Monday, April 16, 2012

Movie Review: Searching for Angels

Nadeem Soumah's "Searching for Angels" premiered at the Reel World Film Festival in Toronto on April 14th. The sold out show was the first public screening of the much anticipated feature starring Veronika London and Vivica A. Fox, and if there's any justice it won't be long before it's available in wide release. It would be unfortunate for a film this good not to be seen.

"Searching for Angels" tells the story of Angel (Veronica London), a drug addicted prostitute who, having suffered some undisclosed head trauma, has completely lost her memory and has to put the pieces of her sordid life back together. Along the way she encounters Nurse Carter (Vivica A. Fox), whose kindness becomes the only thing Angel has to hold onto. Carter's reluctant friendship with Angel provides an interesting subtext, with the two characters' lives intertwined through the vehicle of Carter's estranged daughter (whom we never explicitly meet in the film).

Comparisons are often the order of the day for film reviews, and Veronika London has been hailed as the "Megan Fox of Hollywood North" (for her looks). Her performance in "Searching for Angels" has drawn similar comparisons to Angelina Jolie in "Gia." In my opinion both comparisons are unfair, if only because the former is based almost exclusively on image, while the latter is only due to the subject matter. Angel and Gia were both addicted to heroin, and both played by hot brunettes. But the comparison fails at that point -- on these criteria, one could compare Jolie to Gary Oldman in "Sid and Nancy."

Some have said that it's because, like Jolie, London is "edgy." Nobody knows what this means though, and to say that the film itself is "edgy" is an absurd understatement. In my opinion, I think London's delivery overall was more convincing. She's good...damn good. And if this role doesn't propel her into more serious widespread film work, there's something seriously wrong with the people who cast movies. She's a fantastic model, no doubts there. But she's an outstanding actress, and she should be known for this craft first and foremost.

Director Nadeem Soumah, who is best known for his work in music videos,  has taken a fairly common street story and turned it substantially human. Angel, a high-achieving college student, begins to snap under the pressure of caring for her disabled father. Like most good girls gone bad, she takes to evenings of drinking and drugs. As her background legend evolves, we see her descend into a world that pulls her deeper and deeper into addiction through the machinations of Kemo (played by Alberto Tihan), who later becomes her pimp. Kemo's strings, meanwhile, are being pulled by the arch-villain Huntley (Craig Porritt), for purposes which I won't spoil here.

Vivica A. Fox and Veronika London
The genius of Soumah's script is that the foreground story of Angel's quest to find out who she is is both juxtaposed with and superimposed on her back story leading up to the attack that landed her in the hospital and stole her memory. We're taken on a journey that fully engrosses the viewer in the life of the main character from all angles. She's no longer just a whore whose unfortunate problem of getting her memory back plays out like a bad television episode. There's an essay here in how quickly a life can spiral out of control, and Angel's character moves from unfortunate protagonist to pitiable victim so fast you almost can't help wanting to help her -- the very predicament Nurse Carter finds herself in.

While there are admirable performances turned in by some of the supporting cast -- notably Brian Mifsud as Johnny, and John Sherritt as Angel's father -- the four principal characters form a curious cast of archetypes.  While the two characters out front (Angel and Kemo) sometimes cross the court between good and bad, both are grounded on their respective sides by superior characters fully formed on opposite ends of that spectrum. If comparisons are to be drawn, I have to be very fair in stating that in delivering his monstrous Huntley character, Craig Porritt really did an exceptional job as the precise negative of Vivica Fox's caring and matronly Carter. In fact, these two are the only "pure" characters in the film in terms of moral compass, and even then we find out that Carter's daughter is a runaway prostitute, and Huntley is a model father and least while he's at home.

Alberto Tihan wants to buy your soul.
Yet the good guy/bad guy motif is turned on its head between Kemo and Angel. Sure, Kemo's a dirtbag, but his charm and humour (and he is the funniest character in the film) make it hard to not buy whatever line the guy sells you. He saves the day, but you're never quite sure if it's an act of redemption or just covering his own ass.

