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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Rise of the Guardians Review (Kirk Haviland)

Rise of the Guardians (2012)

Starring the voices of Chris Pine, Alec Baldwin, Jude Law, Isla Fisher and Hugh Jackman

Written by David Lindsay-Abaire based on the books written by William Joyce

Directed by Peter Ramsey

New in theaters in time for US Thanksgiving weekend, and ready to fight for box office domination against stiff competition, Dreamworks and Paramount Pictures bring us the new animated film Rise of the Guardians. Classic iconic characters such as Santa, the Easter Bunny, Sandman, Tooth Fairy and Jack Frost are all in this rousing tale of camaraderie and teamwork. But how does Rise of the Guardians fare against other options out there this weekend?

Rise of the Guardians starts by introducing us to Jack Frost, the fun-loving yet very lonely master of ice and snow, who runs around in secret as the humans of the world cannot see him. When an evil spirit known as Pitch lays down the gauntlet to take over the world the Guardians, the group of legendary characters mentioned above, are re-united to defend the earth and its children. But Pitch knows the Guardians’ weakness and is ready to take them on. It’s up to Jack to decide whether he will change his solitary lifestyle and become a true guardian.

Dreamworks has managed to produce what is destined to be another holiday classic, yet for Easter, not Christmas. You read that right, the film is set three days before Easter, not Christmas. The script is very funny and while it still hits familiar notes, the film makes these conventions work and introduces its own rules specific to this universe. We see not just Santa’s Workshop but the Tooth Fairy’s palace and the Easter Bunny’s burrow. Many films have shown Christmas in full prep mode, but Guardians shows us a fun, if not slightly Willy Wonka creepy, interpretation of the Easter Bunny’s prep. Having the writer of the original books William Joyce along on the production adds to the quality of the film and has obviously helped in the creativity department.

The voice cast here works for the most part, even though it is a touch gimmicky. Chris Pine as Jack Frost and Isla Fisher as Tooth Fairy are both charming and sweet. Jackman’s bunny and the non-verbal Sandman are highlights for sure. Alec Baldwin doing basically the Russian version of Mike Myers’ goofy Shrek accent works most of the time, but does to go over the deep end at times. The best work though belongs to Jude Law, whose work as Pitch Black, the villain, is impeccable.

The CG animation work is great, with many photo realistic touches and elements. The character models are updated takes on the classic imagery we have of these iconic characters. Santa becomes a large tattooed burly man with a thick Russian accent; The Easter Bunny is a 6 foot tall Kiwi with boomerangs for weapons and the Sandman is actually made out of sand. These ingenious little touches lets you know right away that we are dealing with new takes on these characters and set the right tone for the adventure to come.

Destined to become a crossover holiday classic, much like Henry Selick’s Nightmare before Christmas is both a Christmas and Halloween favorite, Rise of the Guardians will be the same for Christmas and Easter. Fun, smart and endearing, Rise of the Guardians will be fun for kids of all ages. Rise of the Guardians is a definite recommend.

Till Next Time,

Movie Junkie TO

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Magic City Season 1 Blu-Ray Review (Kirk Haviland)

Magic City Season 1 Blu-Ray Review

Starring Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Olga Kurylenko, Steven Strait, Jessica Marais, Christian Cooke, Yul Vazquez, Taylor Blackwell, Dominik Garcia-Lorido, Elena Satine, Michael Rispoli, Kelly Lynch and Danny Huston.

Series created by Mitch Glazer

New this week from Starz Network and Anchor Bay Entertainment comes the first season of the acclaimed series Magic City. The lavishly conceived and staged production set in 1959 Miami Beach is a crime ridden gangster drama with a gloss and charm set to draw you in and make you stay a while. Producer Mitch Glazer used recollections, both fantasy and fact, to craft this series based on the Miami Beach he knew growing up. But does Magic City hold up with the quality of other contemporary cable shows?

As Ike Evans (Morgan) rings in the New Year, with the Chairman of the board himself Frank Sinatra crooning in the Grand Ballroom at his luxurious Miramar Playa Hotel, Castro’s rebels seize Havana just 200 miles offshore.  Miami is turbulent but the Kennedys, the mob and the CIA all hold court here. Evans must deal with the Mob, his complicated family and a city in the midst of dramatic change. Ike is the King of the beach and the Miramar is his crown jewel, but everything comes at a price. To finance his dream, Ike sold his soul to mob boss Ben “The Butcher” Diamond (Huston). Ike’s wife Vera (Kurylenko) and his three kids, Stevie (Strait), Danny (Cooke) and Lauren (Blackwell), all think he’s an honorable man, but he can’t break his pact with the devil. In fact, nothing at the Miramar Playa is what it seems. The days are sunny but the nights are full of intrigue, excess and bad decisions that come with a price. As Ike’s world threatens to implode, he fights for his family, and the Miramar Playa, in Magic City.

