This is Why I Love Jane Fonda

This is Where I Leave You
(USA, 104 min.)
Dir. Shawn Levy, Writ. Jonathan Tropper
Starring: Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Jane Fonda, Adam Driver, Corey Stoll, Rose Byrne, Connie Britton, Kathryn Hahn, Timothy Olyphant, Abigail Spencer.
Imagine August: Osage County without the catfish, plate-smashing, incest, pill-popping and dramatic oomph, and one might imagine a film like This is Where I Leave You. This is Where I Leave You brings to the screen another dysfunctional family mourning the death of its patriarch, and like August: Osage County, it features a darn fine cast colliding in comedic moments of familial chaos. Both August: Osage County and This is Where I Leave You see the authors of their popular source material adapt their own beloved works for the screen, but the latter unfortunately just doesn’t translate as well to the cinema as sharply as the former does.


Oscar Predictions: Round 1 - Let's Get this Party Started!

Rosamund Pike and Ben Affleck in Gone Girl.
Is it that time of year already? Oscar season seems to creep up earlier and earlier. It’s the new Christmas as celebrations usually reserved for winter appear before the Halloween candy does. I feel ridiculously late to the party this year, even though I’m posting predictions a few days earlier than I did in 2013. Mind you, some sites started calling winners when the snow was still on the ground, and the first official “For Your Consideration” screener went out to Academy members in AUGUST, so the party started almost obnoxiously early this year. Said screener film is Snowpiercer, which shows that the crazy train of Oscar campaigning looks to be kicking into high gear stronger than ever before. So, fine, I’ll be a shoe as I tie my laces and try to catch up with the pack.


uOttawa Human Rights Film Festival Runs Oct. 2-5 (Win Tickets to Opening Night!)

Ottawa filmgoers are enjoying so many film festivals these days that they might confuse the National Capital with Toronto. All these unique screenings are very exciting as new festivals appear amongst the granddaddies of Ottawa film such as the recent Animation Festival. Next weekend, October 2 to 5, marks the second edition of the University of Ottawa Human Rights Film Festival after a successful launch last year. (Keep reading if you want to win free tickets!)


On 'Denzel Washington Films' and 'Liam Neeson Movies'

The Equalizer
(USA, 131 min.)
Dir. Antoine Fuqua, Writ. Richard Wenk
Starring: Denzel Washington, Martin Csokas, Chloë Grace Moretz, David Harbour, Johnny Skourtis, Melissa Leo.
Denzel Washington stars in The Equalizer.
The Equalizer suggests that the line between a “Denzel Washington film” and a “Liam Neeson movie” is slowly becoming a fine one. A “Denzel Washington film,” as my moviegoing companion and I discussed while we semi-eagerly awaited the sneak peek of The Equalizer to start, generally features the debonair Denzel in some suave role that is morally grounded, yet often has a hint of coolness that only Mr. Washington can convey. He might, Training Day aside, play a good guy with a vice or a baddie with a virtue, and the audience generally looks forward to a good performance, some action, and a clean ending.


One World Film Fest Review: 'Above All Else'

Above All Else
(USA, 95 min.)
Written and directed by John Fiege
“It says keep back 500 ft. on that machine but it’s coming much closer,” says one of the impassioned activists in Above All Else as he observes a large rig clear-cutting trees on the property of Texas naturalist David Daniel. The large machines, operating for TransCanada, devastate the environment to facilitate the growth of the Keystone XL pipeline. They come dangerous—almost fatally—close to the environmental activists housed in the treetops of Daniel’s beautiful property. Barely twenty feet separate the blades of the machine and the falling tree from the activists who sit placidly in the trees and capture the destruction of the forests through the lenses of their camera. Above All Else shows just how close big business is willing to threaten the lives of individuals as it forges ahead in the name of “progress.”


OIAF 2014: Festival Wrap-up and 'Best of the Fest'

Seth's Dominion. Photo taken from the production, courtesy of the NFB.
Sigh. Another festival is in the can. 2014 marks another great year for the Ottawa International Animation Festival as it caps off five days of excellent screenings with booming audiences and ’toons galore. Five great days of festival-going yielded screenings of all five feature films in competition, plus 100 shorts across the competition screenings and special programmes. Attendance seemed up for OAIF, as The ByTowne was consistently packed with anifans at every screening. (And having so many screenings at The ByTowne made the hardest part of the festival trying not to get popcorn at every single screening!) There wasn’t a dud in the bunch, either, which shows that Ottawa really is the best place to see the top tier of animation.

