EUFF Review: 'The Giants'

The Giants (Les géants)
(Belgium/France/Luxembourg, 84 min.)
Dir. Bouli Lanners, Writ. Bouli Lanners, Elise Ancion
Starring: Martin Nissen, Zacharie Chasseriaud, Paul Bartel
It’s been a refreshingly youthful year at the European Union Film Festival in 2013. Not only has the CFI’s programme offered a wide range of films both about and for audiences of all ages, but the selected films have also had a decidedly contemporary vibe, as their digital video style pulses with energy, electro-pop scores. It seems fitting, then, to wind down the festival with the old school 35mm charm of Belgium’s The Giants. All the coming-of-age tales at the festival improve upon a prototype to which this little film seems wholly indebted. The Giants, which tells of three lost boys finding their way by the river, adds a taste of Huckleberry Finn (or even The Little Rascals) to the closing days of the festival.


Review: 'Short Term 12'

Short Term 12
(USA, 96 min.)
Written and directed by Destin Cretton
Starring: Brie Larson, John Gallagher Jr., Kaitlyn Dever, Rami Malek, Keith Stanfield.
Screaming, cussing, fighting, crying, healing. It’s just a regular day at Short Term 12. Short Term 12, the subject of Destin Cretton’s film of the same name, is a foster care facility for at-risk teenagers. Cretton ends the film virtually as it begins with Grace (Brie Larson) running after an escaped resident while her fellow staffers follow suit. The scars are healing by the end of Short Term 12, though, and what feels like an escape from hell in one scene plays like a run for freedom in the next. It might just be another day at the facility, but Short Term 12 is not just another film: This raw emotional rollercoaster is American independent filmmaking at its finest.


EUFF Review: 'Shifting the Blame'

Shifting the Blame (Schuld Sind Immer Die Anderen)
(Germany, 93 min.)
Dir. Lars-Gunnar Lotz, Writ. Anna Maria Prassler
Starring: Edin Hasanovic, Julia Brendler, Marc Benjamin Puch, Pit Bukowski, Natalia Rudziewicz
Local cinephiles eagerly awaiting this week’s release of the American indie Short Term 12 will surely want to catch the German entry at Ottawa’s European Union Film Festival, Shifting the Blame. Like Short Term 12, Shifting the Blame is an unflinching story about the relationships between social workers and the youths they seek to rehabilitate. The circumstances under which the young characters enter the rehab facilities are different, though, for the teens of Short Term 12 are victims of violence while the youths of Shifting the Blame are agents of it. In spite of the differences, they’re equally compelling. Shifting the Blame is an intense film experience and easily the standout film to screen so far at this year’s European Union Film Festival.


Capsule Reviews: 'The Croods', 'Drinking Buddies', Revisiting 'To the Wonder'

More adventures with the screener pile:

The Croods
(USA, 96 min.)
Dir. Kirk De Micco & Chris Sanders, Writ. Kirk De Micco & Chris Sanders, story: John Cleese & Kirk De Micco & Chris Sanders
Starring: Nicholas Cage, Emma Stone, Ryan Reynolds, Catherine Keener, Cloris Leachman.
How the visual arts have improved since the days of the Neanderthal! The animated feature The Croods gives audiences young and old (but mostly the young’uns) a sense of the full scope of animated storytelling with this harmless romp through the Stone Age. Emma Stone stars as a sprightly cave kid named Eep, who has a mop of hair unrulier than Skeeter Phelan’s, and crazy Nic Cage plays her cave daddy, whose idea of bedtime storytelling is to make cautionary tales on the cave walls. “New things are bad,” advises dad as he tells Eep and the family to stay in the cave and be afraid of the dark.


EUFF Review: 'I'm an Old Communist Hag'

I’m an Old Communist Hag (Sunt o baba comunista)
(Romania, 97 min.)
Dir. Stere Gulea, Writ. Stere Gulea, Vera Ion, Lucian Dan Teodorovici
Starring: Luminita Gheorghiu, Marian Ralea, Ana Ularu, Collin Blair
There’s a savagely funny shot at the end of Cristian Mungiu’s Beyond the Hills that flagrantly gives the audience the middle finger and tells them they’re not going to get any closure at the end of a difficult 150-minute drama. It’s the kind of subversively comic move that might leave an audience befuddled while one random guy in the crowd cries a token “Ha!” or begins a slow clap. For all the highfalutin artiness of the Mungiu pic, one has to note the director’s sense of humour.


