CFI Premieres "Viva Agentina" This Week

"Viva Argentina" kicks off Wednesday with The Last Elvis
A highlight among the annual Latin American Film Festival held by the Canadian Film Institute in Ottawa is often the Argentine selection among the programme. It’s no wonder, then, that the popularity of screenings such as Clandestine Childhood and Chinese Take-Away would prompt that the CFI is set to devote a full series to spotlight the cinema of Argentina. This Wednesday marks the premiere programme of the CFI’s “Viva Argentina: Current Trends in Argentine Cinema,” which aims to take film buffs’ knowledge of world cinema beyond the story time of a film. “Viva Argentina” offers a three-day line-up of the film experience at a higher level, as it presents three contemporary Argentine films along with guest speakers and two days of workshops, all of which aim to engage Ottawa filmgoers with the topics and currents of the film movement known as “New Argentine Cinema.” The event is first-time collaboration between the CFI, the University of Ottawa's Spanish Program, and the Embassy of Argentina in Canada.


Even From Hollywood, Villeneuve Hits Close to Home

(USA, 153 min.)
Dir. Denis Villeneuve, Writ. Aaron Guzikowski
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Terrence Howard, Viola Davis, Maria Bello, Paul Dano, and Melissa Leo.
Prisoners might be among the best mainstream studio films to hit theatres so far this year and, wouldn’t you know it, it’s the Hollywood debut of Canadian director Denis Villeneuve. Villeneuve follows the success of 2010’s Oscar-nominated Incendies, which posed a significant milestone in terms of drawing international attention to Canadian cinema, by showing what a great director can do with a potentially formulaic premise. Prisoners is as powerful and as visceral an experience as Villeneuve’s previous works, but it’s told on a grander scale. It only seems fitting for Villeneuve to follow the Greek tragedy of Incendies with the epic of Prisoners.


A Canadian Caper

The Art of the Steal
(Canada, 90 min.)
Written and directed by Jonathan Sobol
Starring: Kurt Russell, Matt Dillon, Jay Baruchel, Kenneth Welsh, Chris Diamantopoulos, Terrence Stamp, Katheryn Winnick, Jason Jones
Photo courtesy eOne Films.

“I got a job for you,” says Crunch Calhoun (Kurt Russell) whilst convincing his former forger, Guy (Chris Diamantopoulos) to reunite for another heist.
“America?” Guy replies.
“No, Canada,” says Crunch.
“Enh, America-lite.”


'Gabrielle' is Canada's Oscar Pick

Photo courtesy Les Films Seville
It’s official! Telefilm Canada’s Carolle Brabant announced Louise Archambault’s Gabrielle as Canada’s official submission in the category of Best Foreign Language Film at this year’s Academy Awards. The announcement was streamed live via Facebook. The film was selected out of the pool of films that submitted to the Pan-Canadian committee for consideration.

It’s an excellent choice. (See my TIFF review here.) Gabrielle is easily the best Canadian film of the year. Gabrielle also marks the third submission in three years for producers Kim McCraw and Luc Déry, who took Incendies and Monsieur Lazhar to the Oscars in 2010 and 2011. Let’s see Canada nominated in 2013! Bonne chance Gabrielle!


2013 Ottawa International Film Festival Line-up!

Michelle Monaghan and Michael Keaton in Penthouse North
Festember continues! After seeing all that the world has to offer at festivals like TIFF and OIAF, it only seems fitting to bring the festival circuit full circle with a mix of international films and films shot in one’s own backyard. This year’s Ottawa International Film Festival, now moved to October from its previous time slot of late August, brings a mix of local and global films to Ottawa. (The fest is becoming noticeably more “international” as it grows.) Among the highlights of this year’s programme are two locally shot films: Crook, the latest film from local director Adrian Langley, is probably the best bet of the festival, while Penthouse North, an American thriller starring Michael Keaton and Michelle Monaghan, offers festivalgoers a taste of Hollywood films being shot in the 613. The event begins with an opening night gala/party on October 2, followed by three days of screenings. The full schedule is as follows:


OIAF 2013: Wrap-up and 'Best of the Fest'

But Milk is Important - Pat's choice and the public choice. (A rare match!)
This year’s Ottawa International Animation Festival went by so quickly! How time flies when one is having fun. It was a pleasure to cover Ottawa’s largest film event once again, and this year’s OIAF offered a stronger line-up than any I’ve seen at the festival before. My hat is off to the festival organizers and programmers for finding such an impressive and diverse spectrum of films. There was something to admire in every programme, and each section of the festival felt like a unique sample of all that animators around the globe had to offer this year.

