Byron Bashforth: From the Prairies to Pixar

Pixar’s Coco.

Okla native Byron Bashforth has been involved in nine Pixar movies and four shorts to date, including the Disney subsidiary’s brand-new feature, Coco. Bashforth is the film’s character shading lead, meaning he is responsible for the team in charge of the look of all the characters in the film. Considering that Coco unfolds in two separate realities and the number of roles is in the dozens, Bashforth has his work cut out for him.

Byron got his Master in Computer Science at the University of Saskatchewan and has been involved with Pixar for almost two decades. “I remember watching the trailer for Toy Story and it occurred to me for the first time that you could use computers to do something else than computer science stuff. It opened the possibility of being able to combine my artistic streak and computers as a career.”

The animator has been the character shading lead for the short Lava and the features Monsters University and Ratatouille. I had the chance to catch up with Byron over the phone from California. Continue reading “Byron Bashforth: From the Prairies to Pixar”

REVIEW: God’s Own Country Is More than that Other Gay Cowboys’ Movie

Josh O’Connor and Alec Secareanu in God’s Own Country.

One could describe God’s Own Country as a slightly more graphic Brokeback Mountain, but that would be selling it short. The low-budget, emotionally rich drama paints a dire picture of England’s countryside, with farmers dealing poorly with social change (immigration, homosexuality) and economic depression.

God’s Own Country’s main character is strangely unlikeable. Johnny (Josh O’Connor) is a young man forced by his father’s disability to manage the family farm. Not one capable to deal with his emotions in healthy fashion, the farmer festers in resentment and only finds solace in alcohol consumption and anonymous sex. Johnny is also a closeted gay man, but the idea of a relationship, as limited as going for a pint with another fella, is laughable for him. Continue reading “REVIEW: God’s Own Country Is More than that Other Gay Cowboys’ Movie”

REVIEW: Novitiate is Full Metal Jacket with Nuns

Margaret Qualley in Novitiate.

Movies about nuns have a curiously high batting average: From The Sound of Music to The Innocents, there is something fascinating about women choosing a life of worship and deprivation.  Novitiate is a fairly realistic depiction of life inside a convent and the result is unbearably dull.

Set during the early 60’s, Novitiate tackles the effects of the Second Vatican Council over a nunnery in Tennessee. The Reverend Mother (Melissa Leo) is reluctant to implement the changes (no more Latin, develop a relationship with the community, no more self-laceration as penitence), fearful it may undermine the nuns’ calling.

We witness the nunnery begin to crumble through the eyes of a novice, Cathleen (Margaret Qualley). Born to an agnostic mother and an absentee dad, Cathleen becomes fascinated by the idea of an intimate relationship with God, but her budding sexuality won’t be denied.

Cathleen is the main problem of the film, but is far from the only one. Qualley, so good in The Leftovers and so terrible in Death Note, is underserved by the script and fails to convey her inner struggle in any interesting way. At the opposite end, Melissa Leo chews the scenery uncontested. She is all fire and brimstone and takes it on the sisters.

If faith is underserved (the movie fails to explain why Vatican II is such a problem in any sensible way), sexuality is treated just as perfunctorily. Novitiate hints at the notion that lesbians joined convents as an alternative to be shun by their communities, but doesn’t have the audacity to develop the idea. Writer/director Margaret Betts is a first timer and it shows: The actors run amok, the plot is flimsy and the character development is very limited.

The film’s mediocrity is highlighted by the coda: The audience is summarily informed that Vatican II inspired nuns to abandon their calling in massive numbers. One wishes Novitiate had tackled the matter head on as opposed to through low-impact drama. Two planets (out of five).

Novitiate opens November 18th at the Roxy Theatre.

REVIEW: Justice League’s Trial Run

Batman, Wonder Woman, Cyborg, the Flash and Aquaman.

Following a shaky start, the DC Extended Universe has reached a modicum of stability (thanks Wonder Woman!). There are still some kinks to work out, but glaring problems like cohesiveness and that whole “Martha!” business seem to be a thing of the past.