'Breakdown' a Heartbreaker

The Broken Circle Breakdown
(Belgium, 111 min.)
Dir. Felix Van Groeningen, Writ. Carl Joos & Felix Van Groeningen
Starring: Johan Heldenbergh, Veerle Baetens, Nell Cattrysse
What is the most cinematic kind of music? Is it opera? Prone to theatrical histrionics, singing fat ladies, and stunt casting with Sara Brightman and Paris Hilton, opera hasn’t fared too well in the movies outside of the odd device in a Woody Allen film. Is classical music the best movie music? Perhaps, as timeless rivalries made Amadeus one the best films of all time, but that was almost thirty years ago. What about country? The twangy tunes of country and bluegrass are all about love and loss. They’re one of the purest forms of American storytelling, which bodes well for Hollywood. Just look at the legacy of country music that has been served in films such as Robert Altman’s 1975 epic Nashville or the 2000 George Clooney/Coen Brothers’ pic O Brother, Where Art Thou.


Watch: Meryl Streep in Four Clips from 'August: Osage County'

A bunch of clips from the soon to be released August: Osage County have been released. They're gathered here for your convenience. Watch Meryl Streep chew the scenery in what I think ranks as one of her best performances. (Review from TIFF.) Meryl is a powerhouse as the acid-tongued Violet Weston in this adaptation of the play by Tracey Letts, but she's surrounded by a cast of worthy co-stars, many of whom are highlighted in each of the clips. When can we get the "Eat the fish, bitch!" scene?

Contest: Win tickets to see 'Philomena' in Ottawa!

The Oscar race is on! Judi Dench, who might be the wild card of the Best Actress race, has been earning rave reviews from critics for her performance in Philomena. Dench stars alongside funnyman Steve Coogan (in an impressive dramatic turn) in this hilarious yet heartbreaking true story of a woman who enlists the help of a journalist to find the son she was forced to give away. This new film from director Stephen Frears (The Queen) had a banner run on the festival circuit, scoring a prize for Best Screenplay at Venice and the runner-up title for the People’s Choice Award at TIFF. Philomena hits theatres November 29th and is bound to be a talking point in the upcoming awards season.

EUFF Review: 'Weddings and Other Disasters'

Weddings and Other Disasters (Matrimoni e altri disastri)
(Italy, 102 min.)
Dir. Nina Di Majo, Writ. Nina Di Majo, Francesco Bruni, Antonio Leotti
Starring: Margherita Buy, Fabio Volo, Francesca Inaudi, Marisa Berenson
Ottawa cinephiles seem to be having a love affair with romantic comedies. Italy’s Weddings and Other Disasters played to the second sold-out show I’ve seen so far at the CFI’s European Union Film Festival. Weddings and Other Disasters might not be as strong a winner as Denmark’s Superclásico, which was the previous rom com to play to a full house, but this bubbly Italian affair shouldn’t divorce anyone from their love for happily-ever-after. This film by Nani Di Majo is a light-hearted jaunt through picturesque Tuscany.


Smarter Than the Average Bear

Vic + Flo Saw a Bear (Vic + Flo ont vu un ours)
(Canada, 95 min)
Written and directed by Denis Côté
Starring: Pierrette Robitaille, Romane Bohringer, Marc-André Grondin, Marie Brassard.
Romane Bohringer as Flo (left) and  Pierrette Robitaille as Vic (right).
Photo by: Yannick Grandmont
Denis Côté is one weird dude. The Québécois auteur is quickly becoming one of the most original and distinct voices in Canadian cinema. After the surreal madness of Curling and the unique portraiture of Bestiaire comes the noir-ish head-scratcher Vic + Flo Saw a Bear. Vic + Flo Saw a Bear, which boasts a hilariously misleading title since Vic and Flo don’t even see a bear (or do they?), is art-house nonsense in its finest form. Côté’s film doesn’t really make much sense in the present tense of the film experience, but it has one hell of a finale. Vic + Flo is smarter than the average bear.


