Monthly Archives: February 2012

Project X

After watching Project X, it’s fair to say that absolute mayhem never looked so fun. The ingredients? A dash of Superbad here, a little Cloverfield there, and many sweaty teenagers everywhere and voila you have the craziest party ever recorded. Penned by Matt Drake and Michael Bacall of Scott Pilgrim fame, and produced by The Hangover director Todd Phillips, Project X is a compulsively entertaining experiment in the teenage party drama.

It’s hard to believe that the film has any planning at all as many of the scenes are carried out with the utmost spontaneity and natural fervor by its young and talented protagonists. Project X follows three teen buddies, Costa (Oliver Cooper), Thomas (Thomas Mann) and J.B. (Jonathan Brown), who document the making of the wildest party of their lives.

With tons of bare breasts, clouds of weed smoke, and ecstasy fuelled dance sequences, Nima Nourizadeh’s feature film debut acts more like a document of the ferocious partying appetites of teens today. I had the change to sit down with Mann, Cooper, and Brown to discuss wild parties, being first time actors, and getting your head slashed open.

Oliver Cooper, Thomas Mann, Jonathan Brown in Ecstasy. Literally.


B: Brandon

B: What was it like being involved in the film? What has the reaction Project X been likeso far?

Jonathan: It’s interesting because Project X is an event film, but it’s almost like a small scale disaster movie on one block, instead of a cataclysmic film where the world blows up and John Cusack escapes. It’s as if you took this disaster and put it on a block, and then you mixed that with the found footage genre and awesome teen comedies, and turned that all up to eleven. It really is an awesome experience to be part of that.

Thomas: We had such an amazing time making it [Project X] and the energy on set was always so high. A lot of people say they’re exhausted after they watch it and I think that’s kind of accurate because it’s so fast paced in such a little amount of time.

Jonathan: I knew things went well when I guy went up to me while I was peeing and said “awesome job”.

B: Did you find anything disturbing about the scenes of wildness in the film?

Jonathan: I think it’s a comedy until you turn thirty five, and then it’s a horror movie.

Oliver: I don’t see it as disturbing, but if someone’s parent had a kid like that [Oliver’s character Costa], I would be like ‘that kid sucks’. But I don’t think it’s disturbing. It’s a movie, and at the end of the day it’s a movie.

B: Did you guys draw from any of your high school experiences?

Thomas: A little bit, but the energy on set was enough to believe that we were having a party. We had a DJ on set and he was playing even between takes, and all the extras were dancing all the time anyway. It was harder to play the times when I had to be the party pooper.

B: Most memorable scene?

Thomas: The roof. That was fun.

Oliver: I liked the tasering scene, I always thought that was a lot of fun. Honestly anything with the young kids (Tyler and Brady), I really enjoyed being part of.

B: Did you guys have a lot of rehearsal time?

Thomas:  Yeah, rehearsals most days, and there was a lot of time we spent re-writing scenes and finding out what worked, and kind of writing it specifically for our voices.

Jonathan: We had a script and a story that was written by Matt Drake and Michael Baccal that was awesome, but we also had on set writer who basically worked with all of us, Nima, and Todd Philips. It was cool because they managed to mould the script to our characters, but also let us play and have fun which is really rear and unique.

B: How much of the film was improvised?

Oliver: They gave a lot of freedom in rehearsal and what was originally supposed to be shot, and what I had practiced at home, would change on a daily basis. Todd Phillips doesn’t really do that much improvisation with shooting, even for The Hangover.

Jonathan: Yes and no.

Thomas: There was some-

Jonathan: We all disagree on this question, that’s why it’s tough. I would say it was about seventy to scripted and thirty to improv.

B: Did you guys do a lot of your own stunts?

Jonathan: I actually had a stunt guy who was in his late 50’s for the treadmill scene in the house. He told me that he had actually done the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre in the 70’s. There are not a lot of stunt guys who are in their 20’s who look like me. As a stunt man, usually at the beginning of your career you need to be in shape and what happens three years down the line is subjective.