Veronika London is about to kick your soul's ass.
Angel, meanwhile, doesn't make the move you'd expect. You'd expect her to go on a take-no-prisoners rampage. You'd expect her to at least cleverly devise some sort of elaborate plot to destroy her attacker and bring the hand of justice down. She gives you the impression that at any moment she's capable of cutting down anyone in her path to get at the truth. But she doesn't. Instead, all she wants is to know who she is and what happened to her. Even when she gets close, the withdrawal symptoms of her addiction kick the crap out of her, and when she eventually does learn the truth she's victimized again. There's no super hero in this story. There's no legendary retribution. Evil isn't punished; it's merely taken down a peg by one of its own team members.

And therein lies the exquisite simplicity and beauty of this story: it's real. It's tragic and horrific and terrible, but it's real, and there's no fairy tale ending (well, a bit of one, but not so tidy that you feel jilted). You can't walk away from this story feeling  completely good about the way things played out.

The palette of this "Searching for Angels" is brilliantly filmed. There's nothing "Canadian-" or "indie-" feeling about it. It's dark, but crisp. You can see with disturbing clarity all the things about life in the streets that you never really want to see. The camera work is feel your smallness against the weight of the world. You experience the closeness of Angel's proximity to real danger, and her distance from the "normal" world that moves around her. The nuances, intended or not, position you within the emotional state of each interaction, even when the characters are alone.

I go to movies all the time. Typical Hollywood fare, with an occasional gem that really stands out. But to be honest, from a purely visceral response it will be difficult for Hollywood to come close to the intensity of this film.

Yes, it's that good.

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Joys of Owning a '12

Regular readers will recall that back in the fall I purchased my first new vehicle: a 2012 Chevrolet Cruze LT Turbo. This car has performed very VERY admirably, both on the highway and in the city. It gets great mileage, handles like a dream, and is actually a lot of fun to drive.

Well, last week after a trip to Oshawa, I came off the highway to find the engine smoking. Obviously, at under 12,000 kilometers, this is not an ideal situation. I thought at first it was just steam, but when I tracked it down it turns out there was some alien-blood fluorescent green goo flowing down onto the inside grille, and it was that green stuff that was burning up and smoking.

Green leaking fluids + smoking engine = trip to the dealer. So off I went. At first the lady who books the repairs was baffled. Smoking engine on a brand new '12? Green stuff? What the???

When the mechanic checked it out though, the answer was obvious to him. Freon leak. Apparently they dye freon bright green to make it obvious and distinguishable from the other vital fluids in the car. A small rock had flown up and dinged the a/c compressor, causing the leak.

Thankfully this specific repair is under warranty. But it's so new, neither my dealer nor the supplier in Mississauga have the parts for it yet. So the big joy now is waiting until the parts get shipped from the main production facility in Michigan! It will get fixed, but the fun is watching everybody at the dealership scratching their heads because the car is so new they've never had to actually do a repair on one yet.

This should be an interesting week.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Searching For Angels starring Veronika London & Vivica A. Fox Premiers at ReelWorld Film Festival April 14th

Enter to win two tickets to the world premiere, April 14th in Toronto.* Just follow The Man Sphere on Twitter before April 11.

Mexican born, Canadian raised beauty Veronika London has been creating quite a stir with her provocative television appearances and photography features leading to Maxim Magazine calling her the "Megan Fox of Hollywood North." With a starring role in the film Searching For Angels, London is now earning respect as a serious actress drawing comparisons to Angelina Jolie in Gia. Searching For Angels, also starring Vivica A. Fox (Kill Bill, Independence Day) in a supporting role, will premier in Toronto at the ReelWorld Film Festival on April 14, 2012.

In the film, London plays a heroin-addicted prostitute who is discovered beaten in the street with no memory of her past. Refusing to trade on her looks, London fearlessly sheds the trappings that made her a Canadian sex symbol, and creates a riveting portrait of a young woman at serious risk. The result is a performance that is spellbinding in its power and truth.

