All posts by Norm Wilner

Norman Wilner is a film critic who lives in Toronto.

As Real As It Gets

Behold, NOW’s annual Hot Docs issue — which is just jam-packed with stuff, including our customarily massive review section (I think I have 26 capsules in there, with more going online in the days to come) and my chat with Kiva Reardon, a friend and colleague who was asked to program this year’s Redux series and made the most of the opportunity.

But pay special attention to Rad’s cover story on Charles Officer’s Unarmed Verses, which is as perceptive a Toronto documentary as they come — and I’m really glad to see us giving it a spotlight.

Also, I’ll be appearing on CBC Radio’s Metro Morning today around 8:20 am to discuss the festival and NOW’s coverage of it. If you miss it, I’ll post a link here as soon as I’m able.

I’m very tired.

Demme, Dammit

So I wrote some words for NOW about Jonathan Demme, whose death this morning landed like a hammer on the film community. Yeah, he was 73 but he always seemed far more youthful — boyish, even — and though he was ailing you’d never have known it from his work or his public appearances.

I only met Demme once, but he was exactly as advertised — generous with his time, gracious to a fault, utterly at ease with himself and less interested in hitting his talking points than he was in having an actual conversation.

If you play the audio segments at the bottom of the piece, you’ll hear it in his voice: He was just having the best time. I can’t believe he’s gone.

Find Your Squad

This week on Someone Else’s Movie, my guest is actor Tammy Gillis, who stars in the indie drama Menorca, which opened in Toronto last week. I have some issues with the film but her performance isn’t one of them, and it was a pleasure to sit down with her for the show.

Tammy picked Bridesmaids, the blockbuster that vaulted Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy to the A-list (and the Oscar ballot) and demonstrated that, duh, funny movies that showcase funny women have no trouble drawing an audience. Although I’m sure there are a dozen studio executives willing to explain how the Ghostbusters remake proves this was a non-repeatable phenomenon.

Anyway, we get into all that. Give it a listen! Subscribe on iTunesGoogle Play oStitcher, or download it straight from the site. And enjoy!

Searching, Always Searching

Eleven movies are opening today, which seems like an awful lot to cover until you find out several weren’t made available for review (or, in the case of The Promise, were screened but somehow nobody told you). So we muddle through as best we can.  Join me, won’t you?

Born in China: Rad finds that the latest DisneyNature release has the same weaknesses as all the other ones — ignoring uncomfortable realities to construct an unchallenging kid-friendly narrative. At least the pandas are cute.

Citizen Jane: Battle for the City: Susan loved Matt Tyrnauer’s doc about Jane Jacobs’ efforts to derail the Lower Manhattan Expressway at TIFF last year. I’m looking forward to catching up to it once I’ve cleared all the other documentaries on my plate.

Colossal: Nacho Vigalondo’s monster movie offers a fantastic Anne Hathaway performance and a really clever concept, but it gets snarled up in some character stuff in the final movement. Still worth seeing, but lower your expectations.

Elsewhere, NY: Toronto director Jeffrey P. Nesker’s Manhattan love triangle has been knocking around the festival circuit since late 2014, and now opens at the Carlton with minimal promotion. So, okay.

Free Fire: Ben Wheatley’s ’70s shootout is a blast in more ways than one, playing with genre conventions and period tics to create a delightfully entertaining feature-length set piece. Everybody’s having the best time. You will too.

The Lost City of Z: James Gray makes a magnificent spectacle out of one man’s obsession in this intimate epic, which will probably fare as well as every other one of his recent movies. Maybe you can help out by, I dunno, going and seeing it.

Menorca: John Barnard’s Manitoba indie has a disreputable vibe that recalls countless direct-to-video productions from the late ’80s and early ’90s, but it doesn’t deliver on that seedy promise. Tammy Gillis is terrific, though.

Phoenix Forgotten: The feature directorial debut of Justin Barber, producer of Barry Jenkins’ Medicine for Melancholy, is …a found-footage thriller about aliens or something? Anyway, no press screening.

The Promise: Oscar Isaac and Christian Bale fight over Charlotte Le Bon as the Armenian genocide rages in the background. I think. This is the one that screened without me.

Strangers on the Earth: Glenn really responded to Tristan Cook’s documentary about the people who walk the Camino de Santiago in Spain, so if you’re looking for a contemplative doc with occasional cello music, this will be your jam.

Unforgettable: This is the one  where Katherine Heigl gaslights Rosario Dawson because Dawson has the temerity to date Heigl’s ex. No press screening, but Phil saw it. Poor Phil.

Okay, that’s everything. On with the day.

The Moose Outside Shoulda Told Ya

It’s National Canadian Film Day, which means we’re finally about to reach the end of the ad cycle for National Canadian Film Day.

