EUFF Review: 'A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence'

A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (En duva satt på en gren och funderade på tillvaron)
(Sweden/Germany/Norway/France, 101 min.)
Written and directed by Roy Andersson
Starring: Nisse Vestblom, Holger Andersson, Charlotta Larsson, Viktor Gyllenberg
A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence wins the prize for best film title of the year, if not all time. A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence might also have the most inaccurate or misleading title since Vic + Flo Saw aBear. Andersson’s film, which screens at Ottawa’s European Union Film Festival after winning the Golden Lion at Venice last year (it’s also Sweden’s Oscar submission for Best Foreign Language Film), has neither pigeon nor branch. However, Pigeon certainly reflects on existence—and, boy, does it ever do so grandly!


Own It, Hollywood!

(USA, 124 min.)
Dir. Jay Roach, Writ. John McNamara
Starring: Bryan Cranston, Helen Mirren, Diane Lane, Elle Fanning, John Goodman, Michael Stuhlbarg, David James Elliott, Dean O'Gorman, Alan Tudyk, Louis C.K
Helen Mirren stars as Hedda Hopper and Bryan Cranston stars as Dalton Trumbo in Jay Roach’s Trumbo, an Entertainment One release. Photo: Hilary Bronwyn Gayle

“Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?” are chilling words that define a dark and pivotal chapter of Hollywood history. The years of the Hollywood Blacklist in which industry figures like screenwriter Dalton Trumbo were ostracized and persecuted for their politics, are important years for Hollywood to remember, yet the story of the Hollywood Ten doesn’t get much screen time from Tinsletown. Aside from George Clooney’s excellent Good Night, and Good Luck, which uses the 1953 CBS news coverage of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) to interrogate media responsibility in Bush-era America, few contemporary films ask that familiar question. It appears again in Trumbo, perhaps the fullest dramatization of the era of the Hollywood Blacklist, but the film unfortunately feels like a missed opportunity to turn the question of McCarthyism right on its head.


'Spotlight' Shines

(USA, 120 min.)
Dir. Tom McCarthy, Writ. Tom McCarthy, Josh Singer
Starring: Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, Brian d’Arcy James, Stanley Tucci
Photo courtesy of eOne Films
Fans of Linden MacIntyre’s Giller Prize-winning novel The Bishop’s Man must, must, must see Spotlight. Spotlight doesn’t adapt MacIntyre’s excellent 2009 Canadian novel about a so-called “clean-up man” of the clothe who enabled his fellow clergy to molest young parishioners without reprisal or scandal, but fans of the book are bound to be taken by this equally incendiary film about the story that broke the church’s web of corruption wide open. This true tale dramatizes the landmark 2002 feat of journalism by the Spotlight team at the Boston Globe, which exposed the cover-ups of sexual abuse in the local Catholic Archdiocese with an ongoing commitment to the story. (Read the Spotlight series here.) The complexity and wrestling with guilt and faith one reads in The Bishop's Man find a powerful counterpoint in Spotlight as the mess of cleaning up the cover-up spins a story that leaves one spinning. Print might be dying, but Spotlight makes a solid case for the value of a free, impartial, and intelligent press.

Notes from the Screener Pile: 2015.2

Award-season FYC-ing continues!

Straight Outta Compton
(USA, 147 min.)
Dir. F. Gary Gray, Writ. Jonathan Herman, Andrea Berloff
Starring: O’Shea Jackson, Jr.; Corey Hawkins; Jason Mitchell, Neil Brown, Jr; Aldis Hodge; Paul Giamatti


Contest! Win Tickets to See 'Carol' Across Canada!

People everywhere are swooning for Carol. This latest film from Todd Haynes (Far from Heaven) adapts the novel The Price of Salt by The Talented Mr. Ripley author Patricia Highsmith (profiled here in the Summer Movie Reads of 2015). Carol stars Cate Blanchett and Cannes Best Actress winner Rooney Mara in two of the performances that critics are calling the year’s best. Carol opens in theatres beginning December 11 from eOne Films, but lucky readers in select cities may win tickets to a sneak peek. Answer the trivia below for a chance to win tickets!

