Monday, 28 February 2011

83rd Academy Awards Winners

The biggest night in Hollywood has come and gone for another year as the awards were handed out for all 24 categories at the 83rd Academy Awards. The ceremony was hosted by the very charming Anne Hathaway and Oscar-nominee James Franco, and themes of the night were paying homage to Hollywood past, recognition for unlikely and championed films, thanking wives and inspiring words sent to daughters.

This was a very even split year with no films sweeping the awards, although the top two films were split between the high-profile awards and more tech-centric awards. I'm talking about the two films that took home 4 awards each: The King's Speech (Best Film, Director - Tom Hooper, Actor - Colin Firth and Original Screenplay) and Inception (Cinematography, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing and Visual Effects). Then we had The Social Network with Adapted Screenplay, Original Score and Editing. We also has several films take home two awards a piece with The Fighter (Supporting Actress - Melissa Leo, Supporting Actor - Christian Bale), Toy Story 3 (Song and Animated Film) and Alice in Wonderland (Costume Design & Art Direction). The fourth acting award was Best Actress which went to Natalie Portman for Black Swan.

No huge upsets of the evening, and I think I was most surprized by Tom Hooper for The King's Speech - not that I didn't like the film, but I just really expected it to go to either David Fincher or Darren Aronofsky. Perhaps the biggest surprize was True Grit not winning any awards after getting 10 nominations.

That the hard and fast information, but I think a lot of the best moments of the awards are in the speeches and unexpected moments. Here are some of my favourites:
  • Dresses: Mila Kunas' Lavender flowy low cut yet creatively covering dress, Sharon Stone's black feathery glam goodness and Nicole Kidman in a white and sparkly number.
  • Melissa Leo dropping the F-Bomb during her heartfelt acceptance speech.
  • Christian Bale saying "I'm not going to drop the f bomb like she (Melissa) did, I've done that plenty before."
  • Justin Timberlake saying he was Banksy.
  • Swoon worthy matching outfit presenting duos of both Josh Brolin & Javier Bardem and Robert Downey Jr. & Jude Law.
  • The writer’s speech, this is terrifying” and “My father said to me, I would be a late bloomer” - David Seidler accepting for Original screenplay for The King's Speech.
  • Original screenplay montage where the words on screen for Inception do not exactly match what Ellen Page says.
  • Susanne Bier very sweet, verklempt acceptance speech for Foreign Film for In a Better World – Denmark.
  • Cate Blanchett saying “That’s gross” after The Wolfman clips shown for Achievement in makeup. Then The Wolfman won for Achievement in makeup.
  • “Oh my gosh, I should have gotten a haircut” - Luke Matheny upon accepting the award for Best live action short film or God of Love.
  • Randy Newman’s noting that it was his 20th nomination and just 2nd win plus saying “Couldn’t they find a fifth song?”
  • "The moral of the story is, listen to your mother" - Tom Hooper
  • “I have a feeling my career just peaked" - Colin Firth in his lovely, humble acceptance speech for Best Actor for The King's Speech
  • Anne Hathaway for making the most out of an awesome fringe dress and also looking like she was about to burst with joy when introducing Stephen Spielberg
  • The fact that we can now all say: "Academy Award Winner Trent Reznor"
And the sweetest quote of the night goes to Christian Bale "To my little girl, who has taught me so much more than I'll ever be able to teach her". Gotta love him.

83rd Academy Awards Winners
in the order in which they were presented

Art Direction
Alice in Wonderland - Robert Stromberg (Production Design), Karen O'Hara (Set Decoration)

Achievement in Cinematography
Inception - Wally Pfister

Performance by an actress in a supporting role
Melissa Leo in The Fighter

Best animated short film
The Lost Thing – Shaun Tan and Andrew Ruhemann

Best animated feature film of the year
Toy Story 3

Adapted screenplay
The Social Network - Screenplay by Aaron Sorkin

Original screenplay
The King's Speech - Screenplay by David Seidler

Best foreign language film of the year
In a Better World – Denmark – Susanne Bier

Performance by an actor in a supporting role
Christian Bale in The Fighter

Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original Score)
The Social Network - Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross

Achievement in sound mixing
Inception - Lora Hirschberg, Gary A. Rizzo and Ed Novick

Achievement in sound editing
Inception - Richard King

Achievement in makeup
The Wolfman - Rick Baker and Dave Elsey

Achievement in costume design
Alice in Wonderland - Colleen Atwood

Best documentary short subject
Strangers No More – Karen Goodman and Kirk Simon

Best live action short film
God of Love – Luke Matheny

Best Documentary Feature
Inside Job - Charles Ferguson and Audrey Marrs

Achievement in visual effects
Inception - Paul Franklin, Chris Corbould, Andrew Lockley and Peter Bebb

Achievement in film editing
The Social Network - Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter

Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original Song)
We Belong Together from Toy Story 3 - Music and Lyric by Randy Newman

Achievement in directing
Tom Hooper for The King's Speech

Performance by an actress in a leading role
Natalie Portman in Black Swan

Performance by an actor in a leading role
Colin Firth in The King's Speech

Best motion picture of the year
The King's Speech - Iain Canning, Emile Sherman and Gareth Unwin, Producers

The 83rd Academy Awards were hosted by Anne Hathaway and James Franco, and broad casted live Sunday February 27, 2011 starting at 8pm EST on ABC.

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Jane Eyre (Book Review)


Book: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

Reason to Read: February book selection for the Book to Film Club and it's 'one of those books you just have to read'.

I normally start a review with a contextual piece, but with Jane Eyre I'm at a bit of a loss. Part of this is because I had almost no points of reference for the book before reading it beyond specific women in my life who had read, and loved, the book. If this book was a film (and yes, it is being adapted which is the reason I read it), I would align it to a genre, but books run a bit different in that contest. Drama would be where I'd place it, or with the feel of a fictional biography that now feels historically set, but was current of the time. Oh - and it was according to Wikipedia, originally noted as a biography under a pen name.

What really struck me about the book was that I never knew where it was going, which is bizarre for such a fame and acclaimed book. But I loved that. I loved it! Afterwards I turned over the book and was really happy that I hadn't read the back, because it would have skewed the focus for me while reading. Not knowing where it was going, meant that as a reader I could decide for myself which of the themes, actions and characters I thought were the most important to the moment, or to the whole. I wasn't always 'right' per se, but it made for a much more engaged reading experience.

It would be simplest to say that it's about the character Jane Eyre, who is intelligent and strong-willed but not a person who has a lot of support. One of the most fascinating things about here character to me was how frank, practical and truthful but not unemotional. That's something I haven't often seen or read. But what I adored about the book was that it really was about her in every facet of her life. Again, that felt very unusual to me, I'm used to things being more hyper focused, but it was a welcome and refreshing change because it really felt like knowing her on such an intricate level.

I'm so happy that this book is one of the Book to Film Club selections, because I don't think I'd have read it otherwise. I got kind of scared off classics books after struggling through Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte last year, but I found Jane Eyre to be a delightful read which I savoured and was happy to read it throughout the entire month. I'd highly & widely recommend the book, and although I think that there will be a particular resonance with girls & women I think it's accessible and interesting for everyone.

I'm really looking forward to the film adaptation, although I will admit to being hesitantly optimistic for several reasons. First, it's a HUGE book to adapt, so I'm a little worried that many of my favourite moments and themes that are more personal-development focused might be pushed to the wayside. In terms of casting, I'm on board with the boys picked as both Michael Fassbender (Fish Tank) and Jamie Bell (The Eagle, Billy Elliot) are perfect for their respective parts, but it's really all about Jane. In the film Jane will be played by Mia Wasikowska, whom was in Alice in Wonderland, The Kids Are All Right and I was most impressed with as Sophie in Season 1 of "In Treatment", and I'm really hoping she will be great here. I've decided not to watch the trailer for the film but rather wait and be surprized, but from pictures and the poster it looks like the historical period and styling is down pat so I'll be curious to see what they decided to go with in terms of tone and focus.

