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Sunday, October 29, 2006

/* Bonjour y'all */ - Dixie Chicks refuse to just shut up and sing! in sold out show at Toronto Air Canada Centre

October 28, 2006

There's nothing more ideal than being in Air Canada Centre on a Saturday night with $100 tickets for the 300 section at centre ice - except there was no hockey game. The crowd was filled with mothers and daughters, families with babies, and lots of ladies on the town bedecked with cowboy hats. Welcome to the New Country, heralding the Dixie Chicks to a packed ACC on the first of two nights, just off the start of the current swing of the Accidents and Accusations tour the night before in Ottawa.

The crowd was already on the Dixie Chick's side - shown during the stage change when the promotional trailer for the movie Shut Up and Sing! played on the centre ice scoreboard brought a loud long cheer afterwards. The stage change music was classic rock and roll : the Rolling Stones, the Pretenders. Finally by 9:15 p.m. the lights went out.

After a cheeky entrance of Hail to the Chief, a reminder of what all the fuss is about, the band entered launching into the new album with Lubbock or Leave It, a song which has been received critically by those of the Lone Star bible state. The statement song Truth No. 2 from the album Home followed:

You don't like the sound of the truth
Coming from my mouth
You say that I lack the proof
Well baby that might be so
I might get to the end of my life
Find out everyone was lying
I don't think that I’m afraid anymore
Say that I would rather die trying

The very stirring and rebel rousing night was not just a straight showcase of their current Taking the Long Way album - it was a set aimed square at cementing current Dixie Chicks fans and bringing in the new fans. The night on a stripped down stage without all the fancy lighting and effects was a blend of their bluegrass and twang, along with their multi-instrumental ability to rock out. Plus they had their best touring band to date. The ardent followers of the trio: vocalist /guitarist Natalie Maines and the two sisters of the band Emily Robinson [vocals, guitars, banjos] and Martie Maguire [vocals, various strings, violins] clearly knew the lyrics of the early 1998 Fly album favourite - the fun Goodbye Earl which was launched early as the third number of the set. The crowd was eagerly waiting for some word from singer Natalie Maines. She finally got around to quietly saying "Bonjour there" and making polite conversation with the crowd before reminding the world how the Dixie Chicks made their start by taking The Long Way Around. Then it was back to one of their best covers from their best selling 2003's Home of Fleetwood Mac's Landslide. For the longest while, Natalie kept the politics on the backburner as they dipped into their past four albums [ starting with their major record company 1998 debut Wide Open Spaces, the 1999 Fly, then Home in 2002, and Taking The Long Way in 2006] until she introduced a new song written because of the movie, The Neighbor.

"I am normally a people pleaser, but I don't know how to shut up AND sing, so I'm not going to shut up and sing."

After a quiet moment devoted to Lullaby written because they wanted a song for their seven children in the band, their country roots were rousted by the likes of Cowboy Take Me Away, White Trash Wedding and the furiously fast instrumental Lil Jack Slade which had the crowd alive again and Natalie really beginning to loosen up and stomping on stage. The crowd's clearest support of the Dixie Chicks' stance came after their current hit Not Ready To Make Nice with its verse of

I'm through with doubt
there's nothing left for me to figure out
I've paid a price
and I'll keep paying
I'm not ready to make nice
I'm not ready to back down
I'm still mad as hell
and I don't have time to go round and round and round
It's too late to make it right

followed by a standing ovation from the floor and the seated crowd.

The rest of the evening sailed through some more Natalie joking: "You may be wondering why Emily and Martie don't say anything. They said something bad once and I had to put a stop to it." The evening soared to the painful hurting of Top of the World and So Hard. Then the set came through to the conclusion with their favourite song from the movie - their anthemic: Wide Open Spaces which is the best descriptive of the Dixie Chicks countryside, then dashing through the fast and furious downhome Sin Wagon and Ready to Run.

The encore was the touching Travelin' Soldier which really does hit home these days, followed by the Bob Dylan cover of Mississippi and the crowd chanting during the rousing Ready to Run.

"It's time!" shouted Natalie at the end, and everybody took their stage bow then she curtsied her way off stage.

Friday, October 27, 2006

TRICK OR TREAT ! - oh ... there will be blood - Midnight Madness at the Toronto International Film Festival redux

Tonight after watching Ghost Whisperer and Supernatural we will finally unwrap the shrinkwrap around the cover to watch a little 2004 Toronto International Film Festival Midnight Madness entry called Saw.

