Archive for November, 2010


Whistler Film Festival- Documentaries

November 19, 2010

Notes from the Back Row is a weekly film column in Whistler’s Pique Newsmagazine

Special to the Pique

Participatory Culture at its finest...

Point-and-Shoot Truth–Documentary enters Golden Age

by Feet Banks


These are golden days for cinematic truth. Cheap digital technology and a pre-built marketing and distribution outlet called the Internet means just about anybody with a story to tell can make a decent documentary. If you shoot fast enough you don’t even need to own a camera–just buy a camera with an in-store credit card and return it 29 days later for a full refund. In between, shoot shoot shoot.

The Internet can replace an expensive marketing campaign and the rise of pay-what-you-want downloads sort-of circumvents the piracy issue. Combine all this kick-ass digital technology with rising frustration around traditional media outlets and the current truth trend is really not that surprising.

What is surprising is how slowly the audiences are responding to some of the heavier films and with how little passion. Films like Sharkwater, The Cove, and Food Inc ought to be starting riots and revolutions but much of today’s audiences simply watch, feel bad, and move on. Are all documentaries just entertainment now?

Thankfully, the Whistler Film Festival knows the importance of documentaries. In fact, the initial film of the first fest was Ski Bums, a local-made doc (now cult classic) that’s getting a special tenth anniversary screening this year, late-night on Dec 2.

Music From The Big House sees Canadian director Bruce McDonald (Highway 61, Pontypool) following Blues singer Rita Chiarelli into the infamous Angola Prison, a Louisiana maximum security joint once known as the bloodiest in America. Bordered on three sides by the Mississippi river, Angola is deep in Blues country and legend has it that Leadbelly, a 1930s inmate, once played “Goodnight Irene” for the Governor and was granted a full pardon.

Behind the towers, barbed wire and endless chain-link fences Chiarelli finds inmates creating music with a true, raw feel that compels her to join them for a concert. Jamming and spending time with “Lifers” (in Louisiana a life sentence means just that) she gives a captivating performance but Chiarelli and McDonald uncover much more than the music and deliver a film about hope, redemption, forgiveness, sorrow and morality. Amidst rapists and murderers Chiarelli reveals how music can empower a soul and break any boundary, push over any wall and climb any fence. Music From the Big House plays Dec 4.

The People Vs George Lucas is a more lighthearted doc examining the tortured relationship between Star Wars fans and the films’ creator. In 1977 Star Wars blew the lid of the planet and life changed. From conventions to mechandise to fan-made films featuring everything from Lego stop-motion to Ewok soft core porn, there is no better example of participatory culture– people LOVE Star Wars.

But many HATE the prequel films and some glaring changes in Lucas’s re-releases of the first trilogy. And they’re out for blood.

Using hundreds of interviews from around the globe and dozens of clips of fan-made Star Wars tributes director Alexandre O Phillippe examines the bitterness and asks a key question– If you make a piece of art and sell it to a billion people, who really owns it? This one also plays Dec 4.

Marwencol focuses on Mark Hogencamp, an alcoholic beaten into a coma outside his local pub one night who wakes up brain damaged with no memories and limited motor skills. As self-invented therapy Mark painstakingly builds an entire 1/6 scale model town and populates it with 12-inch dolls and action figures who play out a WW2 drama-romance-action tale starring characters based on people he knows in the real world.

It’s really out there but he’s really good at it and the New York Art scene catches whiff. Soon Mark, a guy who had to re-learn how to eat, walk and wipe his ass, is deep into the art-for-self vs. art-for-show conundrum, but with a few astonishing twists. This one plays Dec 2.

Check out for a list of all 14 documentaries playing this year, or the other 70 films.




Russell Crowe, The Next Three Days and Burlesque

November 19, 2010

Notes from the back row- Nov 19


Xtina (front)


I like Russell Crowe.

A lot of people don’t. They think he’s ill tempered because he threw a rotary telephone at a hotel concierge once. That’s why I like him though, that, and I can actually see his pineal gland poking out of his forehead. Such a gorged ‘Third Eye” means he can probably see the future or transcend the astral plane or something.

The pineal gland is no joke, although scientifically we know very little about it. We do know, however, that it’s pinecone shaped and tucked into a little crevasse at almost the exact centre of the brain. Basically the pineal is the brain’s ballsack, and therefore probably contains the balls of the brain. So Russell Crowe, as exemplified by the rotary phone fiasco, has balls to spare.