Jane Eyre is our March Film selection for the Book to Film Club. The film will be released Friday March 18, 2011.

Book to Film Club February 2011: Jane Eyre (Book)


The Book to Film Club book selection for February was the classic novel Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. I found it thrilling to read as it does live up to all the acclaim and I didn't know literally anything about it other than the acclaim going in, which made all the more for a wonderful reading experience. Have you finished it yet? Did you review it? Here are some questions to ponder when thinking about the book and the upcoming film adaptation. Feel free to review it and if you comment or send me the link I'll add it to the list, or you can always journal your thought as well.

Things to ponder on the book:
Did you enjoy reading it?
Was it what you were expecting?
What did you know about the book before reading it?
What did you take away from reading the book?
Why do you think this book has stayed with us for over 150 years?
Who would you recommend the book to?

If this was a re-read:
How did reading it this time compare with your previous time reading it?
Did you notice anything different this time round?
Did your interest and focus stay on the same characters and moments, or shift?

About the upcoming film adaptations:
How do you feel about the casting of the film?
What do you hope to be the focus of the film?
What do you think is essential to keep from the book in the film?
What do you think they can trim away from the book to the film?
What do you think the challenges of the adaptation may be?
Do you have any hesitations on the adaptation?
What are you most looking forward to about the film adaptation?

Jane Eyre Book Reviews by Book to Film Clubbers:

Jane Eyre will be our March Film selection. The film stars Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender, Jamie Bell & Judi Dench and is directed by Cary Fukunaga (Sin Nombre). The film comes out March 18, 2011 and you can see the trailer below I'm going to hold off on watching it myself, even though I've read the book I don't want any spoilers in terms of the focus and feel. I'm looking forward to being surprized when seeing it in the theatre.



Dir: Alister Grierson (Kokoda)
Cast: Richard Roxburgh, Rhys Wakefield, Ioan Gruffudd, Alice Parkinson, Dan Wyllie
USA/Australia, 2011

Seen: February 5, 2011 in 3D!

Reason to see: Water films are a must-see for me

I'm being totally honest when I say I saw Sanctum because it's a water film. Any film with a lot of blue in it, be it a water films or a submarines film or a space film or some kind of arty film, I will see it. I had an oddly aligned love for blue-centric films.

Blue-ness aside, Sanctum is an adventure/thriller that pairs cave diving with disaster. I liked how it has an adventurous spirit but also heart of realness to extreme adventuring, and that it brings a range of characters from business to worker folk, family to friends. It's not hard to keep people straight at all, as the film does tend to over-broadcast the characters at times which is a little too bad as although it is an adventure, connecting with the characters here is key. I did find that connection still came pretty easily though, and our protagonist is Josh (Rhys Wakefield), the skilled but not-interested son of Frank (Richard Roxburgh) the man running the show of finding a path through the underwater caverns. But, the money man here is actually Carl (Ioan Gruffudd) who brings along his girlfriend Victoria (Alice Parkinson) for the water ride. This sets up lots of dynamics that work well in to drive the suspense and story of the film.

The visuals are an huge highlight of the film, with gorgeous underwater and cave shots that we wonderous and awe inspiring. I get such a thrill seeing films that are actually shot on location! I did find that at certain moment we were building up to a big beautiful reveal shot... and then didn't get it, which was a slight disappointment. What wasn't a disappointment was that I was actually able to see a fair amount of the 3D, which is something I usually only get mere glimpses of in films but for some reason this time I saw lots which was so unexpected and exciting, even if it was just someone walking in front of the camera. Yes, it's a little silly - but it's also the truth!

Overall, it's an adventure film at heart that pulls together suspense and survival instinct. It's thrill range from pure adrenaline to hard choices. I appreciated that that if posed some serious questions but wasn't preachy. I enjoyed the characters and it was often gorgeous to look at. Although I could easily list off some things that weren't quite perfect about the film, I'd much rather just sit back and watch it again for the enjoyable entertainment value it delivers.

Shannon's Overall View:
I enjoyed it a lot
I'll buy it
I recommend it to fans of adventure films and survival films

Also see: All 2011 Films Reviewed and All Film Reviews

© Shannon Ridler, 2011

26th Annual Spirit Awards Winners

Spirit Awards were held last night and it looks like Black Swan is no dark horse as it picked up several of the big awards of the night including Best Feature, Best Director, Best Cinematography and Best Female Lead (Natalie Portman). Best Actor when to James Franco for 127 Hours and both supporting acting awards went to Winter's Bone for John Hawkes and Dale Dickey.

Best Feature
Black Swan - Mike Medavoy, Arnold Messer, Brian Oliver, Scott Franklin

Best Director
Darren Aronosfky for Black Swan

Best First Feature
Get Low - Aaron Schneider, Dean Zanuck, David Gundlach

John Cassavetes Award
for best feature made under $500,000, awarded to the writer, director and producer
Daddy Longlegs - Josh Safdie, Benny Safdie, Casey Neistat, Tom Scott

Best Screenplay
Lisa Cholodenko, Stuart Blumberg for The Kids Are All Right

Best First Screenplay
Lena Dunham for Tiny Furniture

Best Female Lead
Natalie Portman in Black Swan

Best Male Lead
James Franco in 127 Hours

Best Supporting Female
Dale Dickey in Winter’s Bone

Best Supporting Male
John Hawkes in Winter’s Bone

Best Foreign Film
The King's Speech - Tom Hooper

Best Documentary
Exit Through The Gift Shop - Banksy

Best Cinematography
Matthew Libatique for Black Swan

Piaget Producers Award
honouring emerging producers who despite highly limited resources, demonstrate the creativity, tenacity and vision required to produce quality, independent films
Anish Savjani for Meek's Cutoff

Acura Someone to Watch Award
to a filmmaker of singular vision who has not yet received appropriate recognition
Mike Ott - Littlerock

AVEENO Truer than Fiction Award
to an emerging director or non-fiction features who has not yet received significant recognition
Jeff Malmberg for Marwencol

Robert Altman Award
given to one films director, casting director and ensemble cast
Nicole Holofcener, Jeanne McCarthy, Ann Guilbert, Rebecca Hall, Catherine Keener, Amanda Peet, Oliver Platt, Lois Smith, Sarah Steele for Please Give

Jameson Find Your Audience Awards

The Spirit Awards wer presented on Saturday February 26, 2011.

See more at the Spirit Awards Website

Friday, 25 February 2011

Film Fan Fridays for Friday February 25, 2011

Hello Film Fans and Fanatics!

Welcome to Film Fan Fridays for Friday February 25, 2011! Happy Oscar weekend to everyone with the big show on this Sunday night. Pretty dresses! Heartfelt speeches! And dual hosting of Anne Hathaway and James Franco. I know where I'll be... twittering through the show! If you need to job you memory of the noms, I've got the Oscar nominations right here and also the Spirit Award nominations which are on Saturday Night. Now, on the the new releases!

In limited release this week we have four films to choose from starting with Four Lions, which as far as I can tell is like gutsy political comedy, and I do love the poster for the film where they've just lined up quote upon quote upon quote which simply say "Funny". Gutsy, indeed! Continuing with the political theme we have Mooz-Lum, as well as the preparation for journey film Alamar / To the Sea and the highly acclaimed Of Gods and Men / Des Hommes et des dieux.

In wide release this week we have just three releases starting with Drive Angry (in 3D) that's looks like a supernatural/action road movie starring Nicolas Cage and William Fichtner, Hall Pass which features guys that get a one week 'hall pass' from their marriage promises and the Bollywood release of Tannu Weds Mannu.

Have a great Oscar weekend!


