Toronto Underground Cinema – Rep Cinema’s Latest Fallen Warrior (Kirk Haviland)

I must start with the fact that I have been very torn about writing this article. With the news now out that the Toronto Underground Cinema will be closing its doors for good on Sunday Sept 16th, my prediction from when the Cumberland went away in May has unfortunately come true: another member of Toronto’s immensely populated Repertory Cinema scene has fallen, and this time it’s personal. The main reason as to why I have struggled with what to say is that the Underground is not merely a cool little place in the heart of the city with tons of history and an awesome vibe – it’s also populated and run by friends.

Opened in 1977 under the tent pole of the Golden Harvest film production company, the Golden Classics cinema as it was then known, highlighted the best in classic Golden Harvest Kung Fu films in a very crowded marketplace on Spadina in the heart of Toronto’s Chinatown. Thriving from the late 70’s through to the early 90’s, the Golden Harvest eventually ran into financial woes and had to close its doors. After another failed attempt that lasted less than a year, the theater languished for 15 years before another attempt to change the house into an experimental film/live performance hall proved unfruitful. Then three young cinema enthusiasts banded together and approached the owner with the idea and concept behind the Toronto Underground Cinema.

From left to right: Charlie Lawton, Nigel Agnew, and Alex Woodside

Under the new management of Charlie Lawton, and Bloor Cinema alumni Alex Woodside and Nigel Agnew the theater re-opened as the newly christened Toronto Underground Cinema. Utilizing fellow former Bloor Cinema employee Peter Kuplowsky to help program and book the films for the theatre, the cinema got off to an auspicious start, documented in The Rep web-series, but quickly grew to prominence due to themed events featuring the likes of directors Kevin Smith and Edgar Wright. When the Bloor was shut down for almost a year for renovations it was the Underground that stepped forward to host event nights like the ‘Dream Date with Freddy Krueger’ in conjunction with Toronto’s Fan Expo. The Underground also became the new home for Rue Morgue Magazine’s Cinemacabre nights, and, in what may have been their most profitable partnership, they hosted the 2011 version of the Toronto After Dark Film Festival.

But sadly the theatre itself had started to show its age; some major issues, which had been skirted for years, needed to be resolved. The guys had known all along that there was work that needed to be done, but convincing the people that matter, the ones with the money, turned out to be a goal that never came to fruition. So after closing in July in hopes of starting the renovations that never happened, the guys have since decided to close the doors and move on. I will truly miss the great times and friends of the Underground, some of the after parties are now legends. I wish the boys all the best in whatever they do next.

That said, the guys have decided to go out on a high and have stacked the last two weeks of the Underground’s existence with some excellent counter-TIFF programming. Starting Sept 6TH the theater will host it’s last Film Festival, with the 2012 version of the Toronto Indie Film Festival, the highlight of which is another chance to watch the excellent My Father and the Man in Black on Sept 13th at 9:15. On Sept 8th at 11:50 pm (yes that’s ten to midnight) the boys will host one last cinematic grindhouse blowout from the crew at Vagrancy Films. If you have never been to a Vagrancy show they are a not to be missed events and this time promises to be no different with the screening of Emanuelle Around the World in 35MM! Then comes the final night blowout on Sept 16th with two 35MM film presentations: 1984’s cult classic, Night of the Comet, and the fitting finisher of The Band’s concert film, The Last Waltz.

So if you have been an avid supporter of the cinema or have never been, there are plenty of reasons to get out there and check out the cinema before it’s too late. Goodnight dear Underground, hopefully your slumber is short lived.

Till Next Time,

Movie Junkie TO

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ChickFlicking – A Reflection Brought on by Sci Fi (Nadia Sandhu)

The Monsters and Martians Science Fiction Film Festival recently showcased the festival sensation “Dimensions,” a film which has been wracking up Best Film and Best Director Awards from science fiction film aficionados the world over (Best Film at 2012 London Independent Film Festival, Boston International Science Fiction Film Festival, and Long Island Science Fiction Film Festival)

However, despite this pedigree my male blogging colleagues showed no interest in attending the screening or reviewing the film – even though most of these same gents were at Fan Expo this weekend, a convention that science fiction built.  So science fiction was clearly not the issue at hand.

What was it then, that kept these self-confessed film nerds from embracing this festival darling?  Was it the marketing emphasis on steampunk or was it the period costumes?  It couldn’t have been the time travel plot, because I know these guys speak glowingly of films like Back to the Future, The Terminator and even Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. (Watch the trailer and decide for yourself.)