OIAF Review: 'Tito on Ice'

Tito on Ice
(Germany/Sweden, 75 min.)
Dir. Max Andersson & Helena Ahonen, Writ. Max Andersson
Starring: Max Andersson, Lars Sjunnesson Helena Ahonen, Nedim Cisic, Katerina Mirovic.
I have never quite seen anything like Tito on Ice. The film, which scooped the Grand Prize for Best Animated Feature at this year’s Ottawa International Animation Festival, is a unique hybrid of animation and documentary. It’s not necessarily something new to use animation in documentary film, but Tito on Ice takes form and meaning to new levels as it juxtaposes stunning paper cutout sequences with interviews and documentary footage shot on inexpensive DV. The film finds a kind of truth through its exploration of reality and fiction.

OIAF Review: Short Competition 2

Rollin' Safari
Short Competition 2 is comparatively the weakest of the five competitive programmes to screen at this year’s Ottawa International Animation Festival, but any suffering it gains by comparison to other sections simply demonstrates what a great offering of short films the festival had this year. There are a handful of great and entertaining films here. Short Competition 2 even boasts a pair of festival award winners—and a pair of worthy ones at that!

OIAF Review: 'Arjun: The Warrior Prince'

Arjun: The Warrior Prince
(India, 95 min.)
Dir. Arnab Chaudhuri, Writ. Rajesh Devraj, R.D. Tailang
Starring: Yuddvir Bakolia, Ila Arun
An ancient story comes to life in the animated epic Arjun: The Warrior Prince. Arjun dramatizes a story within the Indian epic the Mahabharata that tells of the five sons of King Pandu. One of these sons, Arjun, becomes a valiant warrior. Akin to animated heroes like Hercules and Aladdin, the Arjun of Arjun: The Warrior Prince is an endlessly noble hero of fairy tale lore.


OIAF Review: Canadian Showcase

Soup of the Day
The Canadian Showcase at this year's Ottawa International Animation festival boasts a range of shorts as expansive and diverse as the land between St. John's and Vancouver. The OIAF CS has everything from musicals to sci fi, from independent works to anijams, and from NFB productions to NFB assisted productions. Yes, the Canadian Showcase had animated shorts of every colour.

OIAF Review: 'The Boy and the World'

The Boy and the World (O Menino e o Mundo)
(Brazil, 85 min.)
Dir. Alê Abreu
Enter the world of Cuca, a small boy growing up in a simple family in the idyllic Brazilian countryside. Cuca’s playful, carefree existence is thrown for a loop when his father quits the rural homestead for the city so that he may provide for his family. Cuca thus embarks on a journey to find his father. The Boy and the World (O Menino e o Mundo), which had its world premiere this week at the Ottawa International Animation Festival, is a notable animated feature offering from Brazil. The warm playful colours of The Boy and the World will bring out the kid in everyone as audiences find themselves enthralled with Cuca’s charming adventure.

OIAF Review: Short Competition 4

Short Competition 4 at the 2013 Ottawa International Animation Festival features the most experimental programme of films in the competition. The films of Short Competition 4 offer some of the finest innovations in film form at this year's festival. They're the ones with the big ideas.


Ottawa International Animation Festival Award Winners

The winners for the 2013 Ottawa International Animation Festival were handed out tonight. The awards, presented in a ceremony at St. Brigid's Centre for the Arts, acknowledged the best in the festival seemed by jurors for the short film and feature film competitions. The winners are:

-Nelvana Grand Prize for Independent Short Animation: Lonely Bones, Rosto
***as the winner of this prize, film is now eligible for competition for Best Animated Short at the Academy Awards.
-Grand Prize for Feature Animation: Tito on Ice, Max Andersson & Helena Ahonen.
Honorable Mention: The Boy and the World, Ale Abreu
-Best Narrative Animation: Oh Willy, Emma de Swaef and Marc James Roels
-Best Experimental/Abstract Animation: Virtuoso Virtual, Thomas Stellmach & Maja Oschmann
-Best Promotional Animation: 50e Anniversaire de la Cinemateque Quebecoise, Diane Obomsawin
-Best Television Animation Made for Adults: Archer 'Coyote Lovely' (Bryan Fordney)
-Best Television Animation Made for Kids: Regular Show 'A Bunch of Full Grown Geese' (JG Quintel)
-Honorable mentions: SpongeBob Squarepants 'It's a SpongeBob Christmas' (Mark Caballero & Seamus Walsh), Adventure Time 'A Glitch is a Glitch' (David O'Reilly)
-Best Short Animation Made for Kids: Written by a Kid 'La Munkya' (Roque Ballesteros).
Honorable mentions:  Tome of the Unknown (Patrick McHale), The Little Blond Boy with a White Sheep (Eloi Henriod)
-Best Music Video Animation: Stuck in Sound 'Let's Go' (Alexis Beaumont & Remi Godin)
-Best Undergraduate Animation: Rolling Safari (Kyra Buschor, Constantin Paeplow & Anna Habermehl)
-Walt Disney Prize for Best Graduate Animation: But Milk is Important (Eirik Gronmo Bjornsen & Anna Mantzaris)
Honorable mention: Na Ni Nu Ne No No (Manabu Himeda)
-Best High School Animation: Abduction Milk Cow (Shin Hye Kim, Woo Sol Lee & Hyun Ji Yoon)
-Best Canadian Student Animation: Wind & Tree (Konstantin Steshenko), honorable mention: Blackout (Sharron Mirsky)
-Best Animated School Showreel: Tama Art University, Japan
-Canadian Film Institute Award for Best Canadian Animation: Two Weeks -Two Minutes (Judith Poirier)
Honorable Mentions: The Clockmakers (Renaud Hallee), Crossing Victoria (Steven Woloshen)
-Public Prize: But Milk is Important (Eirik Gronmo Bjornsen & Anna Mantzaris)

