Archive for July, 2008

Guitar hero Jimmy Page, fashion icon Valentino, protests and a huge Chinese restaurant are some of the topics explored at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival.

David Guggenheim – the Academy Award-winning director of An Inconvenient Truth –celebrates the electric guitar in It Might Get Loud by examining the creative process of guitar gurus Page (Led Zeppelin), Jack White (The White Stripes) and The Edge (U2). Another musical addition is Jeffrey Levy-Hinte’s Soul Power, which documents the concert that accompanied George Foreman and Muhammad Ali’s “Rumble in the Jungle” in Zaire in 1974, with performances by James Brown, B.B. King, Bill Withers, The Spinners and more.

Valentino: The Last Emperor is bound to attract the glamour hounds as it tells the story of the renowned designer and his entourage through unprecedented access via Vanity Fair special correspondent Matt Tyrnauer.

Weijun Chen, the director of last year’s crowd-pleaser Please Vote for Me, returns with The Biggest Chinese Restaurant in the World, a look at the West Lake Restaurant in Changsha, China, which is said to be the world’s largest with a staff of nearly 1000 and 5000 seats. Another food-focused doc is Food, Inc., Robert Kenner’s investigation of the changes big business has imposed on our diet, drawing from the reportage of Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation) and Michael Pollan (The Omnivore’s Dilemma).

A Time to Stir is Paul Cronin’s four-hour work-in-progress about the 1968 student strike at Columbia University that ended in police violence and will include a live discussion with three active participants of the strike. Sean Penn presents and narrates Dana Nachman and Don Hardy’s Witch Hunt, about a Bakersfield district attorney who sent dozens of innocent working-class parents to prison on charges of sexual abuse.

Other highlights among the 26 documentaries announced are Dan Stone’s At the Edge of the World, about Canadian environmental activist Paul Watson’s battle with Japanese whaling vessels; Megan Doneman’s Yes Madam, Sir is narrated by Helen Mirren and portrays the life story of India’s first woman police officer; Chai Vasarhelyi’s Youssou Ndour: I Bring What I Love is about the prominent African musician; a twenty-something Tommy Lee Jones plays football in Kevin Rafferty’s Harvard Beats Yale 29-29; Matthew Kaufman’s American Swing chronicles the rise and fall of New York’s notorious public sex club Plato’s Retreat; and Agnès Varda looks back on her life and work in Les Plages d’Agnès.

Festival organizers previously announced the much-anticipated Religulous from Borat director Larry Charles, which follows humorist Bill Maher as he travels around the globe interviewing people about religion and God.

For more TIFF ’08 coverage, click here.

Responding to a takedown notice from Hasbro, the Facebook application’s creators shut down the game to players in the U.S. and Canada, where Hasbro owns the rights to Scrabble.

As of this morning, if North American users try to access the popular game, they will be greeted with the following message, “Scrabulous is disabled for U.S. and Canadian users until further notice. If you would like to stay informed about developments in this matter, please click here.” If you click, you will be redirected to a form asking for your email address to keep you informed of further developments. The note is signed by India-based Scrabulous creators Rajat Agarwalla and Jayant Agarwalla.

Hasbro followed in the footsteps of international Scrabble rights holder Mattel last week, when it sent Facebook a Digital Millennium Copyright (DMCA) notice requesting the service be removed from the site due to its similarity to their copyrighted board game. The company also filed suit against Scrabulous’s creators.

David Swain, a Facebook spokesman, said that Facebook forwarded the takedown notice to Scrabulous. “They decided in the middle of the night to disable the application in the U.S. and Canada.” He said the game is still available to Facebook users outside North America.

The Agarwallas issued a statement this morning saying, “In deference to Facebook’s concerns and without prejudice to our legal rights, we have had to restrict our fans in USA and Canada from accessing the Scrabulous application on Facebook until further notice. This is an unfortunate event and not something that we are very pleased about, especially as Mattel has been pursuing the matter in Indian courts for the past few months. We will sincerely hope to bring to our fans brighter news in the days to come.”

Scrabulous had 500,000 active players daily on Facebook, making it one of the most popular applications on the social networking site. Last month, Hasbro introduced a beta version of its official Scrabble game for Facebook but the scheduled release has been pushed from July to mid-August after users complained of issues such as an inability to log on and delays in loading.

In a statement issued this morning, Hasbro said it was aware of the problems and cited concern for players in its decision to wait several months before filing a lawsuit to shut down Scrabulous. “In deference to the fans, we waited in pursuing legal action until Electronic Arts had a legitimate alternative available. We invite SCRABBLE fans in the U.S. and Canada to log onto Facebook and try out the authentic SCRABBLE application, now in open beta. Both EA and Hasbro are monitoring feedback from fans, and we are already in the process of making changes that will result in a variety of improvements, including faster game play, leading up to the official launch scheduled for the first half of August.”

It’s four years later and the story has been picked up from right where we left them: Harold (John Cho) and Kumar (Kal Penn) are packing their bags and following the building hottie Maria (Paula Garcés) to Amsterdam.

