Scratch, Scratch, Scratch

(Canada, 78 min.)
Written and directed by Ashley McKenzie
Starring: Andrew Gillis, Bhreagh MacNeil
Werewolf’s claws scratch, scratch, scratch, but they don’t cut deep. This disappointing first feature from Ashley McKenzie might get under the skin of some viewers with its stark, bleak, and episodic portrait of recovering addicts. For others, though, Werewolf might be akin to nails on a chalkboard with its whiny protagonist, lethargic pace, and nonsensically random visual style. There’s obviously a great stab at something here, but whatever it is, Werewolf just doesn’t work.

'Citizen' Lacks Distinction

The Distinguished Citizen (El ciudadano ilustre)
(Argentina/Spain, 117 min.)
Dir. Mariano Cohn, Gastón Duprat; Writ. Andrés Duprat
Starring: Oscar Martínez, Dady Brieva, Andrea Frigerio, Belén Chavanne, Manuel Vicente, Nora Navas, Marcelo D'Andrea, Iván Steinhardt

The new Argentine “comedy” The Distinguished Citizen ironically lacks distinction. This unwieldy mess of a film backfires with its aim at black comedy and delivers some escapades that are frequently obnoxious and only intermittently funny. It’s an awfully mean-spirited quest for humanity.


Tanna: Into the Heart of the Inferno

(Australia/Vanuatu, 100 min.)
Dir. Bentley Dean, Martin Butler; Writ. Bentley Dean, Martin Butler, John Collee
Starring: Mungau Dain, Marie Wawa, Marceline Rofit
Admittedly, all I know about Vanuatu is that it offers the setting for at least one season of Survivor and that Werner Herzog visits some nifty volcanoes at the island nation in his outstanding new documentary Into the Inferno. These volcanoes form the backdrop of Tanna, a visually stunning and eye-opening drama shot and set on the island of Vanuatu, as outdated customs get voted off the island. Tanna, a co-production between Australia and Vanuatu (and the former’s submission for Best Foreign Language Film in this year’s Academy Awards race), is a rarity of a film. Not only is it shot entirely in the Nauvhal language, the film is made in close collaboration with the people of Yakel, a small village on the island of Tanna. It’s their story told in their own words.

Shina a Light on Sasha Lane

American Honey
(UK/USA, 163 min.)
Written and directed by Andrea Arnold
Starring: Sasha Lane, Shia LaBeouf, Riley Keough
Courtesy Elevation Pictures
Andrea Arnold shines a light on a great new talent in American Honey. Newcomer Sasha Lane is a diamond in the roughness of Arnold’s passionate but ultimately exhausting fourth feature. Lane debuts as Star, a runaway teen in the American South who escapes an awful home life by joining a bunch of kids travelling the country selling magazines. Nobody buys magazines anymore, but her white trash boss (Riley Keough), decked out in the skankiest Confederation flag bikini ever found at in an inspired costuming binge at Wal-Mart, isn’t the sharpest of entrepreneurs. There are moments of genuine greatness in American Honey as Arnold, Lane, and the talented cast delivers a spot on observation of ho-hum millennial life and the restlessness of a generation.



(USA, 100 min.)
Dir. Ava DuVernay, Writ. Spencer Averick, Ava DuVernay
Courtesy of Netflix
“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction,” reads the 13th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of American. Selma director Ava DuVernay reads this clause, which was introduced to abolish slavery, as further evidence of America’s systemic racism. 13th, DuVernay’s new doc, forms a strong argument that smartly hinges on that first comma and the word “except” that so tragically graces the Constitution. The film situates the explosion of the Black Lives Matter within the country’s ongoing history of racial prejudice.


Oscar Predictions: Round 1 - Once More Unto the Breach

Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone) in La La Land. an Entertainment One release.
Once more unto the breach. The award season grind returns earlier than ever. There’s barely a frontrunner and there are still two full months of moviegoing left to enjoy, but critics’ nominations are already coming out and screeners are trickling in as campaigns swing into gear. Let us start by crossing our fingers in hopes of a much more civilised and enjoyable year of Oscar fodder, and begin by looking at the three main stages of the year award-wise: pre-festivals, festival season, and late-breaking game-changers.


