Contest: Win a 'Wild' Prize Pack! (CONTEST CLOSED)

I don’t know about you, but I find that things are getting pretty wild now that award season is kicking into gear. It would take a monster of a backpack filled with supplies to fuel me through the season: some good music to lighten the mood, maybe some energy bars to fuel me through reviews, a headlamp to help me navigate the deep and dark bag of screeners, and an inspirational book to guide through the days to come. Luckily, though, Wild—my favourite film from this year’s Toronto International Film Festival (read the 5-star review here)—opens in theatres starting Dec. 5 and Cheryl Strayed, played by an Oscar-worthy Reese Witherspoon, has just the goodie bag to provide all the essentials. If you want to win a great Wild prize pack to fuel your holiday movie watching, you are in luck! Answer the trivia below for your chance to win some Wild prizes from Fox Searchlight Pictures, including a copy of the book Wild on which the film is based and a copy of the Wild soundtrack featuring music from Simon & Garfunkel, First Aid Kit, Bruce Springsteen, Portishead, Wings and more! (Now available for download on iTunes.)


Notes from the Screener Pile: 2014.3

The award season binge-watching takes a speculative twist! (I'm gearing up for a new season of Cellar Door submissions, I guess!) This week's catch-up includes:

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
(USA, 100 min.)
Written and directed by Ana Lily Amirpour
Starring: Sheila Vand, Arash Marandi

"Girlie, tough ain't enough."

The Homesman
(USA, 120 min.)
Dir. Tommy Lee Jones, Writ. Tommy Lee Jones, Kieran Fitzgerald, Wesley A. Oliver
Starring: Hilary Swank, Tommy Lee Jones, Miranda Otto, Grace Gummer, Sonja Richter, John Lithgow, and Meryl Streep.
 Hilary Swank and Tommy Lee Jones star in The Homesman.
Courtesy of Mongrel Media. Photo credit: Dawn Jones
Cormac McCarthy writes that America is no country for old men. Men, creatures of violence and civil misconduct, are just as much the agents of American madness as they are the victims of it. America’s frontier mythology is a perverse thing that embraces the open expansiveness of the west as an endless panorama of endless possibilities. In Canada, this landscape is seen as something hostile and menacing. Perhaps that’s why Americans are more prone to violence, since their national psyche encourages them to strap on their boots and jump into the fray while Canadians are more content to shut the doors. (It’s cold out there!) One needs to be tough to survive the frontier, but as western icon turned cranky-old-man Clint Eastwood might say, “Girlie, tough ain’t enough.”


EUFF Review: 'Déjà Vu'

Déjà Vu
(Romania, 75 min.)
Written and directed by Dan Chisu
Starring: Ioana Flora, Mirela Opriser
The Romanians sure love their long takes, don’t they? Virtually every review for a Romanian film on this blog remarks on the frequency of long takes in Romanian national cinema more than any other trend in any other film scene, aside from maybe the absence of Canadian films in Canadian theatres, but that’s hardly the subject for EUFF coverage. The Romanian entry at this year’s European Union Film Festival, Déjà Vu, sits comfortably within the trends and innovations in direction that largely characterize the Romanian new wave and, for better or for worse, let audiences see a national cinema come into its own distinct style of filmmaking.

Contest: Win a Set of Heat Reveal 'Hunger Games: Mockingjay' Mugs! (CONTEST CLOSED)

Okay, tributes! It’s time to rally for another fight! If you’re like me, you need your morning coffee before catching fire. (Sorry, bad pun!) Katniss must be a coffee drinker, too, since she’s stealthily left the call of the Mockingjay on coffee cups everywhere. She’s uniting the Districts with the help of Petro-Canada, branding mugs with the Mockingjay and waking up citizens of Panem with their morning coffee. If you want a chance to toast Katniss with a set of heat-reveal Hunger Games: Mockingjay mugs, you are in luck! Answer the trivia below for your chance to win!


EUFF Review: 'Force Majeure'

Force Majeure (Turist)
(Sweden, 118 min.)
Written and directed by Ruben Östlund
Starring: Johannes Bah, Lisa Loven Kongsli, Clara Wettergren, Vincent Wettergren, Kristofer Hivju, Fanni Metelius
Johannes Bah Kuhnke, Lisa Loven Kongsli, Clara Wettergren and Vincent Wettergren in Force Majeure,
a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.
Ah, the family vacation. They’re the best of times and the worst of times; an unnatural disaster of escapism in which parents and children squeeze into close confines 24/7 and try to have some fun. Anything is possible if one survives one of these excursions.

