Long Live the Arts Critic!

Lucky Them
(USA, 97 min.)
Dir. Megan Griffiths, Writ. Huck Botko, Emily Wachtel
Starring: Toni Collette, Thomas Haden Church, Oliver Platt, Ryan Eggold, and Johnny Depp.
Long live the arts critic! Arts critics, especially music critics, are unsung heroes of motion pictures. They haven’t really gotten their due outside of Cameron Crowe’s stellar Almost Famous. Megan Griffiths Lucky Them, while not quite in the league of Almost Famous, offers an enjoyable tale about the invaluable role that music plays in one’s life as music journalist Ellie Klug (Toni Collette, Enough Said) learns to read between the lines that have defined her life.

The Ottawa 48 Hour Film Project is Open for Entries!

The Ottawa 48 Hour Film Project is now open for entries! The 48 Hour Film Project has engaged budding filmmakers around the world for fifteen years, but this marks the first time that it invites Ottawa filmmakers to join the party. I’ve been invited to judge the inaugural Ottawa edition of the 48 Film Project in Ottawa and I encourage you all to enter. The 48 Hour Film Project is part film challenge and part film festival, as it invites filmmaking teams to create a film within a quick 48-hour window and then screens eligible films for the public. A panel of judges evaluates the films and hands out prizes—remember: bonus points go to whichever team casts Meryl Streep!—with the top Ottawa winner moving on to a special ‘Filmapalooza’ event comprised of the top winners from cities around the globe. The top ten films from that screening then move on to a special shindig at Cannes. How exciting!


Canadian Winter - What a Villain!

(Canada, 90 min.)
Dir. Emanuel Hoss-Desmarais Writ. Emanuel Hoss-Desmarais, Marc Tulin
Starring: Thomas Haden Church, Marc Labrèche
A scene from Whitewash, an eOne Films release.
Only in Canada could someone make a menacing thriller about snow. Well, maybe only here and in Fargo. Newcomer Emanuel Hoss-Desmarais, however, creates an unnervingly cold thriller amidst a menacing snowstorm in the blustery Whitewash. Whitewash is a chilling black comedy that makes a villain out of the frigid Canadian winter.


Just as Good as the Original, Eh?

The Grand Seduction
(Canada, 113 min.)
Dir. Don McKellar, Writ. Michael Dowse and Ken Scott
Starring: Brendan Gleeson, Taylor Kitsch, Gordon Pinsent, Liane Balaban, Mark Critch, Mary Walsh.
Brendan Gleeson plays Murray French, Taylor Kitsch plays Dr. Paul Lewis
and Gordon Pinsent plays Simon in The Grand Seduction, an eOne Films release
There is nothing especially new about one nation remaking a successful film from another. It’s a staple of the global business of filmmaking with spaghetti westerns and samurai films enjoying continuity, and with Asian blockbusters becoming Hollywood Oscar winners. It is, however, a rarity--aside from Hollywood redundancies--for countries to remake their own hits. Don McKellar’s The Grand Seduction is therefore a notable novelty if only because this Canuck flick revisits the 2003 Quebecois hit La grande seduction (aka Seducing Dr. Lewis). This take on The Grand Seduction barely changes a thing from the original film besides the language of its delivery, but anyone who has seen the charming comedy by Jean-François Pouliot knows that more of the same isn’t necessarily a bad thing.


Contest: Win a Copy of 'Rhymes for Young Ghouls' on DVD (CONTEST CLOSED)

In case you missed one of the best films of the year when it hit theatres this spring, Rhymes for Young Ghouls is now on home video. Rhymes, which made Canada’sTop Ten and my own list of the best Canadian films of the year, is a must-see. (Full review here.) Rhymes, directed by Jeff Barnaby in a remarkable debut and starring Kawennáhere Devery Jacobs in a powerful breakout performance, is a landmark Canadian film for its ingenious and eye-opening dramatization of the haunting legacy of residential schools in Canada. The film hits home video May 27 on DVD, VOD and iTunes, but one lucky reader can take home a copy of Rhymes for Young Ghouls courtesy of the CanadianFilm Centre. Answer the trivia below for your chance to win!