See the winners when the Best of the Festival screens Sunday, Sept. 22 at 7:00 pm and 9:15 pm at the ByTowne Cinema.

OIAF Review: Short Competition 5

But Milk is Important
If there is only one screening you can attend during the final day of this year’s Ottawa International Animation Festival, let it be Short Competition 5. Short Competition 5 easily boasts the cream of the crop of shorts I’ve seen at the festival so far. These films are dark and daring. There’s only one juvenile dud to be had among the strong field: Ici, là et partout (Here, There and Everywhere) by Japanese animator Sawako Kabuki, whose “ass juice” anthem Ketsujiru Juke was also the low point of Short Competition 3. The rest of these shorts expand their imaginations beyond vulgar sight gags and angst-ridden love-letters. The films in Short Competition 5 are audacious and original must-sees.

OIAF Review: 'The Pain and the Pity'

The Pain and the Pity
(UK, 75 min.)
Written and directed by Phil Mulloy
“It’s got to mean something. Why else would it have screened?” asks a character in Phil Mulloy’s animated feature The Pain and the Pity. The same question is bound to befuddle OIAF-goers who tackle the film. The Pain and the Pity is difficult to handle, but it is not without its rewards since one can gain some sense that the film means something even if that “something” is always hard to grasp. It’s a fun film to ponder and debate.


OIAF Review: 'Anima Buenos Aires'

Ánima Buenos Aires
(Argentina, 95 min.)
Dir. María Ramírez
Ánima Buenos Aires is a struggle. It evokes comparison to Paris, je t'aime since it offers a cute little anthology film set in the exotic city of Buenos Aires, but it deserves more comparison to the dull mess of Paris’ follow-up, New York, I Love You. The four vignettes of Ánima Buenos Aires feel like four random shorts slapped together. Nothing connects them narratively, aesthetically, or thematically. There is no reason to show these films together aside from geography.

OIAF Review: Short Competition 3

Archer: 'Coyote Lovely'
The animators of Short Film Competition 3 at the 2013 Ottawa International Animation Festival don’t seem to have quite the same fascination with male appendages that their cartoon comrades of Competition 1 do. Nor do they seem to be riding the vomit comet, as not one short of this programme features projectile vomit. Short Competition 3 might be the most diverse programme of the festival, as it includes everything from a full episode of the hit show Archer with the funny Coyote Lovely  (Bryan Fordney, USA) to a Project X promotional Penthouse letter called Vice and Project X ‘Big Sean Tells Crazy Party Story’ (Leah Shore, USA) to Boogodobiegodongo (Peter Millard, UK), which should teach kids at the festival that they can still have their work shown in a theatre if they still can’t colour within the lines. Fret not, though, since Short Competition 3 lets Ottawans and animation buffs unleash their inner child and let out a little giggle. There is not one but two films here devoted to poo.

OIAF Review: 'It's Such a Beautiful Day'

It’s Such a Beautiful Day
(USA, 62 min.)
Written, directed, and narrated by Don Hertzfeldt
What a difference a year makes. The Ottawa international Animation Festival screened Don Hertzfeldt's It's Such a Beautiful Day last year in competition as a short film. It ran twenty minutes, yet I nearly fell asleep and I basically wrote it off when time came to review the programme. It's Such a Beautiful Day is back at OIAF, but this time it is screening as part of the feature competition. And this time I liked it much, much better.

OIAF Review: Short Competition 1

If there is one thing to be learned from Short Competition 1 at this year’s Ottawa International Animation Festival, it’s that animators like dicks and vomit. Actually, there are two things to be learned from this series: gents and puke are a lot funnier in an animated short than they are in real life.

OIAF Review: 'A Liar's Autobiography: The Untrue Story of Monty Python's Graham Chapman'

A Liar’s Autobiography: The Untrue Story of Monty Python’s Graham Chapman
(UK, 85 min.)
Dir. Bill Jones, Jeff Simpson, Ben Timlett
Feat. Grahman Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Carol Cleveland, Cameron Diaz.
Still courtesy eOne Films

Fear not, parents! The Ottawa International Film Festival is not all Bambi and bunnies! There’s some R-rated fun to be had in the features programme with a film made not for the kiddies, but for mum and dad. Mature audiences at OIAF 2013 are far more likely to enjoy A Lair’s Autobiography: The Untrue Story of Monty Python’s Graham Chapman than the young folks are, anyways, since this film is a silly lark that looks back upon the greatest comedy troupe of your parents’ youth. This one is strictly for fans.