OIAF Review: Disney's 'Feast'

(USA, 10 min.)
Dir. Patrick Osborne
Leave it to Disney Animation to be the top dog of the 2014 Ottawa International Animation Festival. This year’s OIAF features a spotlight on the Mickey Mouse studio, and the sneak peek and behind-the-scenes talk of Disney’s latest short, Feast, arguably marks the highlight of the festival. Feast is easily one of the best shorts that Disney has ever produced.


OIAF Review: 'Until Sbornia Do Us Part'

Until Sbornia Do Us Part (Até que Sbornia nos separe)
(Brazil, 85 min.)
Dir. Otto Guerra & Ennio Torresan, Jr., Writ. Thomas Creus, Rodrigo John
Starring: Andre Abujamra, Hique Gomez, Otto Guerra, Nico Nicolaiewsky, Arlete Salles, Fernanda Takai
The Ottawa International Animation Festival offers back-to-back Brazilian hits with the feature presentation of Until Sbornia Do Us Part after last year’s impressive screening of The Boy and the World. Sbornia marks a much different style and tone than Boy offers, and the contrast in films is very exciting. If Boy features a palette of happy innocence, then Sbornia is the rambunctious party that comes after the fall. This wild and vibrant odyssey is unlike anything I’ve seen before. Watch Sbornia with befuddled amusement, for it’s a wild ride even if one never quite grasps what one is watching.

OIAF Review: Pixar's 'Lava'

(USA, 7 min.)
Written and directed by James Murphy
Starring: Kuana Torres-Kahele, Napua Greig
Audiences at the Ottawa International Animation Festival received an exciting sneak peek on Friday night when the upcoming Pixar short Lava screened before the feature presentation of the NFB’s Seth’s Dominion*. A warm mahalo! goes out to the folks at Pixar and the OIAF for including this exclusive treat, for Lava is a charmer.

OIAF Review: Short Film Competition 3

Lesley the Pony has an A+ Day
There isn’t much sex at the Ottawa International Animation Festival this year. Previous editions of the festival feature boners up the wazoo as swinging appendages and colourful members add some adult entertainment to what some folks usually consider a medium for kids. Fewer boobs and bums figure at the fest this year, too, as many of the shorts in the competition feature a notable maturity. Animation fans looking for skin, though, get their money’s worth in Short Film Competition 3. SC3 has more sex than most short films on the Internet probably do—live action ones, anyways.

OIAF Review: Short Film Competition 5

Butter Ya Self.
Maybe it's festival fatigue setting in or maybe the other sections are simply so much stronger by comparison, but the overall crop of SC5 isn't the best of the bunch. (Something has to go on either end of the scale.) Some of the shorts struggle to conjure a glimmer of recognition in my memory as I consult the programme before reviewing this block. There are a handful of shorts that nevertheless make SC 5 worth seeing, though, especially one morbid ditty that offers one heck of a ride!


Award Winners for the 2014 Ottawa International Animation Festival

Hipopotamy. Photo courtesy of OIAF.
The awards were handed out tonight for the 2014 Ottawa International Animation Festival. The ceremony took place at St. Brigid's Centre for the Arts where festivalgoers enjoyed beers in a church while they applauded the winners. There are some great choices in the bunch, especially Seth' Dominion, Priorities, Lesley the Pony has an A+ Day, and 1000 Plateaus.  The list of winners is as follows:
-Grand Prize for Independent Short Animation: Hipopotamy (As the winner of this category, the film is now eligible for Best Animated Film at the Academy Awards.) Runner up (or 'special shout out' since runner ups are discouraged in this category: Butter Ya' Self
-Grand Prize for Feature Animation: Seth's Dominion (unanimous)
-Best Experimental/Abstract Animation: Eager, Runner up: Totem
-Best Narrative Animation:  Marilyn Myller, runners up: Phantom Limb, Me and My Moulton
-Best Promotional Animation: Holland Animation Film Festival 'Film Festival Leader', runner up: Fight
-Best Television Animation Made for Adults: Crime: The Animated Series Runner-up: Heaven's Countryland Part 1: The Story of King Jong Un
-Best Short Animation Made for Kids: Magic Time. Runners-up: A Fish-tailed Girl, Anatole's Little Saucepan.
-Best Animated Series for Kids: Les larmes du crocodile. Runner up: The Last Laserdisc Player
-Animation School Showreel: Rhode Island School of Design. Runner up:Tokyo School for the Arts
-Best Music Video Animation: Unity, runner up: Moving On
-Best Undergraduate Animation: Lesley the Pony has an A+ Day
-Best Graduate Animation: Things Don't Fit, runners up: Somewhere, Crazy Little Thing
-Best High School Animation: Priorities, runner up: Dance of Death
-Best Canadian Student Animation:  Soup aux carrotes. runners-up:  Montreal Rush, Lucy and the Limbs.
-CFI Award for Best Canadian Animation: 1000 Plateaus, runners-up: Mtl Rush, Soif
-Sony Pictures Public Prize: We Can't Live without Cosmos

See the winners when they screen Sunday, September 21 at The ByTowne at 7:00pm and 9:15pm.
Congrats to all!