B: How hard was it to play up the comedy in the film while pretending to be hammered?

Thomas: That was actually one of the toughest things, because you’re in this environment where pretty much everyone is having a good time (we did night shoots for about five weeks) and a lot of the extras were getting to know each other, it started to feel like an actual party. Like I said it was harder to play the times when my character was stressed out.

Oliver: For him (Thomas) it was harder because he was carrying a lot of the story and there was much more consequence. For my character it’s one note most of the time. Once we started shooting nights we shot the whole party in order and it got exhausting. By the end I looked like crap.

Jonathan: I wouldn’t recommend throwing a five week party of your own.

B: Where do you think the inspiration for the film came from?

Thomas: Well they did research parties that had happened and real stories.

Jonathan: There was a thing a couple years ago called ‘Kate’s Party’, where some girl made an invitation to her birthday party on Facebook and something like 2000 people showed up. Not because they knew her, but because she made it public. Things like that happen you know.

B: Any accidents on set?

Jonathan: Oliver has the pimp cup, the chalice, and one night on set he was shaking it and I was under him and the bottom of the cup sliced my head. I required on set medical attention, a lot of blood, a lot of liquid band aid.

Oliver: It was a cut, a minor cut.

Jonathan: He just feels guilty about the cranial damage I received.

Oliver: Please, we were standing on a truck and there were so many people pushing the tuck. I couldn’t believe it and the energy of these people really rubbed off on me.

Jonathan: So much that he felt like slicing my head open.

Project X is in theatres March 2nd

On February 22nd, Canadian director Mike Dowse’s raunchy hockey comedy Goon opened in cinemas and multiplexes around Toronto. The same day, the City of Toronto requested for the removal of one of Goon’s outdoor posters. The funny, provocative, and definitely hairy artwork  in question shows Jay Baruchel, co-writer and star of Goon, making a gesture that the city deems as inappropriate.

What seems to have began as a gentle nudge to remove this risqué advert turned into a full scale raid, as a spokesperson from Goon’s distributor Alliance Entertainment said that 38 promotional posters around Toronto were later covertly removed by the City as well.

While I’m not afraid to admit I find the promotional poster in question pretty funny, but I am also aware of it’s ‘inappropriateness’ and its obvious why the City wouldn’t be thrilled about Baruchel’s . Still, as the spokesperson from Alliance points out, these promotional posters had been up for more than two weeks with no comment from the City and their sudden, silent removal, which just so happens to coincide with the actual release date of the film, obviously intensifies the weight of this sneaky manoeuvre.

The Controversial Goon Poster

The sad part about this is that Goon has already proven to be more than just worth something, but  instead rather worthwhile. I especially enjoyed Goon because it was raw as ever with its greasy locker room humour, supported by an incredibly well constructed unabashedly Canadian plot. Oh and Baruchel and co-writer Evan Goldberg left the ‘cheese’ out of its melodramatic moments; a no bullshit delight.

This is why the City’s abrupt decision to remove these posters adds injury to insult: it’s understandable if the City does not agree with every bus stop around the city having an 8×8 foot poster of something they find to be profane.

But to sabotage an exemplary Canadian film’s promotional campaign in the process is completely  unnecessary, and this proves that the City clearly hasn’t realized that hasty decisions like this affect the reception of our entire national cinema.

Sean William Scott as hockey enforcer Doug Glatt in Goon

Goon (2012)

It’s really no surprise that London, Ontario native Michael Dowse made Goon (2011). Dowse, director of Canadian cult essentials FUBAR: The Movie (2002) and FUBAR 2: The Wrath of Tron (2010), returns to the big screen with his latest fun loving comedy about possibly the most definitive of Canadian sub-cultures.

In Goon, Sean William Scott of American Pie fame skilfully stupefies himself in order to play Doug Glatt. Glatt is a kind and loveable ‘hockey bro’, built like an ox and never willing to back down from a fight.

