♦ It was a cruel, cruel summer for Cineplex this year with total revenue for the season slipping 1.5 percent and attendance dwindling by the millions from the previous year. Although the Toronto-shot adaptation of Stephen King’s It proved to be an end-of-season mega-hit in an unlikely genre, installments of once-reliable summer blockbuster franchises like Planet of the Apes, Pirates of the Caribbean and Transformers fell way short of box office expectations. However, fourth-quarter recovery seems likely for the entertainment giant: Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 has performed exceedingly well in Canadian markets since its release in early October; Thor: Ragnarok came out swinging in its opening weekend and is still going strong; and sky-high attendance rates are practically a shoo-in for Star Wars: The Last Jedi, opening in December. Concession sales per person were also consistently up this year, while Cineplex’s efforts to diversity their entertainment offerings paid off with Rec Room locations and other amusement-based attractions raking in millions. And despite the looming threat of major studios moving toward the home-streaming services model popularized by Netflix, CEO Ellis Jacob remains confident that audiences “do [still] want to have that communal experience” of going to the movies, adding that if digital streaming does become the new norm for big picture releases, Cineplex will be along for the ride no matter what.
♦ More details have surfaced on CTV’s upcoming TV mini-series The Indian Detective, starring Toronto-born comedian Russell Peters, including the show’s storyline and the now-confirmed series premiere date (November 23, 9pm PT/ET). The four-part law enforcement dramedy follows Toronto cop Doug D’Mello (Peters) as he travels home to Mumbai to visit his father (Anupam Kher, Silver Linings Playbook) and do a bit of soul-searching after a botched investigation hinders his chances of a promotion. While in India, he becomes entangled in a much bigger conspiracy that may or may not be connected to his occupational woes back home. The Indian Detective, which shot scenes in Toronto last spring before moving production to Cape Town and finally Mumbai, also stars Christina Cole, Mishqah Parthiephal and legendary Canadian actor William Shatner as a Toronto billionaire-slash-villain.
♦ Amidst a tidal wave of sexual harassment and assault allegations thundering through Hollywood, another lawsuit against Harvey Weinstein has come to the media’s attention, this time from an unidentified Toronto actress known only as “Jane Doe”. A police report filed by the unnamed actress last month alleges that a non-consensual sexual encounter took place in a Toronto hotel room during the summer of 2000 — and the details of the report bear an uncanny resemblance to many of the other first-hand accounts of Weinstein’s lecherous behaviour, as detailed in the New York Times exposé that tore the industry asunder in October. The $14 million lawsuit, which has so far been litigated by Alex Smith of top-tier Toronto law firm Heinen Hutchinson, also names The Weinstein Company, Miramax, The Walt Disney Company and Weinstein’s then-assistant, Barbara Schneeweiss, as defendants on the grounds of criminal negligence (and, in Schneeweiss’ case, “facilitating” sexual assault). The lawsuit has so far been delayed by difficulties in locating either Weinstein or Schneeweiss to serve their subpoenas. A judge must also decide whether the plaintiff will be allowed to continue to use a pseudonym in court proceedings as the case inevitably moves forward under a watchful public eye.
♦ Torontonian lovers of comedy, news and, of course, comedic news are welcome to attend free live tapings of The Beaverton Season 2, every Monday night at CTV Studios. For those unfamiliar, The Beaverton is an online satirical news publication that parodies traditional news formats to poke fun at real-life stories and current events affecting Canada and the world over (à la The Onion). Founded in 2010 by a small group of Queen’s University and University of Toronto alumni, The Beaverton successfully branched out to television with a companion cable series, picked up by The Comedy Network in the summer of 2016 and hosted by comedians Emma Hunter and Miguel Rivas. Tapings are free to attend, but seating is limited — RSVP here!
♦ Can the power of performance art save lives? Jill Kooymans, founder and Art Director of Ontario’s first organization to run a theatre program for federal inmates, thinks so. Kooymans founded OnTRAC last year after observing the success of similar programs in the United Kingdom while abroad, partly inspired by her own personal experience of theatre pulling her through tough times and depression. Her 12-week pilot project took place at Beaver Creek Institution in Gravenhurst, a minimum-security facility where most of the inmates are reaching the end of their sentences and are preparing to re-enter society within a few years. It started out small, with weekly workshops and a children’s theatre program in which inmates wrote, designed and performed a play about bullying for an audience made up of their own kids; before long, Kooymans applied for funding from the Ontario Arts Council to stage a full-length production and continue the Beaver Creek program on a full-time basis. While art-based rehabilitation is not a new concept to correctional facilities in Canada, OnTRAC’s dramatic arts program is the first of its kind in Ontario — and Kooymans is hopeful that the rest of the country will catch up. American studies have shown that these types of programs are effective in helping reintegrate offenders into society, with one study out of California suggesting that inmates who participated were half as likely to relapse or violate probation after release compared to the state average. Looking beyond favourable statistics, these types of programs serve a much more meaningful purpose: helping citizens behind bars feel hopeful and humanized.
By Miranda Cross