My Line-up for TIFF '13! (Updated)

August: Osage County ticket secured!
TIFF is just a week away! I’m very excited to spend 11 upcoming days with friends, movies, and Meryl. Unfortunately, I’m not accredited for the festival this year, but given my new recent OFCS status, I’m taking that as a “lost the battle but won the war” kind of spin. (It might help get me a job next year or a press badge for this here blog… who knows?) The silver lining is that film festivals are much more enjoyable if one attends the public screenings anyways, rather than jetting into town to watch films on a laptop. The best thing about the festival isn’t so much what you see, but chatting with friends/randoms, learning about all the good things that you couldn’t cram into your schedule, and making mental notes for the year ahead. (Thanks to fellow TIFF-goers who caught films such as Blancanieves and In the House, I had good movies on my radar all year long.) I know people complain that TIFF is getting too big, but I like the fact that the festival spills over into the rest of the year. I couldn’t even tell you how many of the films I see throughout the year are TIFF films!


“With or Without a Soul?: Thai Film Series”

Tang Wong opens the CFI's Thai Film Series
Who needs to go to Toronto in order to enjoy a fine sampling of world cinema? Film buffs in Ottawa can enjoy a premiere series of contemporary Thai cinema at the Canadian Film Institute September 7 to 14. It’s a great five-film showcase for folks who enjoy hard-to-find films. To make the event an even sweeter deal, the CFI is presenting all five films FREE for the general public. The series, entitled “With or Without a Soul?: Thai Film Series” is presented in collaboration with the Royal Thai Embassy.

World Exchange Empire 7 Closing?

The Ottawa Sun reports that the World Exchange Empire 7 cinema is indeed closing. This notice adds some finality to what was largely assumed in the past few months as the theatre hung in limbo following Empire's announcement in June that it was pulling out of the movie theatre business.The closure of the World Exchange isn't much of a surprise since the cinema's lease was up at the end of the year regardless and it was assumed that the theatre would shut down once the new multiplex went in at Lansdowne. The Lansdowne theatre is still a question mark itself, as previous reports have omitted mention of which company will take over the site since Empire is no longer in on the deal. (Cineplex is set to take over other Empire theatres, including the Kanata 24, which was sold to Empire from AMC only last summer. The Empire Orleans will be assumed by Landmark Cinemas.) The Sun article notes that a tenant is still expected to assume the Lansdowne site, but who it is remains a question mark.

Inner Troubles

Shadow Dancer
(UK/Ireland, 101 min.)
Dir. James Marsh, Writ. Tom Bradby
Starring: Andrea Riseborough, Clive Owen, Gillian Anderson, Brid Brennan, Aidan Gillen, Domnhall Gleeson.

Andrea Riseborough in Shadow Dancer,
a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.
Andrea Riseborough deserves to be a star. The English actress is making some headway on this side of the pond after appearing in this summer’s Tom Cruise pic Oblivion. Likewise, her performance as Wallis Simpson in last year’s W.E. might have gone places had the film itself not been such a train wreck; however, Riseborough’s engrossing performance in W.E. is all the more impressive if one considers that it was created under the direction of Madonna. Silly quips aside, Riseborough has serious acting chops. They’re on full display in James Marsh’s Shadow Dancer. Riseborough gives a knockout performance that’s worth seeking out.


Blanchett DuBois

Blue Jasmine
(USA, 98 min.)
Written and directed by Woody Allen
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Sally Hawkins, Alec Baldwin, Louis C.K., Bobby Cannavale, Andrew Dice Clay, Peter Sarsgaard, Michael Stulhbarg.
Cate Blanchett as Jasmine Photo by Merrick Morton
© 2013 Gravier Productions, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Annie Hall. Martha. Norma Desmond. Margo Channing. Sophie Zawistowski. Blanche DuBois. The aforementioned women are some of the best female characters of stage and screen. Idiosyncratic or eccentric, scatterbrained or strong, these characters are some of the most consistently fascinating women for actors and audiences alike. They demand repeat performances and viewings since they’re such multilayered characters. Substantial yet flawed, the backstories of these characters make them profoundly human: audiences can relate to them since the actresses inhabiting these characters have so much material to work with in order to flesh out a dynamic, full-bodied character.