EUFF Review: Vis-à-Vis

(Croatia, 81 min.)
Dir. Nevio Marasovic, Writ. Nevio Marasovic, Rakan Rushaidat, Janko Popović Volarić
Starring: Rakan Rushaidat, Janko Popović Volarić, Kresimir Mikic, Daria Lorenci
Vis-à-Vis is the result of my intensive, hectic and impulsive collaboration with actors Janko Popović Volarić and Rakan Rushaidat,” says director/co-writer Nevio Marasovic in the press notes for Vis-à-Vis. “The film is a mixture of true events, fiction, improvisation, scripted scenes, fights, love, intuition and deep analysis of characters and their motivations in the very process of filming.” Vis-à-Vis is one of the most interesting films screening at this year’s European Union Film Festival, but one seems bound to appreciate the film even more if one reads up on it beforehand or discusses it afterwards. This innovative film riffs on art and life as an anonymous director (Rakan Rushaidat) and an anonymous actor (Janko Popović Volarić) revise a script for an upcoming shoot, improvising and drawing inspiration from the world around them, as they explore their characters. Who knew the Balkans could do mumblecore?


EUFF Review: 'Little Black Spiders'

Little Black Spiders
(Belgium, 90 min.)
Dir. Patrice Toye, Writ. Patrice Toye, Irina Vandewijer
Starring: Line Pillet, Charlotte De Bruyne, Dolores Bouckaert, Ineke Nijssen
Audiences affected by the story behind last year’s Oscar nominee Philomena will want to see Belgium’s Little Black Spiders this week at Ottawa’s European Union Film Festival. Perhaps closer in tone to, say, The Magdalene Sisters than to the cheery, yet devastating Philomena, Little Black Spiders tells an affecting tale about young girls cast away from society and stripped of the joy of motherhood. These young women might need some guidance, but, like the young Philomena Lee, Katarina (Line Pillet), longs to keep her baby even though she agrees unawares to let the nuns at the convent give her baby away once she delivers it. This poetic film by director Patrice Toye, one of several female filmmakers repped at EUFF, is a moving coming-of-age tale.


Notes from the Screener Pile: 2014.2

Shailene Woodley in White Bird in a Blizzard,
a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.
Notes from the screener pile continue with three very different films: an odd indie, one of the year’s standout docs, and an electrifying lead performance.


EUFF Review: 'Christmas Tango'

Christmas Tango (To tango ton Hristougennon)
(Greece, 102 min.)
Dir. Nikos Koutelidakis, Writ. Yannis Xanthoulis
Starring:  Giannis Bezos, Antinoos Albanis, Yannis Stankoglou, Vicky Papadopoulou
It’s one month until Christmas and love is in the air. Enjoy the festive spirit at the European Union Film Festival on November 25th as it dances a nice little number with its annual trip to Greece. Greece’s Christmas Tango is a sensitive film about forbidden love, and this nice love triangle/tango of desire is truly touching.

Notes from the Screener Pile: 2014.1

Uma Thurman in Nymphomaniac: Vol. 1, a Magnolia Pictures release.
Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures. Photo credit: Christian Geisnaes
It’s that time of year once again! Screener Claus is dropping goodies in the mail (and e-mail) and all the kind little elves in the publicity departments/awards offices of distributors are sending out movies with the magical little letters “FYC.” Moving through the pile is always lots of fun. Last year, I’d actually seen most of the films I received, but this year has oodles that I’ve missed for a variety of reasons, mostly due to different festival commitments and the fact that I was watching films for Cellar Door this year in place of reviews. Also, a lot of these films simply didn’t open in Ottawa, so it’s nice to see them at last!


EUFF Review: 'Block 12'

Block 12
(Cyprus/Greece, 93 min.)
Dir. Kyriakos Tofaridis, Writ. Panos Stathogiannis, Kyriakos Tofaridis
Starring: Costas Demetriou, Carmen Ruggeri, Michaelis Marinos, Yannis Tsimitselis, Neetu Chandra
Block 12 handily nabs the prize for the strangest film of the European Union Film Festival so far. This bizarre and eccentric comedy from Cyprus throws in a little bit of everything: family reunions, crooked governments, evil plots for oil, karmic sex, magical realism, and even a Bollywood dancer number. Block 12 might be the looniest film at this year's EUFF, but the sheer randomness of the film is also its charm.


