'Joy' Finds a Silver Lining

(USA, 124 min.)
Dir. David O. Russell, Writ. David O. Russell. Annie Mumolo
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Bradley Cooper, Isabella Rossellini, Virginia Madsen, Diane Ladd, Edgar Ramirez, Elisabeth Rohm
Jennifer Lawrence stars in Joy.
20th Century Fox

Joy reminds me of another movie. Not a David O. Russell movie, though. (At times, it seems like a parody of one.) Rather, Joy calls to mind an oft-maligned movie of 2005 that’s actually a lot better than people say. That film is Cameron Crowe’s Elizabethtown. Elizabethtown, like Joy, is a film that one shouldn’t necessarily begrudge another moviegoer for disliking: it’s rocky, wildly uneven, and the first thirty minutes are terrible enough to inspire a walkout. But if one survives Elizabethtown’s atrocious opening number, one finds that the film’s actually decently watchable. Ditto Joy, which grates on the nerves with a get-me-the-hell-outta-here first act, but then settles down for a watch that’s pleasant and rewarding enough to merit a recommendation tied with a warning.


2015 in Review: The Best Films of the Year

Youth, Carol, Sicario, and Phoenix are 2015's best films.
2015, like many of its best films, ends a year that had a habit of sneaking up on you. Most of its strongest players aren’t the biggest and loudest films that announced themselves with thunder, but rather the smaller films that emphasize the most basic elements of cinema—great characters, story, cinematography—to offer something that feels both old and new. The year admittedly marks one of the better years for studio films outside of the mindless franchise crap with films like The Martin proving to be a highlight in big screen entertainment. Mad Max: Fury Road offers a rarity in which both a franchise film and a two-hour action sequence can make for wild escapism, too, which makes it one of the year’s most legitimate surprises and proves that there’s still merit to full-throttle entertainment if it escape the formula of ‘rinse and repeat.’ Even then, Mad Max follows the old/new dynamic of 2015 by reviving an old franchise and giving a contemporary female lead with Furiosa. Finally, Ricki and the Flash, Steve Jobs, and Bridge of Spies prove that the major studios can still deliver quality dramas. Overall, 2015 has a lot to admire.


2015 in Review: The Best Performances of the Year

Clockwise: Alicia Vikander, Michael Caine, Nina Hoss, and Jane Fonda give 2015's best performances.
Year in Review picks continue with the best performances of 2015. This year offer a wealth of great performances as many actors are at the top of their game with full and surprising turns. Without wanting to ramble on Christmas Eve, let's allows the performances to speak for themselves. Here are the twenty actors who stand tallest in the best supporting performances and best lead performances of 2015.


2015 in Review: The Best Canadian Films of the Year

Clockwise: The Forbidden Room, In Her Place, Al Purdy Was Here, and The Witch are Canada's best for 2015.
2015 ends both a good year and a dispiriting year for Canadian film. It’s a good year if one simply assesses the films in terms of quality. There might not be a runaway juggernaut like Mommy or Stories We Tell, but the overall calibre of films seems to be consistently better than it’s been before. Moreover, 2015 marks a respectable year for new voices entering the fray with films like Albert Shin’s In Her Place and Andrew Cividino’s Sleeping Giant, among others, marking notable turns for emerging filmmakers. The next generation of Canadian filmmakers sits in good company with contemporary masters, as 2015 sees some of this country’s best filmmakers at the top of their games with Guy Maddin making both The Forbidden Room and Bring Me the Head of Tim Horton and with Alan Zweig hitting a homer with HURT. There’s little reason to complain when it comes to the Canadian films one was able to see in 2015.

Blu-ray Review: 'Sleeping with Other People'

Sleeping with Other People
(USA, 101 min.)
Written and directed by Leslye Headland
Starring: Jason Sudeikis, Alison Brie, Adam Scott, Amanda Peet
Photo courtesy VVS Films.
Boy meets girl, they sleep together, they part, and then fate has them come together. It’s a familiar story that returns again and again because, well, it works. Sleeping with Other People does the unrequited mojo thing with a contemporary openness and a progressive attitude for polyamorous relationships as fellow studs/”love addicts” Jake (Jason Sudeikis) and Lainey (Alison Brie) cross paths years after they first hooked up in college and never danced between the sheets again. Add a sprinkle of darkness and characters who are fallibly real, and Sleeping with Other People manages to be a romantic comedy for people who don’t usually like romantic comedies, but without being cynical about love too.


Book a Stay at Minnie's Haberdashery this Christmas!

The Hateful Eight
(USA, 167 min. wide release / 187 min. roadshow)
Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Tim Roth, Zoe Bell, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern
Samuel L. Jackson stars in The Hateful Eight, an Entertainment One release.
Photo: Andrew Cooper, SMPSP

Seven is lucky number. Sometimes it’s even magnificent. Add one more digit to the pot, however, and one has a whole other kettle of fish.