On the other hand my inside source on Russell (my girlfriend’s brother’s wife’s little brother Regan played his kid in Mystery, Alaska) swears that he’s a really nice guy. Badass enough to huck a rotary phone, but nice to kids– both positives in my book.

On top of that Crowe makes generally decent flicks. The Quick and the Dead, LA Confidential, Insider, Master and Commander, 3:10 to Yuma– all solid films.

As well, he’s Australian– that continent has its problems (DVD of the week is Cane Toads- An Unnatural History) but no one can deny Australia produces great actors– Cate Blanchett, Heath Ledger, Geoffry Rush, Guy Pierce, Naomi Watts, Nicole Kidman, Olivia Newton-John to name a few.

Crowe’s latest flick, The Next Three Days, opens this Friday at the Village 8. Directed by Paul Haggis (Crash) this one’s a prison break movie in reverse. Crowe is mild-mannered college teacher-turned-Commando (via the Internet) who’s going into the big house to bust out his wife, whom he believes was wrongly imprisoned for murdering her boss three years ago. It’s a remake of 2008 French film Pour Elle and although Haggis refrains from letting a preachy message jam up the action, The Next Three Days still lacks that raw-cut feeling of good desperate-family-man flicks like Taken or Falling Down.

Besides that, and the fact that after you turn off your cell phone you have to shut off logic as well, Haggis still delivers a decent suspense thriller. Neither Liam Neeson nor Elizabeth Banks are given much to work with but they do okay. Russell Crowe doesn’t kill it either, but he’s good enough.

The second-last (thank god) Harry Potter movie also just opened. I realize millions of people love Potter and I’m sure I’ll buy the books for my kid, but the movies are so stretched out– the first one came out in 2001 and some of the middle few were mediocre at best. This is one of those franchises better watched back-to-back on your couch some rainy-ass day in mid October. Like the Saw or Bring It On series.

Bring It On 1, while technically a cheerleading movie, is also one of the early entries into the latest dance movie craze. Dance movies will always sell as long as teenage girls are told to be chaste but desperate political/economic times consistently ignite a sharp rise in dancing as society tries to escape impending doom. Exhibit A- Swing Kids. Exhibit B– The Footloose/Flashdance/Dirty Dancing trifecta at the end of the cold war. Exhibit C– Burlesque, the latest in a long line of overcome-the-odds-and-dance-your-face-off flicks that stars Cher and Christina Aguilera and opens next Wednesday at the Village 8. All I can tell you about this one is that it’s PG-13, Steve Antin directs (he was one of the bad kids in Goonies and Jesse in the video for “Jessie’s Girl”) and that Russell Crowe is not in it. Sounds like a renter to me.

Xtina (back)


Notes from the Back Row- Runaway Trains and shit.

November 11, 2010

My Favourite thing about Rosario Dawson is that she doesn't take the Michelle Rodriguez roles.


Notes from the back row- nov 9


Train accidents happen all the time, around here it’s usually derailings and, according to a guy I met once, it’s often due to cost-cutting decisions.

“Take a piece of string, lay it on a table and put a few curves in it,” this guy said to me. “Now pull on one end of the string, what happens?”

“The string wants to straighten out!” I excel at the scientific process.

“Exactly, and so does a train when you cheap out and don’t put the extra engines in the middle of it,” the guy explained. “When a train ‘straightens out’ it comes off the track.”

This was right after that last derailment when all those chemicals got dumped in the Cheakamus canyon and fish were apparently jumping onto the shores just to avoid the bubbling toxic spill. Now I don’t want to point fingers on that one but this guy had just quit his rail job in disgust.

Corporate buggery is also the villain in Unstoppable, a runaway train movie starring Denzel Washington and Chris Pine (Star Trek) that opens this Friday at the Village 8.

Somewhat based on a true story, Unstoppable is a blue-collar action flick about a couple of working Joes who stop a speeding runaway train carrying 8 cars of toxic chemicals just before it derails and explodes in a quiet rural town. Of course the unmanned train smashes through all kinds of vehicles and debris along the way, all the while heading straight for another train, which happens to be full of school children. Oversights, coincidences and bad luck combine to create a deadly circumstance and while the true event wasn’t this bad, these kind of things happen all the time, just ask British Petroleum.

