Operation Can Con

Operation Avalanche
(USA/Canada, 94 min.)
Dir. Matt Johnson, Writ. Matt Johnson, Josh Boles
Starring: Matt Johnson, Owen Williams, Josh Boles, Krista Madison, Jared Raab
Courtesy of eOne Films

Operation Avalanche brings to the screen a conspiracy for the Canadian film scene to rival the allegedly false moon landing that it dramatizes. This new found footage flick/mockumentary is the latest film from Matthew Johnson following his breakout hit The Dirties and it comes to theatres following a ten months of controversy and conversations fuelled by Johnson speaking out against Canadian film pillars like TIFF and Telefilm Canada for their allegedly conspiratorial practices that determine who gets anointed in terms of support and funding. He says that the same established filmmakers receive tax dollars to churn out commercial films that aren’t doing Canadians any service. Bruce McDonald, Patricia Rozema, and Deepa Mehta all just made their best films in years, but here comes Matt Johnson and Operation Can Con to rouse the members of the Toronto New Wave from their slumber.


Docu-Thriller Peeks Behind Korea's Curtain

The Lovers and the Despot
(UK, 98 min.)
Dir. Rob Cannan, Ross Adam
Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

Who knew that Kim Jong-ill wanted to be Adolf Hitler, Joseph Goebbels, and Leni Riefenstahl rolled into one? North Korea’s notorious supreme leader is at the centre of the fascinating documentary The Lovers and the Despot, as is his unexpected love for film that fuels this enthralling story. This stranger-than-fiction docu-thriller unravels a wild tale. It’s a thrilling cinematic caper, but also a uniquely revealing glimpse behind the curtain of one of the most secretive countries in the world.


Who Knew Dirty Harry Could Be So Sappy?

(USA, 96 min.)
Dir. Clint Eastwood, Todd Komarnicki
Starring: Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Laura Linney, Skyler White
Tom Hanks stars in Sully

Sully has so much cheese one might think it’s a Steven Spielberg movie. It’s not, however, a Spielberg film. It’s a Clint Eastwood flick.

Contest! Win Tickets to See 'The Lovers and the Despot'

Flash contest! The stranger-than-fiction docu-thriller The Lovers and the Despot opens in Toronto at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema on Friday, Sept. 30 from Unobstructed View. We have 2 pairs of tickets to give away to the opening night screening in Toronto this Friday at 6:30 PM at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema, so we're giving the tickets away quick and dirty, Kim Jong-il style! Trivia away!


You Can Dress a Girl Up...

The Dressmaker
(Australia, 118 min.)
Dir. Jocelyn Moorhouse, Writ. PJ Hogan, Jocelyn Moorhouse
Starring: Kate Winslet, a Hemsworth, Judy Davis, Hugo Weaving, Sarah Snook
Kate Winslet stars as Myrtle 'Tilly' Dunnage in The Dressmaker, an Entertainment One release.

You can dress a girl up, but you can’t take her to the Outback. Kate Winslet gives a feisty performance as voluptuous Aussie seamstress Myrtle ‘Tilly’ Dunnage in the dark comedy The Dressmaker. Winslet is a hoot as the she-devil from Down Under in this oddball film from Jocelyn Moorhouse. When Winslet arrives dressed in Tilly’s best, smoking a cigarette like a femme fatale and taking in the fictional Podunk town of Dungatar, she’s the catalyst for a zany fish-out-of-water comedy. This film is completely out to lunch and is an absolute riot if one goes along with its eccentric style. It’s the hottest mess of the season.

Ottawa International Animation Festival Announces Award Winners

I Like Girls. Courtesy of the NFB
The Ottawa International Animation Festival has announced its winners for 2016. On the 40th birthday of Ottawa’s top festival and the largest animation showcase in North America, OIAF fêted a nice contingent of Canadian films with Canuck flicks earning both top jury prizes. (I had planned to attend this year, but wasn’t able to make it, unfortunately, due to various commitments/unexpected hitches.)


Canada Sends 'It's Only the End of the World' to the Oscars

Gaspard Ulliel in Xavier Dolan's It's Only the End of the World.
Shane Laverdière, courtesy of eOne Films.
Canada is sending Xavier Dolan to the Oscars once again! In an announcement made today via Facebook livestream, Telefilm Canada honcho Carole Brabant confirmed that Dolan’s It’s Only the End of the World would be our official submission to the Oscars in the category of Best Foreign Language Film. (Read the Cinemablographer review of It’s Only the End of the World here.) The event arguably the largest international platform to expose a Canadian film to audiences worldwide and the selection was decided by the Pan-Canadian committee of industry peers chaired by Telefilm. 