Festival Watch

Reel Artists Film Festival
Continues until February 27, 2011 at TIFF Lightbox in Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Toronto Human Rights Watch Film Festival
Continues until March 4, 2011 at TIFF Lightbox in Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Special Screening

The Arbor
This month's selection for the monthly Doc Soup screening by Hot Docs is the highly acclaimed UK film centred on playwright Andrea Dunbar. The Arbor screens Wednesday March 2, 2011 at 6:30 and 9:15PM at The Bloor, more info on the screening here.

Back to the 80's at TIFF Lightbox
Continues and this weeks 80s selection is: The Princess Bride playing Saturday February 26, 2011 at 2pm.

Friday February 25, 2011 Releases

Alamar / To the Sea
Writer/Dir: Pedro González-Rubio (Toro negro)
Cast: Jorge Machado, Natan Machado Palombini, Nestór Marín
Limited Release
Official Film Site, IMDb Page, Trailer

Drive Angry
Dir: Patrick Lussier (My Bloody Valentine (2009), Dracula 2000)
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Amber Heard, William Fichtner, Billy Burke
Official Film Site, IMDb Page, Trailer

Four Lions
Dir: Chris Morris - feature film directorial debut
Cast: Riz Ahmed, Arsher Ali, Nigel Lindsay, Kayvan Novak, Adeel Akhtar
Limited Release
Official Film Site, IMDb Page, Trailer

Hall Pass
Dirs: Peter Farrelly & Bobby Farrelly (Fever Pitch, Shallow Hal, There's Something About Mary)
Cast: Owen Wilson, Jason Sudeikis, Jenna Fischer, Richard Jenkins, Christina Applegate, Alexandra Daddario, Stephen Merchant, Nicky Whelan

Official Film Site
, IMDb Page, Trailer

Writer/Dir: Qasim Basir - feature film directorial debute
Cast: Evan Ross, Danny Glover, Nia Long
Limited Release
Official Film Site, IMDb Page, Trailer

Of Gods and Men / Des Hommes et des dieux
Dir: Xavier Beauvois (The Young Lieutenant , To Mathieu)
Cast: Lambert Wilson, Michael Lonsdale, Olivier Rabourdin
Limited Release
Official Film Site, IMDb Page, Trailer

Tannu Weds Mannu
Dir: Aanand Rai (Thodi Life Thoda Magic, Stranger)
Cast: Swara Bhaskar, Deepak Dobriyal and Rajendra Gupta
Official Film Site, IMDb Page, Trailer

**please note this list of releases reflects first run film released in Toronto, Ontario, Canada as of February 25, 2011**

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Movie Moxie Podcast 26: I Am Number Four plus Coming of Age Films

This week on the Movie Moxie podcast I take and review I Am Number Four, discuss Coming of Age films as a Genre also have a look at DVD Releases & films hitting theatres next week.

0:00 – 0:45 - Introduction
0:45 – 8:10 - News
8:10 – 15:15 – I Am Number Four Review
15:15 – 34:30 – Coming of Age Films as a Genre
34:30 – 38:30 – DVD releases & Upcoming Films
38:30 – 40:39 – Outro

You can subscribe to the Movie Moxie Podcast here:
Or subscribe through iTunes here.

Show Notes
Coming of Age Show Notes:

Dream Home / Wai dor lei ah yut ho


Dir: Pang Ho-Cheung (Love in a Puff, Por see yee )
Cast: Josie Ho, Michelle Ye, Norman Chu
Hong Kong, 2010

Reason to see: I'm always up for horror

Set in 2007 Hong Kong and following Cheng Lai-Sheung (Josie Ho), a hard-working women who hold down two jobs and dreams of fulfilling a promise to her family of buying a place to live with a view of Hong Kong's Victoria Harbour. As time moves on we wonder if this is it a dream, or if it a debt? Is this a goal, or an obsession? The energy and actions expending on keeping the promise of this goal takes up all of Cheng Lai-Sheung time, energy and is clearly the driving factor in all of her choices.

That paints a pretty serious picture of the film, and at times I was taking it pretty seriously especially as the back story is continually referenced. That being said, the guts of the films is really about extreme and violent lengths that Cheng Lai-Sheung is willing to go to get there. And boy, are they some pretty drastic lengths that know no bounds. The violence here is extreme on all levels from idea, to execution to duration. The intensity of the violence is way up there, and has the energy of a vengeance film but the precision of following a hit-man or hit-woman. Even for die-hard horror fans, this film is a button pusher and it certainly had me cringing in my seat and wondering just how far they would go. Then they not only went that far, but went further. Blood, guts, tools, implements, found objects ... you name it, it was a bloody, gory, extreme and lengthy showdown.

The film maintains a melancholy of hopelessness of driving an upward battle throughout the dramatic storytelling, however it feels clear that this is really a film that is pushing the limits and takes the violence to extreme levels that at times is horrific and other times comical. I kept feeling like I should, but didn't, sympathize Cheng Lai-Sheung.

I think as an extreme horror film it certainly fills out in all the right places, has fantastic production values and is gorgeously shot. As an added bonus spins a bitter web on the effects of the tunnel vision of holding to a dream that might be better to just let go.

Warnings: extreme violence, gore

The critically acclaimed film DREAM HOME will be available

Dream Home is available in select theatres as February, 2011 and On Demand on IFC Midnight Channels.

See more information about Dream Home, IFC on Demand and IFC Midnight Films.

Shannon's Overall View:
I was astonished by the extremeness of it
I'm not sure I could sit through it again
I'd recommend it hard core horror fans of the gore & terror variety

See also: All Film Reviews

© Shannon Ridler, 2011



Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Story of Jen / L'histoire de Jen (DVD Review)

Image: Courtesy of eOne Films

Writer/Dir: François Rotger (The Passenger (2005))
Cast: Laurence Leboeuf, Marina Hand, Daniel Pilon, Tony Ward, Annie Murphy
Canada/France, 2009

Reason to see: Felt very coming-0f-age-y, which is a genre I love plus I've been very curious to see more of Laurence Leboeuf's work as she is so powerful in Durham County.

Story of Jen / L'histoire de Jen stars Laurence Leboeuf in the title role of Jen, a teenager who we are introduced to at quite a trying time in her life. Jen lives with her mother Sarah (Marina Hand) and there is a quiet sense of unrest in their home and a huge emotional weight that is ever present in the home and that Jen carries with her as well.

Jen is shown as a bit of an outsider, but quite a different portray of an outsider. She's no more or less awkward than anyone else, she's very aware of how and why can fit in and be approached, yet she never goes that but rather thinks about these things. There is a beautiful, haunting realness to the character of Jen as someone who could be easily overlooked and underappreciated. Laurence Leboeuf (Durham County) does a beautiful job of bringing Jen to life with an understated yet very deep performance.

Further tension and unrest comes into the family home when Ian (Tony Ward), who is referred to as her fathers half-brother, enters under the explanation of helping them out Jen and her mother. We begin to see Jen's inexperience, curiosity and longing start to take centre stage as her thoughts continue to focus on Ian.

The film has lots of interesting elements to it that really drew me in. I loved how it was in both French and English, with Jen living in a French-speaking home but goes to an English speaking school. I loved how it took on the complicated and confusing experience that coming of age can be.

Overall I really enjoyed the film and found it to be a suprizingly dark, but realistic take on coming of age. I wondered if the brief moments that that skirt the lines of magical realism might have pull people out of understanding or relating to the film, especially giving it's quietly socially religious setting. Personally I found these elements fascination and a spectacular addition to the film. I also thought it was beautiful how undefined a lot of the film is, how it's open to interpretation and can certainly be gray in some areas. Although that's quite a daring choice when you are telling a story through film, I think it's a brave choice and really speaks to how complicated coming of age can be, and certainly is with our protagonist Jen.