The same festival programme that brought you Cabin Fever, Underworld, Hostel and a Mickey Rourke treat called Spun, Midnight Madness tends to be a visceral treat for Horror fans. Who can forget the year the cast of Versus came to the venerable grand theatre 8 of the Varsity. Isn't it just cool? Then My Little Eye with Jennifer Sky just around the time of Cleopatra 2525, there was an actual movie poster for My Little Eye heralding a theatre release that never came. Ditto for Unleashed - great poster, no zombie theatre except the Bloor Cinema for one night. In any case, watching the much anticipated vampire lychen battle film Underworld at a quarter to one in the morning after lining up for more than hour at the late lamented Uptown in theatre one - with Kate Beckinsale present and the direcotor and her soon to be husband Les Wiseman is probably the highlight of my Midnight Madness memories. Along with seeing Mickey Rourke. "You're the man!" And the more Matrix than The Matrix thriller [ and comedy ! ] from Korea called Volcano High.

Among the 06 TIFF entries for us this year was the creepiest movie ever Abandoned set in Russia [ if you saw The Return this is even more haunting ]. There's no place like home, there's no place like home. Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrnth was a visual golden feast with a dark Alice in Wonderland touch, and a paean to the era of Franco's Spain. And all capped off with [ thanks to the same effects workshop that brought you Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings ] the killer Black Sheep from New Zealand ! They're baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaad !!!!

P.S. Saturday night we will be posing as a Dixie Chicks fan and head down to Air Canada Centre for the concert!


Monday, October 23, 2006

TIFF 06 bursts into mainstream this weekend : Death of a President, Shut Up and Sing! Catch a Fire

It's always a bit unsettling having the public intrude into the protective bubble of films that you had battled so hard to see during the time of the 06 Toronto International Film Festival. This week three movies from the festival are opening - of which we have already seen two. [Babel opens in the USA but not here quite yet. Also, American Hardcore which played at the festival leaves the Carlton already, and Terry Gilliam's TIFF 05 entry Tideland closes after one week at the Cumberland].

One of my favourite times at 06 TIFF was a morning with the Dixie Chicks as the centre of the documentary Shut Up and Sing ! The three ladies from Texas are back still not ready to make nice; they're bold and brassier and sassier than ever. Even if you are not devout fans of the trio of ladies in the Dixie Chicks, you will find the film bemusing, amusing, with much laughter and candor.

It's been two long years now
Since the top of the world came crashing down
And I'm getting' it back on the road now

Two years ago these words from Natalie Maines's mouth during their Top of the World tour in Shepherd's Bush in London, England hit the news headlines and brought their own world back home crashing down - the words: "Just so you know, we're ashamed that the president of the United States is from Texas." Back in the USA the Dixie Chicks - Natalie Maines, Emily Robinson, Martie Maguire - were at the height of their popularity but their anti-Iraq war comments against the President sparked protests by callers to radio station in Nashville and the anger kept on snowballing with pickets calling them traitors, radio station boycotts, organized CD burnings. Their former conservative fan base legion of country fans stayed away in droves. This was at a time when Bush's popularity was at its height. The war couldn't have gone better for him. Radio stations south of the Mason-Dixon line boycotted playing the Dixie Chicks and their new singles which debuted in Billboard actually headed downwards from the get-go. The Dixie Chicks toughed it out as seen in Shut Up and Sing! even braving death threats made to the band. The movie covers the hiatus recording their comeback album, flashing back and forwards through time from when they were at the top to the present coping with these new hard times, having babies and dealing with the media, the fans and other issues, the absurdity of it all. They emerge back into the public light with the new Taking the Long Way album and tour - unrepentant and defiant, finding new markets, including Toronto ! [which brought cheers from the Ryerson audience]. "We are sisterhood, we go through the good, the bad and the ugly together." The movie comes full circle back to the scene of the crime Shepherd's Bush in 2005 two years later - it's a different climate - and what more can Natalie say? "We're ashamed that the President of the United States comes from Texas." In the long run, you may find yourself becoming a Dixie Chicks fan!

To cap it all off, the Dixie Chicks are here in Toronto this weekend of October 28 and 29, just in time for the movie opening here Friday.


Is there a problem?

Chicago hates Bush!
Chicago hates Bush!

In the programme book for 06 TIFF the title of this movie was coyly reduced by the organizers to its initials D.O.A.P. This movie got off to a controversial start here at 06 TIFF with an angry question and answer period with press after its world premiere at the Paramount. It was more eerie to see the security guards with their night goggles patrolling up and down the aisles than to watch the proceedings on screen.

Of course, the controversy is over the subject of the material : the death of a president - not just any president - not just another instance of Kiefer Sutherland's 24 or The Sentinel.