EUFF Review: 'The Ambassador to Bern'

The Ambassador to Bern
(Hungary, 76 min.)
Dir. Attila Szász, Writ. Norbert Köbli
Starring: János Kulka, Tamás Szabó Kimmel, József Kádas, Rozi Lovas, Rémusz Szikszai, László I. Kish
Enjoy a double-bill of thrillers tonight as Ottawa’s European Union Film Festival screens Poland’s terrific spy thriller Jack Strong back to back with the swift Hungarian political thriller The Ambassador to Bern. Both films are tense and atmospheric thrillers. If Jack is akin to a John le Carré adaptation, then The Ambassador to Bern begs comparison to Ben Affleck’s Argo with its breakneck dramatization of a true hostage situation in the Hungarian embassy Bern, Switzerland in 1958. Expect a gripping night at the movies.

Regent Park Film Fest Review: 'Rock the Casbah'

Rock the Casbah
(France/Morocco, 100 min.)
Written and directed by Laïla Marrakchi
Starring: Morjana Alaoui, Nadine Labaki, Lubna Azabal, Hiam Abbas, Omar Sharif
The dysfunctional family funeral comedy isn’t simply an American phenomenon. The French-Lebanese co-pro Rock the Casbah comes on the heels of American flicks like August: Osage County and This is Where I Leave You, and this fun piece of contemporary world cinema is just as good. Rock the Casbah is a fine ensemble dramedy that tells a tale that feels both specific to the wacky characters of the wealthy Moroccan family mourning the death of their patriarch and universal thanks to the warmth and humour that brings the film to life.

EUFF Review: 'Jack Strong'

Jack Strong
(Poland, 128 min.)
Written and directed by Wladyslaw Pasikowski
Starring: Marcin Dorocinski, Maja Ostaszewska, Patrick Wilson, Dimitri Bilov, Dagmara Dominczyk
Now here’s a full-bodied spy thriller! Jack Strong might be the closest thing to mainstream cinema that one will find at this year’s European Union Film Festival, but hard-core cinephiles shouldn’t feel the least be worried that the beloved EUFF has gone commercial. This Polish spy game is one heck of flick. Jack Strong, made for a modest budget of less than four million dollars and co-financed by the Polish Film Institute, is understandably something that Poland might choose to represent its national cinema at this year’s celebration of EU currents. The film could easily be mistaken for an adaptation of John le Carré, since it’s a steely psychological mind game with riveting atmosphere and crackling suspense.

Regent Park Film Fest Review: 'Waiting for August'

Waiting for August
(Belgium/Romania, 88 min.)
Written and directed by Teordora Mihai
Audiences looking for a slice-of-life character study will appreciate the sober observational doc Waiting for August. August, which screens at the Regent Park Film Festival after emerging with the Best International Feature Documentary Award from Hot Docs earlier this year, is a textbook case for the pros and cons of observational filmmaking, but this levelheaded and objective documentary is bound to connect with audiences thanks to the resilience of its subject.


Like Peas and Potatoes

The Theory of Everything
(UK/USA, 123 min.)
Dir. James Marsh, Writ. Anthony McCarten
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, Charlie Cox, Simon McBurney, David Thewlis, Maxine Peake, Emily Watson.
Felicity Jones stars as Jane Wilde and Eddie Redmayne stars as Stephen Hawking.
Courtesy of eOne Films.
Stephen Hawking probably has one of the most recognizable voices in contemporary history, but few of us have ever heard him speak with his natural voice. The brilliant mind behind A Brief History of Time and other works that are far beyond my limited intellectual grasp, has nevertheless carried his voice throughout his career, making astonishing advances in scientific and philosophical theory, thanks to the computerized voicebox (a Simpsons success) that allowed him to share his work long after his body submitted to Lou Gehrig’s disease. His success is all the more extraordinary if one considers that the doctors gave him two years to live during his formative years at Cambridge almost fifty years ago.