DVD Extras:
  • No DVD extras
Story of Jen / L'histoire de Jen is available on DVD February 22, 2011. Check it out over at

Shannon's Overall View:
I enjoyed it
I'll watch it again
I'd recommend it fans of coming of age stories with a darker touch

Return to Film Reviews or see more DVD Reviews

© Shannon Ridler, 2011

Dorian Gray (DVD Review)

Image: Courtesy of Alliance Films
Legal line: © Dorian Gray Limited / UK Film Council 2009. All Rights Reserved. Distributed exclusively in Canada by Alliance Films. All Rights Reserved. © Dorian Gray Limited / UK Film Council 2009. Tous droits réservés. Distribué exclusivement au Canada par Alliance Vivafilm. Tous droits réservés.

Dir: Oliver Parker (St. Trinian's, St Trinian's II: The Legend of Fritton's Gold, An Ideal Husband)
Cast: Ben Barnes, Colin Firth, Ben Chaplin, Rebecca Hall, Douglas Henshall, Rachel Hurd Wood, Fiona Shaw, Emilia Fox
UK, 2009

Reason to see: I've been wanting to see this since TIFF'09, but there was only public screening was at the same time as Vahalla Rising. I had no idea it would be a year and a half before I'd end up getting to see it!

One of the reasons I was so excited about seeing Dorian Gray was that at the time I had recently read The Picture of Dorian Gray but Oscar Wilde, the novel on which it is based and I was over the moon thrilled over the perfect casting of Ben Barnes (Stardust, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader) as the always young Dorian, Colin Firth (The King's Speech) as the witty and wordy Lord Henry and Ben Chaplin (Birthday Girl) as the picture painter Basil. What a wonderful set of actors to bring to life a film based on such an interesting work.

The main idea of the book and story are the same, following the journey young Dorian who returns to London and becomes friends with Lord Henry who admires and is jealous of his beauty & youth and Basil, a painter who captures Dorian youth hauntingly in a painting. Over time Dorian does not appear to age, an affliction that in contained mysteriously within the painting itself. Dorian begins to act of the suggestions of Lord Henry (although not his actions), and begins to indulge at any and every whim without having any consequence, as he's able to turn any favour due to his youthful appearance and appeal.

I did enjoy the stylistic elements of the film including the great score and fantastic costumes.
The portrait itself is quite fantastic, as someone whose taken (and was dismal) at portraiture, I can really appreciate the skill of capturing a likeness with such success, especially when it's not only a likeness of a person but one step further as an actor playing a character. Colin Firth does a fantastic as the witty Lord Henry, although I felt like the wit he captured wasn't overly responded to or matched by the rest of the cast. I really enjoyed both Ben Chaplin and Ben Barnes, but the tone of the trio felt not in tune.

While I was watching the film I had a hard time placing what it was about it that I wasn't quite connecting to, but listening to the audio commentary made the light bulb go on which was that they decided to not really include any of the supernatural elements of the story. I find this quite a curious choice, because it's the 'how' explanation of what is (or isn't) happening to Dorian, and nothing is substituted in to explain it. We get a hint of the impetuous of the actions, but thinking it through it's clear that the film is more about the demise of Dorian as a result of indulgence and the feeling of the overwhelming power he possesses.

Personally I would have loved and had looked forward to a more supernatural touch, but alas that was not the focus here. But as an examination of indulgence and the consequence of rarely meeting consequences, I felt that the film read held up well.

DVD Extras:
  • Audio commentary with director Oliver Parker & writer Toby Finlay very interesting commentary if you are interested in the choices of the book to film adaptation as they notate how many people have familiar with the story but not read the book (at all or recently), but I have to say it's one of the most defensive commentaries I've listened too as you can feel the impact of criticism towards choices in the film and adaptation read very strongly. I did gain a lot of insight into the film from hearing about the choices, as well as be reminded that I myself wasn't as familiar with the material as I remembered!
  • 4 Featurettes: Make Up & Wardrobe (2 minutes) costume lineup for 1891 London with 160 people, full hair and make up for Pip Torrens which was quite extraordinary, The Painting (1 minutes) interview with the painter of the painting in the film and the tone and look of the painting and how it changed during the film, Smithfield Market (2 minutes) behind the scenes and on green screen set discussing the world that will be created with the effects with interview with visual effects supervisor and horse master and Visual Effects (4 minutes) interview with visual effects supervisor discussing the different elements of the film that had visual effects including challenges, influences and inspirations for the different effects from the painting itself to set extensions and includes showing several visual transformations which were pretty sweet.
  • Costume Design Photo Gallery (1 minutes) slideshow of fashion illustrations of outfits for several of Dorian's outfits throughout different stages of the film along a Lord Henry outfit as well, set to music.
  • Deleted Scenes (5 scenes, 6 minutes) most feel like are from the later part of the film where Dorian is faced with some of the longer term effects of his actions and there is a brief scene between Dorian & Sibyl that I rather enjoyed.
  • Making of (19 minutes) film clips, behind the scenes and interview with writer Toby Finlay, producer Barnaby Thompson, director Oliver Parker and actors Ben Barnes, Colin Firth, Ben Chaplin, Emilia Fox, Pip Torrens, Rebecca Hall, Maryam D'Abo, Fiona Shaw and Johnny Harris discussing their thoughts on the book, the language, the adaptation, the character and journey of Dorian, the relationships of other characters to Dorian, living at a time of acceleration, the power of beauty and what Oscar Wilde would have thought of the film and film in general.
  • Blooper Reel (9 minutes) interesting blooper reel as it often shows takes of the same scene over and over, really giving you a look at the actors choices and if they do things differently or the same. Some really great stuff in there dramatically along with goofs and giggly moments.
  • Trailer
Dorian Gray is available on DVD as of February 22, 2011. Check it out over at &

Shannon's Overall View:
I wanted to enjoyed it more
I'll watch it again
I'd recommend it as darker take the story and fans of dark, historically set films

Return to Film Reviews or see more DVD Reviews

© Shannon Ridler, 2011

DVD Releases for February 22, 2011

Time to take a look at a selection DVD releases for February 22, 2011.

  • Dorian Gray (DVD Review) adaptation of the Oscar Wilde novel The Picture of Dorian Gray with this film version starring Ben Barnes, Colin Firth and Ben Chaplin.
  • L'histoire de Jen / Story of Jen (DVD Review) Canada/France co-pro coming of age film starring Durham County's Laurence Leboeuf.
  • Fish Tank ** Criterion Thrilled to see this gritty coming of age film get a Criterion release, it's a fantastic film and easily fit on the Perfect List of 2010.
  • Alien vs Ninja I love how the info on this one clearly states "Live Action Movie", and it really is Ninja's battling aliens and pretty fun at that.
  • Birdemic: Shock and Terror This is one of those praised for unacclaim so-bad-it's-good films that's had several screenings at the Bloor here in Toronto.
  • The Last Unicorn Blu-Ray/DVD Combo this one is on my to watch list as it's a friends all-time favourite film.
  • Beauty and the Briefcase romantic comedy based on the book Diary of a Working Girl by Daniella Brodsky and stars Hilary Duff, Chris Marmack, Michael McMillan, and Jennifer Coolidge (The ExTerminators).
  • The Killing Jar Looks like an all-hell-breaks-loose in contained setting of a diner, starring Amber Benson ("Buffy the Vampire Slayer"), Michael Madsen and Danny Trejo.
  • Nurse Jackie Season 2 everyone's favourite pill popping nurse on the small screen.
  • Weeds Season 6 I've never caught this Mary-Louise Parker series but the commercials are starting to grow on me.
  • Megamind animanted family comedy featuring the voices of Will Ferrell and Brad Pitt.
  • Due Date road movie comedy starring Robert Downey Jr. and Zack Galifianakis.

Titles on

Titles on (US):

The Story of Jen not currently available on

Sunday, 20 February 2011

I Am Number Four


Dir: D. J. Caruso (Eagle Eye, The Salton Sea)
Cast: Alex Pettyfer, Timothy Olyphant, Dianna Agron, Callan McAuliffe, Teresa Palmer, Kevin Durand, Jake Abel
USA, 2011

Seen: February 19, 2011 at Scotiabank in AVX with my sister Jamie & her husband who are fellow Book-to-Film Clubbers!

