TIFF Review: Seagrass (Meredith Hama-Brown, 2023)

Posted on by Paul in Movies, Reviews | Leave a comment

Judith and Steve go on a couples retreat, with their two young daughters along for the ride, in an effort to work on their relationship and save their rocky marriage. It doesn’t go all that well for them.

That is more or less the premise of Seagrass in a nutshell. Following the death of Judith’s mother, her relationship with Steve has been suffering, but then again, maybe the problems were already there to begin with and recent events have just brought everything to light.

Steve, of course, has his own issues and their daughters are also going through some stuff, with the eldest entering a semi-rebellious tween phase and their younger daughter convinced that she’s seeing the ghost of her late grandmother. Complicating matters further is the presence of Pat, the sensitive, Aussie-accented hunk who seems to have captured Judith’s attention.

As the unhappy couple take part in therapy sessions, any healing they may have hoped for does not seem to be in the cards. Steve is angry, but mostly unable (or unwilling) to articulate why. Judith is similarly disconnected and feels set adrift after the recent loss of her mother. There’s also clearly some guilt on her part over the fact that she doesn’t really know enough about her parents’ history or feel enough of a connection to her Japanese heritage. When Pat asks her about her father and mother’s experiences in the internment camps, she replies that they just never really talked about it. And all the while, the ghost of Judith’s mother hangs figuratively (or maybe literally?) over the proceedings.

While a bit of a slow burn at times, the film paints a compelling portrait of dysfunctional family drama with Ally Maki and Nyha Breitkreuz in particular putting on memorable performances as Judith and her daughter Stephanie, respectively.

TIFF Review: Bloom (Kasey Lum, 2023)

Posted on by Paul in Movies, Reviews | Leave a comment

Over the course of writer/director Kasey Lum’s Bloom, we are introduced to the film’s protagonist, a woman who is not dealing well with the sudden end of her relationship and who turns to a recently purchased houseplant to try and fill the void. The part is brilliantly acted by Jodi Balfour, the only human to appear onscreen (do we count the plant as her co-star?), as she spirals into her depression, obsessing over her ex, drinking too much and then … things take an odd turn.

Is there something sinister about this plant? Or is she the problem? And where will things go from here?

Though at first glance, this appears to be a simple story about a breakup, it becomes clear as the short film progresses that this is not so much a story about the end of a romantic relationship, but an examination of the relationship between humanity and nature itself.

SXSW Film Review: Wild Life [Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin, 2023]

Posted on by Gary in Movies, South By Southwest | Leave a comment


Doug Tompkins, his wife Kris, and their close circles of nature-loving extreme athletes (climbers, surfers, skiers, kayakers… you name it, they’ve got it) rode the wave of entrepreneurship and popularized their ’70s free-spirit lifestyle into products that are still going strong today. This exulted C-level cast may bring people to this documentary to romanticize about dinner-con-night-walk along the Seine and all the other million things that seemed so easy to go right when the stakes are low. Yet, in reality, were the stakes all that low?

From Doug and Kris Tompkins’ point of view, they certainly were not. An extractive philosophy from both industry and governments held captive many other, more harmonious ways to give value to natural resource wealth. In developing and developed countries alike, the adjectives merely distinguished whether resources have been sufficiently depleted. Our society was happily re-opening the industrial wounds on the natural world, which had never fully healed since the 18th century. While the Tompkins cannot hope to sway the forces that be in the United States, they may yet do so for less entrenched nations and save them from dire straits.

Their plan was to simply buy land, to preserve and conserve through direct ownership. Unfortunately, their push for land acquisition in Chile and Argentina ran into bad timing of a significant proportion. Barely two decades after the tumult of the Pinochet dictatorship and that of the military junta, respectively, suspicions abound as to the true intent of these foreigners. After long hardships, Chileans and Argentines also had few reasons to give up their immediate prosperity for long-term ecosystem stability.

And so, as the stage opened and home videos of Doug Tompkin’s funeral rolled, this seemed destined to remain just another impossible American Dream. Instead of being just a touching memorial, however, the main thrust of Wild Life is to document the journey of Kris Tompkins as she completes the dream for her late husband. She would consolidate their land into practices and policies, and eventually establish functioning national parks there. Being mostly a documentary about nature conservancy, there are obligatory wide and stunning landscapes from both the ’90s and more recent times. It is also filled with interviews from the Tompkins’ close friends and allies in both government and civilian roles, but obviously only the positive influences. On the other hand, to fulfill the vicarious thirst to see people push themselves in needlessly harsh circumstances, it is also stuffed with tales enshrining how “hardcore” these early pioneers were.

A cynical take on the motivation here could be that of a brand-building exercise for North Face and Patagonia et al. But I’d like to think that is far from the truth. I believe the film was more about legacy building – by way of introducing one such, albeit giant, legacy, send a call-to-arms for all of us to build the same, multi-millionaires or not. Logical long-term thinking from any number of angles will inevitably favor “not destroying ourselves for the sake of some arbitrary definition of progress” as the all-time best practice. Sadly, while one can convince people to mime their love for nature via puffy jackets and carabiners, it is not easy to entice the uninitiated to live that nature-loving lifestyle. Yes, even with lots of money.

SXSW Film Review: 299 Queen Street West (Sean Menard, 2023)

Posted on by Ricky in Movies, South By Southwest | Leave a comment


If you were to ask me for the perfect documentary that captures what it was like to listen to music while growing up in Canada, 299 Queen Street West would be it. I’m very happy that this film exists because I can now watch it every five or ten years and remember what it was like when I was young.

For the uninitiated, 299 Queen Street West chronicles the story of MuchMusic, a DIY startup 24 hour music channel that was an extremely large part of the lives of everyone who grew up in Canada in the ’80s and ’90s. If you are not Canadian, however, this documentary is still for you as the film also chronicles the changing landscape of music on several fronts, from the medium through which it was delivered (music videos to streaming) to the genres that took turns dominating the landscape over the course of 30 years.

The story is told purely through archival clips, featuring the voices of many of the players that defined the MuchMusic era including Erica Ehm, Steve Anthony, Master T, Rick the Temp, and Strombo among others. I really appreciated this approach (vs visual talking head) as it really let the film focus in on clips of the past. I was not in Canada when MuchMusic first started, but it was interesting to see how the channel grew from its initial conception to it taking over the building at 299 Queen Street west. For me, the nostalgia kicked in with clips from Electric Circus, The Wedge, Intimate and Interactive and footage of all the VJ’s.

At almost two hours the film provides just the right amount of time to relive all those memories and as the film draws to a conclusion, we start to see the demise of MuchMusic and it’s eventual transformation into what it is today, which is garbage. Still, the story of MuchMusic as captured in this film will bring up a lot of fond memories and joy for those who lived through it while also capturing a very important moment in time for the world of music as a whole.

I believe this film will be streaming on Crave at some point, which is quite ironic in itself.