 As a method trained actress, having studied at Pro-Actors lab in Toronto, London likes to put herself into real life situations even while playing a cracked out prostitute. "We were in Toronto on Church street and in between takes of shooting the scenes I decided to step out of the set," reflects London. "I was literally approached by three cars, one was a truckers, another a business man and the third a family man with a child in the back seat. At the time it was -35 weather, I was starving, very cold and having caffeine withdrawal. At that moment, I realized I went into survival mode. If I had nothing left I would get in the car. I understood that when one is so lost and immersed in darkness, a scenario that could end bad seems like a good idea."

Always living on the edge, London began her acting career in 2009 with risqué appearances on HBO's Lingerie and Showtime's Body Language. In that same year, she shot seven music videos--all of which featured her in lead roles--ranging in different musical genres, worked as the co-host for Toro-TV's "Damage Control" series, and launched a film career with Spanish speaking roles in Meet My Water Buffalo and in the dark comedy The Elusive Man.

In 2010, she focused on more unconventional feature film roles as a means of challenging herself with character driven roles. She found herself connecting better with the "conflicted rawness" of some of the characters she portrayed, such as the assassin in Mvnera, a killer bartender in Three Shades of Black and a pregnant nun in the horror slasher Black Eve.

With nine tattoos (most interesting one on upper left shoulder blade in binary code that says desire), martial arts training and her exotic looks, London is quickly becoming the go to actress for edgy, dark, bizarre and early Jolie-esque roles. Most recently she starred in two of Belly's music videos which are also very dark: "Purple Drugs" and a remix of REM's classic "Losing my Religion."

 2012 is off to an incredible start for London with Searching For Angels, which is being tabbed as Gia meets Memento, having its world premiere at the ReelWorld Film Festival in Toronto, Ontario.

Searching For Angels - World Premiere Feature Presentation
Sat, April 14th, 2012; 5:30 pm at Famous Players Canada Square Cinemas, Theatre 4
ReelWorld Film Festival:
Searching For Angels on IMDB:

Who is Jane Doe? That's the question everybody wants an answer to, including herself. Jane Doe, played by Veronika London (Body Language, HBO series "Lingerie") is a young prostitute and heroin addict found by paramedics laying on the street in a pool of blood. She is the victim of a violent altercation which leaves her with a severe head injury. Stricken by amnesia and struggling with her heroin addiction, she is on a quest to discover her identity but most importantly who did this to her and why. She is taken in by a nurse played by Vivica A. Fox (Kill Bill, Independence Day) who is a motherly figure to her. Along her quest she comes along several characters from her past and the clues to the answers she seeks slowly come to light, revealing many horrible truths. With this information, feelings of curiosity quickly turn to a thirst for retribution. Director: Nadeem Soumah

*Only one prize to give away, consisting of two adult admission passes to the showing, 5:30 pm at Famous Players Canada Square Cinemas, Theatre 4 in Toronto, Ontario. No travel or accommodation included. Must be 18 years of age or over to win. Winner will be selected by random draw by The Man Sphere editor Steve Baric. Prize will be delivered electronically by email. No purchase necessary. Odds of winning depend on the number of entries received. Contest closes at 5:00 pm EDT on April 11, 2012. Only one entry per person.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Men We Admire: The Rugged Dude

RD Carson -- The Rugged Dude -- and I go way back. Like waaaay a band we had together in the early 1990's. I was a kid back then, still in high school, and RD (who went by a different name in those days) was the old-school mentor to the rest of us. Flash forward a couple of decades, and RD is still going strong in the entertainment biz. What he is; and why he's here; has to do with reinvention. I had a teacher once who said, "don't measure success by the number of things that work according to plan. Measure it by the number of total disasters you're able to recover from." Well, RD is the perfect model of success in this light: a guy who's taken his lumps and come back stronger than ever at every opportunity. Stoic, honest, patient, and of course rugged, RD Carson is the kind of guy most of us wish we could be. And he knows more venison recipes than any man I know.