As I mulled things over I kept coming back to the period costumes and the British accents.  I thought back to the screening I attended for Hysteria, which in retrospect was mostly female even though the film was an honest to goodness sex comedy.  That film too featured British accents and period costumes.  Then there was that whole The Social Network vs. The King’s Speech divide. Curiouser and curiouser.

Simplistic as this may sound then, British accents and period costumes are integral to the definition of a chick flick.  Armed with this evidence it has become clear to me that what we have here is a clear case of a Science Fiction Chick Flick that will require special handling for its inevitable release.

So while this summer we’ve been getting our feet wet, feeling our way around the boundaries of the chick flick before we plunge into more complex academic dissections, at this early stage it seems safe to categorize films that are largely the provenance of chicks thusly:

–       A plot concerned primarily with romance/romantic relationships

–       A comedic plot concerned primarily with romance/romantic relationships

–       A plot revolving around family dynamics

–       A plot revolving around a female protagonist

–       An adaptation of classic literature or chick lit

–       A period piece (British accents optional)

–       Musicals

These are the films we take/drag our significant others to.

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Saluting a Top Gun – The Tragic Passing of Tony Scott (Nadia Sandhu)

The internet was abuzz with the news of director Tony Scott’s apparent suicide as I went to bed last night, and inevitably my dreams involved Mavericks and Gooses (Geese?).

Much is made of the career and works of highbrow filmmakers, so much so that significant contributions of more populist directors, the masterminds behind the big budget blockbusters, are unfairly undervalued (see Steven Spielberg and the Quest for Oscar).

For all that film is a storytelling format, it is still primarily a visual medium and Tony Scott excelled at crafting high-octane fare that swooped, swooshed and vroomed across our screens. Scott made his mark on planes (Top Gun), trains (The Taking of Pelham 123), automobiles (Days of Thunder) and even submarines (Crimson Tide).  He directed Tom Cruise and Will Smith (Enemy of the State) and Eddie Murphy (Beverly Hills Cop II) and Denzel Washington (five times!) at the heights of their careers.  He even directed a Quentin Tarantino film for good measure (True Romance).

Alongside James Cameron and Michael Bay, Scott forged the action movie genre.  Where would Michael Bay (anything!) or Brett Ratner (Rush Hour) even be without him?  Think about that, and try not to focus on the sad circumstances around his death, even as you morbidly wonder what Top Gun 2 will be without his vision.

Top Gun Clip

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ChickFlicking: In Tha Biz – “The Incredible Case of Kristen Stewart’s Diminishing Prospects” (Nadia Sandhu)

Enough with the gender studies essays on Kristen Stewart, I beg of you. There has been no escaping the latest brouhaha as reports surfaced that Kristen Stewart will not be appearing in Universal’s next Snow White and the Huntsman installment, and that Rupert Sanders most probably will direct.

While the temptation here is to erroneously conflate Kristen’s so-called predicament with Meg Ryan’s own career death spiral (I’m looking at you Lainey), let’s not draw attention away from the key fact. This is not about actors and actresses, or even directors at all – it’s about money. Show BUSINESS. That means producers and distributors call the shots, however bizarrely counter-intuitive those calls may be.

If we follow the money, we find that the producing team behind Snow White and the Huntsman, Roth Films, not only delivered that box office hit for Universal, but were also behind Alice in Wonderland for Disney and are currently shepherding two major tent poles for the rival studio (Oz the Great and Powerful and Malificent). They are the flavour of the month so to speak, so much so that Universal has acquired another property for them, and they in turn are standing by their director. Why is anyone’s guess because the guy is a total hack. Nevertheless, there it is. Rupert Sanders will direct the newly acquired “90 Church” and probably the newly front burnered Huntsman spin off (my money is on a prequel). Check out the non-denial by Universal. They are following the surer path and hedging their bets by spinning off Chris Hemsworth and the Huntsman, at least until the returns come in for Breaking Dawn Part 2.

Now on to K-Stew. Her box office appeal has always been questionable. I know I certainly didn’t go to see SWATH (review) because Kristen Stewart was in it, and judging from audience reaction I wasn’t the only one who got dooped into seeing the film inspite of her presence by a fantastically dark and old school Burtonesque trailer.