This bold and audacious movie made by Channel 4 in England takes documentary to new territory - to dare to not just kill a fictitious president, but THIS president. It is with remarkable adeptness and technical skill that the events of the near future are brought to hyper-realistic play. Using the available footage of archives and blended in with the re-enactment of the people and events of October 19, 2007, the path of inexorable events leading to the death of a president is shown in all its horror. The documentary is further supported by the aid of actual experts, those who were responsible for the security of the President.

The year is 2007. A tide of anger is about to be unleashed on the streets of the Windy city as President George W. Bush is about to land in Air Force One and deliver a speech at the Economic Club in Chicago. Organized militant protesters are lining the street, facing off against a phalanx of police. As the events in Chicago moved inexorably onwards to the climactic moment of the assassination a series of talking heads - those close to the President including his loyal speechwriter, the Secret Service, recount the happenings and slip-ups of that day of October 19, 2007. The head of security notes that things were not going well right from the beginning - during the ride from the airport through downtown Chicago, a protester actually managed to elude security and get close enough to touch the President's car in the calvacade to the hotel. This is a first. And this was just the beginning of many foul-ups.

At the hotel that night, before the Economic Club, it is with some wonderment and marvel that you actually see the President deliver a speech to the throngs in the room - a speech that has never been made before in history - an adept assemblage of words and phrases and delivered entirely naturally.

Then of course at the hotel, the real assassin strikes. The rest of Death of a President deals with trying to capture the culprit and bringing him to justice. Unfortunately one man happens to be at the wrong place at the wrong time is caught on tape, and methods of profiling puts him in the crosshairs of the investigation while the real assassin whose name has been tipped off to the Homeland Security is ignored.

Stretching history with just enough prescience [ could they have foreseen the events of North Korea now unfolding ] to speculate about the future but in actuality the documentary is a castigating look back upon now and the aftermath of the post 911 world of the Freedom Act, which was by 2007 to be further re-enforced by the Freedom III Act - of should we say the unFreedom Act? The film is a highly critical examination of the loss of freedoms and civil liberties since 9/11 and the ever-tightening clamp of government and Big Brother.

Death of a President is a documentary of these times that should not be missed.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Running with Scissors - sharply dangerously funny confessions of a dramatic teen queen

Running with Scissors is the musical travelogue of young Augusten Burroughs's life from 1972 to 1979 - ranging from the age of 7 to 15 - the movie is a harrowing yet sharply funny look at his coming of age. An unbalanced mother played to the brink by Annette Bening as Deirdre Burroughs who is surely up for consideration again for the Academy Awards, and father Norman [ Alec Baldwin in another great character role not unlike in Cameron Crowe's Elizabethtown ] driven to drink by his wife Deirdre defines Augusten's early life. She is a driven poet who has self-published her first book of childhood reminiscences, chasing her dream of dressing in black and reciting at Carnegie Hall someday. Wonderfully caring and funny one moment, she finds herself challenged and trapped and angry at Norman the next moment. She uses her anger to fuel her feminist drive but her stability is divided. In order to save their marriage, they both go to a highly opinionated and judgemental psychiatrist Dr Finch who in their first session is quick to analyze - who fosters her dreams of becoming a published poet and judges Norman dangerous. Dr Finch played by Brian Cox [ and why do the very trained British always find an excuse to play better American accents than most Americans themselves and it's never quite the same the other way around ] is more of a charlatan psycho psychiatrist than a curer - nonetheless he is licensed and very controlling, dishing out the pills at a whim. And as further proof of his eccentricity his house he practices out of is pink and the picture of chaos and disorder. His wife Agnes played by the shocking Jill Clayburg tries to raise her children as best as she can in the conditions: the Christmas tree has been up for two years and the shambles of the kitchen reflects the mess of the lives of the family which includes their two daughters Hope, a humourless catatonic religious freak who uses the Bible to answer questions such as what's for dinner? and adopted daughter Natalie who Augusten meets on his first day at the house. Natalie introduces herself as the other daughter - as portrayed as as a tease by Evan Rachel Wood dressed in the halters and platform shoes of the time the two of them get to playing *Doctor* with her administering the electro shock therapy machine to Augusten. natalie is the foil to Hope who is daddy's favourite played by Gwyneth Paltrow in another of her small but essential roles of the moment but played just as brilliantly as her part in The Royal Tenenbaums.