Oh, okay, that Sandra Oh spot was pretty good. And Don McKellar directed it!

Anyway, if you have a couple of hours to spare you should go see something. There are 1700 events across the country, and if you’re in Toronto there’s some especially good stuff: Don is introducing his lovely apocalypse dramedy Last Night at the Revue Cinema at 6:30 pm, Joey Klein’s moving two-hander The Other Half plays at the Scotiabank at 7 pm with a post-screening panel with Joey and some special guests (advance tickets are sold out, but there will be a rush line), and I’ll be at The Royal for a 20th anniversary screening of Vincenzo Natali’s Cube at 8 pm.

Or you can just stay home and watch your Blu-rays of Shivers, Rabid Dead Ringers and/or Ginger Snaps. Which you imported from the US or the UK, since their Canadian rights-holders can’t be arsed to release them in HD …

L.A. After Dark

This week on Someone Else’s Movie, we’re back in London to talk to screenwriter and author Mike Carey, a fellow who appreciates the value of a deep dive into a well-constructed environment, having written both the book and film versions of the ingenious zombie picture The Girl with All the Gifts.

Mike picked L.A. Confidential, marking the second time this year someone’s brought a Curtis Hanson picture onto the show. And it’s a very good conversation, touching on casting, tone, texture, the film’s fumbled theatrical release and subsequent critical canonification. Plus we talk about comic books a little. That’s his thing.

You know how to hear it: Subscribe on iTunesGoogle Play oStitcher, or download the episode straight from the show site. And if you missed The Girl with All the Gifts during its brief theatrical run, it’s now available on demand and coming to Blu-ray and DVD next week. Don’t miss out. It’s terrific.


The World Needs Heroes

On this Good Friday, we should all take a moment and think about the choices we’ve made in our lives that have brought us to the point where there are eight Fast and Furious movies and only one Josie and the Pussycats.

What? It’s an important question. Also, is it weird that the new F&F movie is the only new opener that didn’t play TIFF last year? It feels weird.

Black Code: Nick de Pencier’s documentary examines the connected world and how state powers can abuse that connectivity. I think it overreaches a bit, but the individual stories are strong.

The Fate of the Furious: The producers of the increasingly ludicrous franchise have brought Charlize Theron aboard and yet somehow didn’t call this one The Fast and the Furiosa. Anyway, Rad liked it.

The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki: If Rocky had been shot in black-and-white in 1960s Finland, it might have looked a little like Juho Kuosmanen’s charming sports picture. Although I’m not sure there would have been as much baking.

Maudie: Glenn is quite content with Aisling Walsh’s low-key biopic of Nova Scotia artist Maud Lewis, thanks to the performances of Sally Hawkins and Ethan Hawke.

My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea: Dash Shaw’s animated comedy plays like a kid mashing up Rushmore and The Poseidon Adventure in a homemade comic book, which is kind of what it is. But it has its charms.

A Quiet Passion: Terence Davies makes a small, still film about the sad, lonely life of Emily Dickinson, and though Cynthia Nixon is really good in the role (and Jennifer Ehle is just swell as Emily’s sister Vinnie), Davies’ choices smother the material rather than illuminate it.

Their Finest: Lone Scherfig’s latest is a frightfully clever wartime dramedy with a top-flight cast, including Gemma Arterton,  Bill Nighy and Richard E. Grant. Even that Hunger Games guy is good.

And that’s everything! Enjoy the long weekend, and catch The Void if it’s still playing in your neighborhood. You can also watch it on iTunes, but it’s just not the same.

History In Pictures

The exhibition of NOW covers which motivated last week’s great big movie story is underway at Brookfield Place now — and if you’re unable to get down there, the featured covers and accompanying texts are collected here, along with a little backstory on the project.

It was a huge undertaking, and I’m glad it turned out as well as it did. But it’s a lot more impressive when you see it laid out properly, so definitely check out the physical exhibit if you’re able. I might even see you there.

Living in Oblivion

This week on Someone Else’s Movie, documentary filmmaker Nick de Pencier — whose new project Black Code opens in Toronto and Vancouver this Friday after a nice long run on the festival circuit — reaches back into the archives of the National Film Board to discuss Donald Brittain’s Volcano: An Inquiry Into the Life and Death of Malcolm Lowry, which was nominated for an Oscar in 1976 and then overwritten in the public consciousness by John Huston’s terrific adaptation of Lowry’s novel Under the Volcano a few years later.

Go get it! Subscribe on iTunesGoogle Play oStitcher, or grab it right here at the SEMcast site.

And if you’d like to see Brittain’s movie, it’s streaming for free on the NFB’s website and YouTube. Or you can spin up the second disc of Criterion’s Under the Volcano, which I’m sure you bought years ago. You seem like a good person.