OIAF Review: 'Approved for Adoption'

Approved for Adoption (Couleur de peau: miel)
(France/Belgium, 73 min.)
Written and directed by: Laurent Boileu & Jung
Starring: Jung, William Coryn, Christelle Cornil, Jean-Luc Couchard, David Macaluso
Jung was born in South Korea but was adopted by a Belgian family at the age of four. Jung knows few details about his life in Korea, aside from the year of his birth and the description written the adoption agent, “Colour of skin: honey.” It is therefore unsurprising that Jung grew up with his adopted family in Belgium feeling a hole in his life and wondering about the family and culture he left behind. Jung, now forty-two, returns to South Korea in Approved for Adoption and retraces his family.


Contest: Win Tickets to see 'Don Jon' in Ottawa! (Contest Closed)

Were you following all the hype at TIFF last week? If you did, you probably saw tweets galore about Don Jon, one of the buzziest films to hit the fest this year. Don Jon marks the feature directorial debut of actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Looper) and it’s been earning great reviews since premiering at Sundance earlier this year. Don Jon stars JGL alongside Scarlett Johansson (Under the Skin) and Julianne Moore (What Maisie Knew)

TIFF 2013: Festival Wrap-up and 'Best of the Fest'

TIFF People's Choice winner 12 Years a Slave
Another year at TIFF has ended. This year’s Toronto International Film Festival felt bigger and better than ever, although I’m sad to say that I missed some of the festival’s top hits even though I had a final tally of 38 features and 7 shorts. The massive line-up called for some tough decisions and I just had to cut coveted films such as 12 Years a Slave, Gravity, Rush, Prisoners, and Dallas Buyers Club because they had immanent release dates whereas screenings they conflicted with often did not. (Why pay $25-$45 to see Prisoners in Toronto on the 15th when I can see it for six bucks in Kanata on the 20th?) It feels like I attended a different festival of sorts as I stocked up on Can Con with Oscar hopefuls and world cinema sandwiched in between. I felt less out of touch, though, when the festival winners were announced and I’d actually seen two of them: Philomena, which went over sensationally well at the public screening I attended, is a worthy runner-up to the People’s Choice winner 12 Years a Slave, which I didn’t see, but drew raves from all my TIFF-going companions who saw it. I cast a vote for Philomena in my efforts to expand voting beyond my top five this year, so I’m glad to feel included among “the people”.


TIFF Review: 'The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him and Her'

The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him and Her
(USA, 190 min.)
Written and directed by Ned Benson
Starring Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Viola Davis, Bill Hader, Ciarán Hinds, Isabelle Huppert, William Hurt, Jess Weixlerm, Nina Arianda.
Programme: Special Presentations (Work in Progress)
The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him and Her is a Rashômon­-esque pas de deux. The film, a double shot of his and her love stories, is a profoundly moving meditation on the shared emotion of love. The film consists of two halves, Him and Her, which could act as stand-alone features but must truly be appreciated as complementary parts of a whole. The film screened in differing stages at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival screenings of Eleanor Rigby alternating with a set list of Him then Her or Her before Him. I caught the former sequence of Eleanor Rigby and I can’t imagine seeing it any other way.

TIFF Review: 'Under the Skin'

Under the Skin
(UK, 108 min.)
Dir. Jonathan Glazer, Writ. Jonathan Glazer, Walter Campbell
Starring: Scarlett Johansson
Programme: Special Presentations (North American Premiere)
Scarlett Johansson might play Black Widow in the Marvel movies, but she is a true man-eater in Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin. She also plays an alien. Under the Skin gives Johansson her weirdest, strangest role to date, because she not only plays an alien, but because she owns what is mostly a dialogue-free one-woman show. Her alluring come-hither look can indeed carry a film. Johansson provides a seductive stare for 108 minutes as her extraterrestrial named Laura travels the picturesque Scottish countryside devouring men who succumb to her charms.

TIFF Review: 'The Animal Project'

The Animal Project
(Canada, 90 min.)
Written and directed by Ingrid Veninger
Starring: Aaron Poole, Hannah Cheesman, Jessica Greco, Emmanuel Kabongo, Sarena Parma, Johnathan Sousa, Jacob Switzer.
Programme: Contemporary World Cinema (World Premiere)
Photo by John Gundy. Courtesy of Mongrel Media.

Toronto’s indie film queen Ingrid Veninger walks and talks with the animals in her latest and arguably most ambitious film The Animal Project. The film sees Leo, an unconventional acting teacher played by Aaron Poole (The Conspiracy), test his students by tasking them with an unusual acting exercise that takes them out of their comfort zones and has them unleash the beast within. The assignment, dubbed The Animal Project and inspired by a memory from the childhood of Leo’s son (Jacob Switzer), asks the acting class to dress up as furries and wander the streets of Toronto.

