Many Main Characters. Movies Reviewed: Dish: Women, Waitressing & the Art of Service, Little White Lies, We Can Do That, Faster

Posted in Bad Movies, Canada, Class, comedy, documentary, Feminism, France, Italy, Japan, Mental Illness, Sex, Uncategorized, Unions, US, violence, Western by on November 25, 2010

A lot of traditional movies have one main character, a love interest, and possibly a rival. But there are other types of movies out there too. This week I’m going to look at some movies with many more main characters than you may be used to.

Dish: Women, Waitressing & the Art of Service

Dir: Maya Gallus

… is a documentary that takes a look at the food-service sector with all its contradictions and idiosyncrasies, and how this kind of work differs according to class, status, culture, and sex.

It addresses a lot of questions. Why is it that women working as waitresses might be thought of subservient? And why do they get paid less than their male counterparts? Why are the jobs for women mainly at low-end diners and restaurants, while male waiters dominate the very top tier of haute cuisine? And at which point and in what way does sexual perception enter these job?

This fast-moving documentary takes you on a journey from Ontario diners and truckstops, to “sexy” and topless restaurants in Quebec, and then to Parisian edifices of haute cuisine — an exclusive profession where women have barely made inroads — and to the very strange maid cafes of Tokyo’s Akihabara district, where service becomes a ritualized image formerly only seen in Japanese anime.

It has some good quotes; like a male waiter explaining that women are too emotional or too physically weak to be a waiter… immediately followed by images of a low-end Paris waitress carrying heavy boxes of alcohol up narrow, twisting staircases. Also the endless bowing scene at a maid café has got to be seen to be believed.

Dish is a documentary done the way I think documentaries should be made (but usually aren’t). It documents people and events showing you what’s going on, without an intrusive narrator or voiceover telling you what’s going on. The filmmaker stays out of the picture and lets the many people she interviews tell the stories instead. It’s quick, punchy, funny, and a bit shocking at times, exposing the hypocrisies that we all live with.

Little White Lies / Les Petits Mouchoirs

Dir: Guillaume Canet

…is another movie with a big ensemble of characters who are spending time together in a summer home by the ocean. (Sort of like a French version of The Big Chill). They go there every year, sponsored by one of the friends, Max, who’s a successful restauranteur. The people he surrounds himself with have jobs like opera singer, actor, masseur… Superficially, they’re all good-looking, fun people who know how to party. They talk about ecology, fitness, new-age, music,

But there’s a shadow hanging over this summer; Ludo, one of the friends, has a terrible motorcycle accident, and is put in intensive care at a Parisian hospital. But the group decides to go to the beach anyway. Though all the arguments, practical jokes, and gossip are comic at first, they gradually intensify, as the people slip into a kind of despair. Past and present love affairs among the various friends (some of them are married and have kids) rear their ugly heads, and the little white lies of the title gradually reveal themselves.

This was a good, ensemble movie, clever, subtle, well-made. Still if you see it, be prepared for a 2 ½ hour long movie with lots of witty dialogue… but not so much action. It played at TIFF this year and I saw it this week at the EU Film Festival.

We Can Do That

Dir: Giulio Manfredonia

…is another enjoyable movie at the EU Festival, this one from Italy. It’s also a movie with lots of main characters. Nello (Claudio Bisio) is a trade union organizer, but he’s too market oriented for his union buddies, but too anti-corporate for his girlfriend who works for a big Milan designer. So he gets sent down to a co-operative whose members are all people kicked out when they closed down the mental hospitals in Italy in the late seventies/ early eighties. Nello soon meets this big group who are all kept on very heavy medication under the dictatorial doctor Del Vecchio. Some are developmentally handicapped, some autistic, others with emotional problems, or mental health issues.

They sit around all day, catatonic, stuffing envelopes. Nello soon discovers they’re not as clueless as they initially appear to be. As one character tells him: “We’re crazy, not stupid”. So Nello decides to apply union principles to the people in the co-op. He gets them to cut down there medicines, starts treating them like adults, and works with them to found a profit making buisines that will employ all the members and make them feel good about their success.