EUFF Review: 'Road North'

Road North (Tie Pohjoiseen)
(Finland, 110 min.)
Dir. Mika Kaurismäki, Writ. Sami Keski-Vähälä, Mika Kaurismäki
Starring: Vesa-Matti Loiri (Leo), Samuli Edelman, Mari Perankoski. Irina Björklund
“In Finland, you can just go knock on your relatives’ door,” says Leo (Vesa-Matti Loiri) to his estranged son Timo (Samuli Edelman) as they arrive unannounced on the doorstep of Leo’s equally estranged daughter (Mari Perankoski). Leo himself had just arrived unexpectedly on Timo’s doorstep the night before, introducing himself as the father who bailed on him thirty years earlier and inviting himself to spend the night, so the Fins seem to be a very trusting people as this droll comedy from writer/director Mika Kaurismäki suggests. Kaurismäki, brother of filmmaker Aki Kaurismäki (Le Havre), offers a quirky and affable road movie that’s bound to delight audiences with its tale of family ties when it screens tonight at Ottawa’s European Union Film Festival.


Regent Park Film Festival Review: 'Québékoisie'

(Canada, 82 min.)
Written and directed by Mélanie Harrier, Olivier Higgins
Any Canadian documentary that confronts the Oka crisis and even mentions the word “Kanehsatake” inevitably invites comparison to Alanis Obomsawin’s landmark doc Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance. Kanehsatake, arguably the definitive film on the liminal space indigenous communities are forced to occupy within Canadian culture, contains some of the most provocative and necessarily confrontational arguments within Canadian documentary. It’s a tough act for any Canadian film to follow while tackling the subject, especially when the subject itself invokes its predecessor’s name. Québékoisie might not have the same cocktail of passion and rage as Obomsawin’s doc does, but the memory of Kanehsatake nevertheless permits Québékoisie resonance since it’s baffling to think that the same conversation needs to be had over two decades since the Oka Crisis and Obomsawin’s film.

EUFF Review: 'Ballymun Lullaby'

Ballymun Lullaby
(Ireland, 72 min.)
Dir. Frank Berry
It’s funny to see Ballymun Lullaby only days after reviewing the short film The Journey for Toronto’s Regent Park Film Festival. The Irish documentary Ballymun Lullaby, which screens Friday, Nov. 21 at Ottawa’s European Union Film Festival, makes a fine companion piece to the Canadian short doc about the arts and life in Toronto’s Regent Park. Each of these documentaries could easily be seen as a fine piece of PR-spin in their own right—and offering a clean, alternative perspective of their respective communities is certainly one of the objectives of each film—yet the similar message of both films underscores a philosophy that extends far beyond the impoverished communities represented on film. Ballymun Lullaby offers a touching portrait of a community taking control of its identity, and its tale about inspiring and empowering the youth through the arts gives the film a universal appeal.

'Are you, Are you, Coming to the Tree...'

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1
(USA, 123 min.)
Dir. Francis Lawrence, Writ. Peter Craig and Danny Strong
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore, Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland.
Jennifer Lawrence stars as Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1.
Photo Credit: Murray Close / eOne Films

Are you, Are you
Coming to the tree
Where they strung up a man they say murdered three
Strange things did happen here
No stranger would it be
If we met up at midnight in the hanging tree…

Are you, Are you
Coming to the tree
Wear a necklace of rope, side by side with me.
Strange things did happen here,
No stranger would it be,
If we met up at midnight in the hanging tree.
-“The Hanging Tree”


EUFF Review: 'Rocks in My Pockets'

Rocks in My Pockets (Akmeni Manăs Kabatăs)
(Latvia/USA, 88 min.)
Written and directed by Signe Baumane
Starring: Signe Baumane
It helps to be a little bit crazy. Filmmaker Signe Baumane gives an eccentric and insightful portrait of madness in the unconventionally personal film Rocks in My Pockets. Rocks, which screens at Ottawa European Union Film Festival on November 28, is a truly unique bit of personal history as Baumane chronicles her family’s history of mental illness. This animated tale, Latvia’s official submission for Best Foreign Language Film in this year’s Academy Awards race, is a wry, funny, and insightful stroke of genius.


