Hot Docs Reviews: 'The Secret Trial 5', 'Hotline', 'The Pioneer'

The Secret Trial 5
(Canada, 84 min.)
Dir. Amar Wala
Programme: Canadian Spectrum (World Premiere)
Security certificates allow for the indefinite detention of non-citizens
for reasons of national security.

The Secret Trial 5 presents one of the most troubling exposés in recent memory. It is, frankly, disturbing to hear such a tale about Canadian politics. This ripped-from-the-headlines documentary directed by Amar Wala boldly confronts the murky and generally unknown unconstitutionality of security certificates. Security certificates, The Secret Trial 5 explains, allow for the indefinite jailing of non-Canadian citizens. These backwards laws permit people living in Canada to be arrested and detained in the name of national security without charge and without a presentation of evidence. The decade-long fight chronicled in The Secret Trial 5 makes a convincing case that the time has come for the Canadian government to redraft its policy.

Hot Docs Review: 'Beyond Clueless'

Beyond Clueless
(UK/Canada, 91 min.)
Written and directed by Charlie Lyne
Narrated by: Fairuza Balk
Programme: Nightvision (Canadian Premiere)
You know that friend who still tries to make “fetch” work? That friend is Beyond Clueless. Beyond Clueless, which is easily the biggest disappointment of this year’s Hot Docs and arguably one of the worst films ever to screen at the festival (and I say this as someone who was subjected to Interior. Leather Bar last year), is an utterly asinine and amateur-ish feature of half-baked film criticism. The film is akin to a freshman film paper narrated to a ninety-minute YouTube mash-up of teen comedy excerpts. Beyond Clueless, however, suffers from many of the same faults that a beleaguered teaching assistant might find a first-year paper that fails to earn a passing grade. Beyond Clueless is most definitely not fetch.


Hot Docs Review: 'To Be Takei'

To Be Takei
(USA, 93 min.)
Dir. Jennifer M. Kroot, Bill Weber
Programme: Special Presentations (International Premiere)
George Takei has enjoyed fame ever since he stepped into the role of Lieutenant Sulu on Star Trek in 1965, but he adopted a new kind of celebrity when he came out in 2005 in support of same-sex marriage. To Be Takei embraces the kooky and idiosyncratic persona that Takei has embodied in the years since he began to advocate openly for civil rights, especially in his hilarious social media impressions and self-deprecating cameo appearances. Included among Takei’s satire is a bit offering his name with a campaign slogan of “It’s okay to be Takei” when lawmakers proposed omitting the word “gay” from classrooms. This smart, funny, and insightful doc by Jennifer Kroot and Bill Weber brings together both poles of Takei’s star persona and offers an all-encompassing doc about the sensation of going from feeling like an outsider to living in the spotlight.

Hot Docs Review: 'Everything Will Be'

Everything Will Be
(Canada, 86 min.)
Dir. Julia Kwan
Programme: Canadian Spectrum (World Premiere)
Condos are like bunny rabbits. They multiple at a rapid pace and nibble away at their surroundings. The face of urban space is changing dramatically in cities across Canada, so Julia Kwan’s beautiful look at the transition of Vancouver’s Chinatown from cultural corridor to trendy hotspot offers a study that is both specific and universal. Kwan, director of the 2005 Sundance prizewinner Eve and the Fire Horse, makes her feature documentary debut with Everything Will Be, but it feels like the work of a seasoned talent.


April 29 is Canadian Film Day!

April 29 is Canadian Film Day! Canadian Film Day, presented by Reel Canada, serves to unite the nation through film. Show your support for our national cinema by busting out all the DVDs of the weird sex and snowshoes variety. Then, take your newfound/refound/previously-existing-so-hooray-for-you appreciation of CanCon spirit with you next time you go to the movies!

Hot Docs Review: 'Super Duper Alice Cooper'

Super Duper Alice Cooper
(Canada, 86 min.)
Written and directed by Sam Dunn, Reginald Harkema, Scot McFadyen
Programme: Special Presentations (Canadian premiere)
School’s out for the summer! Hot Docs offers free daytime screenings to students and seniors alike, and one the one film that might have them rocking in the aisles together might be a bit of a surprise. That doc is Super Duper Alice Cooper and this enjoyable self-proclaimed “doc opera” is just the ticket to fuel rock-doc fans of all ages who voted Muscle Shoals the Audience Award winner at last year’s festival.