Considering the problematic installments that preceded it, Justice League is fine. The story is constrained and doesn’t take itself all that seriously: The Flash notwithstanding, it’s still grimmer than Thor: Ragnarok laugh-fest, which may not be a bad thing. Continue reading “REVIEW: Justice League’s Trial Run”

REVIEW: Not Loving Vincent

Saoirse Ronan in Loving Vincent.

There is no denying Loving Vincent is an extraordinary achievement. All 65,000 frames of the movie are oil paintings, courtesy of 115 artist who aped Van Gogh’s style for almost a decade. The outcome looks like a living, breathing canvas.

If only the same amount of care had been put on the script.

Story-wise, Loving Vincent is a pedestrian affair, practically pulled from Wikipedia: A year after Vincent van Gogh’s death, Armand, an adrift young man (Douglas Booth, Noah), is tasked with delivering the artist’s final letter to his brother Theo. Doesn’t take too much digging for Armand to discover the brother has been dead for a few months. Finding Theo’s surviving family proves a little more difficult, especially after stumbling on clues that suggest Vincent may not have killed himself.

The mystery of Van Gogh’s death is amped up for dramatic purposes, but the investigation never feels too pressing. The red herrings are painfully obvious and the information is dispensed in roundabout and clumsy ways. Clearly the wrong person for the job, Douglas Booth overdoes it as the lead, as if believing the animation technique may prevent his acting from coming across.

All we are left with is the gimmick. Thankfully, it’s a memorable one. Loving Vincent recreates the artist’s most magnificent creations: Much of the fun of the movie comes from recognizing Van Gogh’s masterpieces on screen, from his many portraits to the ubiquitous “Starry Night”. Pick any detail -cigarette smoke, a windmill in the background- and you will discover remarkable artistry and attention to detail.

One can certainly appreciate the effort put into the making of Loving Vincent, but film is a different medium and requires a more holistic approach than just pretty pictures. 2.5 planets (out of five).

Loving Vincent is now playing at the Roxy Theatre.

Frankie Drake’s Lauren Lee Smith: “In Canada, We Take Care of Each Other a Little Bit More”

Lauren Lee Smith as Frankie Drake.

Lauren Lee Smith has been a staple of Canadian film and television for over a decade. Her filmography includes niche titles like Lie with Me and Art School Confidential and TV mainstays such as The Listener and The L Word. Frankie Drake Mysteries, the CBC drama that premiered last Monday, is Smith’s first solo lead and she is almost in every scene of the series.

A Murdoch Mysteries spinoff of sorts (the two shows are set 16 years apart and linked by web series), Frankie Drake Mysteries revolves around Toronto’s only female private detective in 1921. Frankie (Smith) is a woman ahead of her time, frequently underestimated, but more resourceful than the police and criminals alike. “I’m a mother to a daughter now and the importance of playing strong female characters has become even a bigger priority”, elaborates the actress.

I had the chance to talk with Lauren about the watershed moment women in the industry are experiencing, and whether she knows in advance if a show has staying power.

– While you’ve been the co-lead on a number of shows, it seems Frankie Drake Mysteries falls squarely on your shoulders. Does it feel differently?

– I think there were maybe three scenes over the course of the entire season that I was not in. Playing the title character is a new experience, a different kind of pressure I wasn’t exactly used to. But having a leadership role gave me the energy on 15-hour days to be a cheerleader for the rest of the cast and crew.

– Considering your experience in other TV shows, do you have an inkling which series are going to last?

– I wish I did. I’m usually the worst person to know these things. Every time I think “this is amazing, this is going to work” … It’s hard to tell, especially considering how the television world changes so drastically year to year. I do think Frankie Drake has a little bit of everything to appeal to a large audience, and we have a really good shot at being successful.

– You are finishing the year very strong, between Frankie Drake Mysteries and your role in The Shape of Water. How long did you work in Water?