Turkey Time

There Where Atilla Passes… (Là où Atilla passe…)
(Canada, 90 min.)
Written and directed by Onur Karaman
Starring: Émile Schneider, Roy Dupuis, Julie Deslauriers, Cansel Elçin, Gilles Pelletier, Dilan Gwyn, Belit Ozukan, Jean Fayolle
It’s funny to look at two of the Roy Dupuis films reviewed this year and see how much they encompass the world of Canadian films. In There Where Atilla Passes… Dupuis stars as Michel, the Québécois father of a Turkish boy named Atilla (Émile Schneider) who feels a pull away from his father when the directionlessness of his path makes him reconsider his idea of home. Dupuis plays father to a son in a similar predicament in this summer’s The Sound of Trees (Le bruit des arbres) in which his logger papa sees his son Jérémie (Atoine L’ Écuyer) feel a pull away from the regional homeland and toward the big city of Montreal. The difference, though, is that Atilla carries a fascination with his native Turkey, while Jérémie feels restless on the farm, yet both films feature father/son dynamics in which the idea home no longer holds sway for the young generation. Be it Montreal or Turkey, these two Roy Dupuis films show Canada as a site of generational divides.

'The Fencer' Wins EUFF Audience Award

The audience says en gaurd! The Canadian Film Institute (CFI) announces that the winner of the inaugural audience award for Ottawa’s 30th annual European Union Film Festival is The Fencer. The Fencer tops a popular and successful edition of EUFF as the CFI’s fest. The win for The Fencer, Estonian’s selection for the festival, caps off a great year for the fest, which enjoyed strong attendance in its first year at The ByTowne.


2015 in Review: The Worst Films of the Year

Clockwise: Jupiter Ascending, of the North, Motrdecai, and In Jackson Heights are some of 2015's worst films.
2015 isn’t the worst year for movies we’ve seen in a while. It’s not the best and not the worst, but maybe the weirdest. Many of the bigger films this year are hardly worth seeing anymore, so indifference to the studio stuff somewhat saves the year for me, but it’s a weird year since 2015 has so many duds even if one sticks to the indies. There’s a hearty mix of crap this year thanks to the joint efforts of the heavy-hitters, the indies, the doc scene, and the cheap Canadian movie crowd. Nothing is immune to turkeydom.


'Sleeping Giant' Leads Vancouver Film Critics Circle Nominations

Sleeping Giant
The Vancouver Film Critics Circle has chimed into the awards race. Sleeping Giant led yesterday’s announcement with six nominations among the awards for Canadian film, while The Revenant led the international noms with three. Brie Larson landed nominations for Best Actress and Best Actress in a Canadian film for Room, although Saorise Ronan only got an international gong. Also interesting was the supporting nomination for Patrick Huard in My Internship in Canada: he’s in virtually the whole film. Since when did Canadian films play the category fraud thing?

Winners of the international awards will be announced Dec. 21 and winners of the Canadian awards will be announced Jan. 6, 2016.

The nominees:
(See sidebar for links to reviews)

Notes from the Screener Pile: 2015.7

The last few days of pre-voting catch-up (see the full list of OFCS award winners here) includes a few rentals from the iTunes and one major disappointment.

Inside Out
(USA, 95 min.)
Dir. Pete Docter, Ronnie Del Carmen (co-director), Writ. Pete Docter, Ronnie Del Carmen, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley
Starring: Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Richard Kind, Bill Hader


Toronto Film Critics Association Announces Nominees for Best Canadian Film

The Forbidden Room. Photo courtesy of Mongrel Media.
The Toronto Film Critics Association announced the three nominees for its annual Rogers Best Canadian Film Award. The nominees are Guy Maddin and Evan Johnson’s The Forbidden Room, Philippe Falardeau’s My Internship in Canada, and Andrew Cividino’s Sleeping Giant, which was also a runner-up for Best First Feature. The three films recently made the list for Canada’s Top Ten as well. All three are strong choices and among the most well-regarded Canuck films of the year. The Forbidden Room and Internship opened theatrically in October, while Sleeping Giant has a rare qualifying run in Toronto this week, playing at the Carlton at the lunch hour. (The run now makes it eligible for the Canadian Screen Awards without forcing it to move away from its April release.) The winner for the TFCA award will be announced in January where the director will receive a cash prize of $100 000.


'Mad Max: Fury Road' Tops Online Film Critics Society Awards

Mad Max: Fury Road
The votes are in! The Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) name Mad Max: Fury Road the top film of 2015. The action epic scores four awards while the drama Carol wins three awards including Best Actress for Cate Blanchett. The winners list also includes the voters' picks for the best non-USA releases of 2015 to reflect the international scope of the membership.