Of course, the whole movie is predicated by the memoirs of Augusten portrayed by the up and coming Joseph Cross [ also seen in the current Flags of our Fathers ]. His Dear Journal is the voiceover to the film, mirroring his thoughts and crises; the funny moments are poignant and funny without diving into deliberate comedy, knocking out the roof of the kitchen with Natalie because he like his mother needs high ceilings with the music of AWB Pick up the Pieces in the background typifies the emotional power of music recall. Dr Finch approves noting the skylight adds humour to the kitchen then he finds the jar of Viennese sausages in the pantry. There is depth to Natalie - even though she dresses and acts like a rebellious strumpet she despairs that her dreams of getting into college and Vassar are ruined by the reputation of the crazy Finches. Imagine the background check.

During the course of his mother's sessions, Augusten still loyal to his mother throughout her descent into madness finds that he has been given up for adoption by her to the extended Finch household. Shocked, he tries to call his father collect who hangs up on him! He seems to put up with it all with an amazing grace and humour - and he has Natalie as a shoulder. And we did not mention yet the Lina Wertmuller movies and his coming-out of age to the schizophrenic and gay 35 year old Neil Bookman [ Joseph Fiennes from Shakespeare in Love ! ] who lives in the backyard of the Finch household. That he is gay, Natatlie knew all along. So Augusten pursues and practices his own dream of becoming a "cosmetologist", a fancy world word for hairdresser on the family.

In a near Proustian moment [echoed in Little Miss Sunshine] Dr Finch says to Augusten what would life be without childhood hardships ? The question remains at the end as he prepares to go to New York to get away from his mother and away from the craziness of it all: what will happen next?

Running with Scissors recalls the very best moments of American Beauty, with those little touches of Donnie Darko, Wes Anderson movies such as The Royal Tenenbaums and Rushmore with the melancholy of Ghost World at the end. The movie does meander at times but life is never a straight line.

That this movie is indeed based upon Running With Scissors: the memoirs of Augusten Burroughs - who is still alive and kicking to this day as seen at the end of the film, that he survived being given up for adoption, that he took after his mother despite so, that he came out to a schizophrenic gay no less, is a character testament to his faith in himself, his humour and never giving up hope.

Eternal sunshine in Little Miss Sunshine

A quirky family rallies together for the Little Miss Sunshine talent pageant.

In this sardonic little tale Little Miss Sunshine proves that family values triumph over all adversity.

Little Miss Sunshine is actually the name of the youth beauty and talent contest but is just as appropriately bestowed upon the new up and comer Abigail Breslin - the twelve year old girl who steals the movie away from the likes of her distended movie family co-stars Toni Collette, Steve Carrell, Greg Kinnear, Paul Dano, Alan Arkin.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Science of Sleep - Stephane and Stephanie in Michel Gondry's eternal sunshine gone dark

All is not unbearably lightness and being in Michel Gondry's followup to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. This is the stuff that dreams are made of: memories of the afternoon, reminiscences, Stephane TV


Randomness is hard to achieve

You have a way of inverting reality

a one second time machine

Order only gets in the way



You can have what you want if only you would stop doubting that I love you

a return to The Black Dahlia - the ultimate film noir

Without a doubt, Brian de Palma knows how to make a woman look good in a movie. From Angie Dickinson in Dressed to Kill to Femme Fatale's Rebecca Romijn, in The Black Dahlia he has the sultry Scarlett Johansson, the quixotic million dollar baby herself Hilary Swank and the exotica Canadian Mia Kirshner. He dresses these figures in the film noir mystique of The Black Dahlia based on the suppositions of James Ellroy's of the 1947 Black Dahlia murder, one of the most bizarre murder of starlet Elizabeth Short in 1940s Hollywoodland. The novel itself is a fiction based upon the real unsolved crime, then de Palma condensed the plotpoints and characters to something that was manageable for him - which still leaves a sprawling movie filled with many contingency and twistpoints.

Her case was called "The Black Dahlia murder" due to Elizabeth Short's dark hair and she always wearing black or dark clothing. The crime solving is down to the hard-oiled partnership of the two cops dubbed Fire and Ice - Josh Hartnett as "Fire" - Bucky Bleichert and Aaron Eckhart's "Ice" - Lee Blanchard.

An Inconvenient Truth - Gore's plea for the environment

Al Gore - I used to be the next President of the United States - takes his show on the road. His show proves beyond an doubt that global warming is no myth - in fact we are this close to the next ice age.

An Inconvenient Truth is imbued with Al Gore's earnestness as he presents his slideshow to the audience of the uncontestable images that global warming is in effect: the snows of Kilimanjaro are almost extinct, glaciers have retreated, the ice caps are crumbling within. The redistribution of the moisture in the atmosphere means places of great flooding and winds - witness Hurricane Katrina - and areas of devastating drought - Darfur - and the political consequences.