Although Glatt isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed, he quickly gives up his job as a bouncer in a small pub when offered a spot as an enforcer on his home town team. Based on Adam Frattasio and Doug Smith’s book of a similar title, Goon finally gives us a hilarious glimpse of hockey team dynamics that the family Hockey comedies of the last 20 years have denied us.

After watching two of Glatt’s zaney Slavic teammates pretend to molest another players’ helmet, its obvious that Goon’s writers know a thing about hockey room humour. Penned by dirty-comedy Canucks Evan Goldberg and Jay Baruchel, it is no wonder that Goon basks in every moment of its absolutely hilariously filthy but enjoyable viewing.

Baruchel also stars in the film as Glatt’s best friend Ryan: a witty, foul mouthed, Irish Canadian hockey enthusiast who seems to be the only person who truly roots for Glatt to succeed. It’s good to see Scott step out of his comfort zone as he’s waded in a Steve Stiffler/ Ryan Reynolds-esque niche for quite some time.

Baruchel proves to be a crafty actor and although his presence on screen is not always a focal point, it’s good to see him out of the shadow of his comedic pals who usually surround him e.g. Knocked Up (2007).

When Glatt gets hired onto Halifax’s semi-pro team, his job as an enforcer is complicated when he is given the responsibility of watching the back of a pill popping hockey bad boy named Xavier Laflamme (Marc- Andre Grondin).

Laflamme’s flagrant disregard for anything that doesn’t have a line of coke on it, mixed with Glatt’s ‘soft spoken giant’ demeanour makes for a very entertaining opposites attract type of comedy here. Goon is a drunken rollercoaster ride that shows us everything The Mighty Ducks (1992) could have been, and is definitely the most playfully grotesque thing to come out of Canada since Porky’s (1982).

Every year thousands of people, film buffs and Ghost Rider (2007)enthusiasts alike participate in Oscar pools placing their bets on which nominated film will win and take home the little golden man.

No matter how much of a cinephile you consider yourself, trying to decide the winners of the Live Action and Animated shorts have traditionally been a ‘luck of the draw’ experience for most. For years watching the shorts nominated was not possible for anyone not living in the select U.S. cities screening them.

Even worse, because of varying distribution laws that have prevented shorts from crossing the border, Canadians have consistently been excluded from the viewing process altogether. Luckily for us Canucks, this year the Bell Tiff Lightbox is holding screenings of the Oscar shorts nominated at the 2011 Academy awards.

Now you can be closer than ever to getting those few extra points on your ballot, but let’s not talk about being able to see any nominated Documentary Short because that’s still a work in progress.

Pentecost (2011)- Ireland

Wonderfully framed shots accentuate this short film about a rebellious altar boy named Damien (Scott Graham). If Damien’s name isn’t a good enough allusion to the boy’s feelings towards his faith, it is Pentecost’sgiddy and playful comparison of Catholic mass to a football game that makes this short film so worthwhile.

Raju (2011)– Germany/ India

Raju takes us on a brief but piercing journey through the streets of India as a German couple journey to adopt a child. Bright scenes and colorful locals illuminate this downward spiralling story line. Rajuis a tense film about child trafficking that makes the Darjeeling Limited (2007) look like a fairy tale in comparison.

The Shore (2011) – Northern Ireland

An old lad comes back to Belfast to visit with his American daughter after a 20 year absence only to find he must to come to terms with the pieces of his past he thought had died there. The Shore looks and sounds like an Irish Dawson’s Creek, and its honest and heart warming nature are pure and inviting. Makes you want to go to Ireland, seriously.

Time Freak (2011)- U.S.A

A high spirited and creative playoff of Groundhog Day (1993), nerdy inventor Stillman (Michael Nathanson) creates a time machine only to put it to very silly uses. Time Freak looks and sounds like anything you’ve heard in The Big Bang Theory but replaces laboratory jargon with goofy scenarios that make scientific obsession in even something as terrifying as PI (1998), laughable.