The full list of winners:

Notes from the Screener Pile: 2015.6

James White
(USA, 84 min.)
Written and directed by Josh Mond
Starring: Christopher Abbott, Cynthia Nixon
The spirit of the angry young man endures in James White! This gut-punch of a drama is independent filmmaking stripped and raw as writer/director Josh Mond makes an auspicious directorial debut after producing strong films like Martha Marcy May Marlene. James White firmly relies on two exceptional performances and a compelling script that engages the viewer from beginning to end. It’s a quietly powerful film.


'Life's But a Walking Shadow'

(UK/France/USA, 113 min.)
Dir. Justin Kurzel, Writ. Jacob Koskoff, Michael Lesslie, Todd Louiso
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Paddy Considine, David Thewlis, Elizabeth Debicki
Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard star in Macbeth.
eOne Films.

“Life’s but a walking shadow,” laments Macbeth in the famous soliloquy from Shakespeare’s drama. People generally quote the “sound and fury” part of this same speech, but the significance of this line of the verse feels especially relevant to Justin Kurzel’s inspired adaptation of Macbeth. This dark and nightmarish take on the Shakespearean drama is like a foreboding reverie or a fever dream told in the elliptical rhythm of iambic pentameter. Macbeth plays like a walking shadow under Kurzel’s direction: it resembles a somnambulant death march, a sleepwalk over fire, and a dream from which one cannot escape.


Contest! Win Tickets to See 'The Hateful Eight' in 70mm in Toronto and Vancouver! (Contest Closed)

Quentin Tarantino is back in the saddle after Django Unchained with the doubled-barrelled western The Hateful Eight! The Hateful Eight comes to theatres this Christmas in a badass roadshow from eOne Films that presents the film in epic 70mm with an overture and an intermission, just like they had in the days of the spaghetti western. The Hateful Eight opens in roadshow formats on Dec. 25 in Toronto and Vancouver from eOne Films, but lucky readers in those cities may win tickets to a special 70mm sneak peek! Answer the trivia below for your chance to win tickets!

TIFF's Canada's Top Ten is 'Eh'-Ok

Roy Dupuis in The Forbidden Room.
Photo courtesy of TIFF.
Yesterday’s announcement spotlights ten diverse films that are overall worthy to represent the year in Canadian film. Among the selections are Guy Maddin and Evan Johnson’s wild, weird, and wacky kino-odyssey, The Forbidden Room, Philippe Falardeau’s My Internship in Canada, and Stephen Dunn’s Closet Monster, which won the prize for Best Canadian Feature at TIFF this year. The list offers three docs, too, with Mina Shum’s Ninth Floor, Alan Zweig’s HURT, and Patrick Reed and Michelle Shephard’s Guantanamo’s Child: Omar Khadr making the cut. (Read a report on the documentary selections over at POV.)

Rachel McAdams, Jacob Tremblay Land SAG Noms

Canada's Rachel McAdam landed a SAG nomination for Spotlight
Spotlight MVP Rachel McAdams was the film's lone nominee in this morning's nominations for the annual Screen Actors Guild Awards. Spotlight earned a nomination for Best Ensemble Cast, which it is heavily favoured to win, but none of its many worthy male actors like Michael Keaton or Mark Ruffalo made the cut. Still, it's nice to see McAdams' strong work recognized. She was one of two Canadian actors nominated this morning in the film categories, for Room's Jacob Tremblay edged out the Spotlight guys for his heartbreaking performance in the Canadian-Irish co-production Room.


Golden Globe Predictions and Oscar Update

The Martian: Everyone's favourite 'comedy'.
Aidan Monaghan, FOX
Is it Golden Globes time already? It’s so hard to keep up the pace with award season. This year seems to be an open race so far since, as Variety notes, none of the top critics’ groups (ie: the National Board of Review, New York, and LA) have any overlap in the main categories. But with only three to five critics’ groups chiming in so far, there’s no point in sounding the alarm just yet.


EUFF Review: 'Son of Saul'

Son of Saul (Saul fia)
(Hungary, 107 min.)
Dir. Làszló Nemes, Writ. Làszló Nemes, Clara Royer
Starring:  Géza Röhrig, Levent Molnár, Urs Rechn, Jerzy Walczak
Géza Röhrig as Saul.
Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics/Mongrel Media

Stories about the Holocaust yield some of the most difficult and disturbing stories put on film. Schindler’s List, Night and Fog, Sophie’s Choice, and others involve audiences in stories about one of the darkest chapters in contemporary history, but no film puts a viewer so squarely in the fold of history as powerfully as Son of Saul does. This Cannes champ (it won the Grand Prix) and Hungarian submission for Best Foreign Language Film for this year’s Oscars offers a harrowing and fully immersive descent into Auschwitz unlike any film before. Son of Saul thrusts the viewer into the belly of the Holocaust and it’s like wading through the bowels of hell. This film is one intense, draining, and powerful experience.