TIFF Reviews: 'Siddharth', 'Witching and Bitching', 'Hotell', 'Mystery Road'

(Canada/India, 96 min.)
Written and directed by Richie Mehta
Starring: Rajesh Tailang, Tannishtha Chatterjee, Anurag Arora, Geeta Agrawal Sharma, Naseeruddin Shah
Programme: Contemporary World Cinema (North American Premiere)
Mahendra, played by a remarkably affecting Rajesh Tailang, is a chain-wallah on the streets of New Delhi. He makes little money to bring back to his family’s small home, so he sends his twelve-year-old son, Siddharth, to work in a factory far away. Siddharth doesn’t come home, though, when the family reunites for Diwali. Mahendra, afraid that Siddharth might have been a victim of child trafficking associated with factory labour, embarks on a search to find his son. Siddharth evokes a heart-rending, if unabashedly sentimental, tale as Mahendra travels the streets of India and explores every gutter and slum to find the son he lost long before he learned of Siddharth’s disappearance. Writer/director Richie Mehta tells the touching fable with startling realism, making the abject poverty that precipitated the awful situation a central character in the story. The quest is not so much a search for a lone boy, but for an end to the social conditions that might lead a parent to feel so helpless and destitute that he would sell his child in the first place. The fittingly unconventional end to Mahendra’s search denies the closure one needs to bring such a poignant tale full circle, which makes the lack of resolution all the more effective.

TIFF Review: 'Unforgiven'

Unforgiven (Yurusarezarumono)
(Japan, 135 min.)
Written and directed by Lee Sang-il
Starring: Ken Watanabe, Akira Emoto, Koichi Sato
Programme: Special Presentations (North American Premiere)
Now here’s a remake that shows adaptation to be alive and well. Clint Eastwood’s 1992 western Unforgiven, now a classic and a hallmark of the genre, reignited the western when it seemed good and dead. Eastwood was a fitting choice to bring tale of iconic gunslingers back to life, since he made a name for himself as the man with no name in the great spaghetti westerns of the 1960s. Any good Film 101 student, however, knows that the legacy of the great American genre has some of its richest roots not in Yankee folklore, but in the samurai tales of the East.


TIFF Review: 'The Husband'

The Husband
(Canada, 80 min.)
Dir. Bruce McDonald, Writ. Maxwell McCabe-Lokos, Kelly Harms
Starring: Maxwell McCabe-Lokos, August Diehl, Sarah Allen, Jodi Balfour, Stephen McHattie
Programme: Special Presentations (World Premiere)
Bruce McDonald brings the mojo to #TIFF13 with the smart black dramedy The Husband. The film, directed by McDonald and written by star Maxwell McCabe-Lokos and producer Kelly Harms, is a bitingly funny study of masculinity. McCabe-Lokos stars as Henry, a downtrodden ad-man whose manhood is crushed when his wife Alyssa (Sarah Allen) goes to prison for having sex with a fourteen year old boy. How emasculating.

TIFF Review: 'Gabrielle'

(Canada, 104 min.)
Written and directed by Louise Archambault
Starring: Gabrielle Marion-Rivard, Alexandre Landry, Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin
Programme: Special Presentations (North American Premiere)
Photo courtesy Les Films Seville
What a joy Gabrielle is! Writer/director Louise Archambault (Familia) provides one of the most tender and touching romances this country has seen in years with the tale of young Gabrielle (played by Gabrielle Marion-Rivard) and her quest to love as freely as others do. Gabrielle is a twenty-five-year old woman with Williams syndrome living in a centre for developmentally challenged persons. Gabrielle acknowledges the lack of her independence for the first time when she realizes that the rules—and constant guardianship—of the centre act as a barrier to the love that is blossoming between her and one of her fellow choir members, Antoine (Alexandre Landry).


TIFF Reviews: 'A Field in England', 'A Touch of Sin', 'Sarah Prefers to Run'

A Field in England
(UK, 90 min.)
Dir. Ben Wheatley, Writ. Ben Wheatley, Amy Jump
Starring: Michael Smiley, Reese Shearsmith, Julian Barratt, Peter Ferdinando, Ryan Pope
Programme: Wavelengths (North American Premiere)
The shit hits the fan in Ben Wheatley’s A Field in England and the result ain’t pretty. A Field in England gives TIFF-goers their first and hopefully only chance to experience an intoxicating drug trip in 1648 England. A troupe of men flees the ongoing Civil War only to be captured by a cruel commander (Michael Smiley) who forces them into doing the heavy work on a treasure hunt. The hidden gold is a crop of hallucinogenic mushroom that sends the men on a bizarre romp of brutal violence and imaginative flights of the imagination.

