Manual Film Critic: A Decade Behind the Scenes in the Movie Industry

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Unsentimental yet deeply affecting, Blackbird is about a shy, harmless goth kid named Sean Connor Jessup who laments the sports culture around which both his high school and hometown revolve. Even his dad drives the Zamboni at the local rink. Sean vents his spleen in a Columbine fantasy that he posts to the web, in the heat of the moment, and soon finds himself in a youth detention centre alongside actual violent offenders. Told with a rare mix of humanity and procedural clarity that recalls the late, great British filmmaker Alan Clarke who attended film school in Canada , Blackbird feels quintessentially Canadian in joining — and towering above — the ranks of school shooting movies without firing a single bullet on screen, as well as in its subtle critique of our tendency to over-prize athletes and athletic prowess, to the point where even a small-town courtroom begins to seem like an arena where those with power must impress.

To me, it is one of the most brilliant films about childhood ever made. Reenactments that feel like home videos can be mistaken for fact, and interviews with multiple people in the family reveal often conflicting perspectives. Many people tell their stories in this film; Polley gets the final say in the cutting room.

And yet this film is so much more: a feminist statement about what it means to be a modern woman, the sacrifices made for career and family, the conflicting feelings of being a heterosexual woman who does not want to be controlled by the patriarchy, the way women especially police and perform for themselves, and the crippling nature of grief.

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Rhymes for Young Ghouls is an entertaining, horrifying, and visceral look at the residential school system, a film with images that still haunt me years later, and helped me understand this atrocity in a way history lessons never did. Pre-order your copy now here. I remember being amazed, engaged and ultimately moved to tears! But there is so much more here — how family mythology is drafted and crafted over generations, how one truth begets others, and even how editing whether of our memories or our films helps shape the narratives of our existence.

To say nothing of the work of Canadian directors on the world stage; my favourite films of three of the last four years have included work by Denis Villeneuve — Sicario , Arrival , and Blade Runner We are a nation blessed with filmmaking riches. Interviews with the filmmakers behind Anthropocene and Edge of the Knife appear in our forthcoming ebook, The Canadian Cinema Yearbook. If there is one director who exemplifies new Canadian cinema, it is Denis Villeneuve.

The Quebec screenwriter-director has broken big on the international scene in the last few years, but his films have always been emblematic of the tension between intimate, character-driven moments and large scale, bombastic action sequences. It is a blisteringly political film that is shocking, graphic and tender in equal measure. Incendies proves that Polytechnique was no fluke; the film would ultimately go on to be the first Canadian nomination in the Best Foreign Film category at the Oscars in nearly half a decade.

As Polley digs deeper into her family history, the film interrogates the variations of the truth that arise when memories are fragmented and refracted over time. Who says all happy families are alike? An essay on First Stripes and an interview with the director appear in our forthcoming ebook, The Canadian Cinema Yeabook. Undeniably, it takes a certain level of courage and a definite amount of risk to make a film that is truly inward looking.


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When the correct balance of formal distance and emotional authenticity is struck, it evokes a special kind of empathy in the viewer. Personally, I find this type of work to often be the most rewarding cinematic experiences.

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In both cases, these films are debut features, which is all the more astounding. The film is filled with love, mystery, and a wonderful element of fantasy. Manic , on the other hand, is an epic uncovering of family secrets, and a raw depiction of trans-generational mental illness, but is also extremely tender and patient. Mental illness is, of course, often sensationalized and can lead to further stigmatization, but Manic makes consent and collaboration part of the very fabric woven into its depiction of these difficult experiences, humanizing them in a way that is rarely achieved.

I feel humbled and empowered to have both of these women as role models to look up to within my own country. Then, Guibord ends up with the deciding vote in Parliament to determine whether Canada will go to war. Thrust abruptly into the national limelight, Guibord is torn as the vote splits his constituents and his household.

Guibord finds himself leaning on Souverain for guidance as these two fish out of water navigate the absurdities of Canadian politics and try to do the right thing. The only sin in this movie is cynicism: contempt is reserved for the strangely familiar Prime Minister Paul Doucet , who alternates bald political deal-brokering with enforced piano recitals.

This film was made at a time when seemingly the only thing uniting Canadians was disliking Stephen Harper.