I know it sounds like one of those group movies like The Commitments or The Full Monty — and actually it is — but it also has lots of quirky and interesting characters, good melodramatic plot turns, and lots of funny parts, too. This reviewer also liked seeing it because I’ve been told by three different strangers that I look like an Italian actor in this movie — Giovanni Calcagno. OK, he plays Luca, the violent, emotionally disturbed bricklayer who rarely speaks, but hey, beggars can’t be choosers, so I’ll take it as a compliment.

You should also check out the German movie, Storm, playing this Saturday afternoon, preceded by a panel discussion on Bosnian war crimes.


Dir: George Tillman, Jr.

…is a contemporary reboot of those old 1960’s spaghetti westerns with not one, but three very similar main characters. Driver (played by Dwayne Johnson – once known as “The Rock”) is the strong, silent type, a released prisoner who decides he has to kill all the people who shot his brother. Then there’s the detective (played by the worthless Billy Bob Thorton in a bad wig) who has to catch him. And then there’s a pretty-boy millionaire assassin who has to kill Dwayne Johnston. So they drive around in the desert shooting at each other. The end.

Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. You have to sit through the whole thing. The title, Faster, refers to who is the fastest draw. Who’s going to out shoot the other two? But it’s not a fast action movie. It’s a slo-mo action movie. With spent bullet cartridges sloooooowly falling falling to the ground (clink clink clink.) Every time Driver gets in his car, it revs and the tires screech. Every time. There’s a chase scene where one of the cars ride in reverse. Fun? Wow… This movie is just awful. Its supposed to be an action movie, but the only word that kept bouncing around my mind, was Faster, faster, please… make this movie go faster! It’s boring and blah.

Movie Excuses. Films reviewed: Morning Glory, Sell Out!, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. PLUS EU Film Fest and Best Breast Film Fest

Posted in Acting, Cultural Mining, Drama, Harry Potter, Journalism, Malaysia, Manhattan, Movies, Musical, Romantic Comedy, TV, Uncategorized by on November 21, 2010

I like movies. They can be interesting, thrilling, edifying, moving, romantic, educational, funny, beautiful, cool, and a good way to keep your feet dry if it’s raining out. I don’t need an excuse to see one.

But there are a lot of people who will do just about anything not to see a movie. And believe me, I’ve heard a lot of excuses:

I hate Hollywood!
I already read the book.
I only watch movies with subtitles.
It’s too expensive!
No tits and ass? Then I don’t wanna see it…
Boring… I like TV better.
I’d rather give my money to charity.

So today I’m going to tell you about some movies that address these excuses.

You want to give money to charity? You love movies with lots of naked breasts? Check out the Breast Fest now on at the Royal Ontario Museum. Actually, this is a very real film festival that rethinks breast cancer. It’s showing documentaries about surviving, living with, or confronting breast cancer, along with workshops and discussions. Look online for information at

Do you think movies are too expensive? Do you hate Hollywood? Or maybe you just love movies with sombre Scandinavians staring pensively at still ponds? Well, be sure to check out the Toronto EU film festival, that started last night and will be on for the next ten days.

This is quite a remarkable film festival, if you’ve never been. It’s a chance to see 22 films from all across the European union, from Finland to Cyprus, Poland to Portugal in addition to the more established film industries like France, Germany, Italy, and Spain. It’s always a mixed bag, but some of the movies are always stupendous and with some hidden treasures there, too. And best of all, it’s absolutely free, all week at the Royal Cinema. But be sure to show up at least 45 minutes before the starting time if you want to get a seat. The tickets disappear very quickly. I’ll be reviewing some movies from the festival next week, but you can look at the schedule online at

“I like TV better”. OK, let’s look at two movies about TV.


Morning Glory
Dir: Roger Michell

Becky (played by Rachel McAdams) is a young TV producer from New Jersey, who gets laid off from her local, candy-coloured morning show. But she’s enthusiastic, charming and relentlessly hard working. So she’s thrilled to land a job as executive producer for a national network show broadcasting out of downtown Manhattan.