Regent Park Film Festival Opens with a Spotlight on Canadian Shorts

Photo: Rick O'Brien.
Toronto’s Regent Park Film Festival offers four days of free screenings of films from Canada and around the world, but the festival’s shorts program on opening night is just the ticket for anyone who wants to see what this community film festival represents. RPFF kicks off with “Next: Emerging Directors Spotlight,” which opens the festival with a celebration of up-and-coming Canadian talent. This quartet of promising shorts bodes well for the future of Canadian film.


'Mommy' Crosses 3 Million Dollar Mark in Canada

Suzanne Clément in Mommy.
Photo: Shayne Laverdiere / Les Films Séville
Mommy continues its impressive bonanza at the Canadian box office, as Quebec distributor Les Films Séville shared the news via Twitter that Xavier Dolan's film has officially crossed the three million dollar mark in Canada. This take is very impressive, since Mommy has not only widened its stance to be Quebec's top grosser of 2014, but it could potentially become the top Canadian earner at the Canadian box office if its streak continues. The film has already passed The Grand Seduction's take of $2.7 million and is on track to top Pompeii's take of $4 million that currently leads the maple bacon b.o. Mommy's prospects look healthy, since the film, Canada's Oscar bid for Best Foreign Language Film, will inevitably pick up more momentum and exposure as it enters the thick of awards season and the Canadian equivalents. The film has also passed the milestone of one million admissions in France, which is most impressive.

Oscar Predictions: Round 3 - Christmas Comes Eary?

Christmas comes early, which is a blessing for Oscar fans in a year that seems particularly back-loaded. 2014 has ample strong films to offer, but this year’s race is too busy and too close to call, especially with so many seemingly viable contenders skipping the fall festival circuit and opening on Christmas Day. Into the Woods, Unbroken, Big Eyes, Selma, and American Sniper could presumably count for half the Best Picture line-up, and only a week ago it seemed like few of us could suss out the awards race until the time came to carve the turkey.


Full Metal Jazzfest

(USA, 105 min.)
Written and directed by Damien Chazelle
Starring: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons
“Alternates, wipe the blood off my drums,” commands Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) following an intense rehearsal during practice for the Studio Band at Shaffer Conservatory. Fletcher runs band practice at the elite fictional music academy as if it’s boot camp, and Whiplash takes an unconventional look at the teacher-study relationship as Fletcher pushes one student, Andrew (Miles Teller), to the extreme. The drama might be farfetched—nobody bleeds that hard from drumming—but Whiplash pulses with the passion that consumes an artist when he strives to stand out in a competitive field.

Theatre: The Movie

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorace)
(USA, 118 min.)
Dir. Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Writ. Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicholás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Armando Bo
Starring : Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis , Edward Norton, Andrea Riseborough,  Amy Ryan, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts
Michael Keaton as Riggan and Edward Norton as Mark in Birdman.
Photo: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Michael Keaton, Batman himself, hit so rock bottom a few years ago that his biggest credit in the few years preceding Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), aside from a supporting role in RoboCop, is the 2013 thriller/inadvertent comedy Penthouse North. Penthouse North is so cheap and ridiculous that it substitutes both Manhattan and Afghanistan with a refurbished No Frills grocery in the middle of suburban Ottawa—yes, Ottawa. Filmmaking doesn’t get much lower for a Hollywood icon than shooting a Netflix-grade turkey in a bankrupt Canadian grocery store.


EUFF Review: 'The Candidate'

The Candidate (Kandidát)
(Slovakia/Czech Republic, 106 min.)
Dir. Jonás Karásek, Writ. Peter Balko, Michal Havran, Maros Hecko
Starring: Marek Majesky, Monika Hilmerová, Michal Kubovcík, Michal Dlouhys
The Conversation meets Wag the Dog in the Slovak/Czech co-pro The Candidate. The Candidate, which screens in Ottawa on Friday, November 14 at the European Union Film Festival, is a sleek and social-media savvy satire with its finger on the pulse of the political circus and both its thumbs feverishly working the buttons of an iPhone as it clicks away at a rapid rate. This sharply produced comedy-thriller is smart and incisive.


EUFF Review: 'A Special Day'

A Special Day (Un giorno special)
(Italy, 89 min.)
Dir. Francesca Comencini, Writ. Francesca Comencini, Guilia Calenda, Davide Lantieri
Starring: Filippo Scicchitano, Giulia Valentini.
The 2014 European Union Film Festival opens with a hot slice of cinema Italiano with A Special Day. Italy opens the festival this year since the boot-shaped country holds the Presidency of the European Union for 2014 and this Italian offering starts the festival with a nice toast of Prosecco. A Special Day is light and bubbly, a picturesque coming of age story, and a cautionary tale of aimless excess poured into one tall glass that goes down easy.