It’s Only the End of the World marks the third time that a film by the 27-year-old director has represented Canada in the Oscar race after his 2009 debut I Killed My Mother and 2014 hit Mommy, which was a surprise omission from the December shortlist. Other submissions this year include My Life as a Courgette (Switzerland), Very Big Shot (Lebanon) , Port of Call (Hong Kong), The Age of Shadows (South Korea), Eva Nova (Slovakia), and frontrunner Toni Erdmann (Germany).

'Leave Ottawa'

Words of wisdom from Nepean homegirl Sandra Oh:


TIFF 2016: Festival Wrap-Up and Picks for 'Best of the Fest'

Those Who Make Revolution Halfway Only Dig Their Own Graves.
Courtesy of TIFF
That’s a wrap for the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival! TIFF ended its biggest, loudest, and most energetic edition yet in the years I’ve been attending. The quality of films was up overall with few of the titles I attended or screened failing to deliver. There’s a lot of chatter and the volume of industry is deafening, but TIFF is still a great cultural experience if one can tune out the noise and enjoy the embarrassment of riches.

TIFF Review: 'Arrival'

(USA, 116 min.)
Dir. Denis Villeneuve, Writ. Eric Heisserer
Starring: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker
Programme: Galas (Canadian Premiere)
Courtesy of TIFF

One must hand it to Denis Villeneuve. The best Canadian director working in the movies today hasn’t lost his touch since moving away from his home and native land. Arrival marks Villeneuve’s third Hollywood film after Prisoners and the superior Sicario, and it’s both his biggest and best work since grabbing international attention with Canada’s Oscar nominee Incendies. The unique voice that Villeneuve developed in his Canadian work, however, infiltrates every frame of Arrival as the film evokes the visual power, emotional rawness, and speculative thrill of his previous works. Arrival has echoes of Enemy in the octopussy aliens that recall the spindly web of this 2013 mind-game and there are even shades of his gothic buffet Next Floor in the dark allegorical layers of this far-out world. Working on his biggest canvas yet, Villeneuve stretches his talents to their full potential: It’s the best mainstream film so far this year.

TIFF Reviews: 'Moonlight', 'Paris Can Wait', 'Okafor's Law'

Capsule catch-up continues with a trio of diverse love stories:

(USA, 110 min.)
Written and directed by Barry Jenkins
Starring: Trevante Rhodes, Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris, Ashton Sanders, André Holland, Janelle Monáe
Programme: Platform (International Premiere)
Courtesy of TIFF

Moonlight shines with understated passion. This sophomore feature from writer/director Barry Jenkins (Medicine for Melancholy) is a film of quiet power. This visually arresting film offers a Miami awash with colour as Jenkins harnesses the glow of the city in compositions of stark, poetic realism.

TIFF Review: 'Frantz'

(France/Germany, 113 min.)
Written and directed by François Ozon
Starring: Paula Beer, Pierre Niney, Marie Gruber, Ernst Stötzner
Programme: Special Presentations (Canadian Premiere)
Courtesy of TIFF

Viva la Frantz! This new work from French master François Ozon (In the House, The New Girlfriend) showcases the director at his atmospheric best. Frantz is an anomaly from the titillating tales of the Ozon oeuvre, as his work tends to focus on the dark seeds of debauchery that exist within us all, but the film carries numerous marks of the director as subtle pangs of longing and desire waft through this finely-sketched period drama. This historical tale has the trappings of a ghost story as grieving widow Anna (Paula Beer in a heartbreaking performance) recovers from the loss of her husband Frantz during the Great War. But when Adrien (Pierre Niney), a teary-eyed Frenchman, arrives to pay his respects at the grave of Anna’s deceased German husband, the stranger reopens wounds between the two nations that are only beginning to heal in the aftermath of war.

TIFF Review: 'Nelly'

(Canada, 101 min.)
Written and directed by Anne Émond
Starring: Mylène Mackay, Mylia Corbeil-Gavreau, Mickaël Gouin, Francis Leplay
Programme: Vanguard (World Premiere)

[This image has been removed due to Google censorship. Clearly, the kids at Google are terrified of seeing a woman in a dress.. But if you want to see the offending picture deemed "adult content," you can see it here thanks to Google Images!]

Anne Émond’s Nelly will haunt you. The director of Nuit #1 and Les êtres chers returns with her most provocative film yet. Nelly brings together themes and tendencies of Émond’s previous films in a singular work as she envisions an avant-garde biography of late writer Nelly Arcan in a dark, tempestuous illustration of the author’s fractured psyche. It’s a hypnotic portrait of a complicated and elusive figure.