OIAF Review: Short Film Competition 4

The Pride of Strathmoor
Short Film Competition 4 might be the best of the shorts programmes so far at this year’s Ottawa International Animation Festival. SC4 is an animation cornucopia and the strongest films of the programme lie at opposite ends of the spectrum. Three standout films make this programme such a winner: two are deep and dark while the third is as bright and colourful as animation can be!


OIAF Review: 'Aunt Hilda'

Aunt Hilda (Tante Hilda)
(France, 89 min.)
Dir. Jacques-Remy Girerd, Benoît Chieux; Writ. Jacques-Remy Girerd, Benoît Chieux,
Starring: Sabine Azéma, Josiane Balasko, François Morel, Bruno Lochet
Aunt Hilda’s screening at the 2014 Ottawa International Film Festival began with a gaffe. The images flickered onscreen without any accompanying audio. As patrons scattered about the around the theatre shouted “Sound!”, “Sound!”, and “Marco!”, one couldn’t really be bothered by the muteness since the beautiful hand drawn animation of the film is a marvel. Look at Aunt Hilda in awe. Listen to it less closely, though, for when the film finally clicked on the audio, one realizes that Aunt Hilda plays better with the volume off.

OIAF Review: 'New Ghosts in the Ol' Haunt'

The Alphabet
The Ottawa International Animation Festival spooks up a storm with the special screening “New Ghosts in the Ol’ Haunt: Regrets, Residues, and Crossing Over.” This selection of strange and unusual shorts is a mix of morbid humour and existence musing. Ghosts do roam, especially in the witching hour, and this eccentric programme offers a fun choice for OIAF-goers and folks dabbling in the arts on Saturday’s overnight fete, Nuit Blanche. This mix of classic and contemporary stories is just the ticket for festivalgoers who love to turn on the flashlight and tell a tale in the dark as their imaginations run wild.

Canada Sends 'Mommy' to the Oscars

L-r: Antoine Olivier-Pilon, Anne Dorval and Xavier Dolan on the set of Mommy.
Photo courtesy of Les Films Séville.
It's official! Mommy is Canada's submission for Best Foreign Language Film in the 2014 Academy Awards race. The announcement came today as Telefilm Canada’s Carolle Brabant gave the news in a presser that was streamed live over Facebook. 'It's an incredible showcase for our industry,' Brabant noted while introducing the choice. The decision comes from the Pan-Canadian selection committee comprised of twenty-three industry and goverment types, who continually pick the best films possible, nurturing new voices and proven talents alike. Mommy comes as no surprise for the selection, for this film from writer/director Xavier Dolan has been a favourite to represent Canada at the Oscars ever since it premiered to thunderous applause at Cannes and won the Jury Prize. (Although many felt it should have won the Palme d'Or.) The steam continued as Mommy hit the fall festival circuit with a standing ovation at TIFF and garnered more great reviews, including a five-star shout out from this blog, and special raves for star Anne Dorval, who could be a dark horse in the Best Actress race to come.

OIAF Review: Short Film Competition 2

The shorts at the Ottawa International Animation Festival have a flair for the dramatic in Short Film Competition 2. This programme features all the vibrant colours and dazzling animation one hopes to see at the festival, but these films pack a bit more of a punch. Take, for example, Priorities (Gints Zilbalodis, Latvia), the film that opens the programme. Priorities is a gripping adventure about a pilot stranded on a desert island with his trusty dog. Priorities offers a two-hander that connects the audience to the unnamed pilot and his energetic golden retriever simply by giving the pair equal time as they fight for things that matter—he builds a raft while doggy wants to play. Director Gints Zilbalodis makes the film so involving, though, by complementing the wordless relationship of the pilot and his best friend with an observational perspective that resembles a handheld camera. The effect creates a first-person perspective that injects the viewer into the film as a third party invested in the pair’s survival. This impressive film gets SC2 off to a great start.