Hot Docs Reviews: 'The Malagasy Way' and 'Flotsam and Jetsam'

The Malagasy Way (Ady Gasy)
(France/Madagascar, 84 min.)
Dir. Nantenaina Lova
Programme: World Showcase (North American Premiere)

The Malagasy Way has all the right ingredients for a great documentary, but it plays like a sad trombone. This well-intentioned yet sluggish pic is a plum example for how an intriguing subject doesn’t necessarily ensure a great documentary. The film whisks viewers to Madagascar and tells of the resourcefulness of the Malagasy people as it chronicles the citizens proudly producing useful items out of nothing.


Hot Docs Reviews: 'Guidelines' and 'Jutra'

Guidelines (La marche à suivre)
(Canada, 76 min.)
Written and directed by Jean-François Caissey
Programme: Canadian Spectrum (North American Premiere)
Guidelines might seem like a film about nothing on the surface. The quietly observational film by Jean-François Caissey, which comes to Hot Docs after a world premiere in Berlin, is powerful in its subtle simplicity. This NFB production offers a striking feat of juxtaposition as Caissey and editor Mathieu Bouchard-Malo create a back-and-forth dialogue on the daily lives of adolescents in rural Quebec. This deceptively modest film is one of the more formally ambitious Canadian productions at Hot Docs this year.


Hot Docs Review: 'The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz'

The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz
(USA, 105 min.)
Dir. Brian Knappenberger
Programme: Special Presentations (International Premiere)
It's funny to see Hot Docs open with The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz. Swartz, the late co-founder of Reddit and all-around Internet Wunderkind, offers an inspiring tale of digital democracy. It's funny, though, to see this documentary open Toronto's second biggest film festival just a few months after Toronto's biggest film festival, TIFF, opened with the star-studded WikiLeaks drama The Fifth Estate. Fifth Estate's Julian Assange (played by a terrific Benedict Cumberbatch) might not be nearly as crowd-pleasing a character as Aaron is, but both subjects are arguably some of the most fascinating and intriguing figures of the radical possibilities of the World Wide Web.

Hot Docs Review: 'Out of Mind, Out of Sight'

Out of Mind, Out of Sight
(Canada, 88 min.)
Written and directed by John Kastner
Programme: Canadian Spectrum (World Premiere)
Carole in Out of Mind, Out of Sight. Photo courtesy the NFB.

“There are two victims in this story,” says John Stewart, brother Michael Stewart, one of the subjects of John Kastner’s Out of Mind, Out of Sight, “and one of happens to still be suffering.” John delivers this line towards the end of the documentary when asked whether his family can ever forgive Michael for killing their mother, June, several years before. The family, John says, faces the difficult, but not impossible, fact of reconciling the death of their mother. John explains that a hardship of the healing process was realizing that Michael himself is not responsible for June’s death. Schizophrenia is responsible and it claimed two members of the Stewart family.


Hot Docs Review: 'Come Worry with Us!'

Come Worry with Us!
(Canada, 82 min.)
Written & Directed by Helene Klodawsky
Programme: Next (Toronto Premiere)
Photo credit: Constellation Records/Yannick Grandmont

An old proverb says it takes a village to raise a child. The reality of parenting, however, usually sees this effort shouldered chiefly by one person: the mother. The proverbial village in Helene Klodawsky’s strong documentary Come Worry with Us! explores an unconventional effort at child rearing, but the heart of this alt-rock doc is a stimulating look at motherhood in the age in which both parents habitually go to work. The village of Come Worry with Us! is the Montreal-based band Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra, which features new parents Jessica Moss and Efrim Menuck along with fellow band mates Sophie Trudeau, Thierry Amar, and Dave Payant. Moss and Menuck are the reservedly proud parents of their infant son Ezra. One might call them reservedly proud since the pragmatic reality of raising a child clashes somewhat with the groovy eclecticism of the hip SMZ.


Hot Docs Review: 'Joy of Man's Desiring'

Joy of Man’s Desiring (Que ta joie demeure)
(Canada, 70 min.)
Written and directed by Denis Côté
Programme: Canadian Spectrum (Toronto Premiere)
Denis Côté is quickly becoming a master of observation. Côté comes to Hot Docs 2014 hot off a Berlin premiere with Joy of Man’s Desiring (Que ta joie demeure), which should easily please fans of his 2012 hit Bestiaire with its fine eye for the human condition. Bestiaire sees Côté invite viewers to walk and talk with the animals as he brings a camera through Parc Safari in Hemmingford, Quebec to reverse the gaze on human sociology. Joy of Man’s Desiring, however, offers a similar fly-on-the-wall approach to people and places, but Côté now puts humans in the foreground of the frame. The result of Joy, surprisingly, isn’t all that different from that of Bestiaire, for both films capture the mundane actions of animals that look ill at ease in their environments.

