The Fruit Hunters Review (Kirk Haviland)

The Fruit Hunters (2012)

Written by Yung Chang and Mark Slutsky – based on the book by Adam Gollner

Directed by Yung Chang

After a highly successful Toronto debut screening as part of last week’s Toronto Reel Asian Film Festival Richmond Hill program, Yung Chang’s The Fruit Hunters starts an exclusive engagement this weekend at the Hot Docs Bloor Cinema. The film about people obsessed with seeking out and growing exotic fruits from around the world spans the globe in search of these hidden treats and director Chang introduces us to people of all nationalities. From the South American trying to save the banana business from extinction to the Hollywood celebrity trying to launch a community orchard in the Hollywood Hills, we are invited into all of these stories through Chang’s lens.

The Fruit Hunters is indeed a globetrotting tour of places with the people to whom fruit is a way of life and not just a suggested daily dietary recommendation. Spanning from Borneo to Colombia, Italy to Hollywood, these fruit-obsessed individuals band together through the shared joy of hunting down these sources of the elusive “sublime taste”. These Fruit Hunters come from all walks of life, including life-long scientists, obsessed average Joes, and celebrities like Bill Pullman. They search the world for new mango varieties, track down surreal-sounding fruit like orange cloudberry or the blackberry jam fruit, and the Superfruit, which alters your taste buds, making lemons taste sweet.

The film comes with a multitude of information and facts about these fruits and is likely to make your mouth water a bit. The end credits even include pictures and names of all of the fruits used in the film so that the audience can investigate them for themselves. Director Chang also strives to show us the impact the globalization of the fruit industry has had on the way we buy and consume the fruit we get in supermarkets. The characters are plenty, you can imagine as with all obsessions that you can attract a varied assortment of people, and Chang finds many quirky and oddball hunters to flesh out the film. The camera does spend most of its time with Pullman and his efforts in Hollywood and hunting abroad, seemingly enamored with someone so famous who has been ensnared in this small niche group.

What doesn’t work for Fruit Hunters are the goofy, ill produced re-enactments that pop up on the film, trying to explain that these exotic fruits have been influential through history. These excursions are usually jarring and ill-fitting to the general story being examined. While I give kudos to Chang for trying to lighten and liven up some of the more dry sequences of the film with these vignettes, they really do not work well. And that does bring up the other issue of the film in that there are dry spells in various places. Either some more in-depth exploration of some of the other non-Pullman storylines or even trimming the film down a bit may have resulted in a stronger beginning-to-end flow.

The Fruit Hunters does achieve its ultimate goal in educating and fascinating the audience with all the exotic treasures, but as a film it is hardly a slam dunk. Even with its issues, Fruit Hunters still packs more than enough punch and information to entertain and fascinate. The Fruit Hunters is a mild recommend.

The Fruit Hunters starts its exclusive run at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema Friday Nov 23rd. For more information check their Online Schedule.

Till Next Time,

Movie Junkie TO

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Detropia Review (Kirk Haviland)

Detropia (2012)

Written and Directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady

The once bustling city of Detroit is a shadow of its former self. Starting back in 2010 when the economic downturn was in full swing, Detroit went from downturn to depression in a heartbeat. With the closures of local automobile production plants, the heart of Detroit’s manufacturing industry, other key business people started leaving Detroit in droves. Once one of the fastest growing cities in the world, Detroit now ranks among the highest cities in lost population over the last couple of years. While the families have moved on, the younger generation of bloggers and performance artist have now claimed it due to cheaper housing and access.

Detropia starts before the economic buyouts that turned around the auto industry in Detroit. These were the leanest of days, focusing on the few that stayed fighting and trying to rally the city back to its former glory. The city itself is broke, having to find ways to stay afloat by cutting essential services and social programs just to avoid declaring outright bankruptcy. The film focuses mainly on three Detroit citizens/activists and the Mayoral offices of the city. Crystal Starr is a video blogger determined revitalize the abandoned buildings and streets of Detroit, she also works in a coffee shop during the day. George McGregor is the head of Local 22 of the auto workers union, desperately trying to save the jobs of his fellow unionists as the companies and jobs available continue to dwindle. Tommy Stephens is a retired school teacher who owns a local lounge keeping the Motown tradition alive with great live bands performing every night, but he can’t help but seeing the struggling neighborhood around him every day.

