Reel Toronto: The Ref
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Reel Toronto: The Ref

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.
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Three good actors=One funny filmed-in-Toronto flick.
Damn, we forgot what a good movie The Ref is! Damn, it’s perfect for the holidays too! Damn, the GTA can look like Connecticut if you know what you’re doing!
We at Reel Toronto can’t always recommend our subject matter, but If you haven’t seen The Ref, you should. Basically, Denis Leary is a thief who, in desperation, takes Judy Davis and Kevin Spacey hostage. Problem is that they are a caustic couple on the verge of divorce, their blackmailing son is coming home for Christmas, and the whole family is coming over for Christmas dinner.
We’re not doing it any justice, but everyone from the three leads down to supporting players like Christine Baranski, JK Simmons, and the dude who played The Colonel in Boogie Nights, is note perfect.


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Fudge, expensive inns, and traffic jams are all part of the holiday season in Niagara.
Right from the opening shot, you know you’re home. Whether you’re a lover of heritage buildings, an appreciator of good jam, or just a tourist from Hong Kong, you recognize this stretch as Queen Street in Niagara-on-the-Lake. The clock in the middle of the street is the dead giveaway.
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Truthfully, if you go inside you’re more likely to encounter the ribald works of Noel Coward than holding cells.
The “Police Station” is really the distinctive Court House Theatre, which, um, used to be a court house and today is, um, a theatre.
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A little more cinematic love for the ‘Shwa.
Across town (in the movie), Dennis Leary is breaking into the X-Mansion. Actually, this is the Parkwood Estate in Oshawa, which, yes, played the X-Mansion in the first X-Men, as well as Billy Madison’s home and a zillion other movie mansions.
It belonged to the first president of GM Canada and it’s a national historic site, dontcha know.
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You just have to shoot in the Distillery, even if only for a random interior.
We know something was shot in the Distillery, and we suspect it’s this “basement” in which Leary finds himself when the robbery goes wrong. Given the lack of beautiful red brick elsewhere, it certainly seems to be an interior shoot.
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Quaint Carlisle, Ontario gets its turn in the spotlight.
After a couples counselling session, the Chasseurs (it’s 18th Century, French Hugenot!) accidentally meet up with Leary at the local grocer. This li’l outlet is actually the Carlisle General Store, which is….not really near anything in particular.
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Turning young boys into men and Upper Canada into New England…
When we first meet Chasseur Jr., he’s away at a military academy. If you’re a clock tower expert you’re really getting your fix in this column because Upper Canada College‘s is hard to miss, as this shot pans down.
We know interiors were shot at the Newman Centre at U of T. If you’ve spent time on campus you probably saw something being shot in its lovely, wood-panelled halls at some point. We suspect the interiors shot there are either the counselling office from before or the dorms here.
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Every town needs a Hollywood-ready dingy tavern.
Leary has a less-than-reliable partner in crime with whom he is trying to arrange an escape. When “Murray” takes this pone call, he’s at Soupy’s Tavern on Dundas Street. For reasons known only to the owner, the name has since gone a mild change to “Stoopy’s.”
It’s appeared in a surprising number of productions including Tom Cruise’s greatest triumph, Cocktail.
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When they do escape, they make their way to a boat that, rather than Long Island Sound, seems to be sailing into Lake Ontario. We know something was shot at Cherry Beach, so we’re guessing this was built near there.
There are some random CanCon shoutouts, such as the fact that their teenage son has a Daniel Lanois poster covering the wall of his room. Other bits that, we must admit, we couldn’t quite figure out (sniffle) were shot at Allan Gardens and the Monarch Building on Wellington Street, the latter since converted to lofts. For bonus points, the choir singing on the soundtrack at the beginning is from Grace Church on the Hill.
See you all in the new year, folks!

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