Top Ten Movies of 2016

I am taking a break from my Vancouver series to bring you a Top Ten end-of-year list! You, my readers, seem to love my Top Ten entries: Top Ten Things I Have Learned About Toronto and Top Ten Memorable Moments of 2014 were among my most popular posts ever. So for my last entry of the year, I present my Top Ten Movies of 2016 !

I am a self-professed film geek. I enjoy all genres of movies and will watch films from any era, from the first silent movies to the visual extravaganzas on offer today. Of course my film knowledge isn’t on par with, say, a person who has a degree in film or someone who writes about film for a living, but I do love the medium and try to watch new and different types of movies regularly.

Without further ado, here are my Top Ten Movies of 2016.

10.  Sadako vs. Kayako (dir. Koji Shiraishi)

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Japanese horror-comedy Sadako vs. Kayako pits the ghosts of The Ring and The Grudge against each other in an attempt to rid the world of both of them after they are unwittingly released by a pair of schoolgirls.  It has just the right amount of humour thrown in to prevent the audience from having heart attacks (it was genuinely scary). Give yourself a break from all those lame American horror movies that take themselves way too seriously and watch Sadako vs. Kayako. You won’t be disappointed. A full review can be found here.

9.  Love and Friendship (dir. Whit Stillman)

Kate Beckinsale stars as Lady Susan Vernon Martin in this period piece where we discover that “polite” society often isn’t polite at all. The witty dialogue will keep you entertained, along with an absolutely wonderful performance by Ms. Beckinsale. I bet that you would even like this one if you don’t like period pieces, films based on the work of Jane Austen (I am no big fan of hers myself) or “talky” movies. This one is worth it, trust me. Read more about it here.

8.  Star Trek Beyond (dir. Justin Lin)

I must admit that I am a big fan of Star Trek (The Next Generation TV series being my favourite incarnation of the franchise). However, I will admit that I wasn’t crazy about the second-last Star Trek film (Star Trek Into Darkness, 2013) or its predecessor, Star Trek (2009). Therefore, imagine my surprise at how engaging and well-told Beyond was, how its themes of unity and inclusivity really came through at a time when we seem to need them so desperately; how this film, out of the three newest ones starring Chris Pine as James Kirk and Zachary Quinto as Spock, is by far the strongest . More information about the film can be found here.

7.  Without Name (dir. Lorcan Finnegan)

As the poster says, Without Name is a “psychotropic faery story”. A middle-aged land surveyor is hired by a mysterious employer to measure and map a remote and creepy piece of the Irish forest. It soon becomes apparent that something, or someone, is with him in the woods. The ghost of the former owner of the woods? Maybe. But that would be too easy. Mr. Finnegan delivers a spine-chilling twist in the final moments, in addition to the truly unique visual style of many of the film’s scenes (the woods themselves appear to move and breathe). There is also a somewhat sinister environmental message to the whole thing. A complete review of the film can be found here.

6.  Rogue One: A Star Wars Story  (dir.Gareth Edwards)

Some of you will not look on me too kindly after I say this, but I am going to go ahead and say it anyway: the whole Star Wars series never really captured me. For one thing, I didn’t watch the “originals” – Episodes IV, V, and VI – until I was about 20 years old (that’s another story for another time) and, shortly after watching the original three films, I was barraged by Jar-Jar Binks and his brand of ultimate stupidity in the less-than-worthy Episodes 1, 2, and 3 in the 1990s. Perhaps the originals didn’t have enough time to sink in, or perhaps the films simply have no nostalgic value for me. In any case, I didn’t quite “get” what all the fuss was about.

Imagine my surprise, then, when Rogue One: A Star Wars Story became one of my favourite films of the year.  It simply reveals the backstory to Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope (1977), but it does so in such an interesting, thoughtful, and elegant way that I was completely drawn in. There is also an incredibly strong female lead character (Felicity Jones’ rebel fighter Jyn Erso) along with a refreshingly diverse cast. The film’s dark tone brought to my mind everything from the Resistance fighters of the World War II era to the present-day intolerance we have witnessed in recent events; it’s a story for the ages. A full review can be found here.

5.  Gringo: The Dangerous Life of John McAfee (dir.Nanette Burstein)

Gringo is an incredibly interesting documentary about John McAfee, creator of the McAfee anti-virus software that virtually every computer had in the 1990s. But the movie is not about his career or smarts as a businessman. It’s about what happened after Mr. McAfee moved to Belize in the early 2010s with his fortune. He ended up creating a compound where he was claiming to test and develop medicines made from rainforest plants; in reality, he led a strange and bizarre cult-like world. He hired the most dangerous people in Belize to lead his personal security team. He bribed the entire police force of two cities after he murdered his neighbour. In the end, he went into hiding in the jungles of Guatemala before escaping to the U.S. and (of all things) running for president. I saw this film at TIFF, and during the Q and A afterwards, the filmmaker told us that John McAfee has been threatening many people involved with the film and that she changes her cell phone number on a daily basis. Eeeeeeep ! A review of the film can be found here.