OIAF Review: Short Film Competition 1

Monkey Love Experiment
The Short Film Competition gets off to a great start at the 2014 Ottawa International Animation Festival with Shorts Comp 1. The films at SC1 are a fun mix of films. Make sure to see the Short Competitions in order, though, since SC1 starts with a running gag on the legacy of Kim Jong Un (best dictator eva!) from filmmaker David O’Reilly that continues throughout the competition. There’s something for everyone in SC1 whether one fancies fantasy or reality. Some nifty promo spots also show that innovation is just as alive and well in the commercial side of animation as it is in the independent side, since some of the best shorts in the programme are commercials. They’re mostly adverts for animation festivals, though, so it’s no wonder they’re so inventive!


OIAF Review: 'Lisa Limone and Maroc Orange: A Rapid Love Story'

Lisa Limone and Maroc Orange: A Rapid Love Story
(Estonia, 72 min.)
Dir. Mait Laas, Writ. Kati Kovacs, Peep Pedmanson
Starring: Omar Nomm, Iris Vesik, Risto Joost, Peeter Volkonski
Beans enjoy a reputation for being the musical fruit, but it turns out that lemons and oranges have the best harmony of all. Beans aren't really fruit, though--they're more of a legume--so nothing really has a toot on fruit's ability to carry a time in Lisa Limone and Marco Orange: A Rapid Love Story. This cracked-out musical, which opened the feature competition last night at the 2014 Ottawa International Animation Festival, is a fruity hoot. Lisa Limone, totally strange and stylistically absurd, is a fun and fantastical fusion of marmalade and migration. Excuse the alliterations, but Lisa Limone made me do it.


Contest: Win Tickets to see 'Hector and the Search for Happiness' in Toronto, Calgary, Halifax, Vancouver, Winnipeg!

What brings you happiness? A good comedy always brings a smile to my face, so Hector and the Search for Happiness looks like just the ticket for happiness. Hector and the Search for Happiness opens in theatres September 26 from eOne Films, but if you want a chance to attend a sneak peek in select cities, you are in luck! Answer the trivia below for your chance to win! Free tickets bring everyone happiness, right?

TIFF 2014: Festival Wrap-up and 'Best of the Fest'

Wild is 'Best of the Fest' for TIFF 2014.
Photo courtesy of TIFF.
That’s a wrap for TIFF 2014! This year’s Toronto International Film Festival was the craziest one yet. Covering the Festival with a press pass for the first time was a much different experience than previous editions of the Festival… mostly in a good way. Having the pass certainly facilitates a sense of discovery, as one can really walk into just about anything. Eliminating the financial factor of paying $25-45 dollars a ticket opens up the opportunity to try new things. And eliminating the two-hour plus line-ups at public screenings is a godsend. I still did about ten public screenings, though, since the pass affords a few ticket picks and same day options. (Anything except a ticket a Roy Thomson Hall, really.) It’s nice that TIFF allocates a few public tickets for P&I, since the thrill of seeing a film with the filmmakers and stars at the Festival is part of the overall experience. I even paid for a ticket to the Maps to the Stars Gala (albeit by trading in another public ticket and paying the difference) to get the most out of one of my most anticipated films of TIFF. It did not disappoint.


TIFF Review: 'Ned Rifle'

Ned Rifle
(USA, 85 min.)
Written and directed by Hal Hartley
Starring: Liam Aiken, Aubrey Plaza, Parker Posey, Martin Donovan, Thomas Jay Ryan
Programme: Special Presentations (World Premiere)
Photo courtesy of TIFF.
“Where indie meets epic.” The Toronto International Film Festival used this tagline a few years ago to invite audiences to celebrate the versatile range of films that one may enjoy in the festival experience. One could just as easily employ the ad line to sell Ned Rifle, Hal Hartley's satisfying conclusion to the epic art house trilogy that begin with Henry Fool in 1997 and continued a decade later with Fay Grim. This third and final entry in the saga of the Grim-Fools is an epic, idiosyncratic sequel that caps off a trilogy with the kind of verve to which Hollywood trilogies can only aspire.

TIFF Reviews: 'Tu Dors Nicole', 'The Riot Club', 'Manglehorn', 'Corbo'

Tu Dors Nicole
(Canada, 93 min.)
Written and directed by Stéphane Lefleur
Starring: Julianne Côté, Catherine St-Laurent, Marc-André Grondin
Programme: Contemporary World Cinema (Toronto Premiere)
Photo courtesy of TIFF.
Reviews from Cannes offer ample comparisons of Tu Dors Nicole to Frances Ha. This Québécois comedy from Stéphane Lafleur merits the likeness to Noah Baumbach's Brooklyn-set film. The beautiful black and white cinematography invites an obvious point of comparison between the two, but they're just as bouncy and funny thanks to the aimless young protagonists who discover themselves in the films.

