8/26/2011

Twenty Tattered Love Letters

One Day ★★
(USA, 107 min.)
Dir. Lone Scherfig, Writ. David Nicholls.
Starring: Jim Strugess, Anne Hathaway, Patricia Clarkson, Romola Garai, Rafe Spall.
After the wonderment of The Help, I guess it was too much to hope for a second great adaptation in such a short time. This is not to say that films cannot do what novels can (The Help proves otherwise); it’s just that this adaptation of One Day – penned by novelist David Nicholls himself – lacks the quirk, charm, and lovey-dovey sweetness of the novel. More importantly, the formal trick of One Day, which presents each chapter as a day in the lives of Emma and Dexter on the anniversary of their first date, simply dulls the poignancy of this cinematic tale of unrequited love. 

8/25/2011

Art on the Streets

Bill Cunningham New York ★★★
(USA, 84 min.)
Dir. Richard Press
Like many of the outfits snapped by the legendary photog himself, Bill Cunningham New York is delightfully quirky and a truly unique gem. This documentary chronicles the life and passion of fashion photojournalist Bill Cunningham as he zips around NYC on his bicycle, getting snapshots of the latest fashion trends on the street. It’s a personable and insightful film: having only cursory knowledge of Cunningham’s work, the film allows one to appreciate the scope of the artist’s career, as well as his philosophy of the art, by providing ample background information and personal testimony from friends and colleagues, and from Cunningham himself. 

A Prizefight!

Warrior ★★★
(USA, 140 min.)
Dir. Gavin O’Connor; Writ: Gavin O’Connor, Anthony Tambakis, Cliff Dorman.
Starring: Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton, Nick Nolte, Jennifer Morrison.
Proving that the formula for the underdog movie still has enough steam for a second round, Warrior could easily take on last year’s champ, The Fighter. While The Fighter was the story of two brothers – one a boxer, the other an exasperating loudmouth – Warrior throws both brothers into the ring. For Tommy and Brandon Conlon, played by Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton, respectively, the fight in the climactic mixed-martial arts tourney is the last shot at survival and redemption. 

8/21/2011

OIFF: Day 3

Running Mates
*I must apologize to the filmmakers who had films playing in the 12 o’clock spot reserved for local shorts. I tried to make it to the screening, but I was delayed by the construction chaos on the 417 near Carling. Sorry to have missed them – I’m sure they were good!

The Righteous Tithe ★★★
(Canada, 89 min)
Dir. Paul Dervis, Writ. Doug Philips.
Starring: Doug Philips, Sean Tucker, Rachelle Casseus, Terri Loretto, Matthew Stefius.

The first feature of the day, The Righteous Tithe, is an adaptation of the local stage production of the same name. Although The Righteous Tithe is extremely talky and the action occurs almost entirely within interior settings, the film eludes the ‘stage-bound’ dynamic that befalls many stage-to-screen efforts. In fact, the sense of enclosure in the film adds to the atmosphere of the production since the film examines the invasiveness of American policy in a post-9/11 world.

8/20/2011

OIFF: Day 2

Highway Gospel ★★★
(Canada, 91 min.)
Dir. Jaret Belliveau, Craig Jackson.
Highway Gospel
The documentary Highway Gospel is a fun look at the culture of extreme skateboarding in Canada. The film offers two storylines that capture the passion of the sport. One follows Bricin, the raucous skater who began the World Championship of longboarding in small town BC. The film also introduces Jody, a member of BC’s skating community, as he earns a living by making his own boards and drinking beer. Together, these guys are like the real life Trailer Park Boys - it's nonstop buffoonery with two! The second narrative chronicles the life of Ottawa skater Claude Regnier (pictured above), a lifelong devotee to skating. Claude is a world champion skater and the film offers some neat archival footage of his races in the eighties; however, the more compelling aspect of Claude’s story is his present day effort to run a skate park and continue his passion for the sport by sharing it with local youths. 

8/19/2011

Sh*t Goes Down in O-Town!

A Violent State ★★★½
(Canada, 80 min.)
Written and directed by Adrian Langley.
Starring: Adrian Langley, Rams Fax, David Rowan, Jessica Edwards, Roger Thornhill, Aphra Williams, Richard Alan Nash.
Is this the Ottawa that I know? The action takes place mostly between Bank and O’Connor, and the streets have snow banks a foot high, but there is an unfamiliar coldness to go with frigid January air. Make no mistake, this rare portrait of our Nation’s capital offers a far grittier cityscape than the one made famous in recent photo-ops by Will and Kate. It is also a far more welcome one.

8/15/2011

Ottawa International Film Fest This Week!

A Violent State
I just ordered my pass for the Ottawa International Film Festival! OIFF is going into its second year and the sophomore run appears to be an improvement over last year's festival, which seemed to be a one-off screening of shorts at a pub on Elgin Street (I didn’t even hear of it until after the fact). As far as festivals go, OIFF is a nice small dose of Canadian content before September – I’m looking at it like a warm up for TIFF. It’s also nice to have an excuse for not driving to Montreal to attend their high-brow fest…

This year’s OIFF line-up includes five features and plenty of shorts, including the recent Genie Winner Lipsett Diaries, which I caught at WSFF in May. The festival runs from Thursday, August 18th to Saturday the 20th. Here’s what’s playing:

8/11/2011

Monkey Junk

Rise of the Planet of the Apes ★★½
(USA, 105 min.)
Dir. Rupert Wyatt, Writ. Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver.
Starring: James Franco, Andy Serkis, Freida Pinto, John Lithgow, David Oyelowo, Brian Cox, Tom Felton.
One must give director Rupert Wyatt credit for trying to revitalize a dead franchise, but there is little to go ape for in this unnecessary and uneven prequel. Plot and character take a back seat to special effects, which become the downfall of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, as the crucial motion-capture technology fails to excite after films like King Kong, Avatar, and The Lord of the Rings. Had the producers placed the same emphasis upon a healthy script, stronger direction, and proper casting, Apes might have coasted by with a mild recommendation as decent escapist fare.


