TIFF Announces Docs, Midnight Madness, and More!

Lunarcy! plays in TIFF Docs
The Toronto International Film Festival has announced films for the TIFF Docs, Midnight Madness, Vanguard, City to City, TIFF Kids, and TIFF Cinemateque Series. From Finding Nemo 3D to Rob Zombie, the festival looks to be fun for the whole family:


9.79* | Daniel Gordon, United Kingdom World Premiere
Daniel Gordon’s 9.79* looks at the legacy of the 100-metre men’s final at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, when gold medalist Ben Johnson tested positive for anabolic steroids and scandal reigned. For the first time ever, the eight athletes who ran that infamous race tell their story.

Artifact | Bartholomew Cubbins, USA World Premiere
The band Thirty Seconds to Mars and lead singer Jared Leto fight an excruciating lawsuit with EMI while writing songs for their album This is War.

A World Not Ours | Mahdi Fleifel, United Kingdom/Lebanon/Denmark World Premiere
A World Not Ours is an intimate, often humorous, portrait of three generations of exile in the refugee camp of Ain El-Helweh, in southern Lebanon. Based on a wealth of personal recordings and historical footage, it is a sensitive and illuminating study of belonging, friendship and family.

The Act of Killing | Joshua Oppenheimer, Denmark/Norway/United Kingdom World Premiere
In a place where killers are celebrated as heroes, these filmmakers challenge unrepentant death-squad leaders to dramatize their role in genocide. The result is a surreal, cinematic journey, not only into the memories and imaginations of mass murderers, but also into a frighteningly banal regime of corruption and impunity. Executive produced by Errol Morris.

Beast It!

Beasts of the Southern Wild
(USA, 93 min.)
Dir. Benh Zeitlin, Writ. Lucy Alibar and Benh Zeitlin
Starring: Quvenzhané Wallis, Dwight Henry, Gina Montana, Levy Easterly.
There’s a storm a-brewin’ and it’s coming to the theatre with the force of a hurricane. Beasts of the Southern Wild is, quite simply, unlike any film I’ve seen before. It’s the story of a young six-year-old girl named Hushpuppy (played by Quvenzhané Wallis) who lives with her father, Wink (Dwight Henry), in some place that looks like a bayou in the deep American South. Hushpuppy and her daddy are a few hundred miles south of Winter’s Bone in some magical land called The Bathtub. As Hushpuppy explains in her prophetic narration, The Bathtub is a place cast off by the rest of society. It’s a bit like the Island of Misfit Toys, but filled with real people. Perched on the other side of an ominous levee, The Bathtub will soon be flooded be an impending storm and, as the elders of The Bathtub explain, kids like Hushpuppy are gonna need to adapt to survive once the rivers rise up.


Hide Your Kids! Hide Your Wife!

The Woman in the Fifth
(UK/Poland/France, 83 min.)
Written and directed by Pawel Pawlikowski
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Kristin Scott Thomas, Joanna Kulig, Samir Guesmi, Delphine Chuillot, Julie Papillon.
Hide your kids! Hide your wife! Kristin Scott Thomas is back in the deranged diva role and this time she is wreaking havoc on the life Ethan Hawke. Although Scott Thomas gets the titular title role in this art thriller by writer/director Pawel Pawlikowski (My Summer of Love), the lead of the film is Hawke’s tormented American in Paris. That’s too bad, though, since the former easily gives more spark to the film than the latter, and so The Woman in the Fifth, based on the novel the Douglas Kennedy, never quite achieves the greatness for which it has potential.

Ottawa International Film Festival Announces Line Up

Nick Stahl in 388 Arletta Ave.
Courtesy of eOne Films.
The Ottawa International Film Festival unveiled the programme for the third annual edition of the festival. OIFF has doubled its offering of features this year, moving from the five films of 2011 to ten films in 2012. There are plenty of shorts and a few mid-length features, too, and this year’s fest includes a few American titles in addition to local productions, so it really feels like the festival is expanding as it heads into its third year. Screenings begin on Thursday, August 16 with Thirteen Downs, which is produced by OIFF Founder and Executive Director Nina Bains. Thursday also offers some echoes of last year’s festival hit A Violent State with the gritty local crime film Undercurrent. The weekend includes a few films are visiting Ottawa after touring other festivals, such as the recent Hot Docs selection Charles Bradley: Soul of America and 388 Arletta Ave., which I saw at TIFF last year and recommend. It’s a creepy techno-thriller! (Review here.) Saturday night ends with the Special Presentation event of the Ottawa-shot apocalyptic thriller The Day, starring Dominic Monaghan, Shawn Ashmore, Shannyn Sossaman, which has its Ottawa Premiere after playing in the Midnight Madness programme at TIFF last fall.