TIFF Review: 'Our Man in Tehran'

Our Man in Tehran
(Canada, 85 min.)
Dir. Drew Taylor and Larry Weinstein
Feat. Ken Taylor, Pat Taylor, Joe Clark, Flora MacDonald, Tony Mendez, Carole Jerome.
Programme: Mavericks (World Premiere)
Last year's Toronto International Film Festival hosted the World Premiere of Ben Affleck's wildly entertaining blockbuster Argo. Controversy followed the TIFF screening as the film ended its thrilling embellishment of the 1979-1981 Iranian Hostage Crisis, for which Canada played an especially important role in sheltering and rescuing six Americans who escaped the siege on the American Embassy. The feat became dubbed “The Canadian Caper” and it made national heroes out of Canadian Ambassador Ken Taylor, his wife Pat, and the team of Canadians at the embassy in Iran who took part in saving six of Canada’s neighbours.

TIFF Reviews: 'Felony', 'When Jews Were Funny', 'The Sea'

(Australia, 105 min.)
Dir. Matthew Saville, Writ. Joel Edgerton
Starring: Tom Wilkinson, Joel Edgerton, Jai Courtney, Melissa George, Sarah Roberts
Programme: Special Presentations (World Premiere)
Joel Edgerton makes an impressive screenwriting debut with Felony. Felony, a solid crime thriller from Australia, is fuelled by a complicated moral atmosphere that ensnares its three leads in a thorny bind. Malcolm (Edgerton) is a detective recently dubbed a hero who makes a terrible mistake—and commits a terrible crime—en route home from celebrating his endeavours. The greater crime, depending how one views things, comes next when veteran officer Carl Summer (Tom Wilkinson, in a spectacular performance) decides that the law need not apply to the brethren of the badge. Caught in the centre is a Carl’s new partner Jim (Jai Courtney), who views the law, and the inevitable moral baggage it brings with it, with the clarity of black and white perspectives.


TIFF Review: 'Tom at the Farm'

Tom at the Farm (Tom à la ferme)
(Canada/France, 105 min.)
Dir. Xavier Dolan, Writ. Xavier Dolan, Michel Marc Bouchard
Starring: Xavier Dolan, Pierre-Yves Cardinal, Lise Roy, Evelyne Brochu
Programme: Special Presentations (North American Premiere)
Xavier Dolan, the wunderkind of Québécois queer cinema, does a surprising turn of form in his fourth feature Tom at the Farm. Dolan strips away much of the visual audaciousness that, for better or for worse, defines the young auteur for a new generation of viewers. Some film fans, including this reviewer, found Dolan’s first three films to favour style over substance (not always, though), so it’s a pleasant surprise that Tom at the Farm sees Dolan make unexpected use of minimalism as he changes gears and delivers a haunting love story set in rural Québec.

TIFF Reviews: 'Philomena', 'Child's Pose', 'Third Person'

(UK, 98 min.)
Dir. Stephen Frears, Writ. Steve Coogan, Jeff Pope
Starring: Judi Dench, Steve Coogan
Programme: Special Presentations (North American Premiere)
“Fucking Catholics,” quips Martin Sixsmith one of Philomena’s many lines that is alternatively provocative and hilarious. Philomena boasts one of the best scripts of the year in Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope’s adaptation of Martin Sixsmith’s non-fiction work The Lost Child of Philomena Lee. Philomena’s tale is heartbreaking as Martin assists Philomena track down the child that was taken from her by the church when she was a teenage mother. Coogan and Pope’s screenplay is a compelling character study and a bold social commentary alike as the film reveals the coldness of the Catholic Church and shows how some overzealous, not to mention criminal, piety betrayed members of the faithful.

TIFF Review: 'August: Osage County'

August: Osage County
(USA, 130 min.)
Dir. John Wells, Writ. Tracy Letts
Starring: Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Julianne Nicholson, Margo Martindale, Juliette Lewis, Abigail Breslin, Ewan McGregor, Benedict Cumberbatch, Chris Cooper, Dermot Mulroney, Misty Upham, and Sam Shepard.
Programme: Galas (World Premiere)
August: Osage County, of all the films waiting to be unveiled at the Toronto International Film Festival this year, was arguably the one for which festivalgoers had the highest expectations. Deliver on those expectations, August: Osage County most certainly did, and it did so with a capital D. August: Osage County had a high bar to meet considering that the source play by Tracy Letts won a slew of awards including the Tony and Pulitzer Prize. The film will doubtlessly add more hardware to the A:OC awards tally if the booming reception both during and after the film's Tuesday screening at the VISA Screening Room is any indication.