4. The Limehouse Golem (dir. Juan Carlos Medina)

The Limehouse Golem is a murder mystery set in Victorian London. I must admit that I am in love with the Victorian era presented in fiction and film, and no doubt that has influenced this choice.  However, this movie offers up much more than your typical murder mystery. Gender politics and sexual orientation issues come into play in a clever script, along with stellar performances by Bill Nighy as Inspector John Kildare and Olivia Cooke as murder suspect Lizzie Cree. An excellent synopsis of what sets this film apart can be found here.

3.  Kubo and the Two Strings (dir.Travis Knight)

This is one of my favourite animated films ever, not just one of my favourite films of the year. It is set in ancient Japan and tells the story of a young boy who inadvertently unleashes an evil force who wants to destroy him. He must go on the run and, with the help of several creatures and supernatural beings, find a way to unlock a secret legacy that will keep him safe. The thing I like best about this movie is that it does not underestimate its audience. It is a story well-told, with some very heavy themes – it does not shy away from death, evil, and the like – and it is told in such a beautiful way that it will satisfy both adults and kids. As if all that wasn’t enough, the stop-motion animation is gorgeous. This film is simply magical. A full review can be found here.

2.  Barakah Meets Barakah (dir. Mahmoud Sabbagh)

This film made my list because not only is it completely charming, it is completely unique. Barakah Meets Barakah is Saudi Arabia’s first romantic comedy. There is very little cinema coming out of the country, and its existence offers a glimpse into a life and a country that is the object of much suspicion and misinformation in the West. The film talks about the perils of dating in the ultra conservative Saudi society, where men and women aren’t even allowed to socialize in public. In addition, the female character in the story, Barakah, or Bibi for short, is a free-thinking modern woman who has become famous through Instagram. Conversely, the male character Barakah, is a conservative-minded civil servant. It also speaks of the changes in Saudi society from a generation ago, when Saudi culture was much less repressive. Despite all this, the mood remains light and the entire film is utterly charming. More information about this movie can be found here.

1.  Arrival (dir. Dennis Villeneuve)

Arrival is the story of professor Louise Banks (Amy Adams), a linguist who must find a way to communicate with the inhabitants of spaceships who have suddenly touched down in twelve different locations around the world. But this is no ordinary run-of-the-mill science fiction movie featuring aliens, confused scientists, and military types eager to push that little red button. It is an intelligent, thoughtful, meditative approach on the theme of communication. It doesn’t take the easy road at any point and still manages to entertain and engage from beginning to end. It also features an interesting time-travel twist that me and my movie-going companion were still debating the finer points of days later. It is still playing in theatres now; I would recommend seeing it on the big screen if you can. A full review can be found here.

A Happy New Year to all!

Stay tuned!

Vancouver! Part Three: Fan Expo!

In case you aren’t familiar with Fan Expo, it’s a convention for geeks. “Geek” in this case refers to a person who likes one or all of the following: comic books, science fiction, fantasy, gaming, and anime (Japanese animation). I am a little bit of a geek myself, so I enjoy going to Fan Expo (there is a similar one in Toronto that I have been to a few times).

Things to do at Fan Expo include shopping, meeting celebrities, going to panel discussions, meeting artists and seeing their work, and visiting special exhibits.

My personal favourite thing to do at an event such as this is visiting the “Artist Alley.” Most of the artwork revolves around the subjects of fantasy, sci-fi, anime, and comic book art, but the range of styles and the diversity of the artists is incredible. You also get to talk to the artists themselves when at their booths. It is really nice to have that personal interaction with the person who actually created the thing that you are buying.

Another awesome thing about Fan Expo is, of course, THE COSTUMES. Fans go to great lengths to create the perfect costumes of their favourite characters.

Here is an iconic Princess Leia (love the purse!)


Duff Man from The Simpsons…


Lord Voldemort of the Harry Potter movies:


And here is Professor Snape (also of the Harry Potter films). This guy was completely in character and thus slightly terrifying. I ran up to him, being the over-excitable geek that I am, and yelled “CAN I TAKE YOUR PICTURE?” He leaned right into me with a furious expression on his face (I assume because I dared to use such poor grammar (or maybe he doesn’t like over-excitable, geeky women yelling and running towards him)), and said, “Well, I don’t know…CAN YOU?”