'Goodnight, You Princes of Maine, You Kings of the Jungle'

Prince Avalanche
(USA, 94 min.)
Written and directed by David Gordon Green
Starring: Paul Rudd, Emile Hirsch.
Emile Hirsch and Paul Rudd in Prince Avalanche, a Magnolia Pictures release. 
It is said that opposites attract. Co-workers Alvin (Paul Rudd) and Lance (Emile Hirsch) couldn’t be any more different from one another. Alvin is a quirky, straight-laced introvert while Lance is rowdy, restless, and youthful. One could arguably say the same about the films of director David Gordon Green, who has made a name for himself with quietly moving independent films such as All the Real Girls and with the R-rated reefer madness of films Pineapple Express. Prince Avalanche, which scooped the Best Director Prize at the Berlin International Film Festival after premiering at Sundance, finds a good marriage in the bipolar personalities of both its two leads and its director. This new film by David Gordon Green is a smart, subtle, yet uproarious comedy.


Hollywood History

Lee Daniels’ The Butler
(USA, 132 min.)
Dir. Lee Daniels, Writ. Danny Strong
Starring: Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, David Oyelowo, Terrence Howard, Cuba Gooding Jr., Lenny Kravitz.
Oprah Winfrey and Forest Whitaker star in Lee Daniels' The Butler.
Photo by Anne Marie Fox, courtesy eOne Films.
Lee Daniels’ The Butler was retitled from The Butler after Warner Bros. launched a ridiculous lawsuit against the film. The Butler, directed by Oscar nominee Lee Daniels (Precious, The Paperboy) shared the title of an obscure short film from 1916. One could find the ridiculous mudslinging from Warner Bros. ironically fortuitous for Lee Daniels’ The Butler, since the film is drenched in history, yet told with a distinctly cinematic Lee Daniels’ spin. There’s history that is told in textbooks and then there’s history that is told in movies.


Meryl Streep at TIFF, Masters, and More!

Red Carpet Ready: Meryl Streep is officially expected at TIFF!
It’s official! Meryl Streep will be walking the red carpet in Toronto! The August: Osage County star supporting actress is among the big list of stars expected to attend this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. TIFF sent out the guest list of stars and filmmakers who are expected to appear at the festival, which usually means hotel and travel have been booked. Mama Meryl’s onscreen daughter Julia Roberts is also expected to attend the festival. Other stars on the list include Kate Winslet (Labor Day), Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth (The Railway Man), Jessica Chastain (The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby), Sandra Bullock (Gravity), Pierce Brosnan and Emma Thompson (The Love Punch), and Glenn Close (appearing in a reunion and retrospective of The Big Chill). The full list is available here.

Continuing the theme of Masters, TIFF also announced the films by the Meryl Streeps of the festival circuit as it unveiled the titles for the Masters programme of the festival circuit. The Masters programme houses the latest works by some of the most renowned auteurs in world cinema. Among the films are new works by Claire Denis, Jafar Panahi, and Kim Ki-duk.

Also among the final films announced for the festival is the last—and highly speculated—Midnight Madness film, Witching and Bitching. TIFF-goers can also see a different perspective on one of last year’s festival hits, Argo, as the story of Canadian Ambassador Ken Taylor is told in a different—and, one suspects, less abbreviated—light in Our Man in Tehran, a new documentary by Drew Taylor and Larry Weinstein. Taylor will appear in conversation in the festival’s Mavericks programme in conjunction with the World Premiere of the film. Also appearing in the Mavericks programme are filmmaker Spike Jonze and Ron Howard, and actor Irrfan Khan (Life of Pi).

The full list of films and the final schedule are now live at www.tiff.net. Let the Sophie’s Choice decisions of Weekend One begin!


SPARTA DCCXX: 30 Day Film Challenge

Just a friendly reminder that the summer edition of the SPARTA Film Challenge takes place this Sunday, August 25, at the Mayfair Theatre. This edition of the challenge, dubbed SPARTA DCCXX, allows Ottawa filmmakers to compete with films they conceived and shot within one month of receiving the catch criteria. (Catch criteria being unique elements that filmmakers must incorporate into the movies to ensure that they are made within the given time frame.) The previous SPARTA gave teams a crash course in guerrilla filmmaking as they had a window of only 72 hours to make their movies. They get 720 hours this time (hence DCCXX), so it should be exciting to see what they come up with in the extra time. Some of the films were quite impressive last time, so the longer working period could make Sunday’s screening even better than the last. By coming out to support Ottawa’s next Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, or David Cronenberg, film buffs can contribute to the growth of the film community because funds from ticket sales go directly to the cash prizes awarded to winners. Yours truly will be one of the judges ranking and rating these films by Ottawa’s finest, so I cordially invite you all to attend and sweeten the pot!


