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Reel Toronto: Stoner’s Paradise

Toronto’s extensive work on the silver screen reveals that, while we have the chameleonic ability to look like anywhere from New York City to Moscow, the disguise doesn’t always hold up to scrutiny. Reel Toronto revels in digging up and displaying the films that attempt to mask, hide, or—in rare cases—proudly display our city.
Before Chapelle became super-famous, he was just another bank tower janitor.
Ah, the drug comedy. Do it right and you can have a cult classic like The Big Lebowski or, um, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Do it wrong…and you end up with something more like Half Baked.
What this movie does have going for it (aside from a pre-fame Dave Chapelle) is a lot of Toronto-as-New York. The cardinal commandment of filming in Toronto is that “Thou shalt film at least one scene in the Distillery District or at the RC Harris Filtration Plant.” Half Baked does BOTH, so how bad can it be?

Critics are undecided as to how Half Baked fits into Mies van der Rohe’s intentions for the TD Centre
When the film begins, our hero is working as a caretaker at the TD Centre. The exteriors of the landmark office complex are also used. As you can see here, rather than being owned by Toronto Dominion, they are the offices of “Frankensense & Burr” (get it?!).
It’s not that Half Baked has no funny scenes but, come on, who couldn’t get a laugh out of this scenario?
In one of the film’s more amusing diversions, stoner Harland Williams engages a horse in conversation and, ultimately, inadvertently causes its demise.
The scene was filmed at the Pizza Pizza at 346 Yonge Street, just north of Gould. You can clearly see Sam the Record Man’s neon signs reflected in the window and, in reverse shots like this one it’s there in all its glory. It’s only been ten years since Half Baked was filmed but the demise of Sam’s, and the total renovation of the Pizza Pizza, put in perspective how much that area is changing.
We figure that when you include such an obvious landmark from another city, it’s hard to know expect people still buy that you’re in New York, but what do we know?
(Pointless trivia: Did you know that comic Harland Williams is the cousin of Barenaked Lady Kevin Hearn AND the brother of former ILM FX guru Steve “Spaz” Williams? Of course you did.)
Chinatown can indeed be a good place for a cheap date, and those fresh coconut drinks can be quite delicious.
Later in the movie, Chapelle goes on a date, with just a few bucks in his pocket (hence the on-screen counter). The happy couple take a stroll though Chinatown and while New York at least has one of those (as opposed to a huge store called “Sam the Record Man”) we can all recognize it as Dundas Street West, near Spadina.
The Happy Palace restaurant provides a convenient landmark, placing the scene just east of Huron Street. On the other hand, shots like this one raise questions such as, “Does anyone in New York know what the heck LLBO stands for?”
Even when you’re craving a delicious waffle at Dutch Dreams, it’s considered poor form to steal from the homeless.
Craving dessert, the couple cabs it to an ice cream shop. The venue of choice is actually Dutch Dreams, on Vaughan Road at St. Clair. Anyone who’s been there knows the desserts are great, but on a nice day there’s sure as heck a bigger line-up than this.
It’s relatively rare for movies to shoot interiors and exteriors at the same location, but when the couple sits down to eat, they actually are sitting in Dutch Dreams’ distinctive (if kitchy) interior.
It’s a harmless water filtration plant, but on film it’s always cast as a bad boy penitentiary.
The RC Harris Filtration Plant is an undisputed legend of TO architecture, which makes it unsurprising it appears in films so regularly. What is surprising, is that it usually ends up playing something as banal as a prison. Heck, it’s only been one Reel Toronto column since the last time we found this masterpiece cast in such a role. And in New Jersey, no less! (Would you believe we have two more comedies in the pipe featuring the plant? Oh, it’s true.)
In The Long Kiss Goodnight, it was basically a cameo appearance, but this time out our Art Deco superstar gets to strut it stuff both under the sun and in the moonlight. No offense to Half Baked, but In the Skin of a Lion is still your go-to artistic effort for more info on this particular edifice.
Nope, it’s not a scene from A Night at the Roxbury, but it’s not thaaaat much better.
When our heroes go out clubbing, they know the place to be is down on Queen’s Quay East. Depending how old you are, you might know the complex as The Guvernment, Kool Haus, The Warehouse or even RPM. Everyone from the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan to Cat Power and Ryan Adams has played there and…well, the cast and crew of Half Baked were there too.
Reel Toronto is running out of jokes to make about the Distillery District’s many film appearances. You try if you think it’s so easy!
And it wouldn’t be a Reel Toronto column without a shot of the Distillery District. So here it is, playing the proverbial bad part of town. It’s a drug comedy, so what do you want, subtext?


  • roseparade

    reel toronto is one of my favourite regular to-ist bits, and this edition is great, too. i’ve also been meaning to suggest “shoot ‘em up,” which doesn’t try too hard to mask the toronto vibe (skyline shots and all).

  • Mathew Kumar

    Half Baked is great comedy, even if you’re not a stoner.
    Near da beach… Boyeeeeeeee!

  • Stacey May Fowles

    If Half Baked is wrong, I don’t wanna be right.

  • rek

    Wow, Dutch Dreams! I used to live around the corner on Kenwood, forgot all about it.

  • Kevin Bracken

    this was excellent! i guess i haven’t seen that movie since i moved here!
    i would love to see johnny mnemonic, the keanu reeves adaptation of neuromancer on here

  • iamnotdynamite

    half baked is best viewed at around 2am, i’ve found. that’s the best time to appreciate its true nature as a masterpiece.

  • Mark Ostler

    Phenomenal film. And I always love figuring out where certain scenes were filmed.
    “If I weren’t Jamaican, why would I be wearing this hat?”

  • margaux

    Regarding the use of Toronto for movie locations, Harland Williams starred in a Walt Disney movie ( now available on DVD) called Mr. Headmistress. The opening scenes, which were supposed to be a penitentiary, were filmed at the RC Harris Filtration plant at the Beach neighbourhood (end of Queen St) in Toronto.
    Dog Park, which he was also in, was filmed in Toronto parks.

  • Damien Walder

    Who ever’s searching for screen caps of the Mies Van der Rohe building block, look no further than than Mary Harron’s , with Christian Bale getting his murder on and running about the central tower complex. Those stone facia interiors are unmistakable. Dave Chapelle does not appear in this film.
    Toronto’s sterile business sector stands in for lower Manhattan in this flawed but compelling film. Since AP’s pre-9/11, it will also have a slightly different read of the exterior shots (no sentiments to pander to yet).
    My favourite use of Toronto is as smaller cities – , set “somewhere in Canada with one brewery”, feat. Robbie Coltrane facing off against Michael Riley in a quirky and unique story of dreams made real.

  • Damien Walder

    Oh hell – apparently my HTML sucks!
    The 2 films are: AMERICAN PSYCHO
    PERFECTLY NORMAL (Yves Simoneau)
    Sorry!(why does Preview not work??)

  • EricSmith

    Mr. Bracken: strictly speaking, isn’t Johnny Mnemonic the Keanu Reeves adaptation of “Johnny Mnemonic”?

    For vintage SF Toronto-spotting, consider Scanners. It has a scene in the subway, some truly eye-splitting footage of a food court that some sources say is/was at Yonge and Bloor, and supposedly a glimpse of the Sam’s sign at one point.

    As a bonus, you can compare and contrast the psychic phone phreaking toward the end of the movie with the “long distance phone call” sequence in Johnny.

  • Pat

    so this is why when i find myself cycling past these places for the ‘first’ time, they feel so familiar.