TIFF Review: 'The Imitation Game'

The Imitation Game
(USA/UK, 113 min.)
Dir. Morten Tyldum, Writ. Graham Moore
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Rory Kinnear, Charles Dance, Mark Strong
Programme: Special Presentations (Canadian Premiere)
Photo courtesy of TIFF.
Misfits unite for The Imitation Game! This solid ensemble film nabbed the People’s Choice Award at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival from the group of eccentrics united in their passion for film. It’s no surprise to see The Imitation Game take Toronto since this Oscar-friendly title bears a hearty resemblance to the 2010 TIFF-champ predecessor (and fellow Weinstein Company) title, The King’s Speech. The Imitation Game is no King’s Speech,  although it’s very much a film to admire. While The King’s Speech is inspiring thanks to the universal appeal of King George VI’s plight to find his voice, The Imitation Game doesn’t have the same level of rousing relatability, for its protagonist, Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), is one prickly character.

'Imitation Game' Takes People's Choice Award at Toronto

Photo courtesy of TIFF.
The people have spoken! The Imitation Game takes the Grolsch People’s Choice Award at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, thus making Benedict Cumberbatch a back to back champ at the Festival after opening TIFF last year with The Fifth Estate and appearing in 2013’s People’s Choice Award winner, 12 Years a Slave. TIFF’s official hashtag should really be #Cumberbitchin’.

TIFF Reviews: 'Backcountry', 'Ruth and Alex', 'The New Girlfriend'

Playing catch-up with capsule reviews. First up: three very different tales of love and marriage.

(Canada, 91 min.)
Written and directed by Adam McDonald
Starring: Missy Peregrym, Jeff Roop
Programme: Discovery (World Premiere)
Photo courtesy of TIFF.
Backcountry is essentially Open Water with a bear. That’s not a bad thing. This debut feature from Adam McDonald is a tense two-hander that uses the expansive Canadian wilderness to great effect. The woods are beautiful, especially in the multi-coloured palette of autumn in which McDonald sets the film, but they’re also threatening and menacing with their unknown elements and untameable forces. The woods are a lot like marriage: they’re beautiful to visit, but they devour you.

TIFF Review: 'An Eye for Beauty'

An Eye for Beauty (Le règne de la beauté)
(Canada, 102 min.)
Written and directed by Denys Arcand
Starring: Éric Bruneau, Mélanie Thierry, Melanie Merkosky, Marie-Josée Croze,
Programme: Special Presentations (Toronto Premiere)             
Photo courtesy of TIFF.
Denys Arcand disappoints with his latest offering An Eye for Beauty (Le règne de la beauté). Arcand’s signature flair for capturing cultural mores and attitudes in clever language just doesn’t work this time around. For a filmmaker who seemed so perfectly on the pulse of culture in 2003’s The Barbarian Invasions (arguably the best Québécois film ever made), this latest entry feels out of touch and empty. There’s no beauty and poetry here. Only witty repartee.


TIFF Review: 'A Little Chaos'

A Little Chaos
(UK, 116 min.)
Dir. Alan Rickman, Writ. Alison Deegan, Alan Rickman, Jeremy Brock
Starring: Kate Winslet, Matthias Schoenaerts, Alan Rickman, Stanley Tucci, Helen McCrory.
Programme: Galas (World Premiere)
Photo courtesy of TIFF.
Hat’s off to the Toronto International Film Festival. The TIFF folks pick a winner with their closing night selection of Alan Rickman’s latest film, A Little Chaos. This rousing comedy is one of the most pleasant surprises of the Festival. It’s an utter treat to end the fest on a high note of escapism and exuberance.

TIFF Review: 'The Cobbler'

The Cobbler
(USA, 99 min.)
Dir. Thomas McCarthy, Writ. Thomas McCarthy, Paul Sado
Starring: Adam Sandler, Cliff ‘Method Man’ Smith, Ellen Barkin, Melonie Diaz
Programme: Special Presentations (World Premiere)
Photo courtesy of TIFF.
Oy, The Cobbler is terrible! The film proves TIFF to be the Launchpad of several awards races including, well, the Golden Raspberries.