EUFF Review: 'Living Images'

Living Images (Elavad pildid)
(Estonia, 135 min.)
Dir. Hardi Volmer, Writ. Hardi Volmer, Peep Pedmanson
Starring: Aarne Üksküla, Ita Ever
Director Hardi Volmer takes the concept of “national cinema” to a completely new level with the sweepingly cinematic epic Living Images. In the vein of The Artist or, better yet, Blancanieves, Living Images is a gorgeous throwback to classic cinema. This Estonian film chronicles the evolution of the moving image as an intricately intersected thread of Estonia’s own evolution as a nation. Living Images, which screens at the European Union Film Festival on Thursday, November 21, seems tailor-made for fans of rare and obscure films. It’s a meticulously made film about the way cinema captures and reflects our everyday lives.


EUFF Review: 'Blind Spot'

Blind Spot (Doudege wénkel)
(Luxembourg/Belgium, 96 min.)
Dir. Christophe Wagner, Writ. Christophe Wagner, Frederic Zeimet
Starring: Jules Werner, André Jung, Brigitte Urhausen, Gilles Soeder, Luc Feit.
Luxembourg doesn’t make too many films. This seems fair, since it’s a country with a population of just over half a million people. That isn’t enough seats to sustain an industry, right? Well, one might think that the few Luxembourgish films to be produced might therefore be painfully low-budget independent works, but Blind Spot, the film selection by the wealthy European nation for this year’s European Union Film Festival, is a serviceable genre pic. Blind Spot has decent production value for such a rarity.


EUFF Review: 'A Trip'

A Trip (Izlet)
(Slovenia, 85 min.)
Written and directed by Nejc Gazvoda
Starring: Luka Cimpric, Jure Henigman, Nina Rakovec
If you’ve attended one of the screenings at this year’s European Union Film Festival, you’ve probably witnessed the infectious little bit of head-bobbing that accompanies New Wave Syria’s “Let it Out,” which is the song featured in the festival’s official trailer. The funky elector-euphoria of “Let it Out” should give festivalgoers a good sense of what to expect when they attend the EUFF screening of Slovenia’s A Trip, the film in which “Let it Out” originally appears. A Trip is an energetic, tangibly contemporary film. Like the Swedish EUFF film Eat Sleep Die, which coincidentally screens at the festival the same night as A Trip, Slovenia’s offering at the festival should strike a chord with younger viewers or festivalgoers in search of New Wave-type fair.

Canuck Cartoon is Family-Friendly Fun

The Legend of Sarila (La légende de Sarila)
(Canada, 80 min.)
Dir. Nancy Florence Savard; Writ. Roger Harvey, Pierre Tremblay (English adaptation by Paul Risacher)
Starring: Christopher Plummer, Dustin Milligan, Rachelle Lefevre, Geneviève Bujold, Tim Rozon, Sonja Ball, Elisapie Isaac, and Natar Ungalaaq.
Animated features are rare in Canada. They’re almost as few and far between as stories on Canadian screens about First Nations people. The latter have seen stronger representation this year compared to others, with films such as Rhymes for Young Ghouls, Empire of Dirt, and Hi-Ho Mistahey! telling notable Canadian stories. It’s fitting, then, to see a film like The Legend of Sarila offer a story of First Nations’ folklore that can be appreciated by the whole family. (The aforementioned films are strong, but they might not appeal to kids.) This animated adventure from director Nancy Florence Savard takes audiences to the tip of the Great White North for one of the few films depicting Inuit culture since 2001’s Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner. The Legend of Sarila offers a tale that is at once both specific and universal, and it is fun for viewers of all ages.