But, there’s a catch. She soon discovers all is not well. The on-air talent are all boring, vapid, worn-out, lecherous, or entirely lacking in charm. And if she doesn’t fix it up soon, the show might be cancelled. So she brings an eminent news anchorman (Harrison Ford) to be the new cohost. Will she get this crabby journalist to shed his hubris and participate? And will he and the longtime host (Diane Keaton) ever see eye-to-eye? And will Becky – who works 24/7 and is always on the phone — ever find love and romance? Morning Glory is a pretty funny movie about making TV shows. The plot’s totally cookie-cutter, but the setting – behind the scenes at the network – is hilarious and true-to-life. It’s a not-bad, run-of-the-mill, very commercial, light comedy.

Another movie:
Sell Out!
Dir: Yeo Joon Han

…couldn’t be more different. It’s a darkly satirical, comic look at Malaysia, seen through their TV, art, music, film, industry, and daily life, about how two young Malaysians face the dilemma of whether to stay true to their ideals or sell out.

Rafflesia is a Malaysian-Chinese TV host for FONY (as in SONY) TV a big conglomerate’s network. She’s competitive and jealous of an up-and-coming Eurasian hostess. Rafflesia’s attempt at making avant garde “art” for TV audiences – using film and poetry — is a dismal failure. But her ambition comes to the rescue when she finds a new way to attract reality-TV audiences – using death as the ultimate draw.

Meanwhile, Eric, is a brilliant, young engineer who works in the electronics division of FONY corp, has a crush on Rafflesia – but she won’t even look at him twice. Eric comes up with an amazing invention. You pour soybeans into one end, and press one of the buttons, and out comes soya milk, or tofu, or miso, soy sauce, tempeh – you name it. But according to the corporate bosses, it’s no good. What’s the flaw? It’s too durable – the company can only sell one per family. He didn’t design it to automatically break down as soon as the warranty ends.

So will Rafflesia make it as a Reality TV host? And will Eric stay true to his ideals or sell out? And will they fall in love?

That’s the storyline, but this movie has a lot more to it. It has something I’ve never seen before — its very funny dialogue is in what’s sometimes called “Manglish”, or Malaysian English (with subtitles). Not only that – the characters break into song every so often. It’s a comic, Malaysian-Chinese musical! And not only that – the movie also lampoons itself with scenes morphing into a karaoke video, (complete with words) or avant- garde cinema with dialogue spoken behind closed doors. It mocks the styles of Tsai Ming-liang and Hou Hsiao-Hsien but also the stupidity of mainstream pop culture. Some of the jokes are dreadful, but this is a unique funny satire, unlike any movie I’ve ever seen before.

What about the excuse “I’ve read the book”? Well, you still might want to see the movie version, like this latest, and second-to-the-last installment of the Harry Potter saga

The Deathly Hallows
Dir: David Yates

Just in case you’re one of the few people who has never heard of Harry Potter, it’s the story of a young English orphan with a lightning-bolt mark on his forehead, who discovers he is a wizard. He’s sent to the boarding school Hogwarts to learn his trade, and becomes best friends with fellow students of magic, Ron and Hermione. In this movie, the three of them set off on a journey to find destroy the Horcruxes – hidden items that contain a bit of dark power – before the villainous Voldemort gets a hold of them.

This episode is a bit risky. The series depends on the familiar surroundings of Hogwarts, with all of its quirky, strange, funny characters, and familiar images – the classic school uniforms, the strange magical paraphernalia, the building’s stone walls… but a significat part of this film is devoid of all that – just the three young actors, dressed in beige wooly sweaters, in a natural setting, dealing with their emotions. So that part dragged a bit for me. I wanted to see more magic, less grousing.

