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

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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)

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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.

Concert Review: Kiwi Jr, September 9, McMurray Avenue

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If you follow Toronto indie rockers Kiwi Jr. on Twitter (Sorry Elon, I refuse to call it “X”), you might have thought they were joking when they recently tweeted out, “played a highschool battle of the bands tonight” but no, they really did play a high school battle of the bands.

Or, if you want to be nitpicky, they technically played after a high school battle of the bands, with the winner of said battle making a triumphant return to the stage to play a brief set right before Kiwi Jr’s headlining set. Singer Jeremy Gaudet gave the winners a shout out from the stage early on (though he did initially get their name wrong, calling them Just June instead of Just July – wrong month, but close enough, I suppose), noting that they had early Sonic Youth vibes and adding that while he has never won nor even participated in a battle of the bands, he did approve of such a Happy Days-style tradition. I’m assuming the high schoolers in attendance had to Google what Happy Days was.

And while, strictly speaking, the band weren’t exactly playing a battle of the bands, they were certainly playing a show that was a bit out of the ordinary, headlining a day of music played at the end of a residential street as part of the Taste of the Junction festival.

Playing a set that was split pretty evenly between songs off their latest album Chopper and some older tracks, Gaudet and his bandmates (Mike Walker, Brohan Moore and Brian Murphy) put on a fun show with standout tracks like “Unspeakable Things,” “The Sound of Music” and “Waiting In Line” showcasing the band’s strong songwriting. Their combo of catchy hooks and clever lyrics full of pop culture references is a winning formula, especially when delivered in Gaudet’s Malkmus-esque vocal style.

And so, while I’ll admit that it was a little weird watching a band play at the end of a street just a few steps away from the local residents’ front doors, it also gave the show a cool, laid back vibe that made for a pretty memorable performance.

Song of the Day: DAIISTAR – Parallel

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“Parallel” is the latest single from Austin noise-pop band DAIISTAR, taken from their debut album Good Time, out today via Fuzz Club. Check it out.