Tuba Atlantic (2010)- Norway

Blue in all its scenery, Tuba Atlantic is a cute but melancholic film about an angry, lonely, old man’s last months of life. Propelled by a zaney vendetta against the world, Oskar (Edvard Hægstad)  is determined to kill every seagull that flies even remotely close to his seaside shack. Forcefully befriended by a jolly teenage girl (Ingrid Viken) who acts as Oskar’s ‘angel of death’, Tuba Atlantic shifts back and forth between morbidity comic relief. In the end, it is this short’s striking use of the Norwegian coast and its flat beauty that punctuate this crafty story.

Prediction: Tuba Atlantic The Shore

The shorts begin today at the Bell Tiff Lightbox and run till Thursday Feb 16th

Brad Renfro:

 I first remember seeing 14 year old Renfro in the The Client (1995) his first feature film. I  was surprised by the adeptness of his acting, his portrayal of rebellious murder witness Mark Sway was well executed, complexly brave and reckless, and a formidable performance. At the time of The Client‘s release, I was only about five, but even at that age I could tell that Renfro was operating on a level not necessarily higher than the other child actors that Hollywood had to offer at this time. But, what I could tell was that Renfro’s capabilities stood out as versatile,rough, and organic; he had the makings of a well seasoned actor.
Some of the other rising youth of Hollywood at the time: Edward Furlong of Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1992) fame, the Home Alone (1990-) trilogy’s Macaulay Culkin among many others. Renfro was often in trouble with the law later into his adolsence, similarly to many of these other child performers already mentioned, and early adult years still maintained performances that were consistent, natural and far from contrived, and when properly placed quite unsettling and raw. Seeing Renfro in Larry Clarke’s suburban-teenage-Babylon picture Bully (2001) was probably the most unnerving performance of his career. In Bully, his portrayal as the hard headed, ball of anger sidekick Marty Puccio felt authentic, as if Clarke had made the film with the intention of using the real life Renfro.
Recently watching Terry Zwigoff’s Ghost World (2001), released the same year as Bully, gave me another chance to re-examine Renfro’s career. A prolific actor, Renfro’s ‘young and troubled actor’ image unfortunately overshadow the immense ambition his work showed. Renfro was one of the bests of his generation, and his death on January 15 2008 from a heroin overdose is sad and unfortunate. A loss to an industry that has been making money off of the talents of children and minors for a very long time. This is also not the first time that Hollywood has lost a child to its industry. It has shown to be a glamorously lit jungle that has its dark and seedy pockets of dangers which have proven to be a confusing and lethal experiences for many other youths.
Even more disturbing was that on the year of Renfro’s passing, the Academy Awards tribute to Hollywood figures who had died in the past year did not feature Renfro. When asked the reason for the exclusion, Spokeswoman of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences said thatOur goal is to honor individuals who worked in the many professions and trades of the motion picture industry, not just actors” and that “unfortunately we can’t include everyone”.
Seasoned actor Heath Ledger passed away about a week later, from a prescription drug overdose, and he was included in the tribute. Renfro was a child turned young man who showed us showed us with his dedication to acting- hell he started when he was twelve and dedicated the next 13 years of his life to it. Most of all his stand out talent showed  that he was worthy of his profession. Hollywood can be an industry that proves cruel and unforgiving to those who devote their very lives to participating in it, and although denying Renfro may be part of a bigger agenda still doesn’t make it wrong.

Note: I chose not to discuss Heath Ledger’s inclusion into the Academy tribute montage (Heath died a week after Renfro and many seemed to make this a point to compare and contrast). I didn’t speak on this because Ledger’s inclusion, or whoever’s exclusion, in this matter is not important. This is not a compare and contrast piece- its a tribute. 