'of the North' Is Armchair Colonialism

of the North
(Canada, 74 min.)
Dir. Dominic Gagnon
The ghost of Nanook of the North haunts Dominic Gagnon’s archival doc of the North. From the words of its title to the reckless representation of the Inuit, of the North shows that documentary still has a lot to learn since the days of Nanook when it comes to representation diverse cultures fairly and objectively. Gagnon culls together a portrait of life in the Canadian north with a series of YouTube videos featuring the Inuit in various states of recklessness and drunken disorder. One would be generous to say the film has five favourable shots of the folks from the north. It’s a dangerous and appallingly racist film, and a good example that ethnographic filmmaking, even something that aspires to be ethnographic filmmaking 2.0, is a practice that filmmakers must approach with the utmost sensitivity if they even feel compelled to tackle the outdated practice at all.

'Carol', 'Sicario' Lead OFCS Nominations

Benicio Del Toro stars in Sicario
Richard Foreman / eOne Films

Carol and Sicario leads the nominations for the 19th annual Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) Awards. The OFCS is the largest and longest running organization devoted to supporting film criticism on the web and features an international membership. OFCS voters tap Carol and Sicario (by Québécois director Denis Villeneuve!) with six nominations apiece including Best Picture and Best Director. The nominations also include Best Picture shout outs for Canuck co-pros Brooklyn and Room. Winners will be announced on Monday, Dec. 14!


'Carol' Is Like Falling in Love

(USA, 118 min.)
Dir. Todd Haynes, Writ. Phyllis Nagy
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Kyle Chandler, Sarah Paulson
Courtesy of eOne Films.
It starts with a glance. One of those looks that transform a person with a wonderful chill, like a jolt of electricity or a shock of life that wakes one up after a long winter’s nap. Then a conversation follows, the small talk that is awkwardly and terrifyingly wonderful. Fleeting gazes, secret looks, and moments of longing build with a swell of passion that one can hardly contain. Carol is like falling in love. The film is love at first sight, and it grows and grows on a viewer with its beauty that swoons and spins one head over heels in love. There’s a reticence to its languid longing, though, and the reserve of Todd Hayne’s masterful feat with Carol is that it evokes the kind of feeling of being in love, but of being terribly afraid that the other person doesn’t love you back.


Notes from the Screener Pile: 2015.5

Special British film episode!

(UK, 106 min.)
Dir. Sarah Gavron, Writ. Abi Morgan
Starring: Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne-Marie Duff, Nathalie Press, Ben Whishaw, and Meryl Streep
Carey Mulligan scores another point for feminism on film with Suffragette. The film offers a hearty follow-up punch to Mulligan’s spectacular performance as a Bathsheba Everdene with contemporary sensibilities in Far from the Madding Crowd, and Suffragette affords another strong role while paying tribute to women who turned the tide for women’s rights in England. The film tells the story of a specific group of women involved in the suffragette movement, particularly those taking up the cause under the guidance of Emmeline Pankhurst (played by Meryl Streep), whose radical advice of “deeds, not words” throws the suffragettes into a fight. Maud (Mulligan) finds herself at the front lines of the battle when a co-worker at her laundry mill (Anne-Marie Duff) inspires her to stand up for her rights. Through Maud’s reluctant awakening to the movement demanding votes for women, Suffragette shows the power that one individual has to change the world.


Notes from the Screener Pile: 2015.4

Part 4 of “Notes from the Screener Pile,” as offers drugs, thugs, and more drugs!

I Smile Back
(USA, 85 min.)
Dir. Adam Salky, Writ. Amy Koppelman, Paige Dylan
Starring: Sarah Silverman, Josh Charles, Thomas Sadoski, Mia Barron
Photo courtesy of TIFF.

When it comes to acting, there are few pleasures as great as seeing an actor do something completely unexpected. I tip my hat to Sarah Silverman for playing against type as a self-destructive woman who self-medicates her mental illness with a dangerous prescription of booze, drugs, and sex. Silverman lays herself bare in I Smile Back and it’s a humane, vulnerable, and utterly disarming performance. Silverman long ago established herself a fine comedian, but with I Smile Back she proves herself a bold actor.


Ottawa's Mirror Mountain Film Fest Launches this Weekend

Lost Conquest screens Mirror Mountain Film Fest Dec. 4
Ottawa’s ever-growing film festival scene gets a newbie this weekend when Mirror Mountain Film Festival launches tomorrow. MMFF offers an eclectic line-up of alternative fare and indie films. The line-up mostly offers a mix of shorts and mid-length features and it includes a healthy representation for local filmmakers amidst some international peers. MMFF brings a mix of local premieres in addition to encore screenings of some of the more popular shorts that audiences might have missed at local festivals. (For example, CDFF’s opening night short A Good Deal screens opening night at MMFF and rewards with repeat viewings!) The festival also offers panels and parties in addition to pics with chats on professional development and the like turning the camera to the industry side of the film scene in between screenings that highlight the art. As the nun sings, “Climb every mountain!”


