From Méliès to Marty

Hugo ★★★★
(USA, 127 min.)
Dir. Martin Scorsese, Writ. John Logan.
Starring: Asa Butterfield, Chloe Grace Moretz, Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, Helen McCrory, Emily Mortimer, Christopher Lee. 
It takes a master filmmaker to make 3D seem credible. With Hugo, however, Martin Scorsese makes the added dimension an essential layer of the film. Whereas some directors seem mostly to enjoy the blatant cash grab offered by 3D glasses (aka James Cameron and his upcoming Titanic 3D), Martin Scorsese uses the 3D for more than visual fancy. In the case of Hugo, style is substance. 


Beating the Machine

Tilt ★★★½
(Bulgaria, 94 min.)
Dir. Viktor Chouchkov, Writ. Viktor Chouchkov, Borislav Chouchkov.
Starring: Yavor Baharov, Radina Kardjilova, Ovanes Torosian, Ivaylo Dragiev, Alexander Sano.
Tilt is a fine debut for director/co-writer Viktor Chouchkov. The film sets a lively story against a provocative political backdrop and tells it in a fresh original voice. The title comes from an early scene between Stash (Yavor Baharov) and Becky (Radina Kardjilova). As the friends play pinball in their dingy hangout, Stash explains that “tilt” is the word for defeat. He describes all the ways a player can work to beat the machine, learning when to tap, when to defend, or even when to simply cheat and lift the table. Angel (Ivaylo Dragiev)  interrupts, though, and says that no matter how hard you try, the machine always wins. 


The Best from Toronto comes to Ottawa!

The Descendants ★★★★★
(USA, 115 min.)
Dir. Alexander Payne; Writ. Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, Jim Rash.
Starring: George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Amara Miller, Robert Forster, Judy Greer, Nick Krause, Matthew Lillard.
I'm very happy to report that Alexander Payne's The Descendants opens in Ottawa this week! As you might recall, it was easily the best film I saw at the Toronto International Film Festival this year. The Descendants stars George Clooney as Matt King, a hard-working realtor who finds himself in a quandry when the time comes to take his wife off life support, as she is in a vegetative state after a boating accident. Matt discovers that his wife was unfaithful, and he undertakes the horrible task of confronting his wife's lover (Matthew Lillard) so that a) he can accept his wife's infidelity and b) her lover can say goodbye before Matt pulls the plug. It might sound dark, but this story of the King Family Tree is one of the smartest, funniest, and warmest films this year.


My Beef with 'Marilyn'

My Week with Marilyn ★★★
(UK/USA, 99 min.)
Dir. Simon Curtis; Writ. Adrian Hodges.
Starring: Michelle Williams, Eddie Redmayne, Kenneth Branagh, Judi Dench, Julia Ormond, Emma Watson.
“When Marilyn gets it right, you can’t take your eyes away,” says Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) upon watching a flawless take. One gets the same impression when watching “Marilyn” as performed by Michelle Williams. She’s truly flawless as the iconic blonde: sexy, sultry, and equal turns fragile and tragic. Williams gets it so right as Marilyn Monroe that one can only regard My Week with Marilyn with awe when Williams graces the screen. The problem, though, is that as much as one wants to let Marilyn work her magic, the film frequently cuts away, casting the drama on the plight of Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne). Colin is by no means a dull character, nor is Redmayne a poor actor, but Colin is simply no match for the incomparable allure of Marilyn Monroe. (Really, who had heard of him prior to the film?) Since the film favours Colin, rather than the far more dramatic Marilyn and the impeccable Williams, My Week with Marilyn ultimately plays like the rough cut of a five-star movie.


The Countdown Begins!

How will Rooney Mara fare as Lisbeth Salander? We'll see!
Only one month until David Fincher's adaptation of Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo opens. This time last year, I was actually planning on writing my thesis on the Swedish trilogy and discussing them with the Fincher version, but I ultimately decided against it since:
a) I was afraid to let everything rest on a movie that I wouldn't be able to see until December.
b) Nobody in my class was writing about Canadian films and that just wasn't cool.

However, after seeing this trailer for the film, I'm slightly regretting it. (Even more so with how terribly my chapter on Incendies is currently going...)