Both Washington and Pine act well in this flick, as does Rosario Dawson as the feminine voice of reason, and director Tony Scott (Domino, Days of Thunder) uses faux Fox news footage to tell much of his tale, which is a new twist to his usual jumpy, cutty style. Unstoppable is a bit predictable and takes a while to get up to speed but the last half is solid action entertainment and it beats the heck out of The Taking of Pelham 123, Scott’s last crap-heap, subway train movie starring big gay John Travolta.

Speaking of crap, it’s no secret Hollywood is hurting for ideas these days but at the same time independent film is flourishing. Skyline, also opening Friday, is an independently made alien-attack film– a real humdinger, end-of-the-world flick made outside the big studios by journeymen effects-supervisor brothers Colin and Greg Strauss

There were no preview screenings but from scouring the internet I can tell you that giant organic aliens so bad ass they make dinosaurs look like sea monkeys arrive and use sweet blue lights to lure 99% of the population out into the streets where they are vacuumed up and abducted.

Most of the action is based in and around this one apartment building in LA and there’s a voyeuristic angle to the story about a group of twenty-somethings watching the world end from a sunny rooftop. Using lesser known actors and a shitload of special effects the Strauss Bros don’t appear to have reinvented the aliens attack genre (like District 9 did last year) but they haven’t done it a disservice either and to make an event flick like this independently is a sign of things to come–a good sign.

The next Harry Potter: Wizards-in-Puberty movie starts next week but I’m pretty sick of that franchise. As Jimmy Cliff said in The Harder they Come (it’s the dvd of the week) “Stop that train, I wanna get off.”

Notes from the Back Row is a weekly movie column appearing in Whistler’s Pique Newsmagazine


Notes from the Back Row- Halloween muthafuckas

November 11, 2010

how twisted and/or awesome do you have to be to get the boy/girl from Sleepaway Camp tattied on your arm?



Notes from the back row oct 26


I saw on the news that Halloween is starting to rival Christmas as far as spending and “economic stimulus.” Apparently the average Canadian adult will spend 60 bucks this year on a costume and “treats.”

Whistler, of course has never been average at anything and round these parts Halloween is a three-day holiday this year, although of our costumes are home-made and less costly than the national average. Many of the treats are probably a bit more.

From a movie perspective the fun starts Friday when Saw 3D opens at the Village 8 (in 2D.) This is the 7th installment in the ol’ Saw franchise, which kickstarted the short-lived ‘torture-porn’ subgenre of Horror.

Wisely, no preview screenings were offered for this one but expect more nasty exploits courtesy of the long-dead Jigsaw and some innovative new death machines teaching moral lessons to us all. Personally I gave up on Saw after the second one, the morality lessons started to seem like Se7en rip offs and I never really got into Jigsaw as all that scary, certainly not even close to the level of Michael Myers or that chick/dude from Sleepaway Camp. Still though, Saw delivers R-rated blood, thrills and nudity every year so you may as well go check it out.

Also opening this Friday, Buried, a 90-minute real-time flick about a guy buried alive inside a coffin. It sounds insane, (an entire movie set inside a rectangular box?) but Spanish director Rodrigo Cortez pulls of a film full of real suspense, genuine thrills, shitloads of claustrophobia, and a doozy ending.

Canadian Ryan Reynolds stars as the guy,– an American truck driver working in Iraq who gets kidnapped, buried, and must raise 5 million bucks ransom in two hours if he wants to live. Using only a Blackberry (with extremely good underground-reception) a lighter, a pen and some alcohol Reynolds and Cortez manage to craft a really good film that’s interesting, beautifully shot and kind of mind boggling. It’s a good coffin movie and Reynolds nails it.

The big event this Halloween is the sold-out Heavy Hitting B-Grade Horrorfest going down Saturday night at the Chateau. It looks like we’ve got 15 short films on the slate, most local, all independent and many that really push the envelope of cinematic deviancy. ‘The worse, the better’ has always been B-Grade’s mantra, and we mean taste, not quality. This is a chance for any filmmaker, rookie or pro, to paddle back into the darkest, most screwed up depths of their imaginations and jump in. The result is rarely art, or if it is, it’s hidden behind a shower death scene.