EUFF Review: 'Closer to the Moon'

Closer to the Moon
(Romanian/USA/Poland/Italy/France, 112 min.)
Written and directed by Nae Caranfil
Starring: Vera Farmiga, Mark Strong, Harry Lloyd, Joe Armstrong, Christian McKay, Tim Plester, Allan Courduner
The words “commercial Romanian film” might sound like an oxymoron, but Closer to the Moon displays a remarkable development for the Romanian film scene. This stylish caper dramatizes the bizarre-yet-true story of a bank heist in 1959 Communist Romania, and it shows a whole different side of the potential for Romanian cinema that’s been burgeoning since the New Wave broke out internationally with 2007’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days. Closer to the Moon harnesses the possibilities of international co-production and re-invents this slice of Romanian history with the slick entertainment value of a Hollywood heist movie, but it has the style and substance of an international art film. It’s a fun, entertaining revelation.

Blu-ray Review: 'The Transporter: Refueled'

The Transporter: Refueled
(France/Belgium, 96 min.)
Dir. Camille Delamarre, Writ. Bill Cooper, Adam Collage, Luc Besson
Starring: Ed Skrein, Ray Stevenson, Loan Chabanol, Gabriella Wright, Tatiana Pajkovic
Ed Skrein stars in The Transporter: Refueled.
VVS Films.

Ed Skrein is to Jason Statham what margarine is to butter. The Transporter franchise gets a reboot (or a “refuel,” in this case) and it lathers a substitute in place of the rich ingredient that makes the original Luc Besson movies so entertaining. Skrein, while perfectly serviceable, doesn’t bring quite the same charm, humour, and ruggedness to the role that Statham does. The Transporter: Refueled is still more palatable than dry toast even if it has the margarine man at the helm in place of Jason Statham, but the Transporter goes meterosexual as he escorts girls at high speeds and fights with a shopping bag and an iPhone instead of high-calibre guns.

Contest! Win 'Mississippi Grind' on Blu-ray!

Are you feeling lucky, readers? Double down with Canada’s Ryan Reynolds (Self/less) as he gives an impressive dramatic turn in Mississippi Grind, the new drama from Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck. Mississippi Grind is now available on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital platforms from VVS Films, and lucky readers in Canada have a chance to win a copy of Mississippi Grind on Blu-ray.  Answer the trivia below for a chance to win!

Notes from the Screener Pile: 2015.3

Awards season keeps on truckin'! (Pardon the neglect, Canadian films!)

(USA, 98 min.)
Written and directed by Michael Almereyda
Starring: Peter Sarsgaard, Winona Ryder
Winona Ryder and Peter Sarsgaard in Experimenter.
Magnolia Pictures
Anyone with an introductory psych class under his or her belt will be familiar with the experiments of Stanley Milgram. Milgram’s most famous experiment with authority and power, as PSYC 100 students know, involves patients administering shocks on a participant during routine questioning. The shocks amplify and the shocker almost always presses the button at the command of the test leader, despite believing that the person on the receiving end of the shock is in considerable pain. Peter Sarsgaard plays the shrewd doctor as Experimenter turns up the button on Milgram’s experiment and meditates upon the nature of human evil as this study from the past sees countless participants inflict pain because someone tells them to do it.


TFCA Names Deepa Mehta Winner of the Technicolor Clyde Gilmour Award

Deepa Mehta at Beeba Boys
WireImage/Getty for TIFF
Deepa Mehta wins this year’s Technicolor Clyde Gilmour Award from the Toronto Film Critics Association. The announcement comes today from the TFCA. Mehta is one of Canada’s most acclaimed filmmakers having made features such as Midnight’s Children, Sam and Me, Bollywood/Hollywood, and Water, which was Canada’s nominee for Best Foreign Language Film in 2006. Mehta’s most recent film, Beeba Boys, met a mixed reception from critics when it debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival in September and hit theatres in October, so this award probably offers a welcome reminder that Canuck critics still love Mehta’s work. The prize invites Mehta to award $50,000 in services, courtesy of Technicolor, to a filmmaker of her choice. TFCA notes that Mehta will name her choice shortly.


EUFF Review: 'A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence'

A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (En duva satt på en gren och funderade på tillvaron)
(Sweden/Germany/Norway/France, 101 min.)
Written and directed by Roy Andersson
Starring: Nisse Vestblom, Holger Andersson, Charlotta Larsson, Viktor Gyllenberg
A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence wins the prize for best film title of the year, if not all time. A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence might also have the most inaccurate or misleading title since Vic + Flo Saw aBear. Andersson’s film, which screens at Ottawa’s European Union Film Festival after winning the Golden Lion at Venice last year (it’s also Sweden’s Oscar submission for Best Foreign Language Film), has neither pigeon nor branch. However, Pigeon certainly reflects on existence—and, boy, does it ever do so grandly!