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My Internship in Canada is a frothy, funny, generous delight. Up-and-coming blogs—Gizmodo, Instapundit, and Daily Kos, which were setting the stage for bigger and more advanced entities, such as Business Insider and BuzzFeed—were simultaneously springing up across the country. Yet they were largely ignored by the Times as well as by editors and publishers at other news outlets. More often than not, tech-related advances—including e-readers and free online blogging platforms, such as WordPress and Tumblr—were laughed at as drivel by the entire industry, just as Napster had been years earlier.

Meanwhile, the same pummeling occurred in the book-publishing world.

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An algorithm generally provided better suggestions than an actual in-store clerk. And consumers never had to leave home to get the book they wanted. Amazon, knowing this, eviscerated the business.


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While print sales have finally leveled out largely through a reliance on science fiction and fantasy , the industry has seen sales fall precipitously over the past decade. Hollywood, these days, seems remarkably poised for a similar disruption. Its audiences increasingly prefer on-demand content, its labor is costly, and margins are shrinking. Yet when I ask people in Hollywood if they fear such a fate, their response is generally one of defiance. And the numbers reinforce the logic.

Between and , overall profits for the big-five movie studios—Twentieth Century Fox, Warner Bros. By , according to some forecasts, that share will fall to around 5 percent. Disney, partly owing to Star Wars and its other successful franchises, is likely to be a notable outlier. Show business, in many ways, has entered a vicious cycle set off by larger economic forces. Or in reboots and sequels that rely on existing intellectual property.

But even that formula has dried up. Chinese firms, including Dalian Wanda, are rabidly acquiring companies such as Legendary Entertainment, AMC, and Carmike Cinemas, a smaller theater chain, with an apparent goal of learning how Hollywood does what it does so China can do it better. As The Wall Street Journal reported last summer, more sequels bombed than did not. Hollywood, in its over-reliance on franchises, has ceded the vast majority of the more stimulating content to premium networks and over-the-top services such as HBO and Showtime, and, increasingly, digital-native platforms such as Netflix and Amazon.

These companies also have access to analytics tools that Hollywood could never fathom, and an allergy to its inefficiency. Few have seen the change as closely as Diller himself, who went from running Paramount and Fox to building his own tech empire, IAC.

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Part of the problem, it seems, is that Hollywood still views its interlopers from the north as rivals. In reality, though, Silicon Valley has already won. When Netflix started creating its own content, in , it shook the industry. Or a show that comes available in a set of a dozen episodes?

The real threat was that Netflix was doing it all with the power of computing. Netflix is competing not so much with the established Hollywood infrastructure as with its real nemeses: Facebook, Apple, Google the parent company of YouTube , and others. There was a time not long ago when technology companies appeared to stay in their lanes, so to speak: Apple made computers; Google engineered search; Microsoft focused on office software. It was all genial enough that the C. These days, however, all the major tech companies are competing viciously for the same thing: your attention.

Apple, Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat are all experimenting with original content of their own. Microsoft owns one of the most profitable products in your living room, the Xbox, a gaming platform that is also a hub for TV, film, and social media.

As The Hollywood Reporter noted this year, traditional TV executives are petrified that Netflix and its ilk will continue to pour money into original shows and films and continue to lap up the small puddle of creative talent in the industry. It would be wrong, however, to view this trend as an apocalypse. This is only the beginning of the disruption. The laborious and inefficient way shows and films are still made has not been significantly altered. The same waste and bloated budgets exist across the entire industry.

By comparison, a typical start-up in Silicon Valley will raise that much to run a team of engineers and servers for two years. These unions, however, are actually unlikely to pose a significant, or lasting, protection. Newspaper guilds have been steadily vanquished in the past decade.

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Moreover, start-ups see entrenched government regulation, and inert unions, not so much as impediments but as one more thing to disrupt. Uber and Lyft have largely dominated unions and regulators as they have spread around the world. Unions did not impede Airbnb from growing across American cities. The company has 2.

Google, Facebook, ad-tech giants, and countless others have all but stampeded demands for increased privacy online from groups such as the A. In the s, the movies were the third-largest retail business in the U. Look what Silicon Valley has already done to the other two sectors. At the heart of the disruption is the most profound element of Hollywood: the theater. Just as customers now generally eschew albums for singles or streaming services such as Spotify , and hardcovers for more economical e-books, we will eventually stop going to the movies, which are already expensive, limiting, and inconvenient.

Instead the movies will come to us. In , the top films in theaters were illegally downloaded more than half a billion times.