#HotDocs14: Best Bets for the Festival

Barbara Kopple's Harlan County USA is the must-see of Hot Docs 2014
The 2014 Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Film Festival starts this Thursday! The festival, Hot Docs for short, brings nearly a dozen days of documentary to Toronto. I love this festival! Hot Docs certainly has a different vibe than TIFF, since it’s less star-studded and therefore a much different atmosphere. Hot Docs has just as big an air of cinephilia as TIFF does, though, and it’s genuinely inspiring to see people lining up to see a documentary just as early as they’d line up to see the latest film starring Meryl Streep.


I Want Seconds of 'The Lunchbox'!

The Lunchbox
(India/France/USA/ Germany, 104 min.)
Written and directed by Ritesh Batra
Starring: Irrfan Khan, Nimrat Kaur, Nawazuddin Siddiqui
Irrfan Khan as Saajan. Photo by Michael Simmonds, courtesy Sony Pictures Classics.
I want seconds of The Lunchbox! This feature debut by writer/director Ritesh Batra is a savoury film. The indelible Lunchbox offers an exotic dish for audiences, too, for the deceptively simple love story is delivered by the intricate system of Mumbai’s Dabbawallahs, which are a group of deliverymen who shuttle lunchboxes (dabbas) around the city in a complex network that brings piping-hot home-cooked meals into offices around the city. It’s a complicated system as The Lunchbox shows through the dizzying array of trains, cars, bicycles, and rickshaws that traverse the densely populated city. However, a Harvard study suggests that the Dabbawallahs have such an accurate system that the likelihood of a wife’s culinary efforts filling the tummy of the wrong husband is as unlikely as the odds of one in a million. There is still that one lunchbox out of every million that may go to the wrong man, though, and Mumbai is a city of over 12 million people, so there are stories to be told behind those few wayward deliveries that defy the system.


The Boys Are Back!

Trailer Park Boys: Don’t Legalize It
(Canada, 95 min.)
Written and directed by Mike Clattenburg
Starring: John Paul Tremblay, Rob Wells, Mike Smith, John Dunsworth, Patrick Roach
John Paul Tremblay, Robb Wells and Mike Smith star in Trailer Park Boys 3: Don't Legalize It
The boys from Canada’s favourite sitcom are back! The Trailer Park Boys return in Trailer Park Boys: Don’t Legalize It and they take their dope-slinging, cuss-laden tomfoolery all the way to Parliament Hill. Don’t Legalize It offers a ridiculous premise for the satirical gang as it puts Ricky (Rob Wells) on a road-trip to protest the impending legalization of marijuana, which threatens his profitable white trash business. Julian (John Paul Tremblay) hires the car with drink in tow, as he needs a ride and a mule to bring his piss-smuggling product all the way from Halifax to Montreal. Bubbles (Mike Smith) goes along for the ride to Ottawa when he learns that his recently deceased parents left him some property in the swanky oasis of Kingston, Ontario. The Trailer Park Boys are back for a laugh-a-minute riot.

"To Each His Own Beckett"

Meetings with a Young Poet
(Canada, 85 min.)
Dir. Rudy Barichello, Writ. Rudy Barichello, Marcel Beaulieu
Starring: Vincent Hoss-Demarais, Stephen McHattie, Maria de Medeiros, Linda Smith
“To each his own Beckett,” says Lucia (Maria de Medeiros) to Paul Susser (Vincent Hoss-Desmarais) in Meetings with a Young Poet. Meetings with a Young Poet offers its own Beckett of sorts as director/co-writer Rudy Barichello mostly paraphrases the late Irish writer in this fictional exploration of Beckett’s legacy through the eyes of struggling Montreal poet Paul Susser. Adapting Beckett’s work is virtually impossible due to the notorious restrictions/alleged hard-assedness surrounding the writer’s estate, hence the film’s tag “Inspired by Samuel Beckett” to acknowledge that the legacy of the writer is the film’s central source. Meetings with a Young Poet consequently makes an easy watch for anyone approaching it in relative ignorance of Beckett’s body of work. Plays are staged similar to their productions and the lines are paraphrased, so Meetings with a Young Poet creates its own Beckett in the name of art.