The strength of Magic City is the layered universe it has created. The main plot playing out is the struggle of Ike to stay afloat and ahead of the Mob and a Bulldog District Attorney determined to go through Ike to Ben Diamond. But all around this we get the sub plots of Stevie getting involved with the “most wrong woman possible” played by Marais, The D.A. trying to pit the ambitious Danny against his family with the promise of a prestigious Assistant D.A. position once out of school. Also, a call girl by the name of Judi Silver (Satine) who manages to be in the wrong place at the wrong time many times over, Ike’s General Manager Vic (Vazquez) tries to liberate his wife who is trapped in Castro’s embargoed Cuba and Ike’s new bride Eva tries to prove to everyone that she does have a place in the business and the family. These storylines bleed and thread themselves throughout the fabric of the main story and enrich the final product as a whole.

Morgan is fantastic as Ike, he carries an old school swagger and charm about him that just oozes onscreen, and his charisma is a perfect fit for Ike. I’ve been listening to people tout Strait as a talent to watch ever since 2005’s Undiscovered and Sky High, but this may be the first time I have started to agree with them. His Stevie makes bad decision after bad decision, but you see that even he knows he is making the wrong decisions he is smart enough to realize them for what they are, though his nature prevents him from passing on temptations. Olga Kurylenko is a bit of a revelation here. I’m not sure I have ever seen her so confident and in charge of herself onscreen. She seems to have melted into Eva effortlessly and the show is all together better not because of her sex appeal but her acting ability. You can tell Huston loves being the scenery chewing, cigar chomping mobster for whom violence is reactionary and without remorse.

The other star of the film is the Miramar Playa. Meticulously planned and executed to resemble the posh and opulent hotels of Miami Beach’s yesteryear. You can tell that creator Glazer has spent hours upon hours of research on the setting, making sure everything is just right. From the pool to the Atlantis Bar, complete with windows into the bottom of the pool outside, where naked women often casually swim by, the lobby, and Ike’s suite and office,  no detail is too small to be out of place and the show often takes minute rest stops in plot to emphasize these details. The amount of smoking going on here could give Mad Men a run for its money and ashtrays, as the late 50s would dictate, are everywhere.

Where Magic City loses its luster a bit is in the dialogue, which at times goes too far into Soap Opera territory, and a couple of side stories involving an ex of Eva and a burglar and his clumsy ransom demands. The actor portraying the cat burglar is pretty awful and the role of Cliff, Eva’s ex, forces actor Steven Brand to try and execute the duality of a charmer with impure intentions towards Ike’s wife, something he does not quite pull off.

The Blu-Ray comes equipped with a good handful of special features. Six behind the scenes featurettes that explore the cars, style and music of Magic City as well as other Starz specials about the creation of the series and the history behind it. The Starz Studio feature is a 15 minute behind the scenes piece with plenty of info about the series and its creation. The rest of the features are two to five minute segments about various aspects of the production.

Magic City may not be one the best shows on TV…yet, but it’s addictive as the nicotine, narcotics, booze and women who inhabit it. Magic City is a strong recommend.

Till Next Time,

Movie Junkie TO

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A Little Bit Zombie Review (Kirk Haviland)

A Little Bit Zombie (2012)

Starring Kristopher Turner, Crystal Lowe, Shawn Roberts, Kristen Hager, Emilie Ullerup and Stephen McHattie.

Directed by Casey Walker

Direct off its win at the Canadian Film Fest last month, devoted to Canadian indie film, A Little Bit Zombie has taken a different tact to releasing the film to the masses. By self-distributing, the creators of the film have decided to roll the film out across the country with special screenings and the hope that they will inspire longer runs in the following weeks. I got to attend one of these screenings at the Toronto Underground Cinema and am here to tell you that this film deserves your support.

A Little Bit Zombie starts off with Max (McHattie) and Penelope (Ullerup), a pair of zombie hunters that use a mystical orb to help track their targets, in the middle of a zombie swarm. After the carnage we follow, through first person camera, a mosquito full of zombie blood fly around in search of a target. We meet Steve (Turner), Tina (Lowe) his fiancé, Craig (Roberts) his best friend and upcoming Best Man, and Sarah (Hager) Steve’s sister who is also Tina’s unwitting Matron of Honor and Craig’s wife. The foursome is on their way to Steve and Sarah’s family cottage for a weekend of bonding and relaxation before the wedding. Our mosquito friend attacks Steve, repeatedly, which sets off the events of the film, with Steve slowly turning into a zombie and developing a lust for brains. In fact, Steve develops a certain hilariously grotesque response to even the word ‘brains’. The “family” must decide what to do and how to handle what is happening to Steve, all while Max and Penelope start tracking the strange readings that will lead them straight to him. Tina proves she is willing to go to extreme lengths to protect her man and her upcoming nuptials, dragging Sarah along with her, while Craig has the hardest time dealing with the situation. Everything leads to crazy confrontation with a deadly outcome.

