variety of different work capturing all sorts of subjects and world events.  There’s simply no other festival like it, which explains why it’s become the largest film festival for docs in North America.

Hot Docs is one of my favourite festivals to cover and Wylie Writes is honoured to return and offer our audience coverage.

Our first pre-festival reviews share a similar theme of protesting.  Both docs are about unstoppable forces that will go to any length – and even shed clothing – to be heard.

Ukraine Is Not a Brothel (DIR. Kitty Green)

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By: Addison Wylie

FEMEN, a protesting organization in the Ukraine made up of topless bombshells, makes for a concentrated topic in Kitty Green’s Ukraine Is Not a Brothel.  The doc not only shows the motivations behind this upfront movement, but also why these people feel the need to express their views while baring their bodies.

Ukraine Is Not a Brothel is questionable at first with a flurry of mixed messages.  The interviewed members of FEMEN talk about how women are seen as being lesser-than in a Ukrainian culture.  They’re enthusiastic to get their message across as to why women shouldn’t be seen as floozies.  Meanwhile, Green’s camera is gawky while capturing their nude protests – making sure their breasts are correctly in the frame.

After addressing the nudity, the filmmaker finds her footing and directs the doc down a path that isn’t afraid to uncover some of FEMEN’s flaws.  Take the group’s image, for instance.  FEMEN seems to only hire a certain type of female, and only breaking the rules when trying to make more of a visual boom.  A heavier set member talks about why this focus on mainstream attractiveness could potentially hurt FEMEN’s credibility in one of Green’s many fascinating interviews.

That’s where Ukraine Is Not a Brothel really shines.  Even though Green sometimes wanders into being too personable with her subjects, she doesn’t stray away from showing the flip side of the coin.  It’s a perfect example of a project that fuels the audience’s interest with each turn of the page.  As Green digs deeper, the doc gets more riveting.

It turns the idea of liberation through fortifying revolt on its ear, and shows us that even beneath the most earnest of intentions can hide something more paradoxical.  Ukraine Is Not a Brothel does to feminism what Banksy’s Exit Through the Gift Shop did to modern art.  Kitty Green’s doc will have you in its grip by the final frame.

Catch Ukraine Is Not a Brothel at Toronto’s Hot Docs International Film Festival on:

Saturday, April 26 at 9:30 p.m. @ TIFF Bell Lightbox

Monday, April 28 at 1:00 p.m. @ Hart House Theatre

Tuesday, April 29 at 12:30 p.m. @ TIFF Bell Lightbox

Click here for more details and to buy tickets.

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Ai Weiwei: The Fake Case (DIR. Andreas Johnsen)

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By: Addison Wylie

The much talked about artist Ai Weiwei makes another splash on the Hot Docs circuit two years after Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry screened.  Even though I never caught Never SorryAi Weiwei: The Fake Case has the presence of a companion piece.  That could explain why Andreas Johnsen’s doc feels insufficient as its own project.

The Fake Case documents the artist’s life after being arrested and served a house arrest sentence for reasons Ai Weiwei feels are utter bunk.  The doc slowly builds towards Ai Weiwei’s crucial hearing while the controversial artist has a hard time abiding by the requirements he must follow until then.

The documentary is a true testament of how an outspoken soul is affected when caged.  Ai Weiwei is told to keep details quiet, but the thought and act of silencing someone’s freedom over wishy-washy claims infuriates him.  The restrictions don’t stop him from materializing reflective art and speaking to the foreign press about matters that the Chinese government become aggressive about.

Though Johnsen’s film has a passionate subject who freely gives the filmmaker many one-on-ones, most of Ai Weiwei: The Fake Case is spent wandering around Ai Weiwei waiting for something to happen.

The house arrest gives Johnsen an accountable serving of vulnerability and humbleness from his subject to work with.  But, for every clip of interesting intimacy, there’s quadruple the amount of long stretches that meander.  It’s a cinematic stake-out that tries to deter its audience’s boredom with cute snippets of the artist interacting with his caring wife and adorable son.

The closest Johnsen gets with adding substance during the emptiness is when Weiwei speaks with his worried but understanding Mother.  These talks are compelling as we see that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

There isn’t enough here to carry a film of this length.  Johnsen perhaps could’ve gotten away with a 40-minute short form doc, but even that’s up in the air considering how skimpy The Fake Case is.