So while the film made over $400 million at the box office, we really don’t know how much of that success was based on the Twilight Army showing up in force, or because of doops like me. What we do know is Twilight fans don’t usually turn up for any of their purported fave actors in non-Twilight films, Kristen Stewart included.  We also know that Kristen Stewart has blood on her hands for brutally killing the fantasy imaginings of Twilight fans, forcing those crazies to face the harsh light of reality – Edward and Bella do not exist in real life and are not living happily ever after.

Chris Hemsworth has also not actually opened a film by himself per se, since Thor was a success that Marvel Fans built, but his star is undeniably on the rise.  He has proven charismatic and capable. Let’s be honest, he was also the only watchable actor in the mess that was SWATH (don’t even get me started on the histrionics by Charlize).

So it really comes down to a tale of two leads – one who may be on the wane, and one who is clearly in the ascendant, and a director who is in good with producers who make money for the studio.

Make no mistake, it was precisely because an overrated actress was shoved down the throats of non-Twilight fans by a sycophantic media that people have taken a bit of satisfaction in her “fall” from grace.  The media projected the hubris and her own snotty attitude helped the process along, until the stage was set for the current pile on.  This is NOT a simple black/white feminist issue.  Move on people, you are making me feel sorry for the girl and we can’t have that.

Also, can we maybe stop giving the talentless Mr. Sanders so much ink until he does something to prove he isn’t a blip on the radar? Geez Louise.

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The Netflix Log-In Vol.1

Every once in a while we here at the Entertainment Maven can forget that the movie going experience isn’t just in theatres or attending one of the many festivals here in the city of Toronto, but it is quite often an experience that takes place in the comfort of our home.  So while our staff will check in from time to time with DVD & Blu-Ray reviews it is important to remember that there are multiple ways to soak up some cinematic goodness at home.  Every once in a while, I’ll be checking in with a look at some of the new and more notable Film and TV titles to appear on the streaming Netflix service that anyone who is a subscriber can watch at simply the click of a mouse or a remote.  Settle in for the first installment of the ‘Netflix Log-In’ as we take a look at five recent additions to Netflix here at Entertainment Maven.

First up, after a successful run at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival, The Skin I Live In is now available on demand.  A truly stunning film by director Pedro Almodovar that follows a brilliant plastic surgeon, Robert Ledgard (Antonio Bandaras), as he seeks to overcome the grief of his late wife’s disfigurement in a fiery car crash by inventing skin that’s impervious to injury. But his experiments on a living woman hasten his descent into madness.  This was a thrilling psychological ride that will keep you transfixed to the screen as the story unfolds and is more than worth a look if you haven’t already caught up with this wonder film.

The Way is an intense family drama starring Martin Sheen and directed by Emilio Estevez. As Tom (Sheen) flies to France to claim the remains of his son who died while hiking the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route in the Pyrenees, he decides to complete the 500 mile trek to Spain to honor his son and ends up discovering himself in the process.  This was an understated and well done drama that was written and directed by Estevez and had a solid ensemble cast including Deborah Kara Unger and James Nesbitt, a surprisingly uplifting and charming little film.

From the TV side of things, the short lived yet stellar FlashForwardhas its complete 22 episode run now available for streaming.  This show tracks a mysterious event that causes nearly everyone to experience a simultaneous 137-second blackout and premonitions about their lives six months into the future. It’s up to a team of FBI agents to find out if it will happen again and why.  Lead by Joseph Fiennes this was an incredibly well written and acted TV series that was hoping to fill the void left by Lost but it never really caught on, and I highly recommend that you get hooked now.

The indie sci-fi hit Another Earth takes place after a strange Earth-like planet is discovered. Astrophysics student Rhoda (Brit Marling) accidentally slams her car into the vehicle of John, killing his family. In time, Rhoda and John begin an unlikely romance, but Rhoda begins to wonder about the other planet and struggles with the consequences of her action.  A stunning drama that introduces us to up and coming talent Brit Marling. It’s an emotional and intellectual powerhouse making for some truly fantastic storytelling. It didn’t last long in theatres but the more people who watch the more of a shelf life this fantastic film will get.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes was one of the surprises of last year’s summer blockbuster season.  A reboot of the Planet of the Apes franchise, this is a prequel set in modern-day San Francisco, where scientists are conducting genetic research on apes. However, when the evolved primates develop advanced intelligence and revolt against being used as lab rats things get more than a little intense. This was a surprisingly effective thriller that came out of left field, and if you missed this on the big screen, it is certainly a fun action romp more than worth the hit against your data cap.

Just a small cross-section of the films that are available on the instant streaming service Netflix, visit Netflix for more info about the service as well as the thousands of titles that they have access to on demand.

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