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

New from the director of Napoleon Dynamite and Nacho Libre comes Masterminds. This laugh-out-loud action-comedy stars Zach Galiafianakis and Kristen Wiig as a pair of harebrained criminals who undertake a foolhardy heist plan. Masterminds opens Friday, Sept. 30 from eOne Films, and Cinemablographer has tickets to sneak peeks around Canada! Answer the trivia below for your chance to win a tickets!

TIFF Reviews: 'Maudie', 'Age of Shadows', 'Jesus'

Catching up on coverage with some capsule reviews! First up: Can-con, an Oscar contender, and one unfortunate blight on this year’s programming.

(Canada/Ireland, 115 min.)
Dir. Aisling Walsh, Writ. Sherry White
Starring: Sally Hawkins, Ethan Hawke
Programme: Special Presentations (Canadian Premiere)
Courtesy of TIFF


TIFF Review: 'Hello Destroyer'

Hello Destroyer
(Canada, 110 min.)
Written and directed by Kevan Funk
Starring: Jared Abrahamson
Programme: Discovery (World Premiere)
Courtesy of TIFF
Hello Destroyer introduces a promising new voice on the Canadian film scene with its tale of hockey hosers and angry young men. The film marks the feature debut of Kevan Funk after a string of shorts and while it doesn't always work and runs half an hour too long, it hints at a talent of great potential. Funk proves himself adept at speaking volumes without having his characters say much, or anything at all, as Tyson (Jared Abrahamson, one if this year’s TIFF Rising Stars) percolates with angst and energy. Hello Destroyer looks at the dark underside of Canada’s favourite pastime as Funk taps into the pervasive violence that many players and fans simply accept as part of the sport. The film puts the audience right into Tyson’s head as the inescapable machismo of hockey culture permeates him and alters his DNA. There’s only so long one can endure boot camp-like aggression without losing one’s grasp of the consequences that come with expressing one’s rage through brute force.

TIFF Review: 'Maliglutit (Searchers)'

Maliglutit (Searchers)
(Canada, 94 min.)
Dir. Zacharias Kunuk, Writ. Zacharias Kunuk, Norman Cohn
Starring: Benjamin Kunuk, Karen Ivalu, John Qunaq
Programme: Platform (World Premiere)
Courtesy of TIFF
The tables have turned on the western. The popular genre has roots in colonial power as it draws upon the myths of Manifest Destiny and American expansionism. The arid landscape of the frontier is a limitless space ready for settlers to cultivate and pillage. Progress comes at any cost and without concern for the people who built a relationship with the land long before the settlers’ arrival. The western frontier is therefore a hostile territory for Indigenous characters, best known as “savages” from the days of the early talkies, as the world of the western was no country for non-white men. Times are changing.


TIFF Review: 'The Edge of Seventeen'

The Edge of Seventeen
(USA, 102 min.)
Written and directed by Kelly Fremon Craig
Starring: Hailee Steinfeld, Woody Harrelson, Kyra Sedgwick, Haley Lu Richardson, Blake Jenner, Hayden Szeto
Programme Galas – Closing Night Selection (World Premiere)
Courtesy VVS Films.

Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) learns the truth at seventeen. Love is for beauty queens, girls with clear-skinned smiles and all that. High school sucks. It’s miserable, awkward, and frustrating for a girl like Nadine who struggles to fit in at school in the shadow of her much cooler brother Darian (Blake Jenner). Darian loves working out so much that muscles ripple out of his V-necked shirts and make Nadine’s classmates swoon, but Nadine is still growing out of her Vote for Pedro haircut and finding her own style. Luckily, though, she has her BFF Krista (Haley Lu Richardson) who could easily have her pick of any girl in the school to be her wingman. Besties for life, these two are, in this comedy full of sass and humour.

TIFF Review: 'Nocturnal Animals'

Nocturnal Animals
(USA/UK, 116 min.)
Written and directed by Tom Ford
Starring: Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Isla Fisher, Karl Glusman, Armie Hammer, Laura Linney, Andrea Riseborough, Michael Sheen, Ellie Bamber
Programme: Special Presentations (North American Premiere)
Courtesy of TIFF
Tom Ford is in this season. The fashion designer turned filmmaker follows up his debut feature A Single Man with an equally fine cut of cinema. Thrilling, intoxicating, gruelling, and devastating, Nocturnal Animals proves Ford to be one of the best new voices in filmmaking today.