Win Tickets to 'The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1' Across Canada! (CONTEST CLOSED)

Citizens of Panem! Who is ready to volunteer for the next round of The Hunger Games? The third and final instalment of the beloved franchise begins when Oscar winner/superstar/coolest person ever Jennifer Lawrence returns as Katniss in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1. Mockingjay opens in theatres November 21 from eOne Films, but the district of Cinemablographer (ie: the best district) has tickets to sneak peeks of the film across Canada! If you live in Ottawa, Calgary, Edmonton, Halifax, Toronto, Winnipeg, Vancouver, or Victoria and you want to see Mockingjay before it hits theatres, answer the trivia below for your chance to win tickets to a sneak peek!

'Interstellar' Gets Lost in Space

(USA/UK, 169 min.)
Dir. Christopher Nolan, Writ. Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine, Matt Damon, Casey Affleck, Wes Bentley, Ellen Burtsyn.
Christopher Nolan flies through a wormhole of cinematic exploration in the innovative Interstellar, but the film gets lost in space. Interstellar is a spectacularly realized feat of unintelligible jibber-jabber. This visually stunning and phenomenally executed special effects extravaganza deserves to be seen on the big screen, yet Interstellar is often utterly incomprehensible.

'Dys-' and 'The Cold Heart' win Audience Awards at Cellar Door Film Festival

The Canadian horror film Dys- wins the CDFF Audience Award for Best Feature
Ottawa's Cellar Door Film Festival has  announced the two Audience Award winners for CDFF 2014. Dys-, directed by Maude Michaud, wins the Audience Award for Best Feature Film at CDFF ‘14 while The Cold Heart (Das Kalte Herz), directed by Hannes Rall, emerges with the Audience Award for Best Short Film. The selection of the Canadian horror film Dys- and the German animated fable The Cold Heart makes an especially fine pair for Cellar Door’s celebration of both Canadian and international filmmakers.


Ottawa's European Union Film Festival Screens Nov. 13-30!

Who’s still bobbing their heads to “Let it Out”, the theme from last year’s European Union Film Festival hit A Trip? Ottawa filmmies loved the song so much it brought Googlers galore, and the popularity of the catchy tune used in last year’s festival trailer shows how much this Ottawa festival connects with local audiences. Cinephiles get their annual treat once again when the European Union Film Festival (EUFF) screens in town this week. EUFF is presented by the Canadian Film Institute, the Delegation of the European Union to Canada, and the Member States of the European Union. EUFF continues to grow in its 29th year, which makes it one of the longest running film festivals in town, yet EUFF stays young at heart by showcasing cutting-edge examples of world cinema with hip hooks like “Let it Out.”


Planet in Focus Review: 'The Dark Side of Chew'

The Dark Side of Chew
(Canada/Mexico, 58 min.)
Dir. Andrew Nisker
So, who gave out gum on Halloween? I cautiously grabbed a piece of Double Bubble from the goodie bags we were handing out at my place and chewed the issue as I thought about the Planet in Focus doc The Dark Side of Chew. Andrew Nisker’s film paints bubble gum a shade bunch darker than the vibrant pink of most goodies (hence the title), so my thoughts on the film instantly spat the rubbery mass into the garbage. This stuff is really nasty when the film puts it in perspective.


Planet in Focus Review: 'On the Trail of the Far Fur Country'

On the Trail of the Far Fur Country
(Canada, 80 min.)
Dir. Kevin Nikkel, Writ. Chris Nikkel, Kevin Nikkel
This year’s Planet in Focus unearths a true gem of Canadiana in the breathtaking doc On the Trail of the Far Fur Country. Fur sees filmmaker Kevin Nikkel mine the archives of film and Canadian history and turn the camera back on contemporary Canadiana in turn. This beautiful achievement in filmmaking is both a reflection on Canada’s history and a look forward at the journey ahead.