8/09/2011

#Cdnfilm at TIFF!

Breakaway
The Toronto International Film Festival adds some impressive Canadian titles to its lineup. In addition to the previously announced Galas Take This Waltz and A Dangerous Method is the Gala Starbuck, a  comedy by Ken Scott about a man who discovers that he is the biological father of 533 children. Noteworthy additions to the Special Presentations series are the Russell Peters hockey comedy Breakaway; Jean-Marc Vallee's Cafe du Flore, for which I'm particularly excited; the world premiere of Keyhole, the new film by Guy Maddin; Monsieur Lazhar by Phillippe Falardeau, whose C'est pas moi, je le jure! is one of my favourite recent Canadian films; and The Moth Diaries by Mary Harron, which will play at TIFF following its debut at Venice.

Other notable titles are Bruce McDonald's Hard Core Logo 2 (the first HCL also plays in the "Vault" series), i am a good person/ i am a bad person by Ingrid Veninger (Modra), and Lea Pool's Pink Ribbons, Inc. The Canadian roster also boasts films starring Karine Vanasse, Mia Kirshner, and Jay Baruchel.

Disappointingly absent are Down the Road Again (the sequel to Goin' Down the Road, the granddaddy of Canadian film) and Winnie (the Canada/South African biopic about Winnie Mandela, played by Jennifer Hudson). Overall, the selected titles are quite good though. Full lineup after the cut:

Better Luck Next Time!

Another Earth ★★½
(USA, 92 min)
Dir. Mike Cahill, Writ: Mike Cahill & Brit Marling
Starring: Brit Marling, William Mapother.
Just a quick one for today: Another Earth is a disappointing would-be thought provoker that fails to deliver on the strength of its sci-fi premise. The idea of there being an exact copy of Earth (and everything on it) within the universe is intriguing, but Another Earth offers a fairly static contemplation on this existential puzzle. The film favours an unfortunate and familiar plot of romance and redemption, which ultimately feels like The High Cost of Living with intergalactic musings. Some trippy cinematography and new age sound work might appeal to some, while others might find the effects simply annoying. As Rhoda would say to her potential double, “Better luck next time!”

8/08/2011

An Exquisite Excavation

Cave of Forgotten Dreams ★★★★
(USA/France, 90 min.)
Dir. Werner Herzog
Werner Herzog might be the strangest, craziest filmmaker known to man. He might also be the most deeply philosophical filmmaker this side of Terrence Malick. Herzog, however, brings together these two sides of his character most strongly in the realm of documentary. His Grizzly Man was one of the best films of 2005, for how provocatively he contemplated the nature of the human soul by examining footage of one tortured journeyman who lost his way in the Alaskan wilderness. Herzog explores the nature of humankind once again in Cave of Forgotten Dreams, but this time via an exclusive anthropological excursion. 

8/05/2011

'You is kind. You is smart. You is important.'

The Help ★★★★½
(USA, 137 min.)
Written and directed by Tate Taylor
Starring: Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Bryce Dallas Howard, Octavia Spencer, Jessica Chastain, Allison Janney, Sissy Spacek, Cicely Tyson.
Book clubs everywhere shall rejoice, for The Help is an excellent adaptation of the beloved novel by Kathryn Stockett. Writer/director Tate Taylor smartly weaves together the rich narrative threads of the novel, retaining some crucial moments while altering or even excising others. The result is one that shares the provocative and heartrending message of its source, as well as its perfectly measured cadence and immaculate characterization. Taylor’s transposition of this year’s hottest read in fact exceeds its literary predecessor in many ways, thus making The Help one of the year’s very best films as well. 

Damn, It's Cool to be a Dictator

The Devil’s Double ★★
(Belgium, 108 min.)
Dir. Lee Tamahori. Writ: Michael Thomas
Starring: Dominic Cooper, Ludivine Sagnier, Philip Quast.
The Devil’s Double is a catastrophically wasted opportunity. In this ripped from the headlines story about Latif Yahia, who served as a body double for Saddam Hussein’s deranged son Uday, The Devil’s Double diffuses the politics and intrigue of Gulf War era Iraq and instead favours a half-baked character study that merely sensationalizes a notorious monster. The result is a pointless Scarface wannabe. 

8/04/2011

Forecast: A Mix of Sun and Clouds

The Future ★★★
(Germany/USA. 91 min.)
Written and directed by Miranda July
Starring: Hamish Linklater, Miranda July, David Warshofsky, Joe Putterlik.
“Time just gets away from us,” says Mattie in the closing monologue of True Grit. While Mattie’s reflection of times ye olde caps off the signature satire of the Brothers Coen, another auteur-driven black comedy takes an artful look at the fleeting nature of time. Miranda July’s new film The Future looks at what is in store in the days to come. It’s not often pretty, but as with the epitaph Mattie shares as she fades into the sunset, The Future makes one wish we could catch time with a lasso.