Luckily the rest of the movie had all that. There are some amazing scenes inside the Ministry of Magic with lots of clever, visual references to 1930’s fascist Europe — complete with the racist anti-muggle persecution, bad guys wearing black leather Gestapo trench coats, and foreboding, towering walls.

The movie downplays some of the book’s deaths, but is generally pretty close to the story. And though it only covers half the book, it ends in a way that leaves the viewer satisfied and without cheap cliff-hangers. Some great special effects, and the usual parade of virtually every single British movie actor making an appearances. Lot’s of fun, lots of scary parts. I liked this kids’ movie a lot, despite its dragging middle… no excuses needed.

Movies that make you go Hmmm… Fair Game, Client 9: the Rise and Fall of Elliot Spitzer, Inside Job, My Suicide, Golden Slumber, 127 Hours PLUS Film Festivals: Rendezvous with Madness, ReelAsian, Waterloo Animation

Movies that make you go hmmm…

If you look back at the past decade and wonder what the hell was that all about? there are three good movies that provide some explanations.

Fair Game
Dir: Doug Liman

Valerie Plame is a tough cookie. She works under deep cover for the CIA, recruiting local snitches around the world to gather intelligence on those inscrutable terrorists. She’s part of the group looking into the threat of a nuclear weapons in Iraq. She’s known as the agent who can’t be broken, even by torture. She’s married to a hothead, former diplomat, Wilson, a West Africa expert, who the CIA enlists to investigate rumours about yellowcake uranium coming out of Niger.

But their conclusions (they all hate Saddam Hussein too, but there are no weapons of mass destruction) do not sit well with the conspirers Cheney, Karl Rove, and their attack dog Scooter Libby. The movie traces what happens to Valerie and her family (and the drama sticks pretty close to the true story) when they expose her cover, and start to assassinate her husband’s character.

This movie’s a good historical take on the US government’s WMD scam (which led to the invasion of Iraq, more than a hundred thousand civilians dead and 4 million refugees). It tells a story where even the CIA comes across as one of the good guys. And Naomi Watts and Sean Penn are fun to watch, and the thriller aspect – of a spy escaping her foes – is not bad either.

So… a couple years after all this happened, things were brewing in New York City, on Wall Street, to be exact. The next movie, a documentary:

Client 9: the Rise and Fall of Elliot Spitzer
Dir: Alex Gibney

… looks at the case of the former Attorney General, and later Governor of New York, who was brought down in an embarrassing scandal involving a prostitute he slept with.

So what actually happened there?
Spitzer was, with great media and popular success – attacking the crooked dealers in the financial industry. He started low, but gradually worked his way into the belly of the beast. But, of course, he was getting on the nerves of some of the bigshots of Wall Street:
Crooked stock analysts at Merril Lynch; insider traders; NY Stock Exchange director Kenneth Langone; and the head of AIG, Hank Greenberg. (This documentary gets to interview everyone!)

As state governor, he added to his list of enemies – he sought out the fights and confrontations. But, of course, the bad guys fought back and cooked up an elaborate scheme using the sleazy, but fascinating, dirty trickster Roger Stone, to bring him down. Compiling published newspaper and magazine articles, interviews with the players, including the prostitutes and politicians involved, this compelling example of real investigative journalism traces the elaborate set-up to bring down the enemy of Wall Street, Albany, and Washington.


Inside Job
Dir: Charles Ferguson
Narrator: Matt Damon

…takes up the story right where Client 9 ends. It traces the bigger picture of how the real estate and financial bubble led to the collapse of the world’s, and the later bailout and payoffs to the very men whose out-and-out conniving and fraud led to these problems. Politicos, Investment banks, and, interestingly, university professors are taken to task for their involvement. This is also a great documentary, but not as good as Client 9 in getting interviews with the players from both sides of the story.

Does all this stuff make you mad? Well, check out Rendezvous with Madness – a film festival that deals with addiction and mental health by showing some interesting movies, documentaries, and experimental films, combined with discussions right after the screenings.

One movie that caught my eye is called:

My Suicide
Dir: David Lee Miller

This is a fictional blog in movie form. A blog-movie. I’d call it a Bloovie.