If Only Wally Had Shot the Film Himself!

(USA/UK/China, 119 min.)
Dir. Wally Pfister, Writ. Jack Paglen
Starring: Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Paul Bettany, Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy, Kate Mara
The Internet ruins everything. Gadgets meant to make our lives easier become electronic leashes. Social media makes us less social as we chat with friends online rather than in person. Online screeners tether films bloggers to desks and drown them in Vimeo links. Wouldn’t it be nice to live in a world without the Interwebz?

Trailer for Atom Egoyan's Cannes-bound 'The Captive'

Atom Egoyan’s The Captive has a trailer! The film, formerly titled Queen of the Night, is among three Canadian titles included in the competition line-up for this year’s Cannes film festival. The other two are David Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars and Xavier Dolan’s Mommy, although Denys Arcand’s The Reign of Beauty is curiously absent. The Captive makes Egoyan’s first trip to the Croisette after 2008’s Adoration and we’ll cross our fingers that it’s a return to form after the mild hiccup of last year’s Devil’s Knot. Egoyan kind of looks to be combining his interest in technology to the world of The Sweet Hereafter, so The Captive looks rather promising. Thoughts?


Hot Docs Guest List Welcomes Everyone from George A. Romero to Miss Cleo

Legendary filmmaker George A. Romero will attend Hot Docs for Doc of the Dead

Hot Docs released the list of special guests expected to attend the 2014 festival. Hot Docs, which begins next Thursday, anticipates the appearance of a record number of 186 filmmakers in addition to a range of high profile guests ranging from rocker Alice Cooper to filmmaker George A. Romero to TV psychic Miss Cleo. Yes, Miss Cleo will be at Hot Docs! Guests usually appear at one or more screenings (usually the first two depending on scheduling), while other guests like George Takei and Caroll Spinney will appear in extended Q&A sessions in the Scotiabank Big Ideas Series. (Check the schedule for time and information.) Plan accordingly because the interactive Q&A sessions are what the festival’s all about!

The list of guests expected to attend Hot Docs includes:

Contest: Win Tickets to See 'The Railway Man' in Calgary, Edmonton, Halifax, Ottawa, Vancouver, Victoria, and Winnipeg! (CONTEST CLOSED)

Star power doesn't come much bigger than it does in The Railway Man. Oscar winners Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman share the screen in this powerful story of love and forgiveness that had audiences on their feet when it premiered at TIFF last year. (Review here.) The Railway Man opens in theatres April 25 from eOne Films, but viewers in select cites across Canada can win tickets to see the film before it hits theatres. Answer the trivia below for your chance to win!


Afflicted by Tired Trends

(Canada/USA, 85 min.)
Written and directed by Derek Lee and Clif Prowse
Starring: Derek Lee, Clif Prowse
Photo: eOne Films.
Vampire movies and found footage films might be two of the most tired offerings on the current film scene. Put them together to make a found footage vampire movie and the result doesn't play like fresh revisionism. It still feels tired.

Trailers for David Cronenberg's 'Maps to the Stars' and Tommy Lee Jones' 'The Homesman' (feat. Meryl Streep)!

A trailer has landed for David Cronenberg's Maps to the Stars starring Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska, John Cusack, Robert Pattinson, Olivia Williams, and Sarah Gadon. It looks very promising, especially on the performance front. Maps seems inevitable for a Cannes premiere, so will Canada have two major directors in competition for the Palme, assuming that Denys Arcand will be heading there as well with The Reign of Beauty?



Dom Hemingway
(UK, 93 min.)
Written and directed by Richard Shepard
Starring: Jude Law, Richard E. Grant, Demian Bichir, Kerry Condon, Emilia Clarke.
Jude Law (left) and Richard E. Grant (right) in Dom Hemingway
Now here’s the Jude Law who fucked the nanny! The usually dapper Brit blows the lid off his suave screen persona with a giant F-bomb and the result is fucking brilliant. Law immerses himself deeply within the grotesque, yet charming, and profanity-spewing thug Dom Hemingway. Dom Hemingway is a coarse and stylish boor with a sinful swagger. He’s Jude Law like you’ve never seen him before on film: the bad boy, the debauched debonair, the poetic poondog. Dom Hemingway offers Law’s best performance in over a decade.