Own It, Hollywood!

(USA, 124 min.)
Dir. Jay Roach, Writ. John McNamara
Starring: Bryan Cranston, Helen Mirren, Diane Lane, Elle Fanning, John Goodman, Michael Stuhlbarg, David James Elliott, Dean O'Gorman, Alan Tudyk, Louis C.K
Helen Mirren stars as Hedda Hopper and Bryan Cranston stars as Dalton Trumbo in Jay Roach’s Trumbo, an Entertainment One release. Photo: Hilary Bronwyn Gayle

“Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?” are chilling words that define a dark and pivotal chapter of Hollywood history. The years of the Hollywood Blacklist in which industry figures like screenwriter Dalton Trumbo were ostracized and persecuted for their politics, are important years for Hollywood to remember, yet the story of the Hollywood Ten doesn’t get much screen time from Tinsletown. Aside from George Clooney’s excellent Good Night, and Good Luck, which uses the 1953 CBS news coverage of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) to interrogate media responsibility in Bush-era America, few contemporary films ask that familiar question. It appears again in Trumbo, perhaps the fullest dramatization of the era of the Hollywood Blacklist, but the film unfortunately feels like a missed opportunity to turn the question of McCarthyism right on its head.


'Spotlight' Shines

(USA, 120 min.)
Dir. Tom McCarthy, Writ. Tom McCarthy, Josh Singer
Starring: Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, Brian d’Arcy James, Stanley Tucci
Photo courtesy of eOne Films
Fans of Linden MacIntyre’s Giller Prize-winning novel The Bishop’s Man must, must, must see Spotlight. Spotlight doesn’t adapt MacIntyre’s excellent 2009 Canadian novel about a so-called “clean-up man” of the clothe who enabled his fellow clergy to molest young parishioners without reprisal or scandal, but fans of the book are bound to be taken by this equally incendiary film about the story that broke the church’s web of corruption wide open. This true tale dramatizes the landmark 2002 feat of journalism by the Spotlight team at the Boston Globe, which exposed the cover-ups of sexual abuse in the local Catholic Archdiocese with an ongoing commitment to the story. (Read the Spotlight series here.) The complexity and wrestling with guilt and faith one reads in The Bishop's Man find a powerful counterpoint in Spotlight as the mess of cleaning up the cover-up spins a story that leaves one spinning. Print might be dying, but Spotlight makes a solid case for the value of a free, impartial, and intelligent press.

Notes from the Screener Pile: 2015.2

Award-season FYC-ing continues!

Straight Outta Compton
(USA, 147 min.)
Dir. F. Gary Gray, Writ. Jonathan Herman, Andrea Berloff
Starring: O’Shea Jackson, Jr.; Corey Hawkins; Jason Mitchell, Neil Brown, Jr; Aldis Hodge; Paul Giamatti


Contest! Win Tickets to See 'Carol' Across Canada! (Contest Closed)

People everywhere are swooning for Carol. This latest film from Todd Haynes (Far from Heaven) adapts the novel The Price of Salt by The Talented Mr. Ripley author Patricia Highsmith (profiled here in the Summer Movie Reads of 2015). Carol stars Cate Blanchett and Cannes Best Actress winner Rooney Mara in two of the performances that critics are calling the year’s best. Carol opens in theatres beginning December 11 from eOne Films, but lucky readers in select cities may win tickets to a sneak peek. Answer the trivia below for a chance to win tickets!

EUFF Review: 'Class Enemy'

Class Enemy (Razredni sovraznik)
(Slovenia, 107 min.)
Dir. Rok Bicek, Writ. Nejc Gazvoda, Rok Bicek, Janez Lapajne
Starring: Igor Samobor, Natasa Barbara Gracner, Tjasa Zeleznik, Masa Derganc, Robert Prebil, Voranc Boh, Jan Zupančič
The European Union Film Festival finds a fitting follow-up to Luxembourg’s unsettling drama Baby(a)lone with Slovenia’s provocative drama Class Enemy. Both films are uncomfortable portraits of youth in revolt, but while Baby(a)lone finds power in the urgency of its character study, the group rebellion of Class Enemy situates the film in a larger collective uneasiness passed from generation to generation. This feature debut by Rok Bicek, Slovenia’s bid for Best Foreign Language Film back in 2013 (when Youth director Paolo Sorrentino's The Great Beauty won) is a powerful high school drama about ghosts that linger and lessons we all must learn.