Full line-up for the Ottawa International Film Festival:


The Deadly Tease of the Tassel

The Burlesque Assassins
(Canada, 96 min.)
Written and directed by Jonathan Joffe
Starring: Armitage Shanks, Roxi D’Lite, Carrie Schiffler, Koko La Douce, Kiki Kaboom, Dusan Rokvic, Brendan Hunter, Matthew Graham, Amber Ray.
There is no better mix than girls and guns. Dancing girls and a super Nazi death ray, perhaps? Regardless of what tickles your fancy, The Burlesque Assassins has both areas covered. The Burlesque Assassins is lots of fun. It’s a bit like Inglourious Basterds, but swaps the basterds for a team of buxom beauties battling the evils of the Cold War. With the right blend of camp and class, The Burlesque Assassins is destined for B-movie greatness.


Where Prestige Meets Popcorn

To the Wonder
It’s been twenty-four hours since the Toronto International Film Festival dropped its first announcement of titles for Festival 2012. Just over sixty films have been named amongst the preliminary Gala and Special Presentations. Now that I’ve had time to research and explore some of the unknown variables, not to mention watch some trailers and clips for expected favourites, I’d like to weigh in on what the programmers at TIFF have served up in the early courses. It looks like things are shaping up for a great festival. I had planned to see a mere thirty films this year (keeping on par with last year), but I may have to up my ticket package. There is just so much worth seeing at Toronto this year.


First Clips from 'Midnight's Children'

Midnight's Children

The first clips are up for the TIFF-bound adaptation of Salman Rushdie's novel Midnight's Children. This film, directed by Deepa Mehta (Oscar nominee for Water) is the film I'm most excited to see at the festival.

'Looper' to Open TIFF 2012

The first set of titles have been announced for the 2012 edition of the Toronto International Film Festival. Looper, by Rian Johnson (Brick) and starring Bruce Willis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Emily Blunt, will serve as the Opening Night Gala for the fest, which begins September 6.
The rest of the line-up is quite impressive, and boasts a pretty heavy roster of big names, auteurs, and prestige pics.

Among the other films set for a Gala screening are:
World Premieres:
-Argo: USA, directed by Ben Affleck, starring Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, and John Goodman.
-Love, Marilyn: USA, directed by Liz Garbus, documentary
-Free Angela and All Political Prisoners: directed by Shola Lynch's, documentary
-Silver Linings Playbook: USA, directed by David O’Russell, starring Robert De Niro, Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper.
-Midnight’s Children: Canada/UK, directed by Deepa Mehta, starring Satya Babha and Seema Biswas
-Hyde Park on the Hudson: UK, directed by Roger Mitchell, starring Bill Murray, Laura Linney, and Olivia Colman.
-Great Expectations: UK, directed by Mike Newell, starring  Ralph Fiennes
-Inescapable: Canada, dir. Rubba Nadda (Winner of the City of Toronto Award for Best Canadian Film for Cairo Time at TIFF 2009), starring Joshua Jackson, Marisa Tomei, and Alexander Siddig.
-Twice Born: Italy/Spain, dir. Sergio Castellitto, starring Penelope Cruz
-English Vinglish: India, dir Gauri Shinde

North American Premieres:
-Jayne Mansfield's Car: USA/Russia, directed by Billy Bob Thornton, starring Robert Duvall, John Hurt, Kevin Bacon
-The Reluctant Fundamentalist: USA, dir Mira Nair, starring Kate Hudson, Kiefer Sutherland, and Liev Schriber. (it opens Venice)
-Company You Keep: USA, dir Robert Redford, starring Shia LeBeouf
-A Royal Affair: Denmark/Sweden, dir Nikolai Arcel
-Dangerous Liaisons: China/South Korea, dir.  Hur Jin-Ho starring Ziyi Zhang 
-Thermae Romae: Japan, dir Hideki Takeuchi

Special Presentations (After the jump)

Sarah Polley Doc 'Stories We Tell' to Premiere at Venice

Amidst the annoucements for TIFF 2012 comes a hot Canadian title set to play at the Venice film festival: Sarah Polley's documentary Stories We Tell. Produced by the National Film Board of Canada's Anita Lee, the big annoucement comes courtesy of the NFB:

The National Film Board of Canada (NFB) is pleased to announce that its collaboration with acclaimed filmmaker Sarah Polley, Stories We Tell, will have its world premiere in the Venice Days program held during the prestigious Venice Film Festival (August 29–September 8). Stories We Tell was produced by Anita Lee and executive produced by Silva Basmajian of the NFB’s Ontario Centre.