Anyways, 30 days and counting - this is easily my most anticipated film of the season!


Young and Dumb

 Like Crazy ★★½
(USA, 90 min.)
Dir. Drake Doremus; Writ. Drake Doremus, Ben York Jones
Starring: Anton Yelchin, Felicity Jones, Jennifer Lawrence, Alex Kingston, Oliver Muirhead.
It started with a chair. The courtship of Jacob (Anton Yelchin) and Ana (Felicity Jones) in Like Crazy is at first brisk and sweet. Then, as a marker of some milestone they have reached, Jacob presents to Ana a chair that he made especially for her. Like Jake and Ana, the gesture, too, is sweet since Ana is a writer and she does all her work sitting at a stiff frumpy desk. Ana then looks underneath. On the underside of the chair, the words “Like Crazy” are etched in the hip scrawling of a black Sharpie. 


Worse than 'Trespass'

(USA, 87 min.)
Dir. Rob Minkoff, Writ: Jon Luca & Scott Moore
Starring: Patrick Dempsey, Ashley Judd, Tim Blake Nelson, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Octavia Spencer.
Brain dead "comedy" about an annoying jackass (Patrick Dempsey) who stumbles into a bank just as two different sets of crooks try to rob it. He falls in love with a bank teller played by Ashley Judd, and manages to thwart the criminal masterminds in the process. Or so it seems, although I couldn't really say since Flypaper is one of the stupidest, most annoying, and most poorly shot movies I've seen, so much so that I stopped watching.

And I sat through Trespass.


A Familiar Path

The Way ★★★
(USA/Spain, 121 min.)
Written and directed by Emilio Estevez.
Starring: Martin Sheen, Deborah Kara Unger, Yorick van Wageningen, James Nesbitt, Emilio Estevez.
In his latest feature as writer/director, Emilio Estevez takes us down the beaten track of the road movie. The Way employs the equally common trope of the multigenerational journey, in which family members “share” a journey and discover themselves/each other along the way. (Re: Incendies, Down the Road Again.) It’s a mild disappointment after the perceptive Bobby, but while Estevez treads a familiar path in The Way, it is one mostly worth taking.


New 'Iron Lady' Trailer

Twitter is a flurry with tweets about the new trailer for The Hunger Games, but as I mentioned, I pretty much looks like Battle Royale with Jennifer Lawrence. (That's not necessarily a bad thing.) However, the new trailer for The Iron Lady was released as well, and I think it's much more worthy of a post. This long awaited Margaret Thatcher biopic has long been presumed a Best Actress hopeful for Meryl Streep, but then the Weintstein Company threw a wrench in Oscar pundits plans by pushing the release of the film from December 16 to December 30th. My assumption is that they simply want to create more distance from their other Best Actress hopeful Michelle Williams in My Week with Marilyn. (And I'm personally quite happy with the delay of Streep's film since my family Christmas party is scheduled for the 17th, and it would have been awkward to skip the festivities to see Meryl on opening night!)

Streep's perf as Margie Thatcher certainly looks good, but I have a few reservations about the film itself. It seems to have an odd tone, although it's always hard to tell from the trailer. Only time will tell!


A Small Movie with a Big Heart

An Insignificant Harvey ★★★½
(Canada, 79 min.)
Written and directed by Jeff Kopas
Starring: Jordan Prentice, Kristin Adams, Steven McCarthy, Art Hindle.
To call An Insignificant Harvey a “sweet little Canadian film” invites an ignorant pun. For while the film tells the story of a little person named Harvey, there is nothing small about its heart or message.  


FBI: Fall Biopic Impresses

J. Edgar ★★★½
(USA, 137 min.)
Dir. Clint Eastwood, Writ. Dustin Lance Black
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Armie Hammer, Naomi Watt, Judi Dench.
Ah, the biopic. Each autumn brings a handful of them, most of which feature top stars wearing gobs of make-up and sporting nifty accents (re: Nicole Kidman in The Hours). These films also try to find the person behind the myth, personalizing the story under a marquee bearing the subject’s name (re: Ray). Finally, these prestige pics don’t shy away from their subjects, showing the dark side of the story in addition to the fame and glamour (re: Capote).