R.D. CarsonName: I’m known professionally as “RD, the Rugged Dude.” My legal name: Rugged Dude Carson. Passport, driver’s licence, federal firearms licence, the whole shebang. Honestly, I had it changed in 2002 on the advice of a marketing agency in Minneapolis. They said it would be “good for the brand,” you know, all that TV crap and of course, I bought it. But, looking back I wish I hadn’t have legally changed it, just kept it as a “stage name,” as they say. I have a lot less privacy now.

Age: At this time, I am 49, although I look 29… at least that what the mirror tells me. Kind of… well, actually sometimes when I look in the mirror, I look like I’m 149.

Occupation: For the last twelve years I have been working as a television host and producer. Most of my stuff iscomedy-based and pretty “out there.” I did eight seasons (150 episodes) of “Officially Rugged with RD,” which was a fishing comedy series (stupid as hell, actually, but a decent family friendly show.) That was series was seen across Canada, the USA, and parts of Australia and New Zealand.

I just produced another comedy-based fishing called “Moccasin Trails with RD.” We currently have agreements with five or six good sized broadcasters for 2013. If all goes as planned, we’ll start peeling those episodes off this June. The show will be on the air all across North America, along with seven countries in Europe.

For the last two years I’ve been trying to get into the cooking show TV biz… all wild fish and game and again, comedy-based. I did do a show on the Food Network in 2009, as a guest on one of Bobby Flay’s shows and a couple of the director / producers down there suggested I do a pilot. So, I did… but, I’m having no luck finding an executive producer to pitch it for me. I’m doing another one in a couple months...[read more]

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

A Simple Body Fat Calculator

Here's a simple body fat calculator for estimating body fat for men (the one for women is a bit more complicated). The formula, which we got from Gastelu & Hatfield's Dynamic Nutrition for Maximum Performance, is as follows:

Take your morning waist measurement in inches (around the love handles, at the level of the navel).
Take your morning weight in pounds.
Calculate: (Total Body Weight x 1.082) + 94.420 = Weight Factor
Calculate: (Waist Measurement x 4.150) = Waist Factor
Weight Factor - Waist Factor = Lean Body Mass in Pounds
Total Body Weight - Lean Body Mass = Body Fat in Pounds
(Body Fat x 100) / Total Body Weight = Body Fat Percentage (BF%)
100 - BF% = Lean Body Mass Percentage

If you'd like to do a spreadsheet version we have one version set up especially for our Shape Up For Summer Contest, which you can download HERE. If you want to build your own, just set it up like this...[read more]

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Jennifer Aniston's Quinoa Salad Revealed

Recently, Jennifer Aniston released a secret recipe that she claims kept her slim and trim during the 10-year run of Friends. The key, she says, was eating this same salad every day for lunch...for the entire 10 years. After looking through the recipe carefully, it not only looks appealing but actually contains all of the nutrition one needs to stay in peak condition.

What was especially interesting about this revelation was that the U.S. Department of Health came out suggesting that more variety than this one recipe is necessary to stay healthy. This idea, however, assumes that variety is the ultimate necessity for proper nutrition.

It is not.

In fact, there are plenty of experts who consider too much variety an overcomplicating factor in diets. For many cultures around the world a routine daily diet is a standard practice. Only in the West do we consider a wide variety of foods to be a necessity for good nutrition. If the foods we eat are nutritious enough, adding more outside those needs isn't really an advantage. It may be more interesting, but it actually wastes time, causes stress for shoppers and food preparers, and doesn't add anything to the diet itself.

Once a body adapts to a nutritional plan, it can very quickly become highly efficient at processing that particular food routine. That efficiency is where the plan really starts to pay off; and in fact, as in Ms. Aniston's case, usually only applies to one key meal in a day anyway.

There are other holes in the recommendations of the Department of Health's recommendations. In addition to suggesting that "variety" is the key to good nutrition, they recommend...[read more]