EUFF Review: 'Class Enemy'

Class Enemy (Razredni sovraznik)
(Slovenia, 107 min.)
Dir. Rok Bicek, Writ. Nejc Gazvoda, Rok Bicek, Janez Lapajne
Starring: Igor Samobor, Natasa Barbara Gracner, Tjasa Zeleznik, Masa Derganc, Robert Prebil, Voranc Boh, Jan Zupančič
The European Union Film Festival finds a fitting follow-up to Luxembourg’s unsettling drama Baby(a)lone with Slovenia’s provocative drama Class Enemy. Both films are uncomfortable portraits of youth in revolt, but while Baby(a)lone finds power in the urgency of its character study, the group rebellion of Class Enemy situates the film in a larger collective uneasiness passed from generation to generation. This feature debut by Rok Bicek, Slovenia’s bid for Best Foreign Language Film back in 2013 (when Youth director Paolo Sorrentino's The Great Beauty won) is a powerful high school drama about ghosts that linger and lessons we all must learn.

Blu-ray Review: 'No Escape'

No Escape
(USA, 103 min.)
Dir. John Eric Dowdle, Writ. John Eric Dowdle, Drew Dowdle
Starring: Owen Wilson, Lake Bell, Pierce Brosnan
Courtesy VVS Films

Family vacations are often hell, but nothing compares to the nightmare of a trip to Southeast Asia that the Dwyer family endures in No Escape. Owen Wilson stars as Jack Dwyer, a man who moves his family to an anonymous Asian country (although it’s unmistakably Thailand) to work on a major dam project. No Escape turns the family’s new home upside-down when a political coup rocks the nation just hours after the family arrives. The action-packed No Escape leaves no time for sightseeing as the Dwyers run for their lives in an adventure they’ll never forget.


'Life in Its Thrall—a Nightmare!'

The Forbidden Room
(Canada, 120 min.)
Dir. Guy Maddin, co-dir. Evan Johnson; Writ. Guy Maddin, Evan Johnson, Robert Kotyk
Starring: Louis Negin, Roy Dupuis, Clare Furey, Udo Kier, Geraldine Chaplin, Charlotte Rampling, Sophie Desmarais, Karine Vanasse, Marie Brassard, Mathieu Amalric
Photo courtesy of Mongrel Media
“Life in its thrall—a nightmare!” reads an intertitle within Guy Maddin's hallucinatory phantasmagoria The Forbidden Room. The Forbidden Room is Maddin in his thrall, at the peak of his ridiculously extravagant weirdness. Every once in a rare while comes a film that lets an eccentric auteur unleash himself to his full potential, and The Forbidden Room is a richly dreamy, somnambulant kino-opera of style and experimentation. Only Maddin would even dare to attempt such a dense experiment, let alone achieve it. The Forbidden Room is one of Maddin’s strangest and best films yet.


EUFF Review: 'Keeper of Lost Causes'

The Keeper of Lost Causes
(Denmark/Germany/Sweden/Norway, 92 min.)
Dir. Mikkel Nørgaard, Writ. Nikolaj Arcel
Starring: Nikolaj Lee Kaas, Sonja Richter, Fares Fares, Peter Plaugborg, Mikkel Boe Følsgaard,
Anyone debating seeing Secret in Their Eyes this weekend might want to reconsider and catch Keeper of Lost Causes at the European Union Film Festival instead. This dark Danish co-production is a gritty crime drama. Much like the difference between the remake of Secret in Their Eyes and the original, this foreign affair suggests that thrillers are best done with subtitles.


Canucks in Contention: Could 2015 Be Canada's Biggest Year Yet at the Oscars?