TIFF Review: 'Still Alice'

Still Alice
(USA, 99 min.)
Written and directed by Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland
Starring: Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, Kristen Stewart, Kate Bosworth, Hunter Parrish
Programme: Special Presentations (World Premiere)
Photo courtesy of TIFF.
Julianne Moore continually amazes me. Moore delivers a one-two punch at the Toronto International Film Festival this year with the go-for-broke craziness of Maps to the Stars and the emotional wallop of Still Alice. It’s impossible to compare the two performances or say which one deserves to bring Moore major kudos at the end of the year. They both do. Each turn sits on opposite poles of the scale for award-season friendliness, but together they show that Moore remains at the forefront of her craft, pushing herself and breaking barriers for actresses as she shows that no role is off limits. She’s the acting champ of TIFF this year.


TIFF Review: 'Miss Julie'

Miss Julie
(Norway/UK/Ireland/France, 129 min.)
Written and directed by Liv Ullman
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Colin Farrell, Samantha Morton
Programme: Special Presentations (World Premiere)
Photo courtesy of TIFF.

Here is a bizarre case. Miss Julie contains a trio of great performances, some beautiful cinematography, and handsome production value, but it has a deadness that I can't quite put my finger on. One might fault the acclaimed source material by August Strindberg for Miss Julie's stiffness, but that almost seems unfair given the pedigree of the play and everyone in the production. (And most period pics are as tight as a corset is, which generally leaves this reviewer satisfied.) More than one the servants, John and Kathleen (Colin Farrell and Samantha Morton), exclaim, “I'm tired, Miss Julie!” as the spoiled Miss Julie (Jessica Chastain) plays with people as if they are dolls. Audiences, too, might also be whimpering “I'm tired” to Miss Julie long before it ends.

TIFF Review: 'Maps to the Stars'

Maps to the Stars
(Canada/Germany, 112 min.)
Dir. David Cronenberg, Writ. Bruce Wagner
Starring: Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska, Evan Bird, John Cusack, Olivia Williams, Sarah Gadon, Robert Pattinson
Programme: Galas (North American Premiere)
Photo courtesy of TIFF.
Maps to the Stars is fucked up in every best possible way. This scathing satire written by Bruce Wagner and directed by David Cronenberg lets the shit hit the fan and spray doo-doo all over Hollywood. Julianne Moore stars in a riotously batshit crazy performance as a sexy has-been actress named Havana Segrand who is eager to make a comeback and will do anything or anyone to win a coveted role. Maps unfolds Havana's attempt at a comeback in a twisted fever dream as she throws herself into the role that made her mother famous. Her mom, Clarice (played by Sarah Gadon), died in a fire and she haunts Havana as Havana tries to impress everyone that she is the best actress for the part. Talk about mommy issues. Havana sees the Oscar with this role, and the shoddy old Canadian Genie she displays in her living clearly isn't enough of a mark for a legacy. She wants the prize her mother never won.


TIFF Review: 'October Gale'

October Gale
(Canada, 91 min.)
Written and directed by Ruba Nadda
Starring: Patricia Clarkson, Scott Speedman, Tim Roth, Callum Keith Rennie
Programme: Special Presentations (World Premiere)
Photo courtesy of TIFF.
Ruba Nadda tries her hand at genre again in October Gale, which has its World Premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, after seeing mixed results with her TIFF '12 Gala selection Inescapable. October Gale certainly marks an improvement for Nadda after the clunky Middle East-set thriller, but let's hope third time's a charm. The film makes little sense and feels farfetched even for such a tale of two-handed realism, plus the finale sequence is so hokey and bizarrely-lit (why are there flood lights outdoors at midnight during a blackout?) that this jaunt to cottage country might not be worth the trip. October Gale is mostly, if only, worth seeing for the lead performance by a strong Patricia Clarkson, who wields a shotgun like a motherfucker in an unexpected departure from her body of work.


TIFF Review: 'Elephant Song'

Elephant Song
(Canada, 110 min.)
Dir. Charles Binamé, Writ. Nicholas Billon
Starring: Bruce Greenwood, Xavier Dolan, Catherine Keener, Carrie-Anne Moss.
Programme: Special Presentations (World Premiere)
Photo courtesy of TIFF.

Un éléphant se trompe,” says one character (who will remain nameless) at the end of Elephant Song. The phrase playfully puns on the word trompe, which refers to an elephant's trunk and serves as a verb for the word “deceive.” Elephants and deception form the core of Elephant Song, Charles Binamé’s new drama that has its World Premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival this week, as a taut psychological drama unfolds between a psychologist, Dr. Toby Green (Bruce Greenwood) and his manipulative patient, Michael Aleem (Xavier Dolan).