“There’s Nothing Original These Days."

(USA/France, 106 min.)
Dir. Robert Luketic, Writ. Jason Hall, Barry L. Levy
Starring: Liam Hemsworth, Gary Oldman, Harrison Ford, Amber Heard, Lucas Till, Embeth Davidtz, and Richard Dreyfuss.
Gary Oldman, Chris Hemsworth, and Harrison Ford star in Paranoia.
Photo by Peter Iovino, courtesy of eOne Films
“There’s nothing original these days,” says Wyatt (Gary Oldman) to his young protégé Adam Cassidy (Liam Hemsworth) in the slick flick Paranoia. As Adam gives a career-driven yessir nod to his boss, Wyatt goes on how the only thing to do in the age of unoriginality is to steal ideas from the competition or to make a better copy. Paranoia, an utterly derivative techno-thriller, doesn’t really do either of Wyatt’s advised tactics, but it reveals a dearth of originality.


Pirates of the Dogme 35

A Hijacking (Kapringen)
(Denmark, 103 min.)
Written and directed by Tobias Lindholm
Starring: Pilou Asbæk, Søren Malling, Gary Skjoldmose Porter, Abdihakin Asgar.
Pilou Asbaek in A Hijacking, a Magnolia Films Release
A captain goes down with his ship. Tobias Lindholm crafts a compelling character study about a highjacking on the high seas, but the captain to sink in this psychological drama isn’t even aboard the ship. He’s a CEO named Peter, played by Søren Malling, all trimmed and dry in his Copenhagen office while the men of one of his boats, the MV Rozen, sweat it out on the ocean.

'My Prairie Home' Trailer

Rae Spoon. Photo by Colin Smith, courtesy of the NFB.

2013 has been a great year for music docs and it looks like there’s another strong one coming out soon. The recently released trailer for the Canadian doc My Prairie Home follows indie singer Rae Spoon in a story about finding one's voice in a playful-looking coming-of-age tale. Rae’s journey across the Canadian prairies is also a personal journey, as the film reveals the singer coming into their own as both a transgendered person and a quirky folk singer. This NFB road movie, directed by Chelsea McMullan (Genie nominee for the short doc Deragliamenti), opens in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary and other Canadian cities this fall. Doc fans can get an early taste for the film, as Spoon’s single “I Will be a Wall” from the album My Prairie Home is now available on the NFB’s website.

Synopsis and trailer after the jump:


Paranoia Feels Real

The Conspiracy
(Canada, 86 min.)
Written and directed by Christopher McBride
Starring: Aaron Poole, Jim Gilbert, Alan Peterson, Bruce Clayton, Julian Richings.
Aaron Poole and Jim Gilbert in The Conspiracy. Photo courtesy eOne Films.

Chris: You know, there's a word for people who think everyone is conspiring against them.
C.W.: I know, perceptive.
-The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (Woody Allen, 2001)
Take a walk downtown and one is bound to see some nutjob with a sign and a megaphone. “Blame the government!” “You’re being brainwashed!” “The revolution won’t be on Facebook!” scream the seemingly loony soothsayers. The mad prophets of the sidewalks are fascinating folks. Where they get their ideas, or the time and the means to pursue them, is a mind-boggler itself. Listening to what they say and then choosing whether to believe them or shrug and walk to Starbucks, is a whole other conundrum in itself. Two filmmakers chose to listen, though, and their raving conspiracy theorist proved to be startlingly perceptive.

OIAF 2013 Schedule Now Online

A Liar's Autobiography: The Untrue Story of Graham Chapman.
Photo courtesy eOne Films.
The schedule is now online for this year’s Ottawa International Animation Festival. The National Capital’s biggest film event runs September 18-22 this year, which provides just enough time for festivalgoers to recharge their batteries after TIFF. The schedule includes both the showtimes for festival screenings and the time slots for networking events/industry stuff in the festival’s TAC portion (Television Animation Conference). Opening night kicks off September 18 at The ByTowne with screenings of the feature competition film Approved for Adoption (Couleur de peau: miel) and the films in Short Competition 1. TAC events, meanwhile, are mostly held at the Museum of Nature this year, which means that festivalgoers can harass the dinosaurs during cocktail hours and breaks. Don’t worry, there are plenty of dinosaurs at The ByTowne, too, especially on Sundays.