About the film

In this inspired, genre-twisting film, Oscar-nominated writer/director Sarah Polley discovers that the truth depends on who’s telling it. Polley is both filmmaker and detective as she investigates the secrets behind a family of storytellers. She playfully interviews and interrogates a cast of characters of varying reliability, eliciting refreshingly candid, yet mostly contradictory, answers to the same questions. As each relates their version of the family mythology, present-day recollections shift into nostalgia-tinged glimpses of a lively, fun-loving past and the shadows just beneath. Polley unravels the paradoxes to reveal the essence of family: a complex, messy, intense and deeply loving tangle of contradictions.


Rise and Rise Again

The Dark Knight Rises
(USA/UK, 164 min.)
Dir. Christopher Nolan, Writ. Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan; story by Christopher Nolan & David S. Goyer.
Starring: Christian Bale, Anne Hathaway, Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, Marion Cotillard, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Matthew Modine, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman.
As the third and supposedly final instalment in Christopher Nolan’s Batman franchise, The Dark Knight Rises exceeds its predecessors even if it never quite lives up to its full potential. The last Nolan-directed Batman film, 2008’s The Dark Knight, is an action-packed spectacle, but it doesn’t hold up to repeat viewings. It has extravagant entertainment, but it is also a sprawling mess full of clichéd binaries and a few overblown performances. This criticism is more the subject for another review, but one must simply state the facts because The Dark Knight Rises succeeds by narrowing the scope of its narrative and expanding upon themes and allegories that are alluded to in its predecessors, but never flushed out to their fullest extent. 


A Dance Between East and West

The Maiden Danced to Death
(Hungary/Canada/Slovenia, 107 min.)
Written and directed by Endre Hules
Starring: Endre Hules, Zsolt László, Bea Melkvi, Deborah Kara Unger, Stephen McHattie, Gil Bellows, Emöke Vsigmond. 
Pina Bausch once said, “Dance, dance, otherwise we are lost.” A bit like the recent Wim Wenders documentary that immortalized the renowned choreographer (if her dances didn’t do so already) does the new dance feature The Maiden Dance to Death dramatize a story of people rediscovering themselves through the art of dance. An impressive story of the arts and of cultural expression, The Maiden Danced to Death is a notable international co-production between local and European filmmakers.

Emmy Nominations

Mad Men deserves its 5th Emmy, and Christina Hendricks deserves her first win
The nominations for the 64th Annual Primetime Emmy nominations have been announced. I'm very happy to say that Mad Men leads the field with 17 nominations including Best Drama Series. Mad Men is looking to break its record for most consecutive Emmy wins in the category and it could, given that the fifth season is arguably the best so far. Also nominated for Mad Men are actors Jon Hamm, Elisabeth Moss, Christina Hendricks (for the win!), Jared Harris (rest in peace Lane Pryce), and guest stars Julia Ormond and Ben Feldman. It's too bad that Canada's Jessica Pare did find her way in, but Moss and Hendricks are the show's two best female performers so it's hard to complain. And Canadians weren't shut out entirely, either, with co-writer Semi Chellas receiving one of Mad Men's three writing nominations for the season's best episode "The Other Woman" (pictured) and the National Film Board of Canada's animated production Flawed by Andrea Dorfman was nominated in the News & Documentary Emmys in the New Approaches to News & Documentary Programming: Documentaries category.


'Detropia' Screens at Hamptons Summer Docs with Alec Baldwin

In 1930, not only was Detroit the fastest growing city in America, but the world. Now, though, Detroit has a deficit of $150 billion dollars. It has an official unemployment rate of 30%, although city leaders believe the actual rate to be near 50%. The FBI lists it as the second most dangerous city (its neighbour of Flint, Michigan is #1). Finally, the city has witnessed an exodus of its inhabitants as there are reportedly over 100 000 vacant lots in Detroit. What happened during the past 82 years that put a city that once embodied the American Dream into a state of poverty and decay? This question is explored in the provocative new documentary Detropia from Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady (Oscar nominated directors of Jesus Camp). Through their artful, even-handed, and observational approach, Ewing and Grady allow residents of Detroit to explore their once great city and make sense of what is happening.


Will Ferrell Wants YOU to See His New Movie 'The Campaign'!