Reason to see: It's the February Film Selection for the Book to Film Club Selection on #12 on my Most Anticipated Films of 2011

I think I Am Number Four was the first film of the year that I was really, really excited for. It's my #12 on my Most Anticipated Films of 2011 but more importantly it's the first film in the Movie Moxie 2011 Book to Film Club! It's based on the young adult science fiction novel I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore, which I read and really enjoyed last month. It was a fun, quick read with a interesting characters, story and quite visual storytelling that you really could see while reading so it's no question it's a good choice for a film adaptation.

I Am Number Four stars Alex Pettyfer (Wild Child, Beastly) as John, a teen whose moved around a lot and continual asked to say under the radar by Henri (Timothy Olyphant of High Life). Although there certainly is the strong sense of the importance to blend it, being the new kind in a small town never lets folks off that easy and that in combination with teenage rebellion, it doesn't seem likely John will pull that off. That being said, John really a nice guy who is just trying to live his life the best way he's knows how and the film really does a great job of putting together the teen angst energy with the science fiction elements of the story, while also bringing in the regular trials and tribulations of different social circles and events.

It was interesting to see a teen focused film that has a sense of appreciation of everyday family life. I think most of my favourite moments were centred in this and the character chemistry either between John and Henri, or Sarah's family. The film really got a clear great slice of life take on both really normal and more unusual daily lives and routines. I also enjoyed the overall design of the film, the special effects were great and many of the scenes felt exactly how I pictured them in my head when I was reading the book. I also loved the character design of the Mogadorians, although some of the moments with them was way harsher than I expected and had a few very disturbing ideas and moments.

In terms of a book to film adaptation, I though they did a really good job of capturing the visuals and science fiction elements as described in the books, as well as the spirit of the character relationships. There were changes and alterations, several of which I felt played out to be a smart balancing act for character development, plot and focus but some of the other changes I was surprized at and didn't love, although I could see how they were perhaps more dynamic and "action-y". I would recommend reading the book first, mostly because it's a lot of fun. I'm trying to imagine what it would be like seeing the film without having read the book and it's really hard to put myself in those shoes. I do think that the film holds up on it's own though, but there were just moments that I liked in the book and would have enjoyed seeing in the film.

Overall I though the book was a lot of fun and the film was a lot of fun too. It was great to see such a strong performance from Alex Pettyfer (especially as we'll be seeing him soon in Beastly), as well as great chemistry and performances with Timothy Olyphant, Dianna Agron and Teresa Palmer. The book series does already have #2 looking like it will be released in the fall, and I'll happily continue on the adventures of these stories in print and on screen.

I'm very curious to hear fellow Book to Film Clubbers reaction to the film, and also to see reactions of folks who haven't read the book as well.

Shannon's Overall View:
I really enjoyed it
I'll buy it
I'd recommend it fans of fun science fiction films

Also see: 2011 Book to Film Club, 2011 Book to Film Adaptations, Most Anticipated Films of 2011 and All Film Reviews

© Shannon Ridler, 2011


Book to Film Club February 2011: I Am Number Four (Film)


We've read the book, now it's time to watch the film! I Am Number Four was released on Friday February 18, 2011, have you had a chance to see it yet? I hope so - and more so I hope you enjoyed it! It's an adaptation of the young adult science fiction novel I Am Number Four by Pitticus Lore, and is the first of a proposed 6-part series (and the only series included in the book club). The film stars Alex Pettyfer (Wild Child, Beastly), Timothy Olyphant (High Life, "Deadwood"), Dianna Agron (Quinn on "Glee"), Kevin Durand (Legion), Jake Abel (Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief) and Teresa Palmer (The Sorcerer's Apprentice), and is directed by D.J. Caruso (Eagle Eye, The Salton Sea).

Here are some things to ponder when thinking, writing and/or journaling about the film:
  • Did you like the film?
  • Was the film what you expected from reading the book?
  • How did the book and the film compare?
  • How did you feel about the casting? Were the characters what you expected?
  • Were there characters, moments or ideas you liked better in the book? If so, what were they?
  • What was your favourite thing about the book?
  • Were there characters, moments or ideas you liked better in the film? If so, what were they?
  • What was your favourite thing about the film?
  • Was there anything you understood more after seeing the film?
  • Was there anything you felt was missing from the film?
  • Did the film capture the spirit of the book?
  • Who would you recommend the book to?
  • Who would you recommend the film too?
  • Are you happy you read the book before seeing the film?
  • Would you recommend people read the book before seeing the film?
  • What was the impact of reading the book before seeing the film?
If you don't have a site of your own, you can always start a blog or posterous site or share your thoughts and connect though Good Reads (feel free to friend me on Good Reads here).

I Am Number Four Film Reviews by Book to Film Clubbers:

Friday, 18 February 2011

Interview with Aaron Poole, actor of Small Town Murder Songs

Aaron Poole (left) with Peter Stormare in Small Town Murder Songs

The following is a transcription of an interview with actor Aaron Poole of Small Town Murder Songs where we chat about the quiet understated nature of his character Jim, what draws people into crime stories, the response of the film ans what it was like working with Peter Stormare and writer/director Ed Gass-Donnelly.

Small Town Murder Songs is set in a small town Ontario community which is strongly affected by the crime that has appeared. A powerful score, compelling characters and fantastic performances creative an extremely powerful viewing experience. The film stars Peter Stormare (Fargo), Aaron Poole (This Beautiful City), Jill Hennessey, Martha Plimpton & Stephen Eric McIntyre and opens in Toronto and Edmonton Friday February 18, 2011.

Rather listen than read? You can! This interview is on Episode 25 of the Movie Moxie Podcast where I also chat with writer/director Ed Gass-Donnelly.

Shannon: I’m here with Aaron Poole of Small Town Murder Songs and thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me today.

Aaron Poole: My pleasure.

Shannon: I’d like to first ask you what drew you to this project?

Aaron Poole: Well I was involved with it early on as a story editor, so when the opportunity came up to play the role of Jim, considering the cast and Ed’s vision of the project it was a guaranteed yes.

Shannon: It was a yes for you?

Aaron Poole: Yeah, absolutely.

Shannon: Your character of Jim presents such a beautiful, quiet calmness to the film. Can you tell us a little bit more about him and the choices you made?

Aaron Poole: from the beginning, Ed & I were interested in exploring the younger demographic in that town. Often people move away to the larger cities to pursue their career, and it’s really interesting to speak with the families that are younger and choose to stay and raise their kids there. From the beginning Jim was emblematic of that demographic. And as well from a story perspective he really plays a support role to Walter’s main plot and so we didn’t want to choose idiosyncrasies that were to drastic or over the top, we wanted him to fit subtly into the background so we created a quiet, pensive, unremarkable man. Which was a lot of fun to play and really interesting to create.

Shannon: It’s interesting that a calmer, non-idiosyncratic role was fun. For me it sounds like it was so understated, that it’s feels like a really brave choice to go there rather than to go over the top.

Aaron Poole: Thanks. Well roles with lots of weight and without teeth are really fun to play, for sure. For me the juice this time was as I say being unremarkable and just being a tiny piece in Ed’s larger puzzle. That was the juice for me, the inspiration.

Shannon: It’s interesting to see such a small town cop but one who has such keen insights and very important to the film overall.

Aaron Poole: Thanks, I’m glad you think so. Nobody walks away from Hamlet remembering Horatio.


Aaron Poole: But definitely from a plot perspective, from a narrative perspective, he provides some insights some essential insights into Walter’s character.

Shannon: Walter is such an interesting character, what was it like working with Peter Stormare?