TIFF Adds More Films to Galas and Special Presentations

Sean Durkin's Southcliffe
Were the Oscar nominations announced today? I feel like all I want to talk about is what’s out, rather than what’s in. The latest slate of films announced for the Gala and Special Presentations programme for the Toronto International Film Festival, presumably the last ones to be named in these categories, includes some surprising omissions. Not set to be screening at the festival are Oscar hopefuls such as Diana and Grace of Monaco, which some writers—myself included—thought could bring to the festival circuit the beginning of a Best Actress face-off between friends Naomi Watts and Nicole Kidman as they play late princesses Diana and Grace Kelly, respectively. Equally notable absences are Cannes winners Nebraska and Inside Llewellyn Davis, which could have made North American premieres at Toronto to kick off their awards runs. Also missing is the Marion Cotillard pic The Immigrant, which debuted at Cannes to more favourable reviews than Cotillard’s other film, Blood Ties, which is screening as a Gala. The absence of The Immigrant and Grace of Monaco could partly be attributed to the heavy set of films from The Weinstein Company that are already set for Toronto, as TWC already has Oscar hopefuls August: Osage County, Philomena, and Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.


Eye on Canada: The Best Foreign Language Film Oscar Race at TIFF 2013

The race is on!
Sophie Desmarais plays Sarah in Sarah Prefers to Run, an eOne Films release
This week’s announcement of the Canadian films at TIFF leaves much to anticipate. New films by Bruce McDonald (The Husband), Ingrid Veninger (The Animal Project), Terry Miles (Cinemanovels), Jennifer Baichwal (Watermark), and Peter Stebbins (Empire of Dirt) all sound like good reasons to head over to the festival’s website and add a ticket package of “The Canadian” to one’s TIFF shopping cart. There’s also a double-dose of Denis Villeneuve, which probably has many people excited. His double-header of Prisoners and Enemy might also have many Canadian filmmakers excited because Villeneuve’s pair of Anglophone films means that the recent Oscar nominee for Incendies won’t be competing with his fellow Quebecers for the coveted spot as Canada’s Oscar contender.

'Plan' Lacks Execution

Everybody has a Plan (Todos tenemos un plan)
(Argentina/Spain/Germany, 118  min.)
Dir. Ana Piterbarg; Writ. Ana Piterbarg, Ana Cohan.
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Soledad Villamil, Sofía Gala.
Viggo Mortensen gives a powerful performance in the otherwise muted thriller Everybody has a Plan (Todos tenemos un plan). Mortensen, who lived in Argentina for a decade during his childhood, will surprise many viewers with his grasp of the Spanish language while navigating a tricky dual role. The actor stars as twin brothers Augustín and Pedro, a pediatrician and beekeeper/kidnapper, respectively, who couldn’t seem to be any more different aside from their genetics. A strange business offer from Pedro, though, takes Augustín’s life down a startlingly dark path.


How Fun it is to Spy on the Neighbours!

In the House (Dans la maison)
(France, 105 min.)
Written and directed by François Ozon
Starring: Fabrice Luchini, Ernst Umhauer, Kristin Scott Thomas, Emmanuelle Seigner, Bastien Ughetto, Denis Ménochet.
Fabrice Luchini and Kristin Scott Thomas star in In the House.
Photo courtesy Les Films Séville.
Spying on the neighbours might be the most fun a person can have without spending a dime. Take, for example, the harmless thrill of seeing a slightly deranged neighbour unpack a new load of flowers from his truck and then watch him get back in and accidently back up over the tubs of carnations. It’s wrong to watch and giggle as he kicks at the tires and swears at the dog, but it’s funny for all the wrong reasons. The same goes for deducing with a fellow barista that two coffee shop regulars are having an affair. It’s not hard to put two and two together when there’s a motel that charges by the quarter-hour within the sight line of the espresso machine. Prying eyes and gossip are what passes for fun in dull suburbia.