Gore delves into his life as the son of a cattle farmer and Senator - a simpler life filled with a oneness with the environment. His cites his college professor as a mentor who converted him to the cause. An Inconvenient Truth is free of party politics, and is more of a way to get people to wake up and do something now.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

/* good night Lois */ - Superman Returns

Superman Returns soars in this triumphant return to the screen. Stirring and emotional Superman Returns focuses on the heart and soul of the story: the love story between intrepid reporter Lois Lane and Superman in the guise of mild mannered reporter Clark Kent. Brandon Routh makes more than a credible Superman and is an hommage to the late Christopher Reeve. Kate Bosworth's Lois Lane is modernized - and this Lois Lane is a mother in a relationship with Perry White's nephew who is now the head of the international section of the Daily Planet.

Superman's return to Earth - and he saves the day [ and Lois ]again - Lex Luthor as dastardly as ever discovers the Fortress of Solitude and learns the secrets of the crystals and kryptonite as the worlds and words of Jor-el from the distant Marlon Brando echo again.

How Clark Kent discovered his flying abilities and his powers in the IMAX version is in 3D and presented in a condensed history and does more in five minutes of screen time than five years of Smallville.

Kevin Spacey gives Lex Luthor a sinister comedic edge with a penchant for one liners :I want to be Prometheus - I want to give power to the people - but I want my cut.

The quarrel with Superman Returns may be with the casting of Brandon Routh who gives Clark Kent that affable quality so reminiscent of Christopher Reeve - but as Superman despite his showings of great strength and superpower has a touch slightly too delicate. However, this is a Superman with great humanity with the daunting challenge and responsibility of trying to save all the world.

Bring it on.

The son becomes the father and the father becomes the son.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Hollywoodland - look! up in the sky

Living in Hollywood can make you famous. Dying in Hollywood can make you a legend.

Hollywoodland investigates the mysterious death of George Reeves - literally investigates the death of George Reeve - who became synonymous with playing the 1950's television incarnation of Superman.

The blaring headlines of the 1959 paper November 16, 1959 ? read TV's Superman - out of work, shoots self. The story treats the shooting as a suicide, George Reeves mother thinks otherwise and employs the gumshoe Louis Simo.

It's a murky tale explored through the plodding of down on his luck investigator Adrien Brody. He tries to put the pieces of the story together, trying to make them fit. His imaginings of the events of the night that George Reeves's died in his home postulates murder - shooting - suicide - but what can be proved ? The arc of his investigation parallels the career of George Reeves played with chameleon aplomb by Ben Affleck. Through magic, Ben Affleck's television transformation into the black and white Clark Kent - Superman is perfectly captured.

Diane Lane adds the glamour as Toni Mannix, the wife of powerful movie studio mogul Eddie Mannix who uses Reeves as her playtoy. "You were the most beautiful girl in the room," and yes, Reeves thought he could use her to get ahead. His career stuck playing in lesser movies and serials, the equivalent of movie soap operas. In 1949 he was the lead in The Adventures of Sir Galahad - 10 years previous he was in Gone with the Wind. But by the time of Superman, it was as good as it would get for him.

The ploy of using Adrien Brody as the PI to investigate the murder - and giving him a backstory of his own unfortunately adds to the muddle of Hollywoodland - but does not detract from the fine performances within.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

The Last King of Scotland - a charistmatic dictator

Fresh out of 06 TIFF - The Last King of Scotland looks at a stranger in a strange land in the country of Uganda during the days of Idi Amin making major splashes in the headlines. Opens this weekend. More to come

Monday, October 02, 2006

More releases from 06 TIFF out this week: Little Children and Shortbus

October 1, 2006

Anyone who survived the ordeal that was Inside the Bedroom have more of the same to face this week with the limited screen release of Little Children.

What should be more fun is the Canadian film Shortbus which attracted attention at the fest due to its non-simulated sex scenes. Whether the fuss extends outside the festival is another question. After all, 05 TIFF gave us Atom Egoyan's Where The Truth Lies with its controversial sex scene which plummeted the film to the deadly R rating in the States, and Clement Virgo's Lie With Me, a highly female in charge spoken point of view Canadian version of Last Tango in Paris which was that close to explicit.

Already out since the close of 06 TIFF include: THE JOURNALS OF KNUD RASMUSSEN which was the 06 Opening Gala, the documentaries The USA vs John Lennon and Manufactured Landscapes, Zach Braff in The Last Kiss, Sean Penn and Patricia Clarkson in All The King's Men . And do not forget Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker ! with Alicia Silverstone and Ewan McGregor ! how did that get into 06 TIFF ?