Just in time for the upcoming American election, Will Ferrell is running for office. When long-term congressman Cam Brady (Ferrell) commits a major public gaffe before an upcoming election, a pair of ultra-wealthy CEOs plots to put up a rival candidate and gain influence over their North Carolina district. Their man: naïve Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis), director of the local Tourism Center. As Election Day closes in, Cam and Marty are locked in a dead heat, with insults quickly escalating to injury until all they care about is burying each other. From director Jay Roach (Meet the Parents, Game Change), The Campaign is a mud-slinging comedy that takes today’s political circus to the next level.


To Rome with Woody

To Rome with Love
(USA/Italy/Spain, 112 min.)
Written and directed by Woody Allen
Starring: Woody Allen, Alec Baldwin, Roberto Benigni, Penélope Cruz, Judy Davis, Jesse Eisenberg, Greta Gerwig, Ellen Page, Alison Pill.
After thirty years in New York, Woody Allen has been quite the traveller. He’s gone all over Europe the past few years, and he’s nary missed a beat. Woody went to London in 2005 and made a career comeback with Match Point. He visited the city again in Scoop (2006) and You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (2010). The latter films proved lots of fun, but, much like the earliest visit to a foreign land, the first trip remains the most memorable.


Seduce and Destroy! 'Burlesque Assassins' is Coming to Town

They are sexy. They are deadly. They are The Burlesque Assassins. Their mission: SEDUCE and DESTROY! Fans of grindhouse cinema should be glad to hear that there’s a fun and saucy film travelling around Canada, and it’s making a pit stop here in Ottawa within the next few weeks. The Burlesque Assassins, directed by Jonathan Joffe, is a vintage action-comedy with looks that kill. Set in the 1950s, Burlesque Assassin is a tale of cold war espionage and intrigue about a team of sexy super-spies that seduce their way within killing distance of a trio of villainy hell bent on global domination. Advertising both carnage and cleavage, this is just the kind of film for the Midnight Madness crowd or anyone who likes the combination of pin-up and popcorn.


Satisfaction Guaranteed

Safety Not Guaranteed
(USA, 86 min.)
Dir. Colin Trevorrow, Writ. Derek Connolly.
Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Jake M. Johnson, Mark Duplass, Karan Soni, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Jenica Bergere.

Wanted: Somebody to go to the movies with me. This is not a joke. You’ll get paid with laughs and whatnot. Must bring your own refreshments. I have done this many times before. Satisfaction guaranteed.

Cronenberg Leads Directors Guild of Canada Nominees

Michael Fassbender and Viggo Mortensen in A Dangerous Method.
Courtesy of eOne Films.
The Directors Guild of Canada released their nominees for their annual awards. It's an eccentric list to say the least, but it's also nice to see some diversity in recognition. The big surprise, however, is the resounding "Up Yours!" to Canada's Oscar-nominee and Genie winner Monsieur Lazhar, which got zilch. (A strange pattern after Incendies was snubbed last year...) David Cronenberg's A Dangerous Method leads the pack with five nominations in the feature film categories, followed by Take This Waltz, which received four nominations but was strangely omitted from the best film category. I'm happy to see some love for Edwin Boyd and Wiebo's War, though! And the upcoming Jennifer Lawrence thriller The House at the End of the Street popped up, too, in the sound category...

Nominees in the film categories:
(Presented by Platinum Sponsor, Technicolor)
The Samaritan


Poutine and a Poncho

I’m Yours
(Canada, 79 min.)
Written and directed by Leonard Farlinger
Starring: Rossif Sutherland, Karine Vanasse, Don McKellar.
Never trust a sexy French Canadian in a poncho. On the eve of his thirtieth birthday, Robert (Rossif Sutherland) spies an intriguing little hottie (Karine Vanasse) checking him out from the corner of a posh Manhattan nightclub. Robert’s friend, Phil (Don McKellar), gives him some urinal-side advice and tells him that going after the hottest girl in the bar is just a pipe dream. As Robert exits the men’s room, though, said hottie grabs him by the tie and lays a big wet kiss on his lips. “That’s in case I never see you again,” she says.


Espionage, Ottawa Style.

I can't believe that I didn't mention this sooner, but Ottawans have a rare opportunity to see their hometown on film. No, I'm not talking about the upcoming Jennifer Lawrence thriller The House at the End of the Street, but that should be a hoot, eh? This weekend, The Bytowne opens the vault and presents the Ottawa-shot film The Iron Curtain, a 1948 espionage thriller about (gasp!) communist spies in Canada's capital. The film, directed by William Wellman (A Star is Born), is based on the story of Russian spy Igor Gouzenko (played by Dana Andrews) who defected and smuggled some important documents out of the Russian embassy in Ottawa.