Aaron Poole: It was amazing. He’s a real clown as a man. The intensity that he brings to his roles is not something you see present in his life. That sort of burning, quiet intensity that he is known for. He has an Adidas sponsorship and is always parading around in brightly covered sneakers and sweat suits, and that paired with his moustache was a pretty funny combination. He looked like some Eastern European guns dealer.

Shannon: That must have been really interesting during the filming, because it was filmed in small town Ontario, right?

Aaron Poole: It was, so we would descend upon the bar at night and it was a lot of fun being in Listowel for 6 weeks and hanging around with this famous character actor. It was a great experience.

Shannon: It’s amazing to hear the energy because there is such a solemn tone to the film from the viewers perspective. Was it a challenge at all to keep that tone while filming?

Aaron Poole: Interestingly enough I think that majority of the tone that the audience experiences is set by the frame that the director of photography and Ed, the director, choose as well as the Bruce Peninsula soundtrack. I think that while we were investigating a violent act which is new to the characters in the film, a lot of what is communicated to the audience is done outside of performance. So for us, it was just sort of living a quiet life and asking questions. It was a lot different than the final product communicates.

Shannon: It certainly does ask a lot of interesting questions and being centred in a small town where a body is found. These kinds of crime dramas and crime thrillers, what do you think draws people to these stories again and again?

Aaron Poole: You know, it’s interesting trying to figure that out. I think it has something to do with that rubber neck quality that people are always fascinated with the train wreck. It’s a dark side of humanity but one that is endlessly fascinated and reoccurring. I mean the number of cop shows on TV are a testament to that.

Shannon: And the film has already played not only at TIFF but in South Western Ontario. What has the response been like?

Aaron Poole: It’s been huge. We are doing a small town tour, we are getting constant weekly orders from Mennonite communities wanting to see it, wanting to play in their church or town hall. In Listowel it out-sold Harry Potter 6:1. It sold out in Rotterdam last week, I think there were about 1,600 seats sold out. In Torino it won International Critics Prize. It’s played to a large demographic, which is really interesting and it’s been very positive. It will be fascinating to watch what Toronto as an urban centre feels about it, it could be a lot different. I think a lot of people are responding to the accuracy of the small town portrayal, and it will be interesting to see what a bunch of city folks feel about it.

Shannon: It’s not often that we see films set in and around a Mennonite community, so the response has been positive?

Aaron Poole: The response has been positive in the small towns, because not only is it a Mennonite community it depicts small town Ontario very accurately and the rhythms of that kind of lifestyle. And I’m interested to find out whether the city is interested in that kind of thing.

Shannon: Well it’s interesting because when you think small town some times you think that there isn’t a huge diversity but it feels like there are at least 3 separate communities within the film.

Aaron Poole: Yep.

Shannon: Excluding work type community, so it’s quite extraordinary the layers that it brings out.

Aaron Poole: I’m glad you noticed that, that you feel that way about it. It’s something that we strived hard to do and in our research as writing we worked hard to encapsulate. Ed spend some time up there while he was researching the piece and worked hard to include those elements in the film.

Shannon: And you working together with him again, I remember seeing and you work together in This Beautiful City and really enjoying that. You have an extremely different role and it seems so unusual to get that from the same director, what was it like working with him again?

Aaron Poole: It was great. It was a lot different process this time. He was a lot more confident with it being his second film, as well there was a developed short hand that we had. Not only had his communications skilled improved and I suppose mine had as well, there was just a greater depth to the shorthand that we had. The size of the role I play in this film is significantly different than in the one that I had in This Beautiful City, so I really worked to be supportive not only as a story editor during development but also as a character who was servicing plot in this one. So it as very much focusing on Walter’s story being told as clearly as possible though the choices that I made with my character, if that makes sense.

Shannon: It makes perfect sense, and I an totally see it on the screen.

Aaron Poole: Cool.

Shannon: Well done.

Aaron Poole: Thanks.

Shannon: What do you hope people will take from seeing Small Town Murder Songs?

Aaron Poole: Well I think it will be different for everyone, just as it is when we go to a gallery and we see any work of art. What I took from Small Town was it’s focus on the human reaction to violent event. It was really interesting to me to observe, to be given the opportunity to observe. It sounds cliché, but the innocence of a Mennonite community and the slow transformation a violent act sort of causes in that community. So for me, that was a revelation when I saw it on the big screen for the first time. And I hope people can experience something like that, or at least as impactful.

Shannon: Wow., that’s amazing. And so Small Town Murder Songs will be opening in Toronto and in Edmonton Feb 18, what else is next for you?

Aaron Poole: I’m shooting another film in April with the same producer of Small Town and a different writer/director team, so we are working on that. I have a series that’s starting next year sometime called “King”, that is on Global or Showcase, it’s a cop procedural. And Ed & I have a couple of films in development as well, so there will be more from our partnership.

Shannon: Well I look forward to seeing that as well.

Aaron Poole: Great, thank you so much.

Shannon: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me.

Aaron Poole: My pleasure.

Small Town Murder Songs opens in February 18, 2011 at the Royal Theatre in Toronto and the Metro in Edmonton. See the film website for more information on upcoming screenings.

Interview with Ed Gass-Donnelly, writer/director of Small Town Murder Songs

Ed Gass-Donnelly

The following is a transcription of an interview with Ed Gass-Donnelly, writer/director of Small Town Murder Songs where we chat about inspiration behind the film, finding the natural balance with a less-is-more approach, casting against type, the international market and recently being named one of Variety as one of 10 Directors to Watch.

Small Town Murder Songs is set in a small town Ontario community which is strongly affected by the crime that has appeared. A powerful score, compelling characters and fantastic performances creative an extremely powerful viewing experience. The film stars Peter Stormare (Fargo), Aaron Poole (This Beautiful City), Jill Hennessey, Martha Plimpton & Stephen Eric McIntyre and opens in Toronto and Edmonton Friday February 18, 2011.

Rather listen than read? You can! This interview is on Episode 25 of the Movie Moxie Podcast where I also chat with actor Aaron Poole.

Shannon: First I’d like to say thank you for taking the time to chat with me about your film.

Ed Gass-Donnelly: No worries, it’s a pleasure

Shannon: First up I’d like to hear what was the inspiration to tell this story in Small Town Murder Songs?

Ed Gass-Donnelly: The whole process came about very quickly and I only started writing the film in January 2009 and we were shooting by October of the same year. So it didn’t necessarily come out of a period of a lot self-reflection. I definitely wanted to show the ripple effects of murder in a small community, and the initial idea was I was really inspired by idea of writing a movie around a record. So that was the initial impetus. There had been a double murder on my street in my neighbourhood and there was very much a sense of loss of innocence in the neighbourhood and I think I wasn’t consciously trying to explore that but inevitable those thoughts and questions were certainly on my brain a bit, so using a small town as a way to explore the ripple effect of that kind of violence became conscious.

And then the initial idea was to have a bunch of not necessarily connected scenes that were sort of woven around a soundtrack. I just started writing it evolved more into an linear narrative and a hero emerged, and it steamrolled and progressed from then. Like I said, because it happened so quickly there wasn’t a lot of time to be really asking a lot of questions of myself as to the reason why but, was more of just compelled…

Shannon: Just go!

Ed Gass-Donnelly: Definitely, yeah.

Shannon: So with such a quick process did you have time to research the small town-ness that emerges in the film?

Ed Gass-Donnelly: No, not really. I find that that voice kind of comes to me fairly easily. I haven’t spent a ton of time in small towns, but I guess enough because my dad’s family is from Abbottsford BC so I spent some time there as a kid and the lead character was loosely inspired by a ex-girlfriends dad from Nipawin, Saskatchewan, so there are parts in the world that I guess inspired it. A couple friends of mine grew up Mennonite, so that certainly influenced the Mennonite element and they were certainly a resource.

Shannon: So you already had it in you, you didn’t have to go out to research as you already had it inside?