Archie is pretty pissed off. He goes to high school, but doesn’t much like it. He has a crush on a beautiful girl named Sierra, and feels alienated from his parents. It’s a 90210-type high school, but he’s not one of the popular kids. So when his classmates are all told to make a movie (everyone in this film seems to have a video camera), he tells the class: He’s going to film his own suicide. He immediately gets driven away by a cop, and passed on to a parade of counselors, social workers and shrinks. But he also unwittingly becomes an underground antihero in the school, with lots of kids vowing to follow his example; and he finally meets up with seemingly perfect Sierra, the girl of his dreams.

This is a frenetic movie: It feels like an earnest episode of Degrassi, cranked up on a six pack of red bull. It’s also much dirtier, with sex, drugs, and some sad stuff too. It quotes TV news, commercials, educational films, and some excellent animated sequences – basically anything you can fit on a green screen behind the main character. A sad and shocking topic, but with an interesting and comic way of telling the story of teenage angst. It’s on tonight at 9; check out the details on

The Toronto ReelAsian International Film Festival  shows great films from east and southeast Asia, including Japan, China, Korea, HK, and Vietnam, as well as movies from around the world.

The festival opened with the enjoyable retro kung fu flic “Gallants”. One interesting movie (that screens tonight) is:

Golden Slumber
Dir: Yoshihiro Nakamura

Aoyagi (Masato Sakai) is a friendly, ordinary, mild-mannered deliveryman. He was in the Food Culture Research Youth Group (dedicated to “friendship through fast food”) at university, lives in Sendai, and once was famous for 15 minutes when he rescued a pop star by tripping her attacker. He is bamboozled into going on a fishing trip with an old classmate which soon turns into a massive JFK/ Lee Harvey Oswald assassination plot to kill the Japanese PM. And he discovers that he’s the Oswald, and a whole lot of shady characters driving black cars are after him, as well as the even more bloodthirsty and venal press corps.

A pint-sized, teenaged serial killer becomes one of Aoyagi’s many de facto rescuers as he tries to clear his name. “Trust”, Aoyagi believes, “is mankind’s greatest strength.’

This is a neat movie: 50% paranoid conspiracy drama, 50% quirky black comedy, that follows Aoyagi and his various former college friends as the story unfolds in an unusual way. I love this kind of movie.

Another story of a man stuck in a hard place is the very enjoyable

127 Hours
Dir: Danny Boyle

Danny Boyle, of course, is the guy who brought us Slumdog Millionaire and Trainspotting; all his movies are fun to watch, but totally different from the last one he directed.

This one is an hour and a half of an adventurous, solo mountain climber (James Franco) who’s arm is pinned in a fissure by a big hunk o’ rock… in the middle of nowhere.

And the only way out might be by cutting off his own arm. This is a true story, so if you’ve seen pictures of the guy (Aron Ralston) you’ll know what he did in the end. So how does he keep your attention? A guy stuck in a rock for an hour and a half? Well this is a great movie, that isn’t trapped in the tiny space. I don’t like overly claustrophobic, squashed-in movies. This one reaches out, it goes wherever Aron’s mind, dreams, fantasies, hallucinations, and memories take him. There is an extended episode of extreme grotesquerie, but other than that, it’s a greatly enjoyable movie about a man attempting to overcome nature using his will and logic, without resorting to prayer and salvation.

And if you’re in the Kitchener/Waterloo area, be sure to check out the 10th annual Waterloo Festival for Animated Cinema – it’s filled with animated features from places like Eastern Europe and Japan, ranging from anime, to fairy tales to psychedelia – sounds pretty cool. Look for the details on

Contemporary Chinese Cinema. Movies reviewed: Aftershock, The Ditch, All About Love, I Wish I Knew PLUS Rendezvous with Madness & Scott Pilgrim

This week I’m looking at four movies from China (and Hong Kong) that explore its history, and in some cases, break the boundaries as to what is allowed in Chinese film.