TIFF Review: Short Cuts Canada 6

Migration. Photo courtesy of TIFF.
Come and see the innovators of Short Cuts Canada 6! This shorts programme offers one of the strongest crops of shorts at the Toronto International Film Festival this year. Inspired, ambitious, and innovative, these flicks are not to be missed.


TIFF Review: 'Clouds of Sils Maria'

Clouds of Sils Maria
(France/USA, 124 min.)
Written and directed by Olivier Assayas
Starring: Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart, Chloë Grace Moretz
Programme: Special Presentations (North American Premiere)
Photo courtesy of TIFF.
The story behind Clouds of Sils Maria says that the film begins with a challenge from Juliette Binoche to Olivier Assayas to write a substantial and challenging female role. Assayas delivers on the test by offering Binoche the complex aging actress Maria Enders and Binoche assuredly meets Assayas’s own challenge put forth to her in such a meaty role. Clouds of Sils Maria sees Binoche and Assayas create one of the richest characters of their respected and collaborative careers.

TIFF Review: 'Mommy'

(Canada, 134 min.)
Written and directed by Xavier Dolan
Starring: Anne Dorval, Antoine-Olivier Pilon, Suzanne Clément
Programme: Special Presentations (Canadian Premiere)
Photo courtesy of TIFF.
Good news, TIFF-goers: Mommy lives up to the hype. Xavier Dolan’s Cannes sensation (and Jury Prize winner) finally comes home with its Canadian Premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival this Tuesday. It would be an understatement to call Mommy Xavier Dolan's best film yet. Dolan, coming to TIFF with his fifth film at the ripe ageof twenty-five, proves himself a cinematic force with this searing, audacious film.


TIFF Review: Short Cuts Canada 5

Day 40. Photo courtesy of TIFF.
Did you see Noah earlier this year? That epically bloated Biblical pic starring Russell Crowe as a wrathful Noah had religious types (and highbrow cinephiles) a-twitter thanks to its borderline blasphemous interpretation of The Good Book. Like Noah, though, Day 40 (Sol Friedman, 6 min.) tells the Biblical saga relatively faithfully, but it adds a few creative liberties. It’s a hilariously heretic take on the tale of the flood as a droll narrator reads the fable with relative fidelity and flips through fun/moderately silly sketches. Everything goes according to God’s plan until the voice-of-God narrator gets to the part where the rains come to drown out the unruly peasants. He adds the line, “Including babies, children, and the handicapped.” The editors of The Bible probably forgot that part, right?

TIFF Review: 'Wild'

(USA, 120 min.)
Dir. Jean-Marc Vallée, Writ. Nick Hornby
Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Thomas Sadowski, Gaby Hoffman.
Reese Witherspoon stars in Wild. Photo courtesy of TIFF.

“God is a ruthless bitch,” writes Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) as she makes her mark in one of the many trail logs she signs whilst hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in Wild. Cheryl’s smart, snappy epigraph joins a roster of quotes from famous cultural figures—Walt Whitman, Emily Dickenson, Joni Mitchell—to mark her journey, but it’s Strayed’s own words that best summarize her adventure. Wild is, after all, based on Strayed’s best-selling, Oprah-endorsed, and exceptionally-powerful book, so it’s fitting that this page-to-screen adventure lets the author leave her mark on the world with her own words as part of the journey. Make no mistake, though: Wild is an utterly cinematic ride. This is how you do a great adaptation.

TIFF Review: Short Cuts Canada 4

Broken Face. Photo courtesy of TIFF.
Short Cuts Canada 4 brings a robust line-up of dark, powerful films to the Toronto International Film Festival. SCC4 is a strong mix of drama and documentary. These films largely combine the strange and unusual, offering fascinating bursts of originality, but the programme probably hits hardest in the lone departure from the speculative genres. Make no mistake, though: SCC4 is one of the better helpings of shorts at TIFF this year.


TIFF Review: Short Cuts Canada 3

The Weatherman and the Shadowboxer.
Photo courtesy of TIFF.
The Weatherman and the Shadowboxer (Randall Okita, 10 min.) gets Short Cuts Canada 3 off to such a strong start that this one short film alone is worth the ticket. “You can’t tell someone the truth about their own memory,” the narrator muses with his compelling voiceover that hooks the viewer from the film’s very first frame. The narrator continues the short story of two brothers who take different life paths but are united by trauma, and memory is evoked, alluded to, and imagined using an excellent play on form and meaning. Director Randall Okita creates this moral fable with an amazing collage of still images, live action drama, and animation. The arresting visuals of this exhilarating cautionary tale make The Weatherman and the Shadowboxer one of the standout shorts at the Toronto International Film Festival this year. It’s just the ticket for anyone hoping to see something new and authentic in this year’s shorts corner.