EUFF Review: 'Superclasico'

(Denmark, 99 min.)
Dir. Ole Christian Madsen, Writ. Ole Christian Madsen & Anders Frithiof August
Starring: Anders W. Berthelson, Paprika Steen, Jamie Morton, Sebastián Estevanez, Adriana Mascialino.
Divorce is usually such a dire affair, is it not? If the delightful Danish pic Superclásico has been called the “happiest movie about divorce,” as it was to some extent in the introduction to Friday’s jam-packed screening at the European Union Film Festival, then the title is well earned. Superclásico, Denmark’s Oscar entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2011 Academy Awards (it made the January shortlist), is an utterly buoyant film. Superclásico is one of the feel good movies of the year, or any year given how long it took to play here. All good things come to those who wait, for Superclásico induces a cheek-to-cheek grin. This film is the kind of experience that is bound to lift one’s spirits and brighten the day.


Such a Nice Little Holocaust Movie...

The Book Thief
(USA/Germany, 131 min.)
Dir. Brian Percival, Writ. Michael Petroni
Starring: Sophie Nélisse, Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson
The Book Thief is such a nice little Holocaust film. That sounds terrible. The Book Thief, however, provides a warm, cheery tearjerker for anytime in the mood for a feel-good film about WW2. The plodding, misdirected Book Thief shows that there truly is an art to what Roberto Benigni did with Life is Beautiful in devising a buoyant, life-affirming comedy set amidst the Holocaust.

EUFF Review: 'Eat Sleep Die'

Eat Sleep Die (Äta sova dö)
(Sweden, 104 min.)
Written and directed by Gabriela Pichler
Starring: Nermina Lukač, Milan Dragišić
If Swedish censors seek to rate films on the Bechdel test, then Eat Sleep Die should pass with flying colours. Not only does the film star a headstrong protagonist who seeks agency and security over a blond boyfriend, but she also conveys a relevant tale about growing up in an age of shrinking opportunities by interacting with her fellow working class women. Eat Sleep Die, Sweden’s offering at this year’s European Union Film Festival, should easily strike a chord with viewers from younger generations. The film, which also happens to be Sweden’s official submission for Best Foreign Language Film at this year’s Academy Awards, is a timely story about a working class youth in today’s tricky economy. The toll of unemployment is just one factor that should let Eat Sleep Die play just as well on this side of the globe as it might in the EU. This feature debut by Gabriela Pichler is a great choice for veterans of the EUFF and new cinephiles alike.


A Most Un-Movie-Like Love Story

Personal Space
(Canada, 72 min.)
Dir. Elli Raynai, Writ. Mark Kinash, Amelia Macisaac, James McDougall, Elli Raynai, Stephanie Seaton.
Starring: James McDougall, Amelia Macisaac, Mark DeNicola, Stephanie Seaton, Terry Tyler.
“Uh, I’ve been watching a lot of, uh, movies recently about break-ups and reconciliation and all that kind of stuff, and I just want to say… how… unreal those are,” says Sid (a docile James McDougall) as he records his thoughts on his camera phone. Sid, coping with the sloppy feelings of his break-up with Karri (Amelia Macisaac) has a most un-movie-like story of love and loss. Personal Space has realism and naturalism where most movies have escapism and fantasy. There’s no happily-ever-after in this low-fi anti-love story from Toronto filmmaker Elli Raynai, but the messy awkwardness of Personal Space seems more true to life than a romance that ends with roses and airport runways.


Capsule Reviews: 'Touchy Feely', 'No Place on Earth'

A few awards season catch-up reviews, starting with the hidden gem of the screener pile, Touchy Feely.

Touchy Feely
(USA, 90 min.)
Written and directed Lynn Shelton
Starring: Rosemarie DeWitt, Josh Pais, Allison Janney, Ron Livingston, Scoot McNairy, Ellen Page.
Rosemarie DeWitt in Touchy Feely, a Magnolia Pictures release.
Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures. 
Offbeat yet grounded might be how to describe this new film from American indie filmmaker Lynn Shelton. Shelton reunites with her Your Sister’s Sister collaborator Rosemarie DeWitt for this fine ensemble piece about finding comfort in one’s own skin. DeWitt stars as Abby, an earthy masseuse undergoing a bit of a midlife crisis. Her brother (Josh Pais) and his daughter (Ellen Page) are also feeling their way through a transitional period of their life.