District 99%

(USA, 109 min.)
Written and directed by Neill Blomkamp
Starring: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley, Alice Braga, Diego Luna.
The studios have been cranking out moronic SFX extravaganzas all summer. Now that it’s finally August and the kids need to resuscitate their minds in time for school, Hollywood has decided to mix some brains in with the brawn to keep them coming back. Appropriately enough, Elysium stars Matt Damon, the actor with the smarts of Will Hunting and the action-star skills of Jason Bourne. Damon teams up with burgeoning sci-fi director Neill Blomkamp, which marks the filmmaker’s sophomore feature after the sleeper hit District 9. The result is something smarter and more entertaining than the junk that Hollywood has been cranking out all summer.


Hollywood: The Wasteland

The Canyons
(USA, 99 min.)
Dir. Paul Schrader, Writ. Bret Easton Ellis
Starring: Lindsay Lohan, James Deen, Nolan Funk, Amanda Brooks.
Tara (Lindsay Lohan), and Christian (James Deen).
Courtesy of Mongrel Media 
“You can work around bad behaviour,” noted director Paul Schrader during an extended chat in Toronto earlier this year, “but bad casting leaves an irreparable, permanent imprint on a production.” Schrader made the comment while discussing his then-upcoming film The Canyons after presenting a clip at a screening of Taxi Driver hosted by The Seventh Art. Schrader’s comment, which was made in reference to the notorious on-set behaviour of star Lindsay Lohan, seems appropriate when the clip of The Canyons is put in the context of the film as a whole. The Canyons doesn’t suffer due to Lohan’s bad behaviour. In fact, she’s probably the best thing about the film. Bad casting, however, might still be the downfall of Schrader’s admirable misfire.


Short Film 'Wakening' to Precede 'The Fifth Estate' at TIFF 2013

TIFF opener The Fifth Estate will be joined by the short Wakening
Hot on the heels of this afternoon’s Short Cuts Canada programming announcement comes a major addition to the presence of short films at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. It was announced today that TIFF would kick-off with the unprecedented inclusion of the first independently produced short film to launch TIFF’s public opening night gala screening. That film is the bravoFACT funded short Wakening, directed by Danis Goulet and written by Orphan Black’s Tony Elliott. Wakening will screen before the WikiLeaks drama The Fifth Estate, directed by Bill Condon and starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Daniel Brühl, which nabbed the prestigious opening night slot.

TIFF Announces Canadian Films for Festival 2013

Rhymes for Young Ghouls. Photo courtesy of the Canadian Film Centre.
The Canadian films for this year’s Toronto International Film Festival were announced today and the line-up of local work is just as strong as the impressive international programming slated for the festival thus far. TIFF 2013 already has a number of top Canadian directors lined up for the festival with non-Canadian films (see: Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners, Jean-Marc Vallée’s Dallas Buyers Club, and Atom Egoyan’s Devil’s Knot), so there’s ample opportunity for new discoveries in the Canadian content at the festival this year. Villeneuve, however, will be showing a Canadian co-pro at the festival in addition to Prisoners, as his other Jake Gyllenhaal pic Enemy, adapted from the José Saramago novel The Double, will screen at TIFF. Among the notable new Canadian filmmakers is Jeff Barnaby, who will make the world premiere of his feature debut Rhymes for Young Ghouls in the Discovery programme. Rhymes for Young Ghouls is a strong Canadian film to watch, as it is one of several films included in the announcement to spotlight work both by and about First Nations Canadians. Alanis Obomsawin’s Hi-ho Mistahey! was previous announced among the TIFF Docs films, as were three Canadian Gala screenings: The Grand Seduction, The Right Kind of Wrong, and The Art of the Steal.


A Credit Long Overdue

Casting By
(USA, 89 min.)
Dir. Tom Donahue
Feat. Marion Dougherty, Ellen Lewis, Juliet Taylor, Danny Glover, Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen, Clint Eastwood, Glenn Close, Robert Duvall, Jeff Bridges, Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Diane Lane, Jon Voight, Bette Midler and John Travolta.
Casting Director Marion Dougherty
The Ottawa premiere of Tom Donahue’s documentary Casting By couldn’t arrive at a better time. It was just yesterday that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced that it is finally adding a unique branch for casting directors. Casting directors have been invited to be a part of The Academy for years, although they were lumped into the broad group of Members at Large. The move is a step in the right direction towards acknowledging some of the unsung talents in the film industry. (Casting, as the film notes, is the only main title credit without a category in the Oscars.) After seeing Casting By, though, viewers will agree that casting directors deserve as much credit for their contribution to film as any actor or director with whom they collaborate.