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.


'The Assassin' is Beautifully Boring

The Assassin
(Taiwan, 105 min.)
Dir. Hou Hsiao-Hsien, Writ. Chu Tien-Wen, Hsieh Hai-Meng, Zhong Acheng
Starring: Shu Qi, Chang Chen, Zhou Yun, Satoshi Tsumabuki
Wuxia films can be a grand affair as marital arts masters and soaring swordsmen trade blows and defend their honour in elaborate action sequences and set pieces. Take Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, arguably the best martial arts film ever made, which flies to fantastical heights as warriors cross swords in duels that play like treetop ballet, or Zhang Yimou’s Hero, another gorgeously realized film about the futility of living by the sword. Add Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s The Assassin to the list of notable wuxia films, but this one stands out for very different reasons: it barely contains any action. Call it a pacifist action film, maybe. It's an acquired taste despite the gorgeous packaging.


'99 Homes' a Passionate Powerhouse

99 Homes
(USA, 112 min.)
Dir. Ramin Bahrani, Writ. Ramin Bahrani, Amir Nedari, Bahareh Azimi
Starring : Andrew Garfield, Michael Shannon, Laura Dern
Andrew Garfield and Michael Shannon star in 99 Homes.
Courtesy VVS Films.

Will the housing crisis ever level off? The Occupy-era drama 99 Homes resonates long after the market crash as everyday citizens still find themselves reeling after the economic downturn caused by American greed. This drama from Ramin Bahrani (At Any Price) delivers an emotional wallop thanks to a trio of searing performances and a smartly crafted script that stings with the bitter defeat of the USA housing crash. 99 Homes is a passionate powerhouse.

'Mavis!' Sings

(USA, 81 min.)
Dir. Jessica Edwards
Photo courtesy of Chris Strong/Film First C

The year of the music doc continues to roll as Mavis! offers soulful sweetness. This documentary feature about soul/gospel icon Mavis Staples is a joy to watch. Maybe it’s the music or maybe it’s Mavis’s vibrant personality, but this film by Canuck native Jessica Edwards is consistently appealing. Mavis! sings.


Blu-Ray Review: 'Self/Less'

(USA, 118 min.)
Dir. Tarsem Singh, Writ. David Pastor, Alex Pastor
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Natalie Martinez, Matthew Goode, Ben Kingsley, Victor Garber, Michelle Dockery
Courtesy of VVS Films.
Canada’s Ryan Reynolds faces the future in Self/Less! This sci-fi/thriller, which is much better than reviews during its theatrical release suggest, is an ambitious flick that mixes high-concept innovation with fast-paced escapism. It’s smart, entertaining, and just ridiculous enough to be compulsively watchable.


Reel Asian Review: 'Port of Call'

Port of Call
(Hong Kong, 120 min.)
Written and directed by Philip Yung
Starring: Aaron Kwok, Elaine Jin, Jessie Li, Michael Ning, Maggie Shiu
Canadian audiences should prepare to squirm and shudder as the grisly crime of Port of Call recalls the grotesque deeds of Montreal murderer Luka Magnotta. Nothing quite tops the stomach-churning depravity of the headline-making cannibalism that went online, but as far as real world dramas go, the Hong Kong crime drama Port of Call offers enough ghastly stuff to make the squeamish hurl. Viewers with a strong sense that humans are innately good might blow chunks too, since the murder case based on true events drives some troubling questions about the nature of humankind. Has the ship of human decency left the port?

Contest: Win Tickets to See 'The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2' Across Canada! (CONTEST CLOSED)

Tributes, the time has come to unite! The Hunger Games series comes to close with Mockingjay – Part 2 as Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and company descend upon the Capital. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 opens in theatres November 20 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! Raise your fingers if you want tickets!