Nothing Like a Weekend at the Cottage!

Cottage Country
(Canada, 91 min.)
Dir. Peter Wellington, Writ. Jeremy Boxen
Starring: Tyler Labine, Malin Ackerman, Daniel Petronijevic, Lucy Punch.
Tyler Labine and Malin Akerman star in Cottage Country
Ah, the cottage. It’s where life is nice and pretty for forty-eight hours of the week: the loons sing and the waves ripple, and the cottage provides enough R&R to recharge weary city folk for the week that lies ahead. Todd (Tyler Labine) is like many Canucks who hate their job and live for the weekend just so they can escape to the cottage. The upcoming weekend looks to be an extra special getaway, as Todd plans to propose to his girlfriend Cammie (Malin Ackerman) on the island at the cottage, where the loons and colourful leaves will help the diamond ring shimmer in the cottage country sunset. There’s just one unexpected hitch, however, to Todd and Cammie’s perfect weekend: they have to say “Until death do us part” before they can say “I do”.


A Pair of Unexpected Outlaws

Dallas Buyers Club
(USA, 117 min.)
Dir. Jean-Marc Vallée, Writ. Craig Borten, Melisa Wallack
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto, Jennifer Garner, Steve Zahn, Denis O’Hare
In 1985, the doctors told Ron Woodroof that he had tested positive for HIV. They gave him thirty days to live. Ron, unwilling to relinquish his full-tilt lust for life, refused to follow the doctors’ advice to get his affairs in order before the month was up. He lived until 1992.


This One's for the History Books

12 Years a Slave
(USA/UK, 134 min.)
Dir. Steve McQueen, Writ. John Ridley
Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti, Adepero Oduye, Lupita Nyong’o, Sarah Paulson, Brad Pitt, Alfre Woodard.
Michael Fassbender as Epps and Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup in 12 Years a Slave.
I can speak of Slavery only so far as it came under my own observation—only so far as I have known and experienced it in my own person. My object is, to give a candid and truthful statement of facts: to repeat the story of my life, without exaggeration, leaving it for others to determine, whether even the pages of present a picture of more cruel wrong or a severer bondage.
-Solomon Northup, Twelve Years a Slave


Ballad of the Oil Sands

Oil Sands Karaoke
(Canada, 82 min.)
Dir. Charles Wilkinson
The Oil Sands are a hotbed of Canadian controversy. Oil tycoons rape the Earth by the truckload so that everyone else in the nation (and around the globe) can drive and live on comparatively cheap oil. Is it logical, then, to assume that the communities surrounding Alberta’s Oil Sands are full of grumpy, right-wing, ultra-Conservative no-fun capitalists? Maybe not.


Capsule reviews: 'NCR: Not Criminally Responsible', 'Venus and Serena', 'Good Ol' Freda'

It’s that time of year where the screener gods are knocking on doors and dropping all sorts of goodies labelled with the letters FYC. A big bundle arrived at my door on Tuesday that featured a whack of documentaries that I missed at TIFF and Hot Docs. It also included some Hot Docs faves like Muscle Shoals and Blackfish, plus a copy of The Hunt, which I promise to revisit given my mixed feelings on the film that a few readers have encouraged me to reconsider. A copy of To the Wonder also merits a second viewing, I think! Sadly, I didn’t get the burst of mail-outs of Mud and Stories We Tell that were sent to US members of the OFCS....

 The screeners also reminded me of a few leftover films that I wasn’t able to review during festivals due to time—I’ll crack fifty reviews at Hot Docs next year, I hope. I’ll give thoughts on the films from time to time as I make my way through the bundles. It’s shaping up to be a good final stretch for 2013! Up first, a trio of docs:


Contest: Win Tickets to 'Blue is the Warmest Color'

On the heels of yesterday’s launch for the 28th European Union Film Festival, the Embassy of France provided a tip that another hot film from the EU—possibly the biggest European hit this year—is also coming to Ottawa. Blue is the Warmest Color (La vie d’Adèle: chapitres 1 & 2), which won the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, screens in Ottawa at The ByTowne November 15-24. Blue is the Warmest Color is directed by Abdellatif Kechiche and stars Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux. I reviewed the film when it screened at the Inside/Out Film Festival last month and gave it four stars and especially high praise for the performances from its two actresses.