'Joe' Is Nic Cage Craziness at Its Best

(USA, 113 min.)
Dir. David Gordon Green, Writ. Gary Hawkins
Starring: Nicholas Cage, Tye Sheridan, Gary Poulter, Ronnie Blevins,
Courtesy eOne Films.
Nic Cage craziness is a phenomenon unto itself. Cage has always been a weird dude, but his body of work in the last decade is especially peculiar. Recently, though, his performances and star persona have come together in a bizarre novelty akin to the Joker’s query about dancing with the devil in the pale moonlight. The man who played a brooding werewolf in Moonstruck is now howling at the moon.

Oh, Cannes-ada: 'Mommy' and 'Maps to the Stars' Bring 2 Cannes Wins for Canadian Film

The Mommy team at Cannes
Well, we didn't take the Palme, but today's award ceremony at Cannes notes a landmark year for Canadian films. Canuck films Mommy and Maps to the Stars took two of the top prizes. The wins cap off an exciting week for Canadian film that got off to a rocky start when the third Canadian film in the competition, Atom Egoyan's The Captive, opened to a chorus of boos and scathing reviews.


Porky's Meets the 'Burbs

(USA, 96 min.)
Dir. Nicholas Stoller, Writ. Andrew J. Cohen, Brendan O’Brien
Starring: Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne, Zac Efron, Dave Franco, Ike Barinholtz, Lisa Kudrow
Meet Mac and Kelly Radner. They’re a happy couple enjoying life in the ’burbs with a baby. Spontaneous sex is finally creeping back into their marriage, so life with little Stella seems perfect… until a fraternity buys the house next door.


Coming-of-Age in Sunny Newfoundland

Hold Fast
(Canada, 94 min.)
Dir. Justin Simms, Writ. Rosemary House
Starring: Molly Parker, Aiden Flynn, Avery Ash, Douglas Sullivan
The Grand Seduction opens in theatres next week, but there’s a hidden gem of Canadian cinema that’s being overlooked. Hold Fast, adapted from the beloved novel by Kevin Major (which I’m ashamed to admit I haven’t read), is a nice coming-of-age tale set against the scenic Newfoundland landscape. The scenery is stunning and the story is stirring, so this nice little film offers a moving tale of growing up and finding oneself in the freedom of the expansive wilderness.

Three Clips from Xavier Dolan's Cannes Contender 'Mommy'

Photo: Shane Laverdière
Les Films Séville has released three clips for Xavier Dolan's Cannes contender Mommy, which has been causing a firestorm of rave reviews since it premiered today, including an A from The Playlist and 4 stars from the grumpy Guardian. Mommy could be Canada's best shot at the Palme, although Cronenberg's Maps to the Stars has a strong share of enthusiastic reviews. The clips show off the unusual and Instagrammy 1:1 ratio of the film and give a taste of Dolan's signature visual flair, but you'll have to jump to clip 3 for a snippet of the performances. The film stars Anne Dorval (I Killed My Mother), Suzanne Clément (Laurence Anyways), and Antoine-Olivier Pilon (also Laurence Anyways). No word yet on a release for   Mommy. Dolan's Venice/TIFF hit Tom at the Farm is only just hitting theatres now.

Clips and synopsis after the jump:


A Peek Behind the Cellar Door

Fun event from a festival I'm working on. Come join us for a cult classic!
The Cellar Door Film Festival invites Ottawa filmgoers to take a peek behind the Cellar Door at Club SAW on June 17. This event gives the community a taste of what to expect from Ottawa's newest film festival by enjoying a screening of Dario Argento's cult classic Deep Red. The event will also include a screening of the CDFF Promo Reel Challenge winner by local artist Janet Hetherington and a silent auction (cash only) with proceeds going to the Boys and Girls Club. CDFF gratefully acknowledges the support of Bridgehead, Club SAWThe Haunted Walk of Ottawa, the School for Studies in Art and Culture at Carleton University, and Used Ottawa for their support in this event.