But the films are almost secondary to the gathering– many of the people I will see on Saturday night are people I see but once or twice a year– at weddings, funerals, and Horrorfest.

Of course real Halloween is actually on Sunday, with fireworks and hopefully a lot of candy. While all you kids are chomping down all that sugar, check out Ruby Skye P.I It’s a teen detective web-series free on the internet at . It’s aimed at kids but Peter Harvey, who grew up here, is the production manager and ‘Behind the Scenes’ director so hit it up and support the locs. Peter’s got a movie in the B-Grade Horrorfest proving Whistler kids are far more talented than the national average.

Happy Halloween, don’t drive wasted, don’t eat sketchy apples (don’t eat anything healthy actually,) and try to wear some clear-lensed goggles if you’re planning an epic roman candle war.


Notes from the Back Row- oct 19

November 11, 2010


loyal readers (all 26 of ya) – sorry for the lack of anything resembling a post or update for the past while. Halloween is 5-week committment for me due to the Heavy Hitting B-Grade HorrorFest that we throw in whistler every year. It’s the best night of my calendar but it takes a lot of time and love to throw, so the blog sits int he backseat for a while. here’s one of my fave angelina pictures to make it up to you.

the title of this picture is"holy fuck"

Notes from the back row- Oct 19


Hippies are always going on about the four elements, and Earth Wind and Fire did have a few decent tracks but my favourite element is the element of surprise. Unfortunately, in this day and age, movie fans are inundated with information, spoilers, and full clips about a film before long it’s released. (And I suppose I’m part of the problem.)

To make things worse, when studios refuse to release preview screenings it’s usually because they don’t want the critics to see how shitty their product is. Horror movies, though, are the exceptions that prove the rule. Obviously the less you know going in to a horror film, the better, and while this autumn’s crop of fright flicks hasn’t been strong so far Paranormal Activity 2, opening this Friday at the Village 8, is banking on the surprise factor– no press screenings, not many internet clips.

The first Paranormal Activity was that cleverly marketed homemade ghost story shot in the docu-Blair Witch style that generated a lot of noise last year. I thought it was pretty shitty and anticlimactic although I watched it at home and that was a film that build of the audience energy.

The sequel looks better though and while it milks the same security-cam aesthetic, it appears to have more scares, scarier scares and an at-risk toddler (never a bad call –kids are creepy by nature and parents have intrinsic urges to protect them.)

More budget can only help the Paranormal Activity franchise but I still get the feeling this one will drag in the not-scary parts, just like the last. Of course, we’ll never know until we go, and that’s rare.

Matt Damon has a local cult following and he’s back this week at the Village 8 starring in the Clint Eastwood directed Hereafter. Eastwood (Play Misty for Me, Unforgiven) is a master of American cinema but he’s also old as a Stegosauraus hipbone and by all accounts this non-thriller, about a ho-hum psychic and three people desperate to know about the afterlife, is as flat as day-old cream soda.

The tidal wave scene looks pretty sick though, Eastwood knows his way around a camera and Damon and the co-stars do their best, but the plot is a stretch, the music is total crap and the afterlife is nothing new. Soft focus white death might look cool when you’re only a few years away but the rest of us have seen that shit a million times on screen. C’mon Clint, surprise us with some grit and grime and fresh idea about the sweet hereafter.

Also opening this week, again with no previews or advance screenings, is Score-A Hockey Musical. The title alone makes the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. Musicals suck far more often than not, and there is no dancing in hockey (despite that stupid CBC Battle of the Blades show that everyone’s mom loves.) All I can tell you is that it’s Canadian-made, directed by the guy who made the cross-Canada road trip One Week and that it stars Olivia Newton-John. I have that record form the 70’s where she’s on the cover rocking the jogging suit and all sweaty but Olivia is 62 this year so I guess we’re all in for a surprise.

B-Grade Horrorfest is set for Oct 30. Guaranteed to be some onscreen surprises that night as local thesbians, lesbians, naked dudes and savages all vie for the first annual “Manimal Award for most fearless performance” dedicated to the memory of Erin Solowey-Wanamaker, a fearless actor if ever there was one.


Notes from the Back Row is a weekly movie column appearing in Whistler’s Pique Newsmagazine