28th European Union Film Festival Begins Nov. 14!

Today I attended the media launch for the Canadian Film Institute’s annual European Union Film Festival (EUFF). This year marks the 28th edition of the EUFF and the strong line-up that the CFI revealed today hints at a very good festival. The EUFF, easily the CFI’s largest and most popular event of the year, is one of Ottawa’s must-see events for local cinephiles.


Oscar Predictions: Round 2 - So Many Actors, Not Enough Spots

Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke in Before Midnight. Is there room for them?
The Oscar race of 2013 is already a crowded one, as we’ve seen from the first little murmurings on the supporting categories and the lead categories. The movies themselves don’t have so much to worry about if they want to be acknowledged, for the recently added flexibility of the number of nominations from five to ten has added more wiggle room to accommodate worthy films. Acting categories, however, remain at a firm five nominees. Take last year, for example, in which the Best Actor field was generally assumed to be down to six actors going into the nominations: Bradley Cooper, Daniel Day-Lewis, John Hawkes, Hugh Jackman, Joaquin Phoenix, and Denzel Washington. John Hawkes missed the cut, as we know, simply because there wasn’t room to accommodate all six of these popular performances within the five openings. Five is clean and traditional, but it doesn’t always reflect the best of the best.


Quelle Dégueulasse.

Bastards (Les salauds)
(France, 100 min.)
Dir. Claire Denis, Writ. Jean-Pol Fargeau and Claire Denis
Starring: Vincent London, Chiara Mastroianni, Julie Bataille, Michel Subor, Lola Créton.
Chiara Mastroianni and Vincent Lindon in Bastards. Courtesy of Mongrel Media.
Bernard: Dégueulasse.
Joan: What?
Bernard: It means "bitch." Don't you remember?
Joan: You're calling me a bitch?
Bernard: No, don't you remember the last line of Godard's À bout de souffle? Belmondo calls Seberg a bitch. Dégueulasse. We saw it at the Thalia with the Dicksteins. I got you in for the children's price. You were pregnant with Walt.
Joan: Like six weeks.
Bernard: I still got you in for a children's ticket. You told me you didn't like Godard. You thought the jumpcuts were - [He is loaded into the ambulance]
-The Squid and the Whale (Noah Baumbach, 2005)
Claire Denis delivers a quick n’ dirty gangster pic à la nouvelle vague with Bastards (Les salauds). It’s a piece of unconventional pulp fiction that throws the book at wise-talking gumshoes and gives the middle finger to mysteries with easy answers. Denis provides few clues as Bastards moves along. The film seems utterly pointless until it comes together with a snap and hits like a bullet.


Talking Oscars: Best Actress and Best Actor

Sandra Bullock in Gravity
Following this week's first look at the supporting races, here are some initial thoughts on the very competitive fields of Best Actress and Best Actor. This Oscar season looks to be quite exciting!

Best Actress

Okay, so it might have been premature to leave Sandra Bullock out of the first round of predictions that were made on October 3rd when Gravity was set to open on October 4th. Gravity was the movie of the moment until Jackass Bad Grandpa stole its box office thunder and 12 Years a Slave levelled out the critical buzz. (Both Gravity and Slave are even Steven on Metacritic with a whopping score of 96.). Bullock nevertheless seems poised to ride the enthusiasm for the film into an early foothold on one of the nominations in an increasingly competitive field. Bullock is strong in Gravity, but it’s still surprises me that there can be so much support—let alone such extreme support—for a performance that mostly lets Bullock act as a prop for the VFX crew. Gravity relies quite heavily on the filter of its 3D glasses to provide a breathtaking film experience, so the film likely won't play with as much an impact should voters watch the film on a screener, rather than in the full theatrical experience. One of the lead actresses in one of the year’s performance-driven films could therefore edge Bullock out since indies often translate well to thesmall screen, although the wide release of Gravity probably makes Bullock's performance more accessible than most of the other contenders combined.