Ed Gass-Donnelly: Yeah, I guess. Originally it wasn’t going to be a Mennonite town specifically, but a murder in a small community. But then there was a character whose history of violence, the idea of specifically putting him in a community of pacifist became a lot more interesting to me. I’ve always been inspired by the more you can set something in a specific place, the more you can take an audience on a journey that they may not be familiar with. It just became a community with a strong Mennonite presence, became richer and more interesting to the story to me.

Shannon: And the film has such a haunting quality to it that really keeps you on edge, but also completely drawn in. I was drawn in within 30 seconds, I was like “This is fantastic”, and I find that to be really adept storytelling and Canadian. Do you feel it’s a uniquely Canadian film?

Ed Gass-Donnelly: You know, it’s funny I don’t even know what that means anymore in some ways. I guess in some ways I really strived to make an un-Canadian movie.

Shannon: Oh?

Ed Gass-Donnelly: Well, yes and no. Un-Canadian from and industry perspective because I don’t think we do ourselves a service by like branding a movie as Canadian.

Shannon: Fair play.

Ed Gass-Donnelly: Ultimately I set out to make a film for an international market. We don’t have a distinguished language from the US. We are not Quebec, we are not Greece or say somewhere in Europe where the general public have a specific affinity to seeing a film from there indigenous culture because of the fact that it’s in their language. That right off the bat is a reason to watch something versus something else. Because Canadian audiences don’t, and it’s not a negative thing, but they are happily served in English 24-7 so they don’t have to go out of their way necessarily to look for content that is there own. Unless it’s somebody who is specifically nationalistically inclined.

Shannon: Right.

Ed Gass-Donnelly: So for me, putting a bunch of maple syrup and a flag on a film don’t necessary serve your purpose, in many ways I think it can ostracize you from an audience.

Shannon: That’s interesting because one of the things I found so fascinating about the film was that it was so accessible, although there is lots of harsh content that’s not glorified or even often onscreen, but so much comes across in sheer tone so it’s accessible to a very large audience. Was that a conscious decision to keep it accessible?

Ed Gass-Donnelly: Well after my first film This Beautiful City, which is an unapologetically an indie gritty film with liberal doses of sex and violence in it, and it was definitely not a commercial film and we didn’t apologize for that. But I don’t necessary want to do the same thing again, certainly not right away so I want to do something different. A part of me did sort of want to flaunt the opportunity to branch out theatrically in countries throughout the world , so obviously I’m trying to… the goal is always how do you tell a story that interests the greatest number of people without watering down the story that you are trying to tell.

Shannon: Right.

Ed Gass-Donnelly: Because if you were to take this film and try to water it down further, not water it down, but or if you were try and make it more accessible than it is then in starts to become a CSI episode or something like that, then the film completely falls apart. It’s always finding that natural balance and just being honest with yourself, what is the story you are telling and realize what is the audience for that and in turn how much do you try to make if for as a result. If I tried to make this film for $20 million, I’d still be trying to make this film.

Shannon: Right. It’s interesting. We get a lot of crime dramas and crime thrillers, what do you think draws people to these stories over and over again?

Ed Gass-Donnelly: Well certainly the thriller drama, and I certainly would not consider this film that, the word thriller is a bit of a word du jour, in filmmaking especially these days. Because last year no one wanted to touch drama.

Shannon: Yeah.

Ed Gass-Donnelly: But then of course, movies like Winter’s Bone and Black Swan happen and True Grit, and then they succeed so there is always a back and forth. At the end of the day you can’t try and chase the market. I guess you can and some people do, maybe as a producer you can in terms of what content to trigger but from a creators perspective because the process generally takes longer I don’t think you can chase the market because by the time you finish it, something else is in vogue. So you can really only be trying to make the best films possible and have some kind of general sense about if it’s realistic. I mean, if I had wrote in a whole bunch of helicopter fights and stuff like that, would it have been realistic to the story? Would it be feasible to make? That’s my producer brain, perhaps, but I don’t really want to spend 5 years trying to get a movie made.

Shannon: For sure. I’m just trying to imagine helicopter fights in the film, and it’s not quite working.


Shannon: The music in the film is extremely powerful. Can you talk a little bit about it and how it played into the film? I know said it was an important piece.

Ed Gass-Donnelly: Yeah, I wrote the movie around the idea of using a specific record and I guess the impulse of that is that an album is created in a specifically time and place and has continuous themes, and it feels very much a whole. The album can often feel part of that record. So that was the idea of using the album as a soundtrack. That said, the music that I ended up using the film is not the music that inspired the film.

Shannon: Interesting.

Ed Gass-Donnelly: And I very much love the album that inspired me, but I really felt that the album had influenced the pace and tone and sort of the texture, cinematography, the tone sort of the colour of the film to such an extent that when I had the same music up against it in the edit, there wasn’t any real conflict between the images and the music. They were all to me, saying the same colour. And also I felt that I really needed a bit more abrasive to the gentle lilting to the film. I’ve known Bruce Peninsula and was listening to their stuff while we were shooting the film and was inspired with the movie begin and end with the Bruce Peninsula song, and then rest be this other album instead. Because what I really liked because their stuff is so influenced by gospel music, I was able to continue the thread through picking which songs, able to string though the spiritual journey of the protagonist without never having to necessarily talk about religion.

Shannon: Right.

Ed Gass-Donnelly: And I’m always very suspicious of things that give away to much, I’m very much a less is more school of narrative and information. Just in general but I think you can have something that’s sparse but powerful, that to me much more exciting than expositional.

Shannon: Sparse but powerful, it’s definitely sparse and powerful. Absolutely fascinating to look at it that way.

Ed Gass-Donnelly: It’s fine tuning to find that balance of when you hold back information how much are you inviting people to think and participate and then at one point if you hold back too much do they just get confused and annoyed. We went to both sides of that through the edit, at times it was even sparser to the point where it’s so sparse it’s impenetrable versus too much information. It’s almost too much information to the point where if we are going procedural than we are going to need a lot more information.

Shannon: Right.

Ed Gass-Donnelly: So it can be a tricky slope of like, you say two words and then it almost wants you to say 30 and it can go on and on and on. It’s very delicate house of cards that you try and create just how much and how little information you can getaway with providing, and it what form. For me the title cards and the music were a way of imbuing scenes that had nothing to do with spirituality with a sense of his spiritual crisis. You just felt that weight continuing throughout these other scenes without me ever having to talk about it, and there were certainly times more open. It was always very sparse in the script but at time I did speak more about his spiritual struggle or just Mennonites in general but I think the word ‘Mennonite” is mentioned once in the film and it just becomes a flavour and a texture as opposed to, I didn’t want the film to become about that.

Shannon: I felt myself listening though, to make sure I had the right term, like who are we talking about here? Just for accuracy, but not so much to pin it down to something.

Ed Gass-Donnelly: Right.

Shannon: I have to ask you about the extraordinary cast who do such an exceptional job. Can you share how the casting fell into place?

Ed Gass-Donnelly: The only person I had from the beginning is Aaron Poole who played the younger cop, because he’s really talented and one of my best friends and story edits and sort of a creative collaborated on a lot of what I do. And Peter Stormare as Walter, I’ve been working with a really great casting director. In the process of jamming out ideas you create a list of 50-60 peoples, just archetypes of actors whether they are even realistic or not that you might but a Christopher Walken on there or an Al Pacino, just more about are these the kind of people? And you can say yes or no, just to get a flavour of what is the feel of the character. And what ideas could we get that are very different than I imagined. So it becomes a creative jamming out process. I’ve been a fan of his TV series “Prison Break”, and I watched that and I just happened so see Armageddon on when it was on television and saw his character in that and reminded me of how funny he is in that film and realized it was the same guy. I I was intrigued after that. I was thinking more about it and realized he was in Fargo, and the places I knew him from and I went and saw Dancer in the Dark again, and that was for me really what sold it because he was just so innocent and sweet in that film. I was a little nervous because his other characters, at least with the material because it’s so Hollywood, it wasn’t sort of the naturalism I would be going for with his performance? I mean you can’t really consider Fargo and Armageddon to be naturalistic.