The Gods Must be Crazy

Immortals ★★
(USA, 110 min.)
Dir. Tarsem Singh; Writ. Charley Parlapanides, Vlas Parlapanides.
Starring: Henry Cavill, Mickey Rourke, Stephen Dorff, Freida Pinto, John Hurt.
A dopey sword-and-sandals pic, Immortals at least gets credit for being a step above Trespass, although the latter almost seems better by comparison since it clearly lacked higher aspirations. Immortals is trash. Not the good ’ol blood-spattered and sleazy kind of trash that makes for fun curbside viewing, mind you. Immortals is rather the kind of trash that wraps itself in gilded olive branches, hoping that the fancy surface obscures the rotting bits of cheese and ham that comprise the substance of such mindless rubbish. Aside from thirteen-year-old fanboys who squeal over three-dimensional blood splatters, Immortals is just about as exciting as a visit from Hypnos, the god of sleep.


Martha Marcy Must-See Movie

Martha Marcy May Marlene ★★★½
(USA, 102 min.)
Written and directed by Sean Durkin
Starring: Elizabeth Olsen, Sarah Paulson, John Hawkes.
I must provide a quick update on another TIFF treasure! Martha Marcy May Marlene finally comes to Ottawa as the film moves into wide release after playing in major markets. Easily one of the better films that I saw at the festival this year, MMMM is a true 'must-see'! Once you see the film, you'll surely drink the Kool-Aid and agree that MMMM is one of the best films of the year.


Esi Edugyan wins Giller!

Esi Edugyan was declared the winner of the 2011 Scotiabank Giller Prize last night for her novel Half-Blood Blues. Edugyan's novel deserves the prize 100%. Half-Blood Blues tells of a group of black jazz musicians in hiding in wartime Paris. During the days of the German occupation, the musicians bide their time by cutting a new record, which becomes the stuff of legend, especially since their star trumpet player was arrested by the Nazis shortly after the band recorded its final take. Edugyan tells her story in a snappy, yet eloquent prose with a remarkable jazzy rhythm. It's a unique and excellent book.


Dance, Dance, Otherwise we are Lost

Running November 25-26, The National Arts Centre has an exclusive presentation of Danzon, a work by renowned choreographer Pina Bausch. To celebrate the event, the NAC, Mongrel Media, and the Goethe Institute will be hosting the Ottawa premiere of Wim Wenders' spectacular film Pina. Pina is a full length documentary that pays tribute to the late choreographer by presenting some of her most celebrated work inercut with archival footage and testimonials from members of her dance troupe. Wenders' stunningly captures the depth and complexity of Pina's dances by shooting the film in 3D - it's the first time I've seen a movie in which 3D really adds to the film experience. I saw Pina at TIFF (review here) and highly recommend that you make it out to this sneak peek! (It's also Germany's official submission to the Oscars, if that's an added incentive! Update: it also made the shortlist for Best Documentary!)

CORRECTION!!!! While it was originally reported that Pina was to screen at the World Exchange (as indicated on the NAC link posted above), the venue has changed:


The More the Merrier

Starbuck ★★★★
(Canada, 103 min.)
Dir. Ken Scott, Writ. Ken Scott, Martin Petit.
Starring: Patrick Huard, Antoine Bertrand, Julie LeBreton.
Meet David Wozniak. A middle-aged loser with $80 000 of debts owed to some dubious Montreal drug dealers, a hair-brained scheme to recoup said debt via a hydroponic lab, and a crappy job as a delivery man in his family’s butchery business. On the upside, though, David is a swinging single who enjoys his freedom. That is until his casual girlfriend, Valerie, tells him that she is pregnant, but she thinks David should have no part in raising a child unless he changes his act. Valerie’s news brings stirs a revelation within David and he decides that he would like a child. Then a mystery stranger arrives at David’s home with news that he is the biological father of 533 children … be careful what you wish for!

November 5th: St. Tilda's Day

Tilda Swinton with Tom McCamus in Possible Worlds

Dear Tilda,
Happy Birthday!