TIFF Review: 'Around the Block'

Around the Block
(Australia, 104 min.)
Written and directed by Sarah Spillane
Starring: Christina Ricci, Hunter Page-Lochard
Programme: Discovery (World Premiere)
Christina Ricci delves into full Michelle Pfeiffer mode in Around the Block, aka Australian Dangerous Minds. Around the Block is a familiar story of an outsider teacher who wades in to a high school populated with students from rough urban environments and vows to take a stand against racism, class, and perceptions of social determinism. The premise, tried and tested, always makes for a compelling payoff, and Around the Block is no exception. Writer/director Sarah Spillane, making her feature film debut, provides a perspective to the story that remains relevant.

TIFF Review: 'Rhymes for Young Ghouls'

Rhymes for Young Ghouls
(Canada, 90 min.)
Written and directed by Jeff Barnaby
Starring: Devery Jacobs, Glen Gould, Brandon Oakes, Roseanne Supernault, Mark Antony Krupa
Photo courtesy of the Canadian Film Centre

It’s 1976 on Red Crow M’igMaq Reservation. The Indian Act has hit its 100th anniversary and, as the title cards state in the opening of Jeff Barnaby’s Rhymes for Young Ghouls, Her Majesty’s Government insists that every Indian child under the age of 16 must attend residential school. 1976 also marks the 15th year of a young woman named Alia, played by revelatory newcomer Devery Jacobs. Alia has less than a year to go until she can finally live outside the shadow of the rez, for she has been fortunate to escape the school by running drugs for her uncle Burner (Brandon Oakes) in order to pay off the school’s nasty Indian Agent, Popper (Mark Antony Krupa).


TIFF Review: 'Enough Said'

Enough Said
(USA, 91 min.)
Written and directed by Nicole Holofcener
Starring: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, James Gondolfini, Catherine Keener, Toni Collette (Sarah), Ben Falcone.
Programme: Special Presentations (World Premiere)
Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) finds herself in a love triangle of sorts in Nicole Holofcener’s radiantly funny Enough Said. Eva, a divorced and single parent, finds herself exploring a second chance at love when she meets a fat, slobby man named Albert (played by the late James Gandolfini) at a party. Albert is not the kind of man to whom Eva would normally take a liking. Her first impression with him, in fact, sees her blurt that she doesn’t find a single man at the party attractive. Albert quips back that he finds all the surrounding women repulsive. They’re a funny pair.

TIFF Review: 'Devil's Knot'

Devil’s Knot
(USA, 114 min.)
Dir. Atom Egoyan, Writ. Paul Harris Boardman, Scott Derrickson
Starring: Colin Firth, Reese Witherspoon, Stephen Moyer, Alessandro Nivola, Kevin Durand, Bruce Greenwood, Collette Wolfe, Rex Linn, James Hamrick, Seth Meriwether.
Programme: Special Presentations (World Premiere)
A lot has been said, shot, and written on the tumultuous case of the West Memphis Three. It's a story so bizarre and convoluted that one might never believe it to be true. It's a surprise, then, that so much of the coverage of the case of the three murdered boys and the three wrongly convicted young men has largely been non-fiction. Devil's Knot, directed by atom Egoyan and written by Paul Harris Boardman and Scott Derrickson, dramatizes a loose adaptation of the exhaustively detailed and researched book by Mara Leveritt. Anyone who has read Devil's Knot, seen some of the many documentaries produced about the subject, or followed the case at all will learn little new from this film. Devils Knot, unfortunately, offers little new on the subject and both a missed opportunity and, sadly, the biggest disappointment of the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival so far.


TIFF Review: 'You Are Here'

You Are Here
(USA, 112 min.)
Written and directed by Matthew Weiner
Starring: Owen Wilson, Zach Galifianakis, Amy Poehler, Laura Ramsay
Programme: Special Presentations (World Premiere)
Matthew Weiner’s “Mad Men” might be one of the most cinematic television drama series ever created. The period drama has a style, scope, and substance rarely seen on the airwaves. It’s no wonder, then, that You Are Here, Weiner’s feature film directorial debut, would yield considerable interest from fans eager to see what he could do in a different canvas. You Are Here might therefore be an entirely different film experience for fans of the AMC series and for filmgoers who have never had the pleasure of watching one of Don Draper’s Shakespearean ad pitches. You Are Here might be a case where ignorance is bliss.

TIFF Review: 'Labor Day'

Labor Day
(USA, 111 min.)
Written and directed by Jason Reitman
Starring: Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, Gattlin Griffith, Clark Gregg, Tobey Maguire.
Programme: Special Presentations (World Premiere)
Jason Reitman is all grown up. The Canadian filmmaker displayed an increasing maturity in the journey from Thank You for Smoking to Juno to Up in the Air and then to Young Adult, but he seems to have really come into his own with his adaptation of Joyce Maynard's novel Labor Day. Reitman displays a masterful hand behind the camera and improves on a talent that already felt accomplished in his first three films. Labor Day easily marks Reitman's best film to date. It's a note-perfect adaptation of the novel, and an intelligent, profoundly insightful, moving, and entertaining film with a voice of its own.