TIFF Review: 'Elle'

(France, 131 min.)
Dir. Paul Verhoeven, Writ. David Burke
Starring: Isabelle Huppert, Laurent Lafitte, Anne Consigny, Charles Berling
Courtesy of TIFF
Elle might be the ickiest parable on rape culture ever made.  It's also one of the best, provided one has the stomach to endure it. This masterful film from Paul Verhoeven (Basic Instinct) is definitely of the love-it-or-hate variety, but it's worth enduring and considering long after one recovers from the director's cinematic violation. An award- calibre performance from Isabelle Huppert anchors the unnerving Elle with 131-minutes of uncomfortable fearlnessness as she puts audiences in the mind of a victim and perpetrator alike. The ballsiness of this performance is astounding.


TIFF Review: 'It's Only the End of the World'

It’s Only the End of the World (Just la fin du monde)
(Canada/France, 95 min.)
Written and directed by Xavier Dolan
Starring: Gaspard Ulliel, Nathalie Baye, Marion Cotillard, Léa Seydoux, Vincent Cassel
Courtesy of TIFF
Forget the Cannes critics. Xavier Dolan's It's Only the End of the World is actually quite good.  The Quebecois director follows the exhilarating career-high of Mommy with this difficult chamber drama, so whatever project followed such a masterwork would inevitably suffer from the weight of expectations. World is a fine film in its own right,  albeit a very challenging one,  and it requires a great deal of patience and emotional investment from viewers as Dolan puts the audience in a vice grip and lets them breathe only after tapping three. The effect is one of extraordinary release. While It's Only the End of the World is often utter hell to sit through, coming up for air rarely feels so good. 

TIFF Review: 'Toni Erdmann'

Toni Erdmann
(Germany, 162 min.)
Written and directed by Maren Ade
Starring: Peter Simonischek, Sandra Hüller, Michael Wittenborn, Thomas Loibi
Programme: Special Presentations (Canadian Premiere)
Courtesy of TIFF

You'll want to give both your parents a hug after catching Maren Ade's utterly brilliant comedy Toni Erdmann. The film, Germany's submission for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars this year, is a revitalising ode to the embarrassments we face at the hands of mom and dad. Said face-palm inducing papa is Winfried (Peter Simonischek) who decides to shadow his career-driven daughter Ines (Sandra Hüller) in Bucharest when she places work before family too often for his liking. Naturally, Winfried’s visit coincides with a hectic schedule as Ines tries to secure the biggest deal of her career. Through awkward situations and frank revelations, Maren Ade uses an observant hand at comedy that captivates with its authentic, messy, and endearing father-daughter duo


TIFF Review: 'We Can't Make the Same Mistake Twice'

We Can’t Make the Same Mistake Twice
(Canada, 163 min.)
Written and directed by Alanis Obomsawin
Programme: Masters (World Premiere)
Courtesy of TIFF

Alanis Obomsawin puts Canada on trial in her vital doc We Can't Make the Same Mistake Twice. This ambitious film-- nine years in the making--is one of the gutsiest works in Obomsawin’s brave career. The doc chronicles a landmark case in which social workers advocate that Indigenous children on reserves deserve the same rights and medical care that young Canadians receive around the country. The legal arguments that Obomsawin presents are truly disconcerting, particularly once a shrewd bit of editing brings the darkest chapter of Canada's past into the open for an overdue conversation.

TIFF Review: 'American Pastoral'

American Pastoral
(USA, 126 min.)
Dir. Ewan McGregor, Writ. John Romano
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Jennifer Connelly, Dakota Fanning, Uzo Aduba, Molly Parker, Valorie Durry, David Strathairn
Programme: Special Presentations (World Premiere)
Courtesy of TIFF

Without wanting to sound like a hipster, American Pastoral is probably a much better film if one hasn't read the book. The film marks an admirable directorial debut for actor Ewan McGregor, who also stars as Seymour 'The Swede' Levov, considering the adaptation offers a daunting task. The weight of the film falls on screenwriter John Romano (The Lincoln Lawyer), who makes an appreciable effort at condensing the 400-odd pages of Roth's thick prose, which meditates profoundly on the fallacy of the American dream in rambling passages that are inextricable from its power, but the burden of adapting Philip Roth's epic American tragedy is too heavy to bare. Some major changes simplify the adaptation too much and strip American Pastoral of its complexity.  This film misses a great an opportunity, but it demands polite admiration for the effort.