Directors Ewing and Grady spend the bulk of the film exploring the current state of Detroit, with minor glimpses of the past blended in. The course of the film takes a dramatic twist when the US Government bail outs occurs and the people of Detroit get their manufacturing division back, but not without cost. There is a poignant scene that depicts the amount of struggle and compromise through a worker’s call to George who just wants to know what is left of the medical coverage that wasn’t sacrificed for the new deal to go back to work. Other impactful moments include a trip to the auto show by Tommy that results in a wakeup call when he realizes the amount being charged for hybrid vehicles out of Detroit is almost double those coming from China and other places in the world. And right near the beginning of the film Crystal walks us through an abandoned building with some of the most spectacular views of the city and wonders who would ever give that up. The scene that summed it up best for me is a simple steady shot on a 12 story wall that was once a building, swaying in the wind unsupported while pieces of the wall fall downward to the ground.

In the end Detropia delivers a strong message and a real feel of what modern day Detroit citizens are coping and dealing with. While not every aspect and decision in the film works, I know why they show the performance artists and their story but in the end it becomes superfluous. However, there really is some good footage here and the three main focused characters really are engaging. Detropia is a recommend.

Detropia has an exclusive run at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema on now until October 19th.

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The Story Of Film Preview (Kirk Haviland)

The Story of Film: An Odyssey

Written and Directed by Mark Cousins

Last year Mark Cousins in conjunction with the BBC brought us a 15 part epic series entitled The Story of Film: An Odyssey. Starting last weekend and continuing through to November The Hot Docs Bloor Cinema is presenting the entire series in 2 part chunks on Sunday nights with replays on Tues nights, only taking a break to present the Toronto After Dark Film Festival in late October. Starting from back at the turn of the 20th century, The Story of Film attempts to present the most complete version of the history of film production put forward. Not content to just focus on the Hollywood scene, Cousins spans the globes for the most influential films and filmmakers of their time and presents their stories in detail.

The first two episodes cover the start of film, from the 1890’s through to the 1920’s/30’s, and show us the innovations from across the globe, many of which still apply today. We delve into the careers of Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin while also investigating the seminal films Birth of a Nation, The Passion of Joan of Arc and many more. Cousins has certainly done his homework as the film is chocked full of details that even the most hardened of film historians may not know. His depth of research is certainly astounding and furthermore the amount of footage he has access to is stunning. Some of these films have probably not been projected since they were first put in theaters.

Dry in parts because of the sheer amount of knowledge being displayed, The Story of Film: An Odyssey is a MUST SEE for any true cinema lovers. This is the most comprehensive dissection of film’s history ever put together. Do yourself a favor and get out to the Hot Docs Bloor Cinema and catch as much of this as you can. For more details on show times consult the Hot Docs Bloor Cinema schedule.

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Movie Junkie TO

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Paul Williams: Still Alive Review (Kirk Haviland)

Paul Williams: Still Alive (2011)

Starring Paul Williams

Written and Directed by Stephen Kessler

In a year where this critic has personally seen some fantastic music documentaries the likes of Marley, My Father and the Man in Black  and Charles Bradley: Soul of America, I was wary that a documentary about singer/songwriter Paul Williams could measure up. Fortunately director Kessler delivers a very personal, funny and engaging film about not only Paul but himself as well. Paul Williams is indeed alive and very feisty in this film, using shot footage mixed with archival footage as we trace the rise, fall and rebirth of the man that wrote the immortal “Rainbow Connection” amongst other classic songs.

Director Kessler starts musing about how he used to admire the 5’2 Williams as a child. Williams had a very storied career in the 70’s, acting in major television shows and movies like Smokey and the Bandit and the cult classic Phantom of the Paradise. Along with recording his own albums Williams wrote chart toppers for David Bowie, The Carpenters and his greatest hit was in collaboration with Barbara Streisand off the A Star is Born soundtrack, a song that won him a Academy Award. Kessler attempts to purchase one of Williams’ albums online and aaccidentally discovers that the man he thought was dead was very much alive. Travelling to Winnipeg, Manitoba for “Phantompaloza” in 2006, celebrating the aforementioned Phantom of the Paradise, Kessler meets a now 16 year sober Williams as her performs a live concert as part of the event. Convincing Williams to allow him to film him for a documentary, Kessler spends the next couple of years filming the sometimes cantankerous Williams, as the two eventually bond over terrorist threats during a tour of the Philippines, and discussing where it all went wrong while simultaneously tracking his career through the 70’s with intercut archival footage. Williams is affected greatly by a clip of him hosting a talk show completely out of his mind on cocaine in the early 80’s, a clip he does not finish watching. Based on this though, as it is one of very limited footage the director could find at the time, Williams opens up his storage unit full of boxes of mementos and rare footage that fills out the documentary.