Here is a Ferengi merchant (Star Trek: The Next Generation) dressed in fabulous attire. Oh, check out the Valentine’s Day card in the lower left corner of the photo with Data on the front of it. It reads “It’s Valentine’s Day. By chance, did I mention…” I bet one of you Star Trek geeks out there (myself included) can guess the punchline to that one!


Here is Princess Peach from the original Super Mario Brothers Nintendo game and two friends (I am not sure who the other two are).


Here is Jack Skellington from The Nightmare Before Christmas. I LOVE the way this costume has been constructed: it is more like a gigantic puppet. The actual person controlling Jack is behind him, dressed in black.


Wolverine from X-Men. Pretty good likeness !


Storm Troopers (Star Wars) were everywhere. I started to think they were actually Fan Expo security guards who got to wear really cool costumes this year.


One of my favourite shows of all time is Sailormoon (the Japanese one, not the lame English dubbed and heavily edited one). So I was pretty happy when I saw quite a few excellent Sailors this year.

Here is Sailor Saturn (my favourite!) and Sailor Pluto…


…and here’s Sailor Neptune and Sailor Uranus.


Sailor Venus and Sailor Mars are in this group.


Here are the Ghostbusters of B.C., a community group…


…with a terrifying full-sized portrait of Vigo, the villain of Ghostbusters II.


Here are Iron Man, Spiderman, and Captain America.


This Joker (Batman: The Dark Knight) had his makeup spot-on.


I am not sure which anime this costume is from, but it was beautiful and very well done.


My favourite photo of the day…here is my brother meeting none other than R2-D2 ! !


Stay tuned for my next entry, when I visit an awesome contemporary art exhibit at the Vancouver Art Gallery!


Toronto International Film Festival 2016!

First of all, thank you for reading! September 2016 was my first month EVER not posting an entry since I started this blog, partially because I was working on a magazine article (I AM SO EXCITED and I will post a link to it once the final edits have been done) and mostly because I was once again a part of the all-consuming Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).




I decided to go with a different format this year and relay my Festival experiences to you via short anecdotes and capsule reviews. Thank you to long-time Festival-goer Mark Slutsky for his inspiration in this regard. His hilarious article about his 11 years of TIFF can he found here.

Day 1:

Festival staff weren’t invited to the Opening Night Party this year at TIFF 😦…so me and a friend tried to crash the party, without success…(too much security at all doors and we didn’t feel like trying to punch out a big, burly security guard to get in). Instead, we joined a line to get into a random film across the street at the Princess of Wales Theatre. That theatre is beautiful! I am sure a lot of you have seen shows there.


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The movie (I Am Not Madame Bovary) was really good too. The story concerns a young Chinese woman who finds herself drowning in the depths of bureaucracy. In particular, the main character (Xuelian) and her husband “conspire to get a “fake” divorce. Once the divorce goes through, however, Xuelian is shocked to discover that her husband has moved into the apartment with another woman. Thus begins Xuelian’s mission to have her extant divorce annulled so she can remarry her husband and then divorce him “for real…the film is a cleverly comic commentary on Chinese bureaucracy and male fear of single-minded women.”


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Not too bad of a way to begin the Festival!

Day 2:

Yesterday a parton came up to the box office and asked me what film was playing.

I said “It’s called ‘All Governments Lie.'” I paused and then added, “It’s a documentary.”


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Day 3:

Leonardo DiCaprio is visiting my theatre for the red carpet premiere screening of his documentary The Ivory Game! My fellow supervisor was so excited that she said she was going to wear a gown to work.


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Day 4:

This morning I saw a GREAT movie called The Limehouse Golem. For those of you who like suspense/murder mystery/horror movies set in Victorian-era London, this one’s for you. IT’S GREAT!!  Did I already say that? Haha.


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Actors Bill Nighy and Douglas Booth along with the director and producer introduced the film at the beautiful Winter Garden Theatre! I was pretty excited to see Mr. Nighy!






Day 6:

I just saw the most insane, perhaps dangerous, documentary called “Gringo: The Dangerous Life of John McAfee.” Remember the McAfee Anti-Virus software from the 90s? Well, it turns out that John McAfee, the creator of said software, moved to Belize in the early 2010s where he promptly bribed the entire police force of two cities and then (99% probably) murdered two people and violently assaulted another. Upon feeling the heat, he ran into the jungle of Guatemala and was in hiding until escaping to the States where he RAN FOR PRESIDENT. Also, he has been threatening people involved with this film, including the director. In the Q and A after the film she confirmed some of the details surrounding the threats. She has been changing her phone number and email address almost on a daily basis. HOLY @#$% ! ! !