Planet in Focus Review: 'The Family Farm'

The Family Farm
(Canada, 72 min.)
Written and directed by Ari Cohen
“There’s not a grocery fairy that waves its wand and restores the shelves,” says one beleaguered farmer towards the end of Ari Cohen’s The Family Farm. Family Farm, which screens at Toronto’s Planet in Focus this weekend, is a down-to-earth portrait of the Canadians who till the land in order to stock the shelves of their neighbours. Few Canadians really know how food lands on their tables, for more Canadians probably believe in the food fairy than think critically about how food actually gets into their belly. Some probably think that the stork still brings them.

Planet in Focus Review: 'Night Moves'

Night Moves
(USA, 112 min.)
Dir. Kelly Reichardt, Writ. Jonathan Raymond, Kelly Reichardt
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning, Peter Sarsgaard
“If you bombard people with horrifying images,” says one environmentalist following a documentary screening in Kelly Reichardt’s Night Moves, “it leads people to think it’s too late.” The moviegoer’s query seems oddly fitting after one hears the same sentiment in the other Planet in Focus selection, Living on the Edge. Whereas photographer Joan Sullivan instead chooses to capture the beauty of sustainable living to convey the effects of climate change, Night Moves methodically explores the actions of those who take drastic measures as final results for saving the environment. This methodical thriller by Kelly Reichardt (Meek’s Crossing, Wendy and Lucy) might be the first legitimate eco-terrorism drama to hit the big screen and, if it isn’t, then it’s arguably the best.


Planet in Focus Review: 'Living on the Edge'

Living on the Edge
(Canada, 50 min.)
Dir. Susan Woodfine
David Didier explains coastal erosion to Joan Sullivan, along the Saint Lawrence River
The old saying goes that a picture tells a thousand words. Photos, particularly before and after shots, are especially talkative when it comes to the environment. Just look at the time-lapse photography of Chasing Ice, which offers visual proof of global warming simply by inviting the audience to watch glaciers creep outside the frame. Climate change invites powerful imagery, but these photos can be equally as heavy-handed as they are provocative.  At the other end of the reel, though, lies the inspiring work of photographer and environmental activist Joan Sullivan as Living on the Edge shows how she uses her camera to show the benefits and beauty of going green in an effort to encourage proactive change. This aesthetically and morally sound doc offers both a personal and global portrait of a world in flux.

Contest: Win Tickets to 'The Theory of Everything' in Ottawa and Calgary! (CONTEST CLOSED)

Get ready for one of the year’s most  inspiring films! The Theory of Everything dramatizes the extraordinary true story of astrophysicist Stephen Hawking and his wife Jane Wilde, played by Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones, from Oscar-winning director James Marsh (ShadowDancer). The Theory of Everything opens this month from eOne Films, but if you live in Ottawa, Edmonton, Winnipeg, or Victoria, and want to see the film before it hits theatres, answer the trivia below for your chance to win tickets to a sneak peek!

Hot Docs Hit 'Kung Fu Elliot' Opens This Week! (Ottawa Nov. 14!)

Filmgoers eager to see more Canadian hits from Hot Docs will want to see the fun, but also kind of brilliant, Kung Fu Elliot when it hits theatres this weekend. This zany doc from directors Jaret Belliveau and Matthew Bauckman tells the shaggy underdog story of amateur filmmaker and Kung Fu enthusiast Elliot Scott. Elliot’s passion for making movies—with no discernable talent despite an overdose of enthusiasm—is an entertainingly ironic example for why the Canadian film scene has yet to find its own legit action hero and, let’s face it, probably never will. The film, which won Best Documentary Feature at the Slamdance Film Festival earlier this year, opens in Toronto this weekend and Ottawa audiences can catch it Nov. 14 when it opens at the Mayfair Theatre, which seems like the perfect atmosphere for fans of The Room to enjoy this eclectic ode to hack filmmaking.

Streep Sings in Final 'Into the Woods' Trailer!

Get a final look at the Wicked Streep of the West before the Meryl musical Into the Woods hits theatres Christmas Day. Disney released the final trailer for Into the Woods, the hotly anticipated adaptation of Stephen Sondheim's beloved musical, from director Rob Marshall (Chicago, Nine). Meryl Streep stars as The Witch alongside Emily Blunt, Anna Kendrick, James Corden, and Johnny Depp as The Wolf. Streep gets top billing in the trailer, although previous reports from Disney reps confirm that she'll actually compete in the Best Supporting Actress race with Emily Blunt being the film's true lead in her role as The Baker's Wife. (But, hey, it's Meryl Streep...  at the top where she belongs!) The Disney awards site does not yet have full category listings, though, so that could change like August: Osage County did depending on the film's strategy and reception. Either way, though, Streep and Into the Woods look fantastic!