– I shot it last summer, I was in Montreal doing This Life when I got a call telling me Guillermo del Toro had a role for me in his next film. I had to pick my jaw up off the ground. I knew nothing about the character, I had a four-month old baby in tow, but decided it had to happen. We drove six hours to Toronto, shot two nights in a row, drove back and continued shooting This Life.

– You play Michael Shannon’s character’s wife. He seems very intense.

– It was a great pleasure getting to work with him. He is such a focused actor and it was incredible to watch his process.

– Would you say you have planned your career?

– When I was in my early twenties, I had this idea of who I wanted to be as an actor and how I wanted my career to go. The moment I let that go and stop worrying so much, the opportunities I was looking for started coming in. Now it’s just about not overthinking it and trust that work will come, which is easier said than done.

– Do you have second thoughts about developing most of your career in Canada?

– Not for a second. When I was younger, there was this constant push to get to L.A. I followed that lead, I did many, many, many pilot seasons and, while I was there, I was constantly getting booked out of Canada. It was ridiculous. Right after CSI, I got Good Dog (HBO Canada) and The Listener (CTV), and I didn’t want to go back. Here is where my family and friends are, I love my country, I didn’t see the point of fighting to do work somewhere else when you are getting great work here.

– Given the recent slew of revelations coming from Hollywood, do you feel the Canadian TV and film industry operates at a different level?

– I do. We have a growing community, but definitely smaller. We are more family oriented, there is a different level of respect, we take care of each other perhaps a little bit more. You are going to see these situations no matter where in the world you are, but based on my experience, I believe in Canada we have a sense of security and safety. That’s my hope, anyway.

Frankie Drake Mysteries. CBC, Mondays at 9 pm. Season premiere is available at watch.cbc.ca.

Todd and The Book of Pure Evil Hit Saskatchewan

Those familiar with the Space Channel cult horror-comedy Todd & The Book of Pure Evil may remember the show ended its two-year run on a cliffhanger. Five years later, the resolution has finally arrived: As a feature-length animated film.

Todd & The Book of Pure Evil: The End of the End starts shortly after the events of the series finale, in which relationships became strained and one of the main characters was killed off during the vanquishing of said book. The film doesn’t quite resets the story but reshuffles alliances and gives the student body of Crowley High new reasons to fear attending school.

Quirky as ever, animation frees Todd‘s creative team to up the ante (two words: acidic acne). You don’t necessarily have to know the show to enjoy the film (a thorough recap is provided), but it enhances the experience. The comedy in display is a bit of an acquired taste. That said, those with tolerance for gore and gross-out humour are in the clear.

Todd & The Book of Pure Evil: The End of the End will play only tonight at 9.30 pm at the Roxy Theatre, with director Craig David Wallace and actor Alex House (Todd himself) in attendance.

 

REVIEW: Thor: Ragnarok Is Pure Kiwi Fun

Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) in Thor: Ragnarok

As high as Marvel’s batting average is, there is a ceiling the MCU movies struggle to break through. Outside the first Iron Man, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Spider-Man: Homecoming, Marvel has had a hard time generating stakes. Sure, the MCU movies are a guaranteed good time (especially when compared to the DCEU), but I can’t say I’ve been all that invested in the wellbeing of the people of Sokovia, Xandar or New York.

The lack of emotional weight rears its head again in Thor: Ragnarok, but the movie makes up for it with charm and laughs. Far and away the best movie about the God of Thunder and the funniest comedy of the year not involving Stalin, the third Thor movie benefits greatly from having Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows) at the helm. Waititi understands the character better than his predecessors, brings his dry, sharp comic sensibility to the table and makes the most of Chris Hemsworth’s considerable comedy chops. Continue reading “REVIEW: Thor: Ragnarok Is Pure Kiwi Fun”

REVIEW: Thank You for Your Service Works for Blue and Red States

Miles Teller and Beulah Koale in Thank You for Your Service.