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On another note, I saw my first “Wavelengths” movie today. Films in this category are more like “film art” – they often have a non-conventional style and almost always do not follow a traditional narrative structure. This one was called “I Had Nowhere To Go” and was a “portrait of Jonas Mekas, the legendary poet, film critic, risk-taking curator, “the godfather of the American avant-garde cinema” — and, at 93 years old, among the remaining few to have escaped and survived Nazi persecution.”


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It was a different way of approaching a familiar story, and it made me think about the possibilities of film as art.

Day 8:

I just saw movie fans almost mob a star! At the premiere of South Korean crime drama “Asura: The City of Madness,” the fans were so excited that they were rushing the stage, screaming, shouting, trying to touch the actors, etc, etc. Also, during the introduction, the director said that “it might be hard for Canadians and old people to watch this film because it’s so violent and the style is so realistic,” but he assured us that “not all Koreans are that violent.” 🙂




The film itself is about “a shady cop [who] finds himself in over his head when he gets caught between Internal Affairs and the city’s corrupt mayor. [It’s an] epic crime drama about the creeping corruption that threatens a modern metropolis — and jeopardizes one man’s beleaguered soul.”


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I thoroughly enjoyed it – especially Hwang Jung-min’s performance as the deliciously evil mayor.

The second movie I saw today was ARQ, a Canadian sci-fi feature entirely shot in Etobicoke. It concerns a couple “living in a dystopic future who become trapped in a mysterious time loop — one that may have something to do with an ongoing battle between an omnipotent corporation and a ragtag band of rebels.”


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P.S. It actually came out on Netflix the day after I saw it at the Festival, so you can probably watch it right now. I would recommend it!

Day 9:

I just watched the movie that I think is going to be my favourite Festival film this year. Without Name is an Irish film about “a land surveyor [whose] mysterious client sends him on a prolonged…excursion in a dense forest. But deep in the woods, the comforting predictability of Eric’s minimalist steel-and-concrete city life is replaced by Mother Nature’s chaotic embrace — and by something more sinister and not altogether natural.


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Lorcan Finnegan’s feature debut depicts Ireland’s woods as a verdant nightmare steeped in dread….Finnegan uses creative optical tricks that seem to make the forest ominously breathe and expand as it absorbs the psyche of his protagonist.”


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Once again, I am afraid to go out into the woods alone. Thanks, Lorcan Finnegan. 🙂 But seriously, Hollywood could learn a thing or two from this film. A solid, well-told story? Actual suspense? Special effects that enhance the themes of the movie without resorting to a lot of silly CGI?  Take note, Hollywood…. and do yourself a favour and watch this movie if you get the chance.

The second film of the day involved a lot of ass-kicking. Birth of the Dragon “chronicles Bruce Lee’s emergence as a martial-arts superstar after his legendary secret showdown with…Shaolin martial arts master Wong Jack Man (Xia Yu), [who] has been sent from China to stop Lee’s heretical education initiative.” Back in the 60s, Kung Fu was considered a cultural “secret” of the Chinese, and was not known to outsiders. Bruce Lee was about to bring martial arts to the world, and this did not make some people very happy. “And so things lead towards an epic showdown between Lee and Wong — with the very legacy of Chinese tradition at stake.”


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If you enjoy martial arts movies, I would highly recommend this one.

Day 10:

We are almost at the end of Festival, and fatigue is setting in. Between a busy work schedule and seeing all the films I can possibly cram in, I am pretty damn tired. So that must be why I decided to see a Midnight Madness film on the second last day of the Festival…right?!

A couple years ago I had the pleasure of seeing New Zealand vampire mockumentary What We Do In The Shadows at Midnight Madness (do yourself a favour and watch it if you haven’t already), and this year creepy horror film Sadako vs. Kayako was my pick. It did not disappoint.


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Remember the creepy ghosts from The Ring and The Grudge? Well, in Sadako vs. Kayako a pair of schoolgirls are cursed by each ghost… “the real fun begins when the girls figure out that the only way to save themselves is to pit the vengeful spirits against each other. Sadako and Kayako will battle to show the world who the evillest evil entity really is.”

Oh – and almost as fun as the movie was the fact that THE GHOSTS APPEARED ON THE RED CARPET and at the Q and A to answer questions ! ! Don’t believe me? Here is proof! Here they are at the film’s introduction!