The ‘lady has the spawn of Satan’ story line isn’t a very new one. This cautionary tale, especially in film, is always accompanied by a moral message of some sort. Whether it’s ‘never trust strangers with a smile’ (Rosemary’s Baby) or ‘don’t take a baby if you don’t know where it came from’ (The Omen), Hollywood has made it very clear that you have got to have done something wrong in order to deserve a diabolical child. But not until recently, it was Roman Polanski’s 1968 psychological-demoniac, art house-horror film (yes it’s a lot of things but that’s why it’s so good) Rosemary’s Baby that stood alone in this banal genre. Polanksi gave us an example of how ingenuity in the storytelling department and striking, but not particularly grotesque, visuals can terrify audiences in a new way. With that said, one could consider the creepy, dark humoured, highly stylized delivery in Lynne Ramsay’s We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011) the first film since Polanski’s to truly replicate this frightful finesse. Based on Lionell Shriver’s 2003 novel of the same title, Ramsay’s adaptation takes on the challenge of addressing a vast amount of issues: sociopathic behaviour, oedipal feelings, marriage problems, and disillusionment with the American dream. Successful in its risqué disjointed plot style, Kevin is easy to follow, terrifying to witness, but unfortunately anticlimactic in its conclusions.

Kevin is about Eva Khatchadourian (Tilda Swinton), a worn out woman who is clearly in psychological distress. As soon as Eva steps out of her house and we see its decaying white facade glistening with splashes of red paint, it’s obvious that Eva has others determined to remind her the nightmare she runs from. Through vivid sequences from her past, we see Eva’s son Kevin (Ezra Miller) displaying disturbing behaviour that gets progressively more unsettling as he goes from infancy to adolescence. Kevin works so well because Ramsay focuses less on shock value, and instead speaks with stark and surreal imagery. Eva is constantly accentuated with dark reds and even becomes somewhat of a Lady Macbeth constantly trying to wash the blood of her torment off her hands. In a lot of ways Kevin is the 2001: A Space Odyssey of ‘lady has the spawn of Satan’ films. The difference with Kevin is that it replaces 2001’s giant baby foetus of human optimism with a rotting maggot infested demon seed filled with hate and mistrust. Kevin shows he is capable of such harmful acts that his will becomes viscous and haunting, even for the viewer. The only flaw of Kevin is the build of Kevin’s sinister behaviour is ultimately a letdown, as the scheme of terror he enacts as his grand finale is predictable and unoriginal. Still, it is Swinton, her naive husband Franklin (John C. Reilly), and Miller’s convincing and passionate performances that allow Kevin to unnerve us with the  most morose message of all: Satan or no Satan, some people are just born evil.