TIFF Review: 'The Drop'

The Drop
(USA, 107 min.)
Dir. Michaël R. Roskam, Writ. Dennis Lehane
Starring: Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, James Gandolfini, Matthias Schoenaerts
Programme: World Premiere
Photo courtesy of TIFF.
Move over, Uggie, you’re no longer top dog of movieland! The Drop introduces a new four-legged star to moviegoers this year at the Toronto International Film Festival. His name is Rocco and he’s the little doggie that could.


TIFF Review: 'Wet Bum'

Wet Bum
(Canada, 95 min.)
Written and directed by Lindsay MacKay
Starring: Julia Sarah Stone, Kenneth Welsh, Leah Pinsent, Craig Arnold, Diana Leblanc.
Wet Bum. Photo courtesy of TIFF.
Sam (Julia Sarah Stone) has a wet bum. It’s not a potty problem; it’s really one of insecurity. The titular wet bum of Wet Bum (isn’t that a fun title?) comes from Sam’s reluctance to shed her suit in the change room after swimming lessons in front of the prying eyes of her schoolmates. She simply puts her pants and sweater over her dripping one-piece and heads off to work at the local retirement home where she cleans rooms under the supervision of her mother (Leah Pinsent). Sam has some growing up to do, and an old-folks home is a good place to start.

TIFF Review: Short Cuts Canada 2

Take Me (Prends-moi).  Photo courtesy of TIFF.
“Have you ever held a stranger’s penis to put it inside his wife?” asks the nurse (Sami Soleymanlou) in the lovely film Take Me / Prends-moi (André Turpin, Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette, 10 min.), which opens Short Cuts Canada 2 at the Toronto International Film Festival. The anonymous nurse of Take Me provides a fine guide for the film’s frank and tender depiction of intimacy between persons with physical disabilities. The closeness between strangers is equally poignant and effective thanks to the authenticity of the film’s three strong performances and the honesty of the direction by André Turpin and Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette. Turpin and Barbeau-Lavalette mark two of the more notable names within the Short Canada Programme at TIFF this year, as Festival audiences will know Turpin’s work as a cinematographer on films such as Incendies and should recall Barbeau-Lavalette’s hand at directing 2012’s powerful film Inch’Allah (which Turpin also shot). Their brave and beautiful effort with Take Me is another complex human drama.


TIFF Review: Short Cuts Canada 1

O Canada.
Photo courtesy of TIFF.
Prepare yourselves for the full film experience in Short Cuts Canada 1. This energetic programme of shorts contains the full spectrum of cinema with a diverse range of animated and live action shorts, fiction and non-fiction, and works from masters both seasoned and emergent. This line-up of Canadian flicks gets off to a sonorously patriotic start with the classic short O Canada (8 min.) by Evelyn Lambart, a close collaborator of animation pioneer and granddaddy Norman McLaren. This rousing experiment in 3D animation opens the programme with a swelling overture to the career of the great Canadian animator, and a loving celebration of Canadian national (short) cinema.

TIFF Review: 'Waste Land'

Waste Land
(Belgium, 97 min.)
Written and directed by Pieter Van Hees
Starring: Jérémie Renier, Natali Broods, Babetida Sadjo, Peter van den Begin, Mourade Zeguendi
Programme: Vanguard (World Premiere)
Photo courtesy of TIFF.
How long does it take a pregnancy to reveal itself? Months? Weeks? It all depends on the person, really, since even a casual gardener knows that seeds all grow at different rates. What happens, though, when said seed sprouts like a weed? We’re not talking about children anyone, but rather the kind of thing that grows like wildfire, uncontained and pervasive, and kills anything around it.


Contest! Win Tickets to see 'A Walk among the Tombstones' in Ottawa!

Hey, Liam Neeson fans! The Neese is back to save the day in the upcoming mystery A Walk among the Tombstones! The film opens September 19 from eOne Films, but if you want tickets to an Ottawa sneak peek of the film, then you are in luck! Answer the trivia below for your chance to win!


Gourmet Leftovers

The Trip to Italy
(UK, 108 min.)
Written and directed by Michael Winterbottom
Starring: Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon
Steve Coogan & Rob Brydon - courtesy of eOne Films.

Sequels usually taste like reheated meals. Grab the leftovers of something decent, throw them in the microwave, and zap, zap, zap, a movie recycles itself for another helping.