We were all given out #TeamSadako and #Team Kayako hats while waiting in line…




…and the ghosts apparently thought they were so cool that they wore them for the Q and A after the film! Of course the director is wearing both hats at once (he is standing to the right of the ghosts).



A creepy, hilarious and memorable way to end this year’s Festival!

Stay tuned!



Information about TIFF films and still photographs:

Princess of Wales interior photo:







The Toronto Fringe Theatre Festival!

For those of you who may not know, a Fringe Festival is an “indie theatre festival…about celebrating under-represented voices and those on the margins of the performing arts world. It’s a festival where anyone can put on any show, without having to pass through a jury – where theatre students can mount their first production outside of school, where emerging artists can get their big break, and where established artists can test out new work.



It’s a festival where audiences come for the adventure and the community as much as for the plays themselves.”

You do not have to know a lot about theatre or have a lot of money to spend on tickets in order to go to a Fringe show. That’s the beauty of it – Fringe festivals are accessible to everyone. Tickets for the Toronto Fringe range from $8 to $12 apiece, and you can literally wander up to a venue 10 minutes before a show and see something great and unexpected.

I have been involved with Fringe for many years as a volunteer and audience member, but this year I had my first opportunity to review Fringe shows and have them published on a popular Toronto theatre website – Mooney on Theatre! I was so excited! I imagined schmoozing with the stars, press tents with tons of free booze and platters towering with artfully arranged fruit and desserts, and possibly being bribed with suitcases full of money (or maybe just Canadian Tire money, since it’s a Fringe festival).



That was what I imagined, not what I expected. What I actually expected (and experienced) was a lot more humble – rushing from one venue to another in order not to miss my assigned shows, late nights at home banging out reviews on my computer, and editors asking me to “please change one more thing” at 3am.

Despite those realities, I thoroughly enjoyed my experience as a member of the press (which I have been told is now called “media” – I think I have watched this movie one too many times) – and I really hope I will get the chance to do it again in the near future!

On to my reviews!

I reviewed five shows with Mooney on Theatre this year. Here are my top three:


My personal number one favourite this year is for the record.

Poster for For the Record

This show, by company the night kitchen, was was a one-of-a-kind immersive theatre experience that I will be thinking about for a long time. Interestingly, it did not take place in a theatre at all, but in Kops Records on Bloor Street. The store is roomy, yet the setup makes it feel intimate – a perfect setting for a live performance. This expertly-written story about the relationship between a mother and daughter is told with tons of humour lots of heart. And, of course, music plays a huge role in the story – as it does in our memories. Read my full review here (just click on the word “here”).


My runner-up is Adam Bailey is On Fire by company Still Your Friend.

Adam Bailey is On Fire poster

Performer and writer Adam Bailey is the gay son of an evangelical Christian minister. How to navigate these seemingly disparate realities? This coming-of-age story for the modern world is both uproarious and heartwarming. It also features some very clever and hilarious audience participation bits. I don’t want to give too much away, but if you’ve ever wanted the chance to drink out of a truly communal communion cup…well, maybe you haven’t. But trust me – this is a show that is impossible to forget. My full review can be found here.


And, my third place winner goes to… Best Picture.

Photo of Jon Paterson and Kurt Fitzpatrick

This show, by company RibbitRePublic, manages to explain all 88 Best Picture winners at the Academy Awards (the “Oscars”) in a mere 60 minutes….with a cast of only three people. The actors cleverly distill the movies using famous lines, summing up of plots, and re-enactments of famous scenes. The entire show is hilarious and perfect for any film lover (or self-proclaimed know-it-all) like me. Read my full review here.


If you want to read my other reviews, or to view them all at once, click here:


These shows are ALL STILL PLAYING at the Toronto Fringe until July 10th! But if you can’t come this time around, I would encourage everyone to “Fringe” sometime soon! Besides Toronto, there are Fringe festivals in many cities across Ontario (Hamilton, London, Guelph, Windsor, and Ottawa), across Canada (Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, Montreal, Halifax, and many more) and across the world (the Edinburgh Fringe being the biggest and most famous).

As I said before, you do not have to be a seasoned theatregoer or be carrying around briefcases full of money in order to attend a Fringe show. That’s the beauty of it – Fringe is accessible to everyone. The only requirement is to expect the unexpected!

See you there!


Stay tuned!


The Toronto Fringe Festival

The Canadian Association of Fringe Festivals

The 2016 Edinburgh Festival Fringe

Photo of Fringe banner courtesy of the Toronto Fringe Festival.

Press tent photo:

for the record photo provided by the company (the night kitchen)

Photo of Adam Bailey by Hugh Problyn

Best Picture photo by Richard Gilmore