What's the policy on skipping Christmas dinner for Meryl Streep movies? 


Planet in Focus Opens with the Stunning 'Monsoon'

(Canada/France, 108 min.)
Dir. Sturla Gunnarsson
Planet in Focus gets a thunderous start with Sturla Gunnarsson’s arresting Monsoon. This visually stunning and philosophically stirring documentary is a wonder. Fans of Jennifer Baichwal and Edward Burtynsky’s Watermark will want to see this film. Gunnarsson, director of the Edward Suzuki doc Force of Nature, travels to Kerala, India to study the many facets of the annual Monsoon that washes through India with near-Biblical fury, yet Monsoon fascinatingly shows the waters as a life force whereas other films might show the flood as a threat. Monsoon opens Planet in Focus with one of the most stimulating alternative—or perhaps most fully formed—takes on climate you’ll see this year.


Hot Docs Hit 'The Secret Trial 5' Comes to Toronto and Ottawa

Security certificate detainee Hassan Almrei spent over 7 years in prison
without being charged with a crime.
Sigh. It feels as if Canada is becoming more like the US every day. Luckily, though, our filmmakers are keeping Canada’s strong tradition of documentary film alive and stirring debate about the changing face of Canada. First and foremost among Canadian non-fiction films of 2014 is Amar Wala’s The Secret Trial 5, an incendiary documentary that hits theatres this week after premiering at Hot Docs earlier this year (review here) where Wala earned an honourable mention in the Emerging Canadian Filmmaker category and the film ranked in the top ten for the audience award.

Contest: Win Tickets to see 'Rosewater' in Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver (CONTEST CLOSED)

Pretty much everyone agrees that Jon Stewart is a master of satire when it comes to reporting current events, but how does his razor-sharp skill translate to film? Pretty well, I’d say, judging from the praise surrounding his directorial debut Rosewater. Pretty darn well, actually, since the film premiered to Oscar buzz and great reviews at the Telluride and Toronto International Film Festival earlier this fall. Rosewater opens in Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal on November 14 from Search Engine Films (Ottawa at The ByTowne on Nov. 28) and if you live in YYZ, MTL, and YVR, you are in luck! Answer the trivia below for your chance to win tickets to sneak peeks of Rosewater!


Cellar Door Film Festival: Programmers' Picks

Ottawa's Cellar Door Film Festival launches this Friday! (Check out the full line-up here.) It's been a lot of fun being a part of the programming team and get this project off the ground, but the only downside is that CDFF is the one Ottawa film festival that I can't review! It would be so much fun to write about some of these films. However, the programming team did a little writing of its own over the weekend and now offers the "Programmers' Picks" for CDFF'14. Myself and the festival's other programmers, Ramin S. Khanjani and Renuka Bauri, each highlight one short film and one feature film that are especially worth seeking out at the inaugural edition of CDFF. My personal pick is the Canadian horror film Dys- from director Maude Michaud (who will be at the screening!) but I really do say "Everything!" whenever someone asks for a tip for what to see at the festival. Check out the full list of Programmers' Picks here.


Beatlemania en España

Living is Easy with Eyes Closed (Vivir es fácil con los ojos cerrados)
(Spain, 108 min.)
Written and directed by David Trueba
Starring: Javier Cámara, Natalia de Molina, Francesc Colomer
The extent to which one will love Living is Easy with Eyes Closed probably depends on how easily one identifies the title. If one immediately knows that the line is a lyric from The Beatles’ hit “Strawberry Fields Forever,” then Living is Easy with Eyes Closed is probably like a sweet song from the sixties. If one is one mildly (if embarrassingly) behind on one’s Beatlemania, however, Living is Easy with Eyes Closed is still a nice little ditty even if feels as if nothing holds it together until the very end. Easy goes down like a great Beatles song, though, as its upbeat sunniness has the simplicity of tunes like “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.” There’s actually a lot more to it, however, if one listens a little more closely.