There is something quite off about Madonna’s W.E.. Besides the obvious lameness that I alongside many others took with Madge’s delivery, its is really hard to identify what exactly is so wrong about this film. I dare you to watch any interview with the egocentric director about her latest project, and count how many times she mentions ‘her film’, ‘my project’, ‘her passion’. One simply doesn’t have enough digits on their hands or feet to do this. Madge’s incessant sub-conscious boasting about ‘her film’ is an interesting case, because I think that it contributes (at least for W.E) to 90% of her harshest criticisms. Pointing so much attention at her ‘creative process’ has made critics and audiences alike find it very hard to separate her film’s pretension from promise.
W.E.certainly exuded decadence: its sets were lavish, costumes pristine, and acting well crafted. But at the base of it all, the obsessive smoking of cigarettes and the act of smoking became fore grounded so much so that it actually (and I say actually because I never would have imagined that I would take note of smoking in film or ever see it as a problem) became one of my most central gripes with the film.
Growing up as part of the generation of boys who idolized Edward Furlong’s love-able knuckle head/ bad boy persona in Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991), I am familiar with the popularization of ‘cool’ habits. These would be those traits that have been paraded by film and media industries for quite some time as actions or items that establish one’s certain hipness. 
A good example of one these actions of the ‘cool’ would be the aforementioned act of smoking and the frequent use of profanity in film, both of which director’s somehow continue to make more varied and memorable (just listen to about 30 seconds of Jonah Hill’s dialog in Superbad (2007)). Smoking, whether being consciously pushed as a signifier of ‘cool’ by the industry or not, has always been synonomous with being hip. In the silent and classical days of film production, actors smoked on screen in order to look less idle Still, watching an icon like Humphrey Bogart let a cigarette turn into a long stick of ash was and still is considered ‘cool’. Even more so, it’s undeniable that the act of smoking was made even more debonair by someone like Bogarts’ unique and archetypal suaveness. It was his certain personality that added to the coolness of the act, and I still think there is something quite admirable about that.
Once major changes came about in Hollywood’s production code, essentially allowing us to see and hear more than before, it only made sense that the ‘coolness’ represented in that iconic way that players like Bogart carefully tailored (i.e. good dress, a cigarette, scotch, and a neat shave) became easier and easier to represent on screen. In American History X (1998), is Furlong only 7 years after his prepubescent appearance as John Connor in T2. Although Furlong continued to play the reckless-bad boy with swag role, the items that define his particular ‘coolness’ had matured as well. Here he is seen swearing, smoking a cigarette, and flaunting his Neo-Nazi attitude (only for the film of course). Still, its important to remember how odd it is that Furlong’s image transgressed into this, as he was not always a signifier of ‘cool’ because of his arguably bad habits, but originally because of his bad attitude.
This makes it clear that the days of unspoken style, where a cigarette was more an indication of adulthood rather than youthful hipness, are long gone. Thus, this is the greatest offence of Madonna’s W.E.. The film showcases nearly every shot, both in its past and present story lines, of the films’ protagonists chain smoking like there is no tomorrow. I don’t have any problem with cigarette and alcohol consumption in film, as if any film is really doing what it is supposed to be doing (translating thoughts and ideas with moving images) the real nature of these substances should be seen as secondary, if at all, to what is at play on screen. The difference with such behaviour in W.E. then is that this film fetishizes cigarette consumption and the act of smoking itself, glamorizing the act by making it intrinsically linked to the glamorous lifestyles of its characters. We live in a day and age where the hazards of smoking have become public knowledge, and seeing Madge flaunt and sexualize this act makes W.E. quite transparent in its desperate attempt to be stylish.
When is it okay to show the act of smoking and when is it not? When is this act being glamorized? What makes it look cool in these instances?
 While its fair to say that all of these questions are open to debate, films like W.E. go to show that big budget productions companies the Weinstein Company still choose to endorse the likes of films that utilize smoking as a stylish and seductive act. 
Well in 2011, public health authorities such as the Center for Tobacco Control and Research at the University of California and the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention researched the effects of smoking in film. Curiously, the results showed that smoking in film has shown to caused 13% less profit made at the box office. This caused me to ask: has all of the anti-smoking propaganda actually worked then?
 There have also been many watchdog groups dedicated to the reduction/ elimination of smoking in film, namely Smoke Free Movies: an organization that proposes that all films with instances of smoking in them be given an ‘R’ rating, anti-tobacco adds be shown before the film, and government and state subsidies only be given to film’s that are tobacco free.
While its good to know that there are a group of people, somewhere out there, dedicated to monitoring the sometimes reckless attitude influential industries like those of film or the entertainment industry take towards depicting addictive behaviours and substances, it is really very hard to say if such stringent actions are helpful or detrimental. While a film like W.E. showcases mindless cigarette consumption at its worst, it also must be remembered that other filmmakers and production teams are much more aware of the implications of the habits their films portray, and to make them adhere to such rules would be out right censorship at the expense of the artist an act that would no doubt impose on creative freedom. 
 It’s unfortunate that Bogart’s iconic image as the chain smoking, matter of fact tough guy took him to his grave: Bogart died from cancer of the esophagus in 1957. Whether the rally against smoking in film is right or wrong, it takes only one American cinema icon like Bogart to make us recognize that being ‘cool’ on camera is always an act that is linked with those scenes we see on the screen, that took place at that particular moment, and those images and ‘coolness’ can never live on and endure any longer than just that.

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