Ed Gass-Donnelly: But there was just something I saw in his character in Dancer in the Dark that just felt very real. There was a shy awkwardness to him in that that I really liked and I got really interested and started to see more and more of his stuff. I saw this Swedish film called Varg, which means Wolf, that he was the lead in just to see as much possible. And then we just arranged for me to meet him in New York and over quite a few drinks we decided to work together.


Ed Gass-Donnelly: And the rest of the cast, Martha Plimpton was one of the very person we discussed for that role and we had no connection to her. We talked and the conversation for a while came back and we made an offer to her and she agreed to do it. And Jill Hennessy, it’s funny because when you make a Canadian film there is a balance of needed a certain amount of your stars to be Canadian, to assess public money. And I was at a film festival party in 2009, in the September about month and a half before we started shooting and I hadn’t cast that role yet and was talking about how I needed to find somebody. A friend of mine suggested Jill Hennessy, and I said I needed someone Canadian and I didn’t realize Jill Hennessey was Canadian. I knew her work from “Law and Order”, but I didn’t know specifically that she was Canadian. Again I got intrigued looking at more of her work.

Shannon: Great casting with her, she does a fearless performance in the film.

Ed Gass-Donnelly: Yeah, and again I’m always interested in casting very much against type. Certainly with Peter I wanted to do something very different from what we’ve seen, to be honest to the extent that sadly most people didn’t recognize him. Which is great from a creative point of view, but then you put him on a poster and it’s like “Who’s that guy?” I mean, people don’t even recognize him. His character was written with very much the intention that he would have these large glasses and big moustache that were sort of like a mask on his face. I didn’t consider the possibility that if you put that kind of a mask on someone face and it’s hard to recognize them. Which is really wonderful when people then realize who his is as they can sort of loose themselves in the story and character.

Same with Jill, the first day she was filming the note I had to give to make up was “You gotta stop making her looks so pretty.” And even though she looks good in the film, there was definitely a typical vain approach to say, a 40 year old woman in a movie.

Shannon: Right.

Ed Gass-Donnelly: You try to make her look better, try to make her look 10 years younger. And I was like you know what, let her be an attractive woman who’s 40, or 39, or whatever IMDb says. I thought, let’s make her look a little rough around the edges, we don’t need to glam her up. That was it, she started looking glam and I was like, take that down, take that down. Make it look like she’s not wearing any make up and her be more a natural character for that world as opposed to she just stepped out an episode of “Law and Order”.

Shannon: I chatted with Aaron Poole recently about the film as well, and it was great to see you two working together again on this project. Can you talk a bit about what it was like to work together?

Ed Gass-Donnelly: I’ve known Aaron for years and years because we went to high school together, it’s just a constant collaborative process. On this in addition to playing a supporting role in the film he was the story editor from the beginning so it’s always sort of more than just screen acting too, in terms of that relationship. He was in my previous film as well, being one of the leads and the story editor. It’s just a constant creative process. Because I tend to do a lot of jobs on the film, this one I was the writer/director/editor and one of two producers ,so all the more reason I feel that when I do so many jobs I need to surround myself with people I creatively trust because you need an outside eye, you need feedback constantly. Because you don’t have another editor with another writer or you don’t have the luxury of always having a second brain for input.

Shannon: Having a support team with you.

Ed Gass-Donnelly: Yeah, so for me when you start taking on more and more jobs like that, all the more reason you really need people you know and trust and really have deeper creative discussion with. And frankly, rather frequently because it could be 2 days later and I’ll have a new pass at the edit and I’ll want to bounce it off of somebody. So you really need that sort of that strong creative support structure.

Shannon: Interesting. Small Town Murder Songs has screen across south western Ontario, and also at TIFF. What’s the response been like in south western Ontario in particular?

Ed Gass-Donnelly: It’s been great. I haven’t actually been there for that many of them unfortunately because I’ve been travelling. But the response that we’ve had, and this is definitely why we started screening in small towns initially, because when we initially were getting close to finishing the edit and several of my friends are from small towns and really latched on the fact that they felt it was a really authentic portrayal of that community. Specially of my friends that are Mennonite they felt that there was a lot of authenticity that they didn’t normally see represented.

So I think on the one hand a little of the strategy was the title of the film was to creative something that was evocative and creative enough information “Small Town” and we wanted to make sure was included, then of course “Murder” and “Songs” was an odder part of the title, but a creatively evocative part . So I think we are trying to convince people to take a look in with certain genre and creative elements to it, to entice them but also ideally to feel that it’s in their community. I think inevitable people just feel people are curious, so it’s been playing really well and then some people, or the people that don’t like it who come in expecting a classic thriller, that’s been a constant struggle to make sure that the things like the trailer of the film are actually very reflective of the film.

It’s been interesting that when people either have no opinion of what they are seeing, or know what they are seeing , there is always an unanimously positive experience from person to person. I mean, maybe there is a person that says “That wasn’t a thriller!” or something totally different and I’d say “I totally agree with you.”


Shannon: I think it’s amazing the diversity of communities you’ve been able to capture – I was a big fan of This Beautiful City and I’m a Toronto Queen Street Girl myself I feel you really got that setting perfectly. I was wondering what’s next on the horizon for you?

Ed Gass-Donnelly: It’s a great question , I’d really like to know too. I’ve been developing 8 different movies.

Shannon: Wow.

Ed Gass-Donnelly: There are 2 or 3 contenders that look like they will go next. It’s always sort of exploring the US, when Variety named me one of their 10 directors to watch, that created a fair amount of attention for me in the States. So I was recently with a US manager and agent there and I’ve been working to set up a couple of the larger projects that I’ve been sort of back burning a little bit in Canada because they didn’t seem feasible to me as sort of a next film. I wasn’t expecting the opportunity to do maybe a $10 or $20 million film as a follow up to this.

Shannon: Right.

Ed Gass-Donnelly: I was focusing more on these movies for about $3-4 million, just from a business perspective but creatively I’m excited about all the stuff I’ve been working on it’s just I’m also trying to be realistic. In Canada, it’s not feasible to do a $40 million movie, so I wasn’t developing any. But suddenly in the States anything under $10 million could be a bit tricky because always needing enough elements from a business point of view in terms of cast and tech so if someone is actually going to risk $10 million, I mean $10 million is a lot of money, so that if they will actually make it back or not even make it back but make a profit. So it’s interesting whereas in Canada in the US is the hardest place to make a film between $1-5 million, and Canada is very much supportive of that. It’s not that Canada can’t do larger films, it’s just that the slate of material I’ve been developing which ranges from a supernatural thriller to a rock-gospel musical, for me it’s just really trying to think about what is the best place to try and get this movie made.

Because I’m also a dual Canadian-British citizen, I was just in Europe aggressively pursuing co-productions, so really it comes back to that I don’t want to be just a Canadian filmmaker but I want to be, I mean we are in an international marketplace and the movie is coming out in Toronto and Edmonton but it’s also going to be released in Turkey and Scandinavia as well as the US. So it’s exciting to be thinking outside of what’s my neighbourhood and what can I get financed here, sort of look a little bit broader and say what is the best place in the world for me to make this next movie.

Shannon: Well then you very much literally are one to watch because we are going to have to keep an eye on what you get up to next!


Shannon: Thank you so much for your time and congratulations on the film and being one of Variety’s 10 directors to watch, that’s absolutely amazing.

Ed Gass-Donnelly: Thank you very much.

Small Town Murder Songs opens in February 18, 2011 at the Royal Theatre in Toronto and the Metro in Edmonton. See the film website for more information on upcoming screenings.
All content on Movie Moxie is written by Shannon Ridler, © 2006 - 2012