LAFF Review: 'Heart of a Lion (Corazón de León)'

Heart of a Lion (Corazón de León)
(Argentina/Brazil, 109 min.)
Written and directed by Marcos Carnevale
Starring: Julieta Díaz, Guillermo Francella
The tall and the short of it is that opposites attract. The physically mismatched couple in Argentina’s Heart of a Lion (Corazón de León), which screens in Ottawa on Saturday as part of the ongoing Latin American Film Festival, is a sweet little tale about embracing opposites. Physical dissimilarities shouldn't hide a person’s inner beauty, as tells the courtship between Ivana (Julieta Díaz, who won Best Actress and Argentina’s Academy Awards for her performance) and León (Guillermo Francella), and the same goes for the film itself.


Contest: Win Tickets to See 'That Burning Feeling' in Toronto! (CONTEST CLOSED)

Hey, Toronto! Do you have the itch for free movies? If so, you are in luck! Cinemablographer has tickets to see That Burning Feeling, “a romantic comedy about the least romantic thing possible.” if you want tickets to see a Toronto sneak peek of That Burning Feeling before it hits theatres, answer the trivia below to enter! Watch, out: it’s contagious!


Flash Contest! Win tickets to see 'The Raid 2: Berendal' in Ottawa, Edmonton, Halifax, Vancouver, and Victoria!

Act quickly! A few tickets have freed up for sneak peeks of eOne Films’ The Raid: Berendal in Ottawa, Edmonton, Halifax, Vancouver, and Victoria. Use the PIN below to redeem your tickets. These tickets could go FAST so act now!


Misc. Canadian Film Awards News: CCE Nominees and Peabody win for 'Highrise'

The Ghosts in Our Machine
Sorry, it’s been one of those weeks. I missed a few snippets of Canadian awards news over the past few days starting with the nominations for the Canadian Cinema Editors (CCE) awards honouring the best editing in film, TV, and media. “Degrassi” and “Orphan Black” lead the television nominations, while the film honourees include strong picks like The Husband and The Ghosts in Our Machine, which were both underrepresented in Canuck awards this year.

The film nominees are as follows:


The Rising Star & The Veteran

Cas & Dylan
(Canada, 90 min.)
Dir. Jason Priestly, Writ. Jessie Gabe
Starring: Tatiana Maslany, Richard Dreyfuss
Tatiana Maslany is quickly becoming Canada’s rising star. Maslany, who is everywhere on film and television nowadays and was recently a Screenie nominee her performance in Cas & Dylan, is an actress of impeccable range. Her larger-than-life turn as the free-spirited Dylan makes for an amiable odd couple with the stuffy Cas Pepper played by Richard Dreyfuss. The pairing of the rising star and the veteran actor lets Cas & Dylan rise above road trip familiarity.


LAFF Review: 'In the Name of the Girl'

In the Name of the Girl (En el nombre de la hija)
(Ecuador, 108 min.)
Written and directed by Tania Hermida
Starring: Eva Mayu Mecham Benavides, Markus Mecham Benavides, Martina León, Sebastián Hormachea, Francisco Jaramillo, Paul Curillo, Juana Estrella, Pancho Aguirre.
The future looks bright according to In the Name of the Girl (En el nombre de la hija). Girl, which screens in Ottawa on Friday as part of the ongoing Latin American Film Festival, offers a tale of tomorrow's leaders with its sweet story about a young girl empowered by a critical mind. Girl is really a take on today's leaders, for the film takes place in a fateful summer of 1976 Ecuador and looks to the future. The film, like the festival's recent screening of Habanaststion, foresees a world in which kids learn from the mistakes of past generations and work together to make a better tomorrow.


LAFF Capsule Review: 'Solo'

(Uruguay, 87 min.)
Dir. Guillermo Rocamora, Writ. Javier Palleiro, Guillermo Rocamora
Starring: Enrique Bastos
Solo holds a nice middle-of-the-scale note for eighty-seven minutes. This Uruguayan offering at Ottawa’s Latin American Film Festival plays it safe with subtle humour and slice-of-life realism, but it’s consistently likable and enjoyable if only for its digestible midrange-ness. The film might ultimately be memorable mostly for providing the sole trip to Antarctica during the Latin American Film Festival. (There’s no escaping the snow, folks!)