A final artistic reveal is worth sticking it out until the end, but this documentary is subpar at best and no where near matches the importance Ai Weiwei and his work holds.

Catch Ai Weiwei: The Fake Case at Toronto’s Hot Docs International Film Festival on:

Saturday, April 26 at 4:30 p.m. @ TIFF Bell Lightbox

Sunday, April 27 at 1:00 p.m. @ Hart House Theatre

Friday, May 2 at 6:00 p.m. @ Bloor Hot Docs Cinema

Click here for more details and to buy tickets.

Click here to visit the official Hot Docs webpage!

Wylie Writes @ TIFF Kids 2014: School of Babel

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By: Addison Wylie

Following a recent trend of year-in-the-life-of-a-high-schooler documentaries, School of Babel marks the movement’s first forgettable entry.  It serves a purpose and the events in Julie Bertuccelli’s doc will undoubtably affect the featured students, but the impact on the audience is muted by vacant direction and a slow pace.

In Paris at La Grange-aux-Belles secondary school, a class of diverse teens learn the French language while inhabiting the new culture.  It’s always so refreshing to see a doc capture realness amongst a curious class.  Each student is different in their own ways and have traveled from different parts of the word, yet they have no problem conversing and listening to everyone’s views no matter how large the contrast is.

Bertuccelli got very lucky with this class of amiable kids.  They all have their own distinct voice that is heard openly throughout School of Babel, and they’re all a pleasure to watch.  Even though the doc isn’t particularly engaging, you grow attached to these students strictly because of how approachable everyone is. Continue reading

A Haunted House 2

By: Addison WylieAHH2Poster

Why do we have a sequel to last year’s poorly reviewed A Haunted House?  Well, some people – including me – thought the first outing was a dumb unadulterated comedy that was actually a really funny send-up to the recent trend of horror flicks involving possessions and the devil.  Because of the giggly reception and a profitable box office, director Michael Tiddes and partner-in-crime Marlon Wayans have decided to throw another spoof our way.

A Haunted House was crass and lowbrow with humour that was either physical, irreverent, or both.  It was also very stereotypical with exaggerated characters and language involving different races.  It wasn’t everyone’s cup o’ tea, that’s for sure.

It’s expected that A Haunted House 2 would follow through with a similar string of funnies.  It does and it’s still amusing, though this comedic chapter isn’t as strong as its predecessor.  Mostly because Tiddes and Wayans are still clueless as to when to end a joke. Continue reading

The Battery

By: Addison WylieTheBatteryposter

Jeremy Gardner’s slow burn horror The Battery has earned crowds of cheers reaching back to its early film festival days from genre movie goers.  Even though I wasn’t sold on this flabby flick, that’s great news for the filmmaker.  It’s a zombie movie that hardly shows you any of the walking dead.  That’s a tough sell!

You see limited amounts of zombies because Gardner wants to set his sights more on the dynamic between his two abandoned leads.  Ben and Mickey (played by Gardner and Adam Cronheim) are two former baseball players who have a hard time meshing with each other.  They run out each other’s patience and have mannerisms that act as pet peeves to one another.

However, as much as they are getting fed up with their company, they realize they need each other for survival.  They can usually find each other on the same wavelength during a game of catch or scavenging through this new post-apocalyptic life. Continue reading

Wylie Writes @ TIFF KIDS 2014: The House of Magic

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By: Addison Wylie

The House of Magic is an abundantly likeable film, and will certainly be a memorable pick at this year’s TIFF Kids.  On the surface, the bouncy flick has all the ingredients for a smiling good time at the theatre.  There’s an adorable cat, whimsical magic, and stunning animation paired with incredible use of 3D technology.

It’s to be warned that Jérémie Degruson and Ben Stassen’s film isn’t all sunshine and rainbows for the first few scenes.  The House of Magic follows older Disney fodder by introducing furry feline Thunder to the audience in an unfortunate way.  He’s abandoned and unwanted by nearly everybody, which instantly has us vying to see some sort of affection towards him.

The film steps into its own circuit when The House of Magic puts the audience into the small-scale perspective from Thunder.  These point-of-view shots basically turns Degruson and Stassen’s movie into a video game, but The House of Magic doesn’t feel as gimmicky as you’d expect. Continue reading