Aftershock (唐山大地震)
Dir: Feng Xiaogang

In 1976, right at the end of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, there was a huge earthquake in northeastern China, Tangshan, Hebei Province, that killed a quarter of a million people. But this movie isn’t really about the earthquake or the aftershocks that followed – it’s a drama about what happens to a family that was living there.

Mom and Dad are a young couple with twin kids, a boy and a girl named Feng Da and Feng Deng. Mom favours the boy a little but loves them both. The parents sneak out to a truck to have sex in the hot air, just when the earthquake hits, with buildings collapsing all around them. Kids are trapped inside and when the building comes down, they’re both still alive but stuck in the rubble under a concrete slab. The men helping move the cement say mom has to choose one kid only – if they lift it, one will be crushed, the other will live. The twins can hear everything. And in a panic, Mom says “save the boy”. But the girl gets out too, and is adopted up by a childless couple from the People’s Liberation Army, (who are there to help in the aftermath of the quake.)

That’s the set-up for the movie – what happens to the lost daughter, her amputee brother, and their always grieving mother, is a 30-year-long melodrama about the paths their lives took as China (like the city of Tangshan) rebuilds, modernizes, and gets richer. Both of the twins end up in Hangzhou… why? I guess because it’s a prettier city to have in a movie than Tangshan.

This movie is a blockbuster in China. It’s a good tearjerker – though not the thrilling disaster movie I thought I’d be seeing. It gets a bit schmaltzy at times, and more than that, all the scenes involving the PLA are a bit over the top; the 1976 scenes with the rosy cheeked girls in pigtails, and the windswept red flags looked like they were modeled on Cultural Revolution posters. With lots of nostalgia, but not a hint of irony. Similar scenes, set in present day China, were also rather propagandistic. Still, it’s not a bad movie; you feel for the feelings of the mom, the son, and the daughter. The acting was generally good – especially the twins (Zhang Jingchu and Chen Li) and the girl’s stepfather (Chen Daoming, whom you might recognize as the Emperor in the movie Hero). Though other scenes, with the mother screeching or weeping at the camera were a bit much. And it gives a nice outline of the changes in China over the past three decades, while steering completely away from any political issues. (Jia Zhangke’s fantastic movie Platform, that took place over the same 30-year period, seems to have inspired the much more mainstream Aftershock.)

The Ditch
Dir: Wang Bing

A very different take on Chinese history is a new movie called The Ditch, that takes place around the time of the anti-rightist campaign and the Great Leap Forward in the late 1950s and early 1960s. It paints a much grimmer portrait. And grim it is.

This is a period of Chinese history that isn’t written about much, and rarely (if ever) portrayed in movies. A bit of historical context: In 1956, there was a movement in China in which the government encouraged artists, intellectuals and students to speak out, and to freely voice their differences and opinions. “Let a hundred flowers bloom” they said. “Let a hundred schools of thought contend.” And that’s what eventually happened. But right after that, there was a huge crackdown on anyone who had voiced criticism of censorship, poor living conditions, or of the Communist Party itself.

And they ended up cracking down on half a million people. The movie, The Ditch, deals with what happened to the ones sent to a particularly heinous labour camp in the Gobi desert. It’s an isolated, deathly poor camp without actual buildings. The inmates literally live in a hole in the ground, a sort of a tunnel, where they slept when they aren’t being worked to death digging a ditch in the middle of nowhere. Life is miserable for them, they can barely stand up, and they survive on the watery gruel they’re given to eat (while the party members are shown happily gorging on plump white noodles and meat.) Then, at some point, the prisoners are told, sorry, no more food at all. Ask your relatives to mail you some or else, you can find food outside. So they start eating any desert gerbils they can catch, and whatever seeds they can find in the dirt.

You get to know the beleaguered inmates – like an engineer who in the Hundred Flowers movement questioned whether “the dictatorship of the proletariat was the right way” (oops!); a man branded as being from the “landlord” class, even though he’s never had enough money to taste braised pork belly; and the various other professors, writers, scientists and former Party members. The most moving part is about the fate of one man whose wife comes in from the big city to see him.