Vampires Are Cool Again

Only Lovers Left Alive
(UK/Germany, 123 min.)
Written and directed by Jim Jarmusch
Starring: Tilda Swinton, Tom Hiddleston, Anton Yelchin, Mia Wasikowska, John Hurt, Jeffrey Wright.
Tilda Swinton as Eve and Tom Hiddleston as Adam.
Photo by Sandro Kopp, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Forget Team Edward and forget Team Jacob. Team Tilda and Team Hiddles have come to save the day for vampire fans and they mop the floor with Bella Swan and all of Twilight’s bedazzled emo pining. Jim Jarmusch reinvents the vampire film with Only Lovers Left Alive and the result is a groovy and gothically atmospheric romance. Vampires are cool again.


'A Spoonful of Sugar...'

Fed Up
(USA, 92 min.)
Dir. Stephanie Soechtig, Writ. Mark Monroe, Stephanie Soechtig
Narrated by: Katie Couric
“A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down... in the most delightful way!” croons Mary Poppins (Julie Andrews) in the delightful 1964 film that bears her name. Mary Poppins probably wasn’t the agent of some subliminal marketing ploy aimed at hooking tots on sugar, but her little ditty helps kids take their medicine by coating it in a friendly delivery. Fed Up, on the other hand, gives audiences their medicine with a healthy dose of fire and brimstone as it takes aim at the food industry and wags its finger at fat Americans. Fed Up fails to heed to good advice of Madame Poppins and the result is bitter medicine.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters, King of Summer Movies?

(USA/Japan, 123 min.)
Dir. Gareth Edwards, Writ. Max Borstein, David Calhoun
Starring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Sally Hawkins, Elizabeth Olsen, David Strathairn, Juliette Binoche, and Bryan Cranston.
There’s an epic battle between cinematic titans this summer! The minions of Summer Movie Season have been clawing their way into theatres since the snow began to thaw, but here comes Godzilla tromping along and proving himself the King of the Monsters. The gargantuan VFX/AVX/3D extravaganza of Godzilla offers yet another drop in this year’s drought of mainstream originality, but it’s easily the most entertaining feat of epically portioned redundancy that Hollywood has churned out in some time. Godzilla is exactly the epic summer movie one hopes it would be—nothing more and nothing less.


Film Critic Jay Stone Retires from the Ottawa Citizen

Jay Stone is retiring after a two-decade career as the film critic for the Ottawa Citizen. The Citizen reports that Stone will roll the credits on his tenure at the paper on May 30 after 46 years in journalism. Stone's reviews extend beyond Ottawa, for his work includes several years of double-duty working as a film critic for CanWest News Service and PostMedia News as the business side of the industry changed and expanded readership from the local level to coast-to-coast. The news also includes a list of good-byes from peers and a list of film favourites.


Win Tickets to see 'The Grand Seduction' Across Canada!

Just in time for summer comes the Canadian comedy The Grand Seduction. The film should have Canuck audiences lining up from coast to coast when it opens May 30th from eOne Films, but readers across Canada may win tickets to a sneak peek of The Grand Seduction. If you live in (deep breath) Burlington, Calgary, Edmonton, Halifax, Kitchener, Kingston, London, Ottawa, Regina, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Vancouver, or Victoria and you want to attend a sneak peek of The Grand Seduction before it hits theaters, enter the trivia below to win tickets!


'Isn’t it Wrong to Sing and Dance When Someone Just Died?'

Stage Fright
(Canada, 89 min.)
Written and directed by Jerome Sable
Starring: Allie MacDonald, Meat Loaf, Douglas Smith, Minnie Driver, Kent Nolan, Melanie Leishman, Brandon Uranowitz
Meat Loaf and Allie MacDonald star in Stage Fright, an eOne Films release.