Norman Jewison at the Canadian Film Centre's annual BBQ
Yesterday brought the annual event of the Canadian Film Centre's September barbecue. The CFC BBQ has become an annual highlight during the Toronto International Film Festival and it provides a yearly convivial gathering for peers in the Canadian Film industry. The event, held at the CFC's heritage site of Windfields Estates (which folks might recognize as Cobblepot manor in Batman Returns), carried a warm atmosphere to mark the strong presence of Canadian films at this year's festival.

TIFF Review: 'The Railway Man'

The Railway Man
(UK/Australia, 116 min.)
Dir. Jonathan Teplitzky, Writ. Frank Cottrell Boyce, Andy Patterson
Starring: Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman, Jeremy Irvine, Stellan Skarsgard, Hiroyuki Sanada.
Programme: Galas (World Premiere)
Academy Award winners Colin Forth and Nicole Kidman finally share the screen in The Railway Man, the true life story of war survivor/railway enthusiast Eric Lomax. Firth gives an excellent performance in the lead role as the man haunted by memories of the past. His meticulously detailed performance does for post-traumatic stress disorder what his performance as the King George did performance for glossophobia, confidence, and leadership in The King’s Speech. Kidman is equally fine in a supporting turn as Eric’s wife, Patti, whom Eric meets on, where else, a train. The stars have good chemistry as they honor their real life subjects but forge a creative interpretation of a tale that’s a romance and thriller both.

TIFF Review: 'Cinemanovels'

Dir. Terry Miles, Canada
Starring: Lauren Lee Smith, Ben Cotton, Jennifer Beals, Kett Turton, Katharine Isabelle
Programme: Contemporary World Cinema (World Premiere)
Cinemanovels, the newest maplecore film from Indie Canadian filmmaker Terry Miles (A Night for Dying Tigers), is an ambitious and innovative tribute to the canon of Canadian cinema. Miles reunites with Tigers alumnus Lauren Lee Smith, who stars as a young woman named Grace Laurentian who is putting together a film retrospective for her late estranged father. Grace’s dad, a Denys Arcand type director, was one of the greatest filmmakers of all time according to the onscreen pundits, not only for Canada but also for the world. His death is equated with the losses of Bergman and Antonioni.

TIFF Review: 'Brazilian Western'

Brazilian Western (Faroeste Caboclo)
(Brazil, 105 min.)
Dir. René Sampaio, Writ. Marcos Bernstein, Victor Atherino
Starring: Fabrício Boliveira, Isis Valverde, Felipe Abib, Antônio Calloni, Flavio Bauraqui
Programme: Contemporary World Cinema (Canadian Premiere)
Is this film a gangster pic or a western? Well, it’s both and smartly so. Providing a protagonist who is both a noble lone hero and a rugged outlaw, the lawlessness of the Wild West meets the tensions of gangland Brazil in Brazilian Western. Our hero, João Santo Cristo (Fabrício Boliveira), becomes both a radical and a symbol for a greater cause in his quest for freedom and retribution. René Sampaio’s Brazilian Western is an exciting fusion styles and tropes and an exhilarating exercise in the fluidity of genres and national cinemas.


TIFF Review: 'Empire of Dirt'

Empire of Dirt
(Canada, 99 min.)
Dir. Peter Stebbins, Writ. Shannon Masters
Starring: Cara Gee, Jennifer Podemski, Shay Eyre, Luke Kirby
Programme: Contemporary World Cinema (World Premiere)
Minnie (Jennifer Podemski) & Lena (Cara Gee) in Empire of Dirt.
Photo by Jason Jenkins. Courtesy of Mongrel Media.
As one watches Cara Gee’s sensational performance in Peter Stebbins’s Empire of Dirt, it’s quite easy to see how the actress landed a spot in this year’s TIFF Rising Stars programme. Gee is a fiery revelation as Lena, a young Aboriginal mother struggling to get her wayward young daughter, Peeka (newcomer Shay Eyre) back on track. Gee is well matched by co-star Jennifer Podemski (Take This Waltz), who also produced the film, in the role of Lena’s estranged mother. Empire of Dirt is worth seeing for the performances alone when Gee and Podemski go head-to-head with the powerful words of Masters’ script.

TIFF Review: 'Hateship Loveship'

Hateship Loveship
(USA, 102 min.)
Dir. Liza Johnson, Writ. Mark Poirier
Starring: Kristen Wiig, Guy Pearce, Hailee Steinfeld, Nick Nolte, Christine Lahti, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Sami Gayle
Johanna Parry is always a bridesmaid and never a bride. One could perhaps say the same about Kristen Wiig, who seemed to have gotten stuck in a sketch comedy mould following her success as the latest funnywoman on “Saturday Night Live”. This is not to say that Wiig is a one-trick point or that comedy is the bridesmaid to drama’s bride. Far from it. Any doubt about Wiig's skills as a dramatic actress will be cast aside in Hateship Loveship, an adaptation of the short story “Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage” by Alice Munro.