This is an extremely harsh portrayal of life in the prison camps, (sort of a gulag archipelago for the Chinese), showing their cruelty, the degradation of the prisoners, the desecration of the dead, and even the rumours of cannibalism among the starving men. I have a feeling this movie (which played at the Toronto Film Festival), might not be widely shown in China, if at all. It was allowed to be made there, though, on locations very near to the actual camps. The Ditch is a very hard movie to watch, but a moving one nonetheless, and one of great historical significance. And it’s a credit to the sophistication of Chinese cinema that movies like this are being made at all.

All About Love (得閒炒飯)
Dir: Ann Hui

…is a Hong Kong romantic comedy drama about another topic rarely dealt with in Chinese films – a love story between women.

Macy and Anita, who were once a couple, get back together again at a pregnancy group.

But they also have to deal with the earnest and caring sperm donors who got them both pregnant. Do they stay together as a couple? Macy is holding on to a pair of dancing shoes, to return, like Cinderella, to her true love, so that they may someday dance a tango together again.

Do they keep the babies? And what role will the men (well, one’s actually a very young man) play in their lives? One still has a crush, and the other thinks he’s been tricked. There’s also the question of their lives as feminists in Hong Kong, and whether Anita can keep her job after facing sexual harassment in her conservative workplace – she becomes a virtual prisoner there, confined to a conference room.

All about love is a very light romantic farce, but one that deals with an important topic. I found the movie kind of corny (like many romantic comedies), and a bit muddled. I like Ann Hui’s previous movies better than this one, but it’s enjoyable nonetheless.

I Wish I Knew (海上传奇)
Dir: Jia Zhangke

Jia Zhangke is one of the best Chinese directors of his generation, and I think it’s even safe to say he’s one of the best directors… period.

I Wish I Knew, is a documentary that shows Shanghai, warts and all. Before 1949, and expecially in its heyday in the 1930’s, Shanghai was known as the Paris of the East, but also as Sin City, replete with filthy-rich bankers and entrepreneurs, gamblers, mahjong players, drunkards, opium-addicts, gangsters, prostitutes and foreigners. Post revolution, the government went to great pains to declare Shanghai “all cleaned up”, but Jia Zhangke has reclaimed the sordid past (and present) as part of what gives Shanghai its mystique.

Using a beautiful silent model, I wish I knew takes you on a city tour, interviewing the very people (like a son of a gangster, an entertainer, and an MSG mogul) that used to be taboo.

He only deals with professions that are in some way international, glamorous, edgy, artistic or in some way both interesting, and specific to Shanghai. And, for the most part, the people he interviews speak in Shanghainese, not in standard Chinese. Interspersed with the talking heads are clips from great movies — by Hou Hsiao-hsien, Wang Kar-wai, and others — that give recreations of periods in the city’s past.

While not one of Jia Zhang-ke’s best films, this is a great documentary view of China — and the city of Shanghai — in a way you rarely get to see it.

Also opening tonight is a very interesting film festival, Rendezvous With Madness, which looks at how mental health and drug addiction are portrayed at the movies. Interesting screenings are followed by Q&A discussions with the filmmakers and people in the field of addiction and mental health. I’ll be talking more about this next year: Check out .

Also playing, tonight only, is Scott Pilgrim vs the World. If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s a fun movie, based on the graphic novels by Bryan Lee O’Malley, set in downtown Toronto. Since the movie features local landmarks like Lee’s Palace, Honest Ed’s, and the Beguiling, it makes sense it’s playing at the Bloor. And guess what? Bryan will be there at the screening… and it’s completely free! So show up early if you want a seat.

Just to review, today I talked about four Chinese movies, Aftershock, now playing, check your local listings; All about Love and The Ditch, which played at the Toronto Film Festival this year, and I Wish I Knew, which opens next week, Nov.11, at the TIFF Lightbox. (Check times at

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