“Isn’t it wrong to sing and dance when someone just died?” says one of the glee campers at Centre Stage summer camp in Stage Fright. The budding songstress voices her concern around the halfway mark of Stage Fright when the bodies start to pile up at Centre Stage. It’s around this time, too, that writer/director Jerome Sable brings Stage Fright towards a second act that is far heavier on the blood and gore than its first part is. It’s a tricky thing, making a slasher-musical (or musical-slasher given Stage Fright’s inclination towards songs over splatter), but Stage Fright is a hoot even if it never entirely works. Problems of tone and questions of pace make this a tough sell either for the Glee crowd or for horror fans, yet Stage Fright has a novel strangeness that should please the midnight madness crowd. This blood-soaked riot demands a cult following.


Hot Docs Coverage at Point of View (Updated)

Caroll  Spinney,  left,  on  location  with  Kermit  Love,  right, 
who  built  the  original Big  Bird puppet from  a  design  created  by  Jim  Hens
I'll be contributing some reviews over at Point of View Magazine during Hot Docs, so I'll post the links as they come in. Give them a follow for up-to-date coverage!

*Added May 11:
 *Review: From the Bottom of the Lake
 *Review:  Sacro GRA
 *Review: What is Left?
 *Review: Divide in Concord
-Review: I am Big Bird: The Carrol Spinney Story
-Review: Meet the Patels
-Review: An Honest Liar
-Review: Marinoni
-Review: Gun Porn 
-Review: Happiness
-Review: Kung Fu Elliot
-Review: See No Evil
-Review: The Sheik
-Review: Write Down, I am an Arab
-Review: The Writer with No Hands 

-And that's all!


Free Event: 'It's Time for Shorts!'

Irish short The Missing Scarf screens at It's Time for Shorts!
The European Union Film Festival is easily the most popular film festival within the Canadian Film Institute’s annual programme, so Ottawa filmgoers will be pleased to hear that they may tide themselves over until the next festival with a selection of short films from the European Union. The European Union Short Film Festival It’s Time for Shorts! highlights the latest hits in short form cinema from the European Union. This two-day festival runs May 8th and 9th in Ottawa and is free to the public. It’s Time for Shorts is presented by the European Union National Institutes for Culture (EUNIC), in collaboration with the Member States of the European Union, and in association with SAW Video and the Canadian Film Institute.


TIFF Names Programmes and Programmers for #TIFF14

TIFF 2013 People's Choice Award winner 12 Years a Slave
appeared in the Special Presentations programme of the festival.

The Toronto International Film Festival released the list of programmes and programmers for the 2014 edition of the festival today. The line-up includes many of the favourite sections and taste-makers from the previous editions of the festival, as well as some new faces including Kathleen McInnis and Shane Smith as programmers of the festival’s new Short Cuts International programme. (They’ll be joined by Magali Simard who will do double duty with Short Cuts Canada). The festival, which runs September 4 – 14, 2014, features the following programmes:

Contest! Win Tickets to see 'Fed Up' in Calgary, Edmonton, and Ottawa! (Contest Closed)

I hope the past week of Hot Docs coverage has given readers an appetite for documentaries! If so, you are in luck! Fed Up, one of the more popular titles from this year’s festival, hits theatres later this month from eOne Films, and lucky readers can have a chance to catch a sneak peek beforehand. If you live in Ottawa, Calgary, or Edmonton, answer the trivia below for you chance to win!


Hot Docs 2014: Wrap-up and Picks for 'Best of the Fest'

I am Big Bird: The Carrol Spinney Story
That’s a wrap for Hot Docs 2014! I’m sad to see another great festival end, but I must tip my hat to the Hot Docs team once again. This year’s festival was swell. The selection of films was consistently good from a strong opening night choice of The Internet’s Own Boy to a diverse range of Canadian and international programming. This year’s Hot Docs also featured a range of boundary-pushing documentaries that offered exciting experiments in form that often blurred the line between truth and fiction with films such as Actress finding truth in performance while other films like Point and Shoot blending art and activism. These films ask audiences to engage with some of the fundamental questions of documentary, and the eleven days of enlightened moviegoing are what film festivals are all about.