Gruff at times and loveable at others, Williams comes off as extremely likeable and you really do root for him. The archival footage is fantastic, Williams a regular on shows like The Tonight Show, The Muppet Show, Match Game and many more is a genuinely funny man. Though despite all the accolades, Williams is at his happiest now. With his 3rd wife, he admits he was not a good husband to his first 2, on tour and invested in his career and being completely sober, Williams is enjoying his connection to his fans and being able to perform for them.

While not as strongly produced as the documentaries I mentioned earlier, Paul Williams: Still Alive is still a hell of a lot of fun. The Archival footage is great and there is so much laughter in here mainly because Paul himself is truly hilarious. For a fun light-hearted time I give Paul Williams: Still Alive a solid recommend.

Paul Williams: Still Alive starts an exclusive run at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema on Friday August 10th.

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The Man Nobody Knew Review (Kirk Haviland)

The Man Nobody Knew: In Search of My Father, CIA Spymaster William Colby

Directed by Carl Colby

Carl Colby’s father William did not have the average 9-to-5 American job. Part quest to enlighten the masses as to exactly what his father was responsible for and part personal exploration, The Man Nobody Knew uses a multitude of historical footage to tell its story. With Carl narrating we get a series of personalized interviews, many addressing Carl directly instead of just the camera, with many important present and former government personnel and recognized historians to flesh out the history of this man.

Photo courtesy of First Run Features

Starting with Pearl Harbour and his father’s enlistment into the infantry, Carl describes the ambition his father had and sense of duty. Many years after the family finds out that William is not quite working for the employers they had in mind, when the neighbours he carpooled with noticed him leaving where he was supposedly working for somewhere else. Fearing that the Italians might be communist, Colby and clan are sent to live in Rome. Keeping his family mostly in the dark, Colby was able to use his family dynamic to ingratiate himself with the powers that be. Something he used to great advantage as he was moved to Vietnam in 1959 and became a beloved advisor to President Diem before the war started.  Leaving in 1962, Colby became an advisor for all Asian affairs in the CIA. His replacement, Henry Cabot Lodge, was the man whose actions led to the coup and assassination of President Diem and the beginning of the Vietnam War. Returning years later, in 1968, Colby instituted many programs, including the controversial Phoenix program for intelligence gathering, intended on turning the tide of the war. Phoenix ended up backfiring dramatically and making him a pariah both abroad and at home with the millions of protesters lining the streets. After returning from Vietnam in 1971 he is named Director of the CIA by Richard Nixon in 1973, unaware of the black ops occurring under Nixon’s commands including Watergate. Colby is credited with keeping all the secrets and the Intelligence agency alive and functional during these times. Colby would not end up serving as Director very long, as he was replaced by George Bush Sr.

Photo courtesy of First Run Features

The Junior Colby’s exploration into his father’s life is really a hit and miss affair. Playing out like a History Channel documentary with tons of footage, The Man Nobody Knew as a theatrical outing is very dull. While the story behind the man provides many fascinating insights, the way they play out in a standard flat style with footage and standard interviews against a plain background leaves something to be desired. Colby as a narrator does not work. Lacking emotion and using a monotone delivery and unsatisfactory blend of personal and impersonal style, Colby’s observations are blunt and sometimes completely unearned. The film’s narrative plays out more as a barely animated linear description of events than that of a storyteller trying to tell us of a fascinating character in the history of the United States Intelligence community. The lack of storytelling prowess leaves us with a dull ineffective narrative that makes the film a tough watch to get through. For a film subtitled “In search of my father” the junior Colby spends a staggering brief amount of time talking about the man over his exploits. In fact the brevity and lack of exploration shown on screen to the last 10-15 years of the senior Colby’s life leaves us as a,n audience, very unsatisfied. After seeing this type of story done so successfully earlier this year with “My Father and the Man in Black“, The Man Nobody Knew’s shortcomings are even more glaring.

While it does have some fascinating info and clips dealing with the history of the United States during some very turbulent times, as a film The Man Nobody Knew does not hold up. The Man Nobody Knew: In Search of my Father CIA spymaster William Colby is a non-recommend.

The Man Nobody Knew starts an exclusive 4-day run at the Hot Docs Bloor Cinema on Monday August 6th. Details can be found on their website schedule.

Till Next Time,

Movie Junkie TO

Make sure to keep up with what’s going on at Entertainment Maven by liking our Facebook page and having updates delivered right to your Facebook News Feed. It’s the only way to stay on top of all of our articles with the newest blockbusters and all the upcoming films and festivals in Toronto.

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