Contest! Win Tickets to See 'Secret in Their Eyes' Across Canada! (CONTEST CLOSED)

Eyes on the prize! The Secret in Their Eyes, the 2009 Oscar-winner for Best Foreign Language Film, gets a star-studded remake. The film gets a dark Hollywood makeover with the impressive cast of Chiwetel Ejiofor, Julia Roberts, and Nicole Kidman. Will it score Oscar gold too? (I can't wait to see how the one-up the long take!) Secret in Their Eyes opens in theatres November 20, 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!

'Liza, the Fox-Fairy', 'The Prime of Life' Win CDFF Audience Awards

Liza, the Fox-Fairy wins the CDFF Audience Award for Best Feature
Ottawa's Cellar Door Film Festival has announced the Audience Award winners for the second season of the festival. The Hungarian fantasy/comedy Liza, the Fox-Fairy wins the Audience Award for Best Feature in a runaway, while France's chilling thriller The Prime of Life (La force de l'âge) wins the Audience Award for Best Short Film in a tight race. Liza opened CDFF at the Mayfair Theatre where it took audiences on an unexpected journey. The Prime of Life, an unsettling film that recalls the work of Michael Haneke, shook audiences when it screened its North American premiere Friday night at Live! on Elgin.


Contest! Win Tickets to See 'Spotlight' Across Canada!

The Oscar race is on! Spotlight leads the pack after wowing audiences at Venice, Telluride, TIFF, where it won a runner-up prize in the race for the People’s Choice Award. Spotlight comes to theatres beginning November 13 from eOne Films, but if you want to see Spotlight before it hits theatres, you are in luck! Answer the trivia below for a chance to win tickets to a sneak peek!

Beasts of Netflix Nation

Beasts of No Nation
(USA, 133 min.)
Written and directed by Cary Fukunaga
Starring: Abraham Attah, Idris Elba
Beasts of No Nation, for better or for worse, primarily generates discussion for being Netflix’s first big dramatic feature film release, rather than being a searing drama about child soldiers. Let’s just acknowledge that aspect of the film from the outset. It’s admirable that Netflix wants to take a gamble on a film like Beasts of No Nation and defy the world of the theatrical release to bring this story into the homes of viewers, although one cannot overlook the fact that child soldiers are being overshadowed by streaming numbers.


Revenge, Geriatric Style

(Canada/Germany, 95 min.)
Dir. Atom Egoyan, Writ. Benjamin August
Starring: Christopher Plummer, Martin Landau, Dean Norris, Henry Czerny
Martin Landau and Christopher Plummer star in Remember.
Photo: Sophie Giraud © 2014, Remember Productions Inc.1

The elderly are getting a second wind at the movies these days. They’re staying at Exotic Marigold Hotels (The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) and enjoying posh Swiss spas (Youth). They’re singing in Quartets (Quartet) and being good grandmas (Grandma). They’re even killing folks, like Christopher Plummer does in Atom Egoyan’s new golden oldie thriller Remember playing Zev, a Holocaust survivor out to kill some Nazis like a mofo from a Tarantino film.

Blu-ray Review: 'Z for Zachariah'

Z for Zachariah
(Iceland/Switzerland/New Zealand, 97 min.)
Dir. Craig Zobel, Writ. Nissar Moodi
Starring: Margot Robbie, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Chris Pine
Chiwetel Ejiofor and Margot Robbie star in Z for Zachariah.
VVS Films.

Adaptations of young adult literature are a-plenty, but depth in this stream of YA-to-screen endeavors is often scarce. Z for Zachariah, alternatively, exceeds the limitations of many YA adaptations because this take on Richard C. O’Brien’s novel doesn’t cater to the teen demographic. One could instead argue that Z for Zachariah betrays its literary origins by offering a perceptive dystopian drama that breathes life into the YA world; however, young readers and young viewers are bound to find the film as equally accessible as the book is, since this minimalist drama finds power in understatement. With only three actors and a great story, Z for Zachariah tackles some of the most fundamental questions of human nature with philosophical depth.