Nic and Nic Cook a Turkey

(Hell, 93 min.)
Dir. Joel Schumacher, Writ. Karl Gajdusek
Starring: Nicholas Cage, Nicole Kidman, Liana Liberato, Cam Gigandet, Ben Mendelsohn.
Straight from Roy Thomson Hall to the Bargain Bin comes Trespass, the TIFF turkey in which Academy Award winners Nicholas Cage and Nicole Kidman prostitute their talent for some paychecks. Trespass is a beyond ludicrous tale of a family in terror. The murder and the mayhem are as dumb and as badly scripted as even the worst of episodes of CSI: Miami. The question is, just what possessed these two A-listers to sign on? Contractual obligation, one hopes. Ditto for director Joel Schumacher, who creates such a mess that even Horatio Caine wouldn’t be able to clean it up, lest he sweep away all the DVDs collecting dust at Wal-Mart. Hopefully the new career-low the talents reach with Trespass will teach them to choose more wisely in the future.

An embarrassment for all parties involved.

NFB marks Remembrance Day with Online Releases

"A Minute of Silence" vignette from The Van Doos in Afghanistan. Photo courtesy the NFB
During Veterans’ Week (November 7-11), Canadians may pay tribute to past veterans by honouring current members of the Canadian Forces. The National Film Board of Canada (NFB) invites Canadians to watch the documentary The Van Doos in Afghanistan online for free on Remembrance Day, November 11. Leading up to the 11th, though, vignettes from the film will screen online throughout the week, and free public screenings of The Van Doos in Afghanistan will be held in Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto, and France. Full details below:

To mark Remembrance Day, the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) will make Claude Guilmain’s documentary The Van Doos in Afghanistan available online at <nfb.ca/22>, free of charge, for a 24-hour period on November 11. Shot in March 2011 during ground operations in Afghanistan, where members of the Canadian Forces Royal 22e Régiment are deployed, the film seeks to give these soldiers a voice. Their frank and sincere comments convey a complex, little-known reality. During Veterans’ Week (November 7 to 11), six short vignettes from the film will be posted online as a special preview, giving the public a chance to become acquainted with a different soldier each day. During the same period, the full documentary will screen in a number of Canadian cities as well as in France. In addition, the interactive documentary Soldier Brother by Kaitlin Ann Jones will be launched online at <soldierbrother.nfb.ca> on November 7.


Bottom Shelf Booze

The Rum Diary ★★
(USA, 120 min.)
Written and directed by Bruce Robinson
Starring: Johnny Depp, Michael Rispoli, Aaron Eckhart, Amber Hear, Richard Jenkins, Giovanni Ribisi
File this one under the heading, “Nowhere as good as it should have been.” The Rum Diary, a.k.a. the long-gestating Johnny Depp vehicle and Hunter S. Thompson adaptation, never achieves the heights of its potential. Depp stars as Paul Kemp, an aspiring novelist cum journalist who takes a job in Puerto Rico, which provides the perfect venue to feed his chronic binge drinking. The idea of seeing Depp on a booze-fuelled odyssey in paradise sounds promising, but The Rum Diary provides fewer laughs – and comparatively less substance – than The Hangover Part II.

Cameras set to Roll on 'Old Stock'

Karen LeBlanc in CFC's Nurse.Fighter.Boy
Good news! Principle photography begins next week on Old Stock, the 18th feature film produced and financed by the Canadian Film Centre (CFC). Shooting takes place in Toronto from November 8 to November 30, 2011.This is exciting, since the last of CFC's Features, Nurse.Fighter.Boy is one of those Canadian films that you really must-see!

Starring Noah Reid (Score:A Hockey Musical), Melanie Leishman (“Todd and the Book of Pure Evil”), Danny Wells (Magnolia, Textuality) and Corrine Conley (”Days of Our Lives”), OLD STOCK will be directed by James Genn, from a screenplay by Dane Clark (whose short, Long Branch, recently won Best LiveAction Short at the Calgary International Film Festival), produced by Geordie Sabbagh and co-produced by Derek Rappaport. The feature will be executive produced by Justine Whyte, Director, CFC Features.