Blu-ray Review: 'No Escape'

No Escape
(USA, 103 min.)
Dir. John Eric Dowdle, Writ. John Eric Dowdle, Drew Dowdle
Starring: Owen Wilson, Lake Bell, Pierce Brosnan
Courtesy VVS Films

Family vacations are often hell, but nothing compares to the nightmare of a trip to Southeast Asia that the Dwyer family endures in No Escape. Owen Wilson stars as Jack Dwyer, a man who moves his family to an anonymous Asian country (although it’s unmistakably Thailand) to work on a major dam project. No Escape turns the family’s new home upside-down when a political coup rocks the nation just hours after the family arrives. The action-packed No Escape leaves no time for sightseeing as the Dwyers run for their lives in an adventure they’ll never forget.


'Life in Its Thrall—a Nightmare!'

The Forbidden Room
(Canada, 120 min.)
Dir. Guy Maddin, co-dir. Evan Johnson; Writ. Guy Maddin, Evan Johnson, Robert Kotyk
Starring: Louis Negin, Roy Dupuis, Clare Furey, Udo Kier, Geraldine Chaplin, Charlotte Rampling, Sophie Desmarais, Karine Vanasse, Marie Brassard, Mathieu Amalric
Photo courtesy of Mongrel Media
“Life in its thrall—a nightmare!” reads an intertitle within Guy Maddin's hallucinatory phantasmagoria The Forbidden Room. The Forbidden Room is Maddin in his thrall, at the peak of his ridiculously extravagant weirdness. Every once in a rare while comes a film that lets an eccentric auteur unleash himself to his full potential, and The Forbidden Room is a richly dreamy, somnambulant kino-opera of style and experimentation. Only Maddin would even dare to attempt such a dense experiment, let alone achieve it. The Forbidden Room is one of Maddin’s strangest and best films yet.


EUFF Review: 'Keeper of Lost Causes'

The Keeper of Lost Causes
(Denmark/Germany/Sweden/Norway, 92 min.)
Dir. Mikkel Nørgaard, Writ. Nikolaj Arcel
Starring: Nikolaj Lee Kaas, Sonja Richter, Fares Fares, Peter Plaugborg, Mikkel Boe Følsgaard,
Anyone debating seeing Secret in Their Eyes this weekend might want to reconsider and catch Keeper of Lost Causes at the European Union Film Festival instead. This dark Danish co-production is a gritty crime drama. Much like the difference between the remake of Secret in Their Eyes and the original, this foreign affair suggests that thrillers are best done with subtitles.


Canucks in Contention: Could 2015 Be Canada's Biggest Year Yet at the Oscars?

Saoirse Ronan as Eilis and Emory Cohen as Tony in Brooklyn.
Photo by Kerry Brown. Courtesy of Mongrel Media
Canada has only ever had one film nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, but this year, we could have two nominees. That lone Canuck Best Picture nominee is the 1980 Canada-France co-production Atlantic City, which we dubbed the “forgotten" great Canadian film” during Canada Day celebrations. The feat has yet to be repeated despite ample peripheral contenders and nominees in other categories. The last big years Oscar-wise are 2007’s Best Actor nomination for Viggo Mortensen in David Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises and Julie Christie and Sarah Polley’s double-whammy for Best Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay, respectively, for Away from Her, or the triple threat of Best Foreign Language Film for Incendies, Monsieur Lazhar, and War Witch from 2010-2012. This year looks to correct that gap. The power of the Canuck co-pro stands strong this year, too, as the Canadian-Irish co-production Room and the Canadian-Irish-British co-production Brooklyn are both shaping up to be formidable contenders to be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar—if not to win.

Contest: Win a Digital Download of 'Bang Bang Baby'!

Get read to be flung out of this world with Bang Bang Baby! The wild and wacky sci-fi/comedy/musical that scooped the award for Best First Feature at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival and the Claude Jutra Award for Emerging Filmmaker at this year’s Canadian Screen Awards is a bizarre delight. (Read the 4-star review here.) Bang Bang Baby hits VOD November 27 from Search Engine Films, but lucky readers can win a free download to enjoy Bang Bang Baby on VOD and sing along in the comfort of their own homes.  Answer the trivia below for a chance to win!

Avert Your Eyes

Secret in Their Eyes
(USA, 110 min.)
Written and directed by Billy Ray
Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Nicole Kidman, Julia Roberts, Dean Norris, Alfred Molina
Courtesy eOne Films

Avert your eyes, Hollywood is at it again. Argentina’s Oscar winner The Secret in Their Eyes gets a ho-hum Hollywood remake in this by-the-numbers potboiler from writer/director Billy Ray (who wrote Captain Phillips). The original Secret in Their Eyes, despite being an Oscar winner, has ample room for improvement, so one feels a genuine disappointment that this remake fails to take the material to its full potential. The remake doesn’t even have a doozy of a long take to inspire one to leave the theatre raving, unlike hoe the original saved itself with five minutes of breathtaking filmmaking.