A Second Take on 'Waltz'

I revisited Take This Waltz last night at The Bytowne. I saw the film back at TIFF in September on one great, crazy day of festivalgoing. The film stayed in my mind throughout the year and got a small mention in my thesis, which was inspired by an article on Polley's adaptation Away from Her, and most recently popped up on my list of the best films so far this year. Take This Waltz is a film that holds up to repeat viewings and offers greater rewards the second time around. Michelle Williams' performance as Margot fares especially well with a double take: Margot is, admittedly, a difficult character to sympathize with, but the actress beautifully conveys Margot’s complex restlessness. Thanks to Willams, the other actors (including Seth Rogen, Luke Kirby and Silverman) and the crew members (especially cinematographer Luc Montpelier), Take This Waltz offers an unconventional and astonishingly human exploration of the inevitable messiness of love.What I liked best about Polley's film the first time - the Srambler scene - holds up even better as the film's ulitmate realization of the tricky pangs of love: as Margot immerses herself in the dazzling light show set to the tune of 'Video Killed the Radio Star', Polley pulls the plug from Margot's fantasy and brings the ride back to life's shabby, grey disappointment. It's just beautiful.

 I want to ride Take This Waltz again and again.


Turns Victims Into Victors

(USA, 98 min.)
Dir. Lee Hirsch, Writ. Lee Hirsch, Cynthia Lowen.
Boys will be boys and kids will be kids. It’s disturbing, but not surprising, how much the status quo prevails in some of the communities observed in Bully. The documentary, directed by Lee Hirsch, shows how bullying remains a widespread problem that greatly affects, if not damages, countless youth across America. It’s a universal problem, as the film shows by following several storylines throughout America that tell of young students facing endless torment in the schoolyard. Bully shows that the problem is brazenly evident – regardless of what the politicians at the schools say – and its one whose solution is difficult, but not altogether unrealizable.


Red/White/Blue: New American Fringe Film and Video

This seems like a good announcement for the 4th of July. (And a Happy Independence Day to all American friends/readers!). Saw Video is painting Ottawa all red, white and blue next week with an exciting six-part series of American fringe film and video. This is an exciting chance to see some unique independent films. (Including some by a filmmaker named Penny Lane… how can you pass that up?) It’s an especially good programme for the summer because the screenings will be held outdoors in SAW’s courtyard. Even better news for summer fun: admission is FREE!

From SAW:
Red/White/Blue: New American Fringe Film and Video,  a six-part series that showcases diverse, emerging artistic talents from the United States. Taking place from July 13th to July 21st 2012, the series is comprised of four outdoor screenings held in SAW’s historic courtyard, as well as an artist talk and a masterclass . Admission to all events is free.

Red/White/Blue spotlights the work of three outstanding young American artists, Michael Robinson (West Danby, NY), Jesse McLean (Iowa City, IA) and Penny Lane (Lexington, KY), who will all be in attendance to present solo screenings of their short films and videos. A fourth screening on the closing night of the series presents more short works by a variety of other promising young American artists in the early stages of their careers. Michael Robinson and Jesse McLean will also give a combined artist talk discussing the intersection between ‘found footage’ and political and social commentary, and Penny Lane will lead a masterclass on feminist documentary practice drawn from her experiences making the documentary The Abortion Diaries.


Where Indie Meets Epic

The Toronto International Film Festival has launched a new trailer to amp up the excitement for this year's edition of the festival. The stars, the glamour, THE MOVIES! If you weren't excited already, there are only 65 sleeps until opening night. I can't wait.

A Comedic Blessing

We Have a Pope (Habemus Papam)
(Italy/France, 104 min.)
Dir. Nanni Moretti, Writ. Nanni Moretti, Francesco Piccolo, Federica Pontremoli.
Starring: Michel Piccoli, Jerzy Stuhr, Nanni Moretti, Renato Scarpa, Margherita Buy.
Nanni Moretti and Michel Piccoli in We Have a Pope
Courtesy of eOne Films.

A comedy about The Pope – sounds about as much fun as a Sunday in church, right? Since The Bible warns of the perils of doubt, one should therefore have a little bit of faith in this new film from director/actor/co-writer Nanni Moretti. We Have a Pope (Habemus Papam) is a delightful and surprising little film that offers viewers an intimate look inside the walls of The Vatican. It might not turn water into wine, but We Have a Pope is a blessing for anyone in search of a funny and thoughtful comedy this summer.