Saoirse Ronan as Eilis and Emory Cohen as Tony in Brooklyn.
Photo by Kerry Brown. Courtesy of Mongrel Media
Canada has only ever had one film nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, but this year, we could have two nominees. That lone Canuck Best Picture nominee is the 1980 Canada-France co-production Atlantic City, which we dubbed the “forgotten" great Canadian film” during Canada Day celebrations. The feat has yet to be repeated despite ample peripheral contenders and nominees in other categories. The last big years Oscar-wise are 2007’s Best Actor nomination for Viggo Mortensen in David Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises and Julie Christie and Sarah Polley’s double-whammy for Best Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay, respectively, for Away from Her, or the triple threat of Best Foreign Language Film for Incendies, Monsieur Lazhar, and War Witch from 2010-2012. This year looks to correct that gap. The power of the Canuck co-pro stands strong this year, too, as the Canadian-Irish co-production Room and the Canadian-Irish-British co-production Brooklyn are both shaping up to be formidable contenders to be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar—if not to win.

Contest: Win a Digital Download of 'Bang Bang Baby'!

Get read to be flung out of this world with Bang Bang Baby! The wild and wacky sci-fi/comedy/musical that scooped the award for Best First Feature at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival and the Claude Jutra Award for Emerging Filmmaker at this year’s Canadian Screen Awards is a bizarre delight. (Read the 4-star review here.) Bang Bang Baby hits VOD November 27 from Search Engine Films, but lucky readers can win a free download to enjoy Bang Bang Baby on VOD and sing along in the comfort of their own homes.  Answer the trivia below for a chance to win!

Avert Your Eyes

Secret in Their Eyes
(USA, 110 min.)
Written and directed by Billy Ray
Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Nicole Kidman, Julia Roberts, Dean Norris, Alfred Molina
Courtesy eOne Films

Avert your eyes, Hollywood is at it again. Argentina’s Oscar winner The Secret in Their Eyes gets a ho-hum Hollywood remake in this by-the-numbers potboiler from writer/director Billy Ray (who wrote Captain Phillips). The original Secret in Their Eyes, despite being an Oscar winner, has ample room for improvement, so one feels a genuine disappointment that this remake fails to take the material to its full potential. The remake doesn’t even have a doozy of a long take to inspire one to leave the theatre raving, unlike hoe the original saved itself with five minutes of breathtaking filmmaking.


Two Canadian Shorts Advance in Oscar Race

If I Was God... Photo courtesy of the NFB
Two Canadian shorts advance in the Oscar race! Today’s announcement of the ten-film shortlist for Best Animated Short for this year’s Academy Awards includes two productions from the National Film Board of Canada, Carface (Auto Portraits), by directed Claude Clouthier, and If I Was God…, directed by Cordell Barker. The film’s join Don Hertzfeldt’s World of Tomorrow, OIFF 2014 selection Bear Story, and last year’s Audience Award winner at the Ottawa International Animation Festival We Can’t Live Without Cosmos. Canada and the NFB were last nominated in the category for Me and My Moulton. Best of luck in the race!

EUFF Review: 'Baby(a)lone'

(Luxembourg, 90 min.)
Written and directed by Donato Rotunno
Starring: Joshua Defays, Charlotte Elsen, Etienne Halsdorf
The kids are not all right in Baby(a)lone. Baby(a)lone opens this year’s European Union Film Festival in Ottawa and it’s much darker and edgier than past festival openers have been. Baby(a)lone might not be the first film with which one expects a country to represent itself at an international showcase, nor at the Oscars where the film is Luxembourg’s submission for Best Foreign Language Film, but it’s brave of Luxembourg to be so bold. The film is bound to strike a nerve with some festivalgoers, especially parents, but the tough rawness of Donato Rotunno’s direction gives Baby(a)lone a potent sting. It’s an uncomfortable watch—and an urgent one.


Notes from the Screener Pile: 2015.1

‘Tis the season! The screeners are in the mail and flooding inboxes like mad this year, so it’s time to play catch up as Cinemablographer.com considers all the movies that slipped by earlier this year. Enjoy some notes from the screener pile as we check films off the list!