News Shelf: 3/1/14

Ellen Oscar Host

It was a strange week. It wasn’t a particularly busy week in terms of new releases in the gaming, movie, and comic worlds with everyone still getting over their Olympic sized pop-culture hangovers, but we have been quite strenuously prepping some great stuff over the next couple of weeks that we think you’re really going to love headed into March (or Smarch as it kind of lovingly gets called).

There was no column for The Bloor this week because with this weekend’s Oscar ceremonies, they are mostly just re-running the films nominated for Best Feature Documentary through Monday. Then they have some new movies starting on Tuesday and more on Friday, so you can expect not one, but two blasts of documentary news next week, all of it leading up to the big Hot Docs festival announcement on March 18th.

They’re also getting in on the increasing business of local venues hosting Oscar viewing parties. For the second year in a row local film critic and former Saturday Night at the Movies host Thom Ernst will emcee a free screening of the awards at The Bloor starting at 7:00pm. Advance tickets are no longer available, but there will be a limited number of day-of-event tickets available from The Bloor box office starting at noon, with doors opening at 6:30.

If you can’t make it to The Bloor, Carlton Cinemas is doing the same thing on one of their screens starting at 7:00pm. Admission is free with a canned food donation and apparently there will also be champagne. It helps that both The Bloor and Carlton are both licensed to serve liquor to help better stave off the frustration when something you didn’t like that much wins an award or you realize your hopes of winning the office Oscar pool are failing.


But for those who would prefer drowning their sorrows in a classier environment with top shelf libations, Richard Crouse returns to host The Drake Hotel’s Oscar night. Admission is free, but dress classy. They’ll have their own in-house Oscar pool, a special champagne menu, and perhaps best of all, free popcorn. This one kicks off at 6:00pm, in case you want to grab some food before you start cat calling the red carpet.

We’ll have our Oscar picks up later today (much to my own chagrin because I hate making them), but if you know of any Oscar viewing parties in YOUR AREA, please leave them in the comments below. We like to cover events for other cities, too, but sadly unless it’s in Toronto (or occasionally Vancouver or Halifax) no one tells us nothin’.

Canadian Screen Awards 2014

Even with the Academy Awards quickly drawing to a close, Awards Season isn’t over. Next weekend it becomes Canada’s turn to shine with the Canadian Screen Awards. Once again hosted by Martin Short, the awards will air on CBC starting at 8:00pm next Sunday, and Dork Shelf will be there live tweeting from the event starting at 7:00pm EST. So be sure to follow us on Twitter as we keep you up to date on what’s going on backstage. And next weekend, stay tuned for talks with some of this year’s nominees and a preview of the show. It should be good times.


But if you actually want to watch some movies over the next couple of weeks and the new releases have left you wanting something more, the TIFF Bell Lightbox has you covered quite nicely with the return of their Books on Film series, starting up again on Monday, March 3rd at 7:00pm. A series that finds authors and filmmakers speaking exclusively on literary adaptations (hosted by CBC Writers & Company host Eleanor Wachtel), this year’s series kicks off with Mohsin Hamid talking about Mira Nair’s 2013 adaptation of his novel The Reluctant Fundamentalist. A great novel that was turned into a mostly passable, but deeply flawed feature, I’d be interested to see Mamid thinks of the changes that were made in terms of plot and pacing. The series continues on through June and will include appearances from Yann Martel to talk about Ang Lee’s Life of Pi (Monday, April 14th, 7:00pm) and Andre Dubus III talking about the incredibly underrated and somewhat controversial adaptation of his novel The House of Sand and Fog (Monday, June 2nd, 7:00pm). For a full list of films and guests and to buy a subscription to the series and save some money, head on over to the TIFF website.


Soylent Green

But while we’re talking TIFF, there are two other series worth talking about; one that’s about to begin and an ongoing series that’s about to really get interesting. First, the sibling series to Books on Film, the always popular and potentially mouth-watering Food on Film series, gears up to start on Wednesday, March 12th. Hosted by CBC Metro Morning’s Matt Galloway and beginning with a screening of Wong Kar-Wai’s masterpiece Chungking Express and a chat with Lucky Peach Food Editor Peter Meehan, the series is kind of self explanatory. This series, which runs through July 9th, will also feature screenings of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory on May 7th (with Momofuku Milk Bar founder and owner Christina Tosi), My Dinner with Andre on June 18th (with Toronto Star writer and dinner party guru Corey Mintz), and the cult sci-fi thriller Soylent Green on July 9th. It’s a line up as varied as the food being showcased in it. Single tickets aren’t on sale, but (and I am not sure if this is still valid or not) the first 150 people to buy packages get a one year subscription to Canadian Living and a $50 gift card to Momofuku Toronto. So if you can still get in on that, great. If not, at least you bought a ticket to a great series of films, all of which can find more info on here.