ALBZ shares a lot of similar themes with last year’s Zom-Com Deadheads (review here), with the biggest difference being that ALBZ is not a road movie like Deadheads is. The Cast is mostly up and coming Canadian talent, with McHattie the grizzled veteran chewing massive amounts of scenery. And while McHattie does steal the film, the foursome all put in fine performances, in particular Turner and Lowe as the engaged couple. The film is very light in tone and played for laughs throughout, and while in places it runs hit and miss, when it works it’s a lot of fun. Fans of the aforementioned Deadheads should check this one out as well.

Overall I feel that ALBZ works a lot more than it doesn’t. The exuberance and earnestness of the cast shines through, and the film benefits from this greatly. I can safely recommend A Little Bit Zombie for a fun night out at the theater, and I am NOT a zombie collaborator.

Screenings may be mostly finished by the time you get to read this, but do not shy away from asking your local rep theater if they can get a screening in your area. It’s a great chance to support some Canadian filmmakers out there trying to prove they can do it themselves.

Till Next Time,

Movie Junkie TO

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Battleship Review (Kirk Haviland)

Battleship (2012)

Starring Taylor Kitsch, Alexander Skarsgård, Brooklyn Decker, Rihanna, Tadanobu Asano and Liam Neeson

Written by Erich and Jon Hoeber

Directed by Peter Berg

After a brief hiatus I have returned with a review that has had my head spinning. How do I talk about Battleship? Quite possibly the loudest and most annoyingly inconsequential film of the last decade, Battleship makes no apologies for its “script” which is a collage of the worst film clichés. But did we really expect anything else from a movie based on a board game?

Battleship starts with the brothers Hopper, Alex (Kitsch) and Stone (Skarsgard), in a bar while Stone laments the fact that Alex is a screw up who can’t stay employed. In walks Samantha Shane (Decker), whose request for a chicken burrito leads to Alex breaking into a closed convenience store for one to give her (yes, you read that right). Of course Alex is chased by the police and tased, but magically ends up waking up at home and not in a jail cell.  Stone decides it’s time for Alex to join the Navy with him. We jump forward six years to find that Stone, now in his early 30’s, has become a Commander of a Naval Destroyer (!!) and Alex is now a Lieutenant and 3rd in command of another Destroyer (in only 6 years and despite his criminal past!). Sam, as it turns out is the daughter of Admiral Shane (Neeson), who doesn’t like Alex at all and may make Alex’s plans for marriage more complicated. During the setup for Rimpack, a joint Naval games exercise with Naval outfits from across the globe (so we can sell to those overseas markets!), we are introduced to many more characters, including Petty Officer Raikes (Rihanna in her theatrical debut) and a rival Japanese Captian, Nagata (Asano). During the games aliens crash-land in the ocean and construct a barrier cutting off three ships from the rest of the fleets. They proceed to destroy them with propelled charges that look exactly like the pegs from the Battleship Board Game! Of course somehow Alex becomes a commanding officer and it’s up to him to save the day.

Sorry for the extraneous use of punctuation during my synopsis, but the preposterousness of it all had to be emphasized. I didn’t even get to the scene where they commandeer a decommissioned Battleship that they have no idea how to operate, only to spark an ACDC accompanied montage where veterans magically appear on the boat and fire up the engines! The biggest issue with Battleship is despite all its goofiness and explosions galore, it’s actually really boring. Neeson is a footnote in the story, written out of over half the film due to the barrier supplied by the Aliens. While I found Kitsch quite enjoyable in the overstuffed John Carter from earlier this year (review here), he does not come off as well here. Spouting terribly clichéd dialogue and blankly starring at green screened alien foes, his Alex never seems credible at any moment of time during the proceedings. Decker’s Sam, while engaging in an utterly inconceivable side plot, is mainly eye candy for the teenaged boys this film is clearly targeted at. Rihanna, the only non-actor in the main cast, actually manages some charisma onscreen, even if her acting chops are obviously shown to be very limited.

As stated earlier, Battleship commits the cardinal sin of any action film – it’s boring as hell. Even pulling out the go to for action montages, ACDC (not once but twice), cannot make the film feel any more interesting. The good folks at Universal had high hopes for this becoming their Transformers franchise, but even they couldn’t have predicted how bad would turn out. Director Berg has made some fun stuff in the past, but seems to have left all the fun out his latest. Save yourself the hassle and go see Avengers again. Battleship is a Strong Non-Recommend.

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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