Two Canadian Shorts Advance in Oscar Race

If I Was God... Photo courtesy of the NFB
Two Canadian shorts advance in the Oscar race! Today’s announcement of the ten-film shortlist for Best Animated Short for this year’s Academy Awards includes two productions from the National Film Board of Canada, Carface (Auto Portraits), by directed Claude Clouthier, and If I Was God…, directed by Cordell Barker. The film’s join Don Hertzfeldt’s World of Tomorrow, OIFF 2014 selection Bear Story, and last year’s Audience Award winner at the Ottawa International Animation Festival We Can’t Live Without Cosmos. Canada and the NFB were last nominated in the category for Me and My Moulton. Best of luck in the race!

EUFF Review: 'Baby(a)lone'

(Luxembourg, 90 min.)
Written and directed by Donato Rotunno
Starring: Joshua Defays, Charlotte Elsen, Etienne Halsdorf
The kids are not all right in Baby(a)lone. Baby(a)lone opens this year’s European Union Film Festival in Ottawa and it’s much darker and edgier than past festival openers have been. Baby(a)lone might not be the first film with which one expects a country to represent itself at an international showcase, nor at the Oscars where the film is Luxembourg’s submission for Best Foreign Language Film, but it’s brave of Luxembourg to be so bold. The film is bound to strike a nerve with some festivalgoers, especially parents, but the tough rawness of Donato Rotunno’s direction gives Baby(a)lone a potent sting. It’s an uncomfortable watch—and an urgent one.


Notes from the Screener Pile: 2015.1

‘Tis the season! The screeners are in the mail and flooding inboxes like mad this year, so it’s time to play catch up as Cinemablographer.com considers all the movies that slipped by earlier this year. Enjoy some notes from the screener pile as we check films off the list!


Angie's Arty Adventure

By the Sea
(USA, 132 min.)
Written and directed by Angelina Jolie Pitt
Starring: Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie Pitt, Mélanie Laurent, Niels Arestrup, Melvil Poupaud
Angelina Jolie Pitt and Brad Pitt in By the Sea.
Universal Pictures Canada.

Angelina Jolie Pitt directs her third dramatic feature with By the Sea, and this piece of Euro arthouse cinéma finally gives the first onscreen team of Brangelina since the two actors heated things up in Mr. and Mrs. Smith. (Granted, Pitt has a cameo in Jolie’s dramatic directorial debut In the Land of Blood and Honey, but this film is their first real pairing both in front of the camera and behind it.) The two actors are as hot and sexy as ever in this languid arty vacationer that plays like the seaside holiday of Frank and April Wheeler as Americans Roland (Pitt) and Vanessa (Jolie Pitt) take a holiday in France and see their marriage hit the rocks. Scenes from a marriage, perhaps? Let’s hope not, but Angie's arty adventure deserves some credit as the couple spices things up.

Ottawa's European Union Film Festival Returns This Week!

Cannes sensation Son of Saul screens EUFF.
Photo: SPC / Mongrel
Ottawa’s best film festival returns when the European Union Film Festival starts Friday, November 20. The festival, one of the largest initiatives from the Canadian Film Institute and arguably the most popular/well attended by the public, has its thirtieth birthday this year. To celebrate, EUFF is moving to the ByTowne, which is a perfect home for filmgoers who love their subtitles and is a much bigger venue with superior sightlines/projection than the former home at Library and Archives Canada. Best of all, cinephiles can have popcorn at EUFF and, wait for it, beer and wine with the movies!


Contest! Win Tickets to See 'Trumbo' Across Canada! (CONTEST CLOSED)

Revisit a chapter of Hollywood history in Trumbo! Trumbo stars Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston as screewriter Dalton Trumbo, who penned some Hollywood classics in the notorious age of the blacklist. Trumbo opens in theatres November 27 from eOne Films, but lucky readers can see it before the film hits theatres!  Answer the trivia below for a chance to win tickets to a sneak peek!

The Sky Isn't Falling for 007 Just Yet

(UK/USA, 148 min.)
Dir. Sam Mendes, Writ. John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Jez Butterworth
Starring: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Léa Seydoux, Monica Bellucci, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Ben Whishaw
Bond (Daniel Craig) following Marco Sciarra through the Dia de los Muertos parade in Spectre.
Photo: Stephen Vaughan / Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc., Danjaq, LLC and Columbia Pictures

There’s no need to worry, Henny Penny: the sky isn’t falling. Yes, James Bond is back after the franchise high of Skyfall and it’s a relief to say that the newest 007 film, Spectre, isn’t to Skyfall what Quantum of Solace is to Casino Royale. Skyfall sets a high bar with its billion-dollar box office, two Oscars, and BAFTA win for Best Film, so while Spectre is no Skyfall by any regards, it’s enough to keep 007 fans satisfied that James Bond is on the mend.