Hot Docs Reviews: 'Point and Shoot', 'Everyday Rebellion'

Point and Shoot
(USA, 82 min.)
Dir. Marshall Curry
Programme: Special Presentations (International Premiere)
At what point does a documentarian become the subject of his own film? This question provides a thrilling undercurrent to the compelling Point and Shoot. Director Marshall Curry (If a Tree Falls) turns his camera upon fellow filmmaker Matthew VanDyke and delivers a fascinating account of what happens when a documentary filmmaker becomes an agent of the very cause he documents. This innovative film, which won recently won Best Documentary Feature at Tribeca, is a must-see for doc fans.

Hot Docs Reviews: 'Mugshot', 'The Creator of the Jungle', 'Love Ya', 'Still Life'

(Canada, 52 min.)
Dir. Dennis Mohr
Programme: Next (World Premiere)
Various mug shots from Mark Michaelson's 'Least Wanted' collection.

Notoriety and celebrity go hand in hand. Just look at Rob Ford. He could easily be Canada’s most recognizable politician, but not for his service to society. No, he’s famous for his lucky crack pipe, and for the drunken tomfoolery/overall recklessness that’s landed him in trouble with the law. Look closely and you might see Toronto’s mayor in the montage of mug shots in this fun and surprising doc by Dennis Mohr.


Hot Docs Review: 'The Overnighters'

The Overnighters
(USA, 100 min.)
Dir. Jesse Moss
Programme: Special Presentations (International Premiere)
Practice what you preach. The popular idiom might be a cliché, but it provides a fitting summary of Jesse’s Moss’s powerful film The Overnighters. This timely and provocative film invites audiences to the small American town of Williston, North Dakota, where outsiders are most definitely not welcome despite the overwhelming churchliness of the setting. The town is the destination for innumerable unemployed persons making an exodus from their hometowns to pursue the supposed richness lying in North Dakota. The needy hardly seem to have a place amidst the picket fences and gun-totin’ conservatives of this little town. The local pastor, Jay Reinke, on the other hand, believes the Christian thing to do is to welcome the newcomers with open arms even if it means distancing the shepherd from his flock.


Hot Docs Reviews: 'I Love Kuduro' and 'Mad as Hell'

I Love Kuduro
(Angola/Portugal, 95 min.)
Dir. Mário Patrocíno
Programme: Next (North American Premiere)
I Love Kuduro features some great music, but don't bother with the documentary. Just buy the soundtrack. This well-intentioned exploration of a corner of world music goes flat and drags on for far too long. Funky beats alone can’t save this one.

'Out of Mind, Out of Sight', 'Waiting for August' top Hot Docs Winners

Out of Mind, Out of Sight

Hot Docs announced the winners for this year's festival. They are:

Best Canadian Feature Documentary Award: Out of Mind, Out of Sight – John Kastner
Best International Feature Documentary Award: Waiting for August          
Emerging Canadian Filmmaker Award: Grant Baldwin – Just Eat It: A Food Waste Story
            -Honourable mention: Amar Wala – The Secret Trial 5
Emerging International Filmmaker Award: Orlando von Einsiedel – Virunga
Special Jury Prize - Canadian Feature Documentary: Before the Last Curtain Falls
Special Jury Prize - International Feature Documentary: Walking Under Water
Best Mid-Length Documentary Award: Kings of the Wind & Electric Queens
Best Short Documentary Award: Ghost Train
            - Honorable Mention: Beach Boy
2014 Don Haig Award: Michael McNamara
Lindalee Tracey Award: Madeleine Grant (The Backward Class) and Matt Johnson (The Dirties)
Gaiam TV Conscious Media Award: Andrew Napier (Mad as Hell)           
2014 Focus On Recipient: John Zaritsky

-The Audience Award, sponsored by justeat.ca, will be announced on Monday, May 5.