At the advance screening of Thank You for Your Service, I was informed it was from the same writer of American Sniper. My heart sunk. Alongside Lone Survivor, American Sniper is the most questionable portrait of American military in modern day. Not only Sniper presented a warped version of the Iraq War courtesy of Clint Eastwood, a number of the events depicted by the film turned out to be false.

I’m happy to inform Thank You for Your Service is nothing like Sniper or Survivor. A subdued approach to the less than welcoming environment that awaits soldiers deployed abroad, Thank You for Your Service is devoid of any jingoism. For the characters of this movie, becoming a soldier is a final career opportunity after running out of options.

Adam (Miles Teller), Solo (Beulah Koale) and Will (Joe Cole) are three close friends from Topeka, back in their hometown after serving a tour of duty in Iraq. None of them are in good shape. Adam is wrecked by guilt for his responsibility on the death of a fellow soldier, Solo’s brain is “scrambled” after being blown up seven times (!), and Will is putting all his hopes and dreams on his fiancée, who may not be in the picture by the time of his return.

This is not one of those movies in which the lead doesn’t want help to deal with their PTSD. Adam and Solo are eager to receive assistance, but the backlog is such, they could be waiting for months on end. The delay proves to be unbearable for the young veterans, whose family lives hang by a thread.

Through the entirety of Thank You for Your Service, first time director Jason Hall sustains enormous tension, even though towards the end the film leans on dramatic tropes not at the same level than the rest of the movie. Miles Teller is becoming a very effective and unassuming performer, especially now he is not involved with comic franchises or YA adaptations.

A mishap worth mentioning is the casting of Amy Schumer as a soldier’s widow. She is not bad per se (although her climatic scene could have used a more seasoned dramatic actress), but is definitely distracting. It’s one of those cases in which name recognition comes with a price tag.

Overall, Thank You for Your Service is a healthier take on the costs of war, which reverberate long after the conflict has ended. Something to keep in mind when casually suggesting bombing some country, or stating soldiers know what they signed up for. Three planets. 

Thank You for Your Service is now playing at Galaxy Cinemas.

REVIEW: The Snowman Is Melting

Michael Fassbender tries hard to save The Snowman.

It would be easy to dismiss The Snowman as the standard troubled production that couldn’t be saved in post (three-time Oscar winner editor Thelma Schoonmaker notwithstanding). Alas, the outcome is so uniquely weird -disjointed, beautiful, nonsensical- it’s kind of fascinating how this movie came to be.

Based on Jo Nesbø’s Harry Hole series, The Snowman pits the titular detective (Michael Fassbender) against a serial killer who targets adulterous women. The maniac enjoys taunting his pursuers with childlike notes commenting on their investigation (he doesn’t think highly of it). As the bodies begin to pile up, Hole finds a link between the killings and a decade-old unsolved murder involving Norwegian captains of industry.

While mostly a plot-driven thriller, The Snowman is also a character study. Harry Hole is an alcoholic whose level of self-loathing is so high, he would rather alienate those who love him than give domesticity a try. The film fails to integrate both threads and, for most of the movie, the family drama feels not only disconnected, but unnecessary.

The Snowman unfolds in stilted fashion. Some of Hole’s decisions are baffling and a number of plotlines go nowhere. Director Tomas Alfredson (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) confessed production was rushed and not all the script was shot. This would explain why so often the story is pushed forward via ADR.

The saddest part about this misfire is all the casualties: The possibility of a Harry Hole franchise, Dion Beebe’s gorgeous cinematography, a cast as deep as underutilized (Chloe Sevigny plays twins and still seems barely there), and -above all- Val Kilmer. On the mend from throat cancer, all of Kilmer’s lines have been noticeably dubbed. The actor’s performance is so over the top, it seems to belong to an entirely different film. His weirdness, however, is strangely compelling and one wishes to see more of him.

There are hints of the Tomas Alfredson that brought us the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Let the Right One In. Deeply idiosyncratic characters and potent images can be found here and there, but The Snowman never seems under his control. Two planets.

The Snowman opens this Friday everywhere.