Starship Troopers

Finally, I wanted to touch on the realization that the TIFF Bell Lightbox’s series on Dutch filmmaker Paul Verhoeven – Flesh + Blood – has just entered its most intriguing stretch that will continue until it wraps up on April 4th with a screening of Verhoeven’s latest film, the “user generated” and less than an hour long Tricked. Having worked in his native Holland for most of his career and creating such critically acclaimed, boundary pushing, and financially successful works as Turkish Delight and Soldier of Orange, Verhoeven started pushing the boundaries of his country’s tastes a bit too far. His follow-ups Spetters and The Fourth Man were both controversial in The Netherlands, but were huge art-house successes outside of the country. Eventually, he would dip his toe into big budget crossover epic filmmaking with the gleefully deranged and over the top medieval action epic Flesh + Blood before heading to the United States where he would become one of the most misunderstood and smarted genre film mavens Hollywood has ever seen.

The Hollywood portion of Verhoeven’s career in the Lightbox retrospective started last night with his 1990 Schwarzenegger starring loose Phillip K. Dick adaptation Total Recall, which is a decent enough film, but now where Verhoeven has the most interesting material to work with. The series doubles back on itself to go back to 1987 and his first completely American construct, the unimpeachable sci-fi, action, and comedy masterpiece RoboCop, screening on March 7th at 9:30pm. A deft blend of over the top gore, spectacularly realized action sequences, and cutting edge satire sharper than a samurai sword, RoboCop is one of the best all around blockbusters of the 1980s and a shining example of the best and bravest studio filmmaking the decade had to offer. Next to Die Hard, it probably is the best action film of the decade.

Equally satirical and probably just as misunderstood are the one-two punch of the 1992 Joe Esztherhas penned sleazeball thriller Basic Instinct (Thursday, March 13th, 9:15pm) and his cult sci-fi epic Starship Troopers (Friday, March 21st, 9:15pm). Both films are perfect examples – much like his misunderstood  Spetters – of Verhoeven’s ability to take morally suspect material and take it so far over the top that the film’s actually become vicious slaps in the face to the tropes that only a surface level viewing thinks the film might be celebrating. Incorrectly identifying Basic Instinct as a potentially slut-shaming bit of nastiness downplays the fact that Sharon Stone’s vamping killer is a vastly more likable and strangely more sympathetic character than Michael Douglas’ amoral and hopelessly oblivious homicide detective. Similarly, while many people never bothered to look into the subtext of Starship Troopers and it was immediately written off as a fascist work where a bunch of bland, clean-cut white people band together to kill off an invasion of oversized killer insects, anyone today who has seen something as simplistic and astute as The Lego Movie should be able to understand that Verhoeven isn’t siding with these troopers, but instead laughing in their faces the entire running time.


It’s a shame that Verhoeven couldn’t keep that momentum going for much longer. Showgirls (Friday, March 14th at 10:00pm, hosted by film writer Adam Nayman, who has recently complete work on a book about the film and whom we will be interviewing in the near future about the book and film) was a high profile NC-17 rated box office disaster that immediately became one of the most reviled (and again potentially misunderstood) failures of the 90s. After the collective shrug that greeted his final stab at North American genre filmmaking, the fairly well understood and really not very good at all Hollow Man (Thursday, March 27th, 9:30pm), Verhoeven successfully returned to Holland with the really quite exceptional World War II drama Black Book (Friday, March 28th, 9:15pm), an illustration that he really hasn’t lost a step as a filmmaker, but one that suggests that inspiration might be harder to come by these days. At any rate, these films are all fascinating works from a fascinating filmmaker. Well, all of them except for Hollow Man, that is.

And that’s about it! Don’t forget about our Oscar coverage this weekend, and be sure to check out our weekly TV updates for True Detective, Girls, and the recently added Hannibal! On top of that, look for the latest episode of the Geek Hard podcast to go up really soon, and if you’re in the city of Toronto this Thursday night and are planning on catching 300: Rise of an Empire, Dork Shelf contributor and all around swell person Sam Maggs will be hosting a special double bill of the original film and the upcoming one starting at 7:00pm at the Rainbow Cinemas Market Square.

Now it’s off to prepare next week’s interviews, another edition of Unsung Anniversaries to come on Tuesday, and to stop procrastinating on this Academy Awards post that I should be writing.