TIFF Reviews: '3-Way (Not Calling)', 'Blind Vaysha', 'Ape Sodom'

3-Way (Not Calling)
(Canada, 10 min.)
Written and directed by Molly McGlynn
Programme: Short Cuts (World Premiere)
Courtesy of TIFF

The future of Canadian comedy looks pretty hot if Molly McGlynn’s 3-Way (Not Calling) is any hint of things to come. This funny and naughty hook-up adventure for the Netflix and chill age is bold and hilarious as Mel (Emma Hunter) and her husband (Kristian Bruuns) decide to spice up the monotony of Saturday nights of sweat pants and Game of Thrones. After a few awkward Craig's List ads and near casual encounters, they take a shot on the eclectic barista slinging beans at the local shop (Emily Coutts).  Spirited performances by the trio of actors create a spunky threesome as they explore the awkwardness of the situation. While the territory of hookups in the era of online ads and Tinder swipes isn't necessarily new terrain, 3-Way (Not Calling) is a smarter and funnier take. This short has its finger on button when it comes to the lost intimacy of connection when everyone it's plugged in and tuned in to mobile screens. Swipe right for 3-Way.


TIFF Review: 'The Fixer'

The Fixer
(Romania/France, 98 min.)
Dir. Adrian Sitaru, Writ. Claudia Silisteanu, Adrian Silisteanu
Starring: Tudor Aaron Istodor, Mehdi Nebbou, Nicolas Wanczycki, Diana Spatarescu
Programme: Contemporary World Cinema (World Premiere)
Courtesy of TIFF

Fans of world cinema owe it to themselves to see The Fixer. This new film by Adrian Sitaru (Domestic) sees the Romanian New Wave ripple international waters with a handsome and tautly-paced drama that harnesses the tendencies of one national cinema within the scope of international filmmaking. As with last year’s co-pro Closer to the Moon, The Fixer is further proof of a robust film scene after 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days changed the game in 2007.

TIFF Review: 'Weirdos'

(Canada, 89 min.)
Dir. Bruce McDonald, Writ. Daniel MacIvor
Starring: Dylan Authors, Julia Sarah Stone, Molly Parker, Allan Hawco
Programme: Special Presentations (World Premiere)
Photo courtesy of TIFF.
The Canuck director with the iconic cowboy hat goes down the road once again. It’s been a while since Bruce McDonald delivered a road trip, especially since his earlier works Roadkill, Highway 61, and Hard Core Logo established his voice with aimless Canadians riding the dream that life was better elsewhere. The road movie, though, is where McDonald really excels. He’s back in the driver’s seat with his new pic Weirdos and it’s easily his strongest film since 2010’s Trigger. Weirdos is one of the best and most surprising films of McDonald’s career.

TIFF Review: 'Burn Your Maps'

Burn Your Maps
(USA, 102 min.)
Written and directed by Jordan Roberts
Starring: Vera Farmiga, Jacob Tremblay, Martin Csokas, Surja Sharma, Virginia Madsen, Ramón Rodríguez
Courtesy of TIFF

Canada’s Jacob Tremblay proves that Room was no fluke. The adorable nine-year-old actor has high expectations to uphold after his award-winning performance in last year’s festival favourite, but he more than capably meets the challenge. Tremblay once again steals the film from his co-stars with a performance that is wise beyond its years with Burn Your Maps. The young star plays a growing boy named Wes who takes a game of make believe too far when he imagines himself as a Mongolian goat herder and decides that life in America is a fantasy he must escape. A solid lead performance from Vera Farmiga complements the young actor every step of the journey as Wes’s mother Alise joins him on an unexpected adventure of self-discovery. Burn Your Maps moves audiences through tears and laughter as it surprises with the depth of this family’s journey.


TIFF Review: 'My Life as a Courgette'

My Life as a Courgette (Ma vie de courgette)
Dir. Claude Barras, Writ. Céline Sciamma
Starring: Gaspard Schlatter, Sixtine Mura
Programme: TIFF Kids (North American Premiere)
Courtesy of TIFF

Icare’s mom calls him “Courgette.” How the French word for zucchini offers a term of endearment for a young child eludes this reviewer, but it says a lot about the protagonist’s mother that she nicknames her son after a gourd. Icare’s mother, a violent alcoholic, gets ironically squashed when the little gourd reacts to one of her drunken outbursts. The young boy, now orphaned, insists on using the name Courgette as he enters a foster home and explores a new life in unfamiliar territory. This quirky Claymation comedy, which also happens to be Switzerland’s official submission in this year’s race for Best Foreign Language Film and is an unconventional choice at that, is an endearing and offbeat coming of age story.