But because of a poorly hidden bong, they are mistaken for on-flight terrorists. After an interrogation and denial of rights by drunk with power Agent Ron Fox (Rob Corddry), they are expedited to Guantanamo Bay. Their escape and journey to clear their names are a cross-country misadventure that includes a bottomless party, KKK bonfire and encounters with a Cyclops seeking a bedmate and a pot-smoking George W. Bush (James Adomian). All the while, Fox is on their tale determined to get “justice” despite the lack of evidence or reason.

Some familiar faces return for part two of Harold and Kumar’s crazy week, including David Krumholtz and Eddie Kaye Thomas (Goldstein and Rosenberg), Christopher Meloni (Grand Wizard a.k.a. Freakshow from Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle) and, of course, Neil Patrick Harris (who is continuing his drug-addled trip).

Writers/directors Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg use the characters’ ethnicity to be political this time around, taking jabs at security’s “random selections,” the Patriot Act, and President Bush. Meanwhile, the guys are a little more mature as they seek happiness through coupling with Harold trying to get to Maria and Kumar conspiring to break-up the wedding of a lost love (Danneel Harris).

The DVD is packed with extras, including two commentaries, 27 additional scenes, a Bush PSA, and the “The World of Harold and Kumar” featurette with lots of interviews. The stand-out special feature is “Dude, change the movie!” While watching the movie, the viewer can choose to change the destiny of Harold and Kumar – you can leave them in Cuba or send them straight to Amsterdam. Several of the choices bring the film to an early end, while others are hilariously revealing.

So as a kid, you witness your family’s slaughter during a camping trip. If the perpetrator was a criminal, you become a crime fighter like Batman; if it was a big hairy Forest Troll, you become a monster slayer like Jack Brooks.

Jack (Trevor Matthews) was never the same after watching his family brutally murdered. Now an adult, Jack’s a plumber with some serious anger management issues and his shrink’s advice is not working. His compatibility with his girlfriend (Rachel Skarsten) is questionable; nonetheless, he grudgingly attends night classes with her a couple of times a week. Professor Crowley (Robert Englund) is a decent guy though and gives Jack a job in exchange for a passing grade. Unfortunately, they unleash an ancient evil in the form of a black, beating heart and it possesses Crowley. Things (i.e. he) get ugly pretty quickly.

The filmmakers list the Evil Dead series as a major influence and it shows. The monster effects are very similar in style (over-the-top and gory) and the script plays for laughs as much as it does for scares (if not more). The possession theme, narrative bookends, audacious male hero and knowledgeable elder (David Fox) also recall the classics and cult hits that precede it.

Matthews’ Jack is short-tempered, clever and cocksure – designed to become this generation’s Ash. Englund is presented the opportunity to participate in some physical comedy, which he indulges in wholeheartedly, making this by far one of his funniest roles in years. In addition, Fox’s turn as the hardware owner and raconteur of legends is captivatingly scene-stealing.

Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer is a fun ride and one of the most authentic and enjoyable throwbacks to horror flicks of the ‘80s, which is a welcome change after the proliferation of torture porn in recent years.

This film is the birth of Jack Brooks; and with the promise of a more action-packed sequel, it is also the start of a very promising franchise.

Jack Brooks is an independently financed Canadian film, shot in Ottawa.

The guys who brought us Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby and Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy have teamed up once again for Step Brothers – the result of a brainstorming session between Will Ferrell, John C. Riley and director Adam McKay.

Brennan Huff (Ferrell) is a sensitive, periodically employed 39-year-old who lives with his mother, Nancy (Mary Steenburgen). Dale Doback (Riley) is a 40-year-old idea guy with no real work experience (he manages a fantasy baseball team) who lives with his father, Robert (Richard Jenkins). When Nancy and Robert get married, Brennan and Dale are forced to co-exist in the same house. Dale takes on the role of older, bullying brother but both react to most situations as adolescent boys. However, their immaturity and neediness threatens to break the newly formed family apart.

Ferrell and Riley are in top form. Their chemistry on-screen and ability to feed off of each other’s energy results in constant and consistent hilarity – even when they’re annoying, they’re funny. That said, watching two grown men act like spoiled children can be grating at times. Not surprisingly, Ferrell once again displays his singing abilities (among other things).

The parents are an integral part of the story’s humour and Jenkins and Steenburgen are irreplaceable; Jenkins is great as the exasperated father and Steenburgen can draw laughter simply by cursing. Adam Scott plays Brennan’s younger, more successful brother Derek. He is arrogant and never passes an opportunity to torment Brennan; Scott is perfectly smug in the role. His wife, Alice (Kathryn Hahn), is frustrated and ready to break-free of her oppressor, which manifests as comic, manic advances on another man. Together, their family destroys Guns ‘N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child o’ Mine.”

Although the characters are in similar situations, they are inherently different, which results in their initial dislike of each other as well as their eventual camaraderie. It also ensures audiences will not bore watching mirror reactions.

It would be simple to compose a list of all the hilarious scenes or dialogue; similarly, it would be easy to compile a list of the annoying bits. Luckily, the former would far outweigh the latter, which is mostly thanks to a very entertaining cast.