'Fritz Bauer' a Timely Slice of History

The People vs. Fritz Bauer (Der Staat gegen Fritz Bauer)
(Germany, 105 min.)
Dir. Lars Kraume, Writ. Lars Kraume, Olivier Guez
Starring: Burghart Klaußner, Ronald Zehrfeld, Michael Schenk
On the heels of last year’s admirably assembled and Oscar-shortlisted snooze-fest Labyrinth of Lies comes a much more satisfying take on the fight to bring Nazi war criminals to justice. The People vs. Fritz Bauer dramatizes the story of a prosecutor who played an essential role in building momentum for the Frankfurt Auschwitz Trials. As Fritz Bauer (The Reader’s Burghart Klaußner) hunts Nazis in search of justice for the atrocities of the Holocaust, his quest illustrates how easily one can lose sight of righteousness while pursuing it.


Contest! Win Tickets to See 'Bad Santa 2' Across Canada! (Contest Closed)

Ho! Ho! Ho! Cinemablographer is making a list and checking it twice, giving movie tickets depending on who’s naughty or nice! Readers on the ‘naughty’ list are in good company this Yuletide season as Billy Bob Thornton returns to the Santa suit in Bad Santa 2. Bad Santa 2 opens Wednesday, November 23 from eOne Films, and Cinemablographer has tickets to sneak peeks around Canada! Answer the trivia below for your chance to win tickets!


The Nip of the North

Two Lovers and a Bear
(Canada, 96 min.)
Written and directed by Kim Nguyen
Starring: Tatiana Maslany, Dane DeHaan, Gordon Pinsent, John Ralston
Courtesy eOne Films

“Two lovers walk into a bar,” says Lucy (Tatiana Maslany) during an intimate moment of Two Lovers and the Bear. Lucy offers this rambling joke that includes a bear, an octopus, and a crapload of word vomit, and while one cannot remember the point or punch line of her story, this pause in Two Lovers and a Bear is the moment in which the film all comes together. This elusive new drama from Oscar nominee Kim Nguyen (War Witch) is an odd little octopus. Like Lucy’s joke, it takes a leisurely pace to arrive at its destination and when it hits home, one doesn’t quite understand what just surmised, but it’s uniquely satisfying. It’s a cold and enigmatic film that envelops the viewer like a big ghostly bear hug.


African Film Festival of Ottawa Returns with 'As I Open My Eyes'

As I Open My Eyes (A peine j'ouvre les yeux)
(Tunisia/France/Belgium, 102 min.)
Dir. Leyla Bouzid, Writ. Leyla Bouzid, Sophie-Marie Champion
Starring: Baya Medhaffer, Ghalia Benali, Montassar Ayari
This year’s African Film Festival Ottawa opens with Leyla Bouzid’s drama As I Open My Eyes. The film is Tunisia’s official submission for Best Foreign Language Film to this year’s Academy Awards, which is a nice get for a fest in its second year even if the title is unfortunately absent from the list of films accepted by Oscar as eligible to compete. Let not awards consideration be your guide and appreciate the film as a nice, nuanced, and wonderfully acted coming-of-age tale about life in Tunisia before the Revolution.


'The Lockpicker' is an Unnerving Study of Grief and Alienation

The Lockpicker
(Canada, 94 min.)
Written and directed by Randall Okita
Starring: Keigian Umi Tang, Storie Serres, David Woroner, Jordan Gray, Madi Langdon
Randall Okita delivers on the promise of his short films with his first feature film as a director, The Lockpicker. His previous short, The Weatherman and the Shadowboxer, posed a tough act to follow with its brilliant experimental form and innovative design, but Okita upholds the visionary richness of his shorts while filming on a much larger canvas. It’s a departure, too, in that The Lockpicker is as visually minimalist as the shorts are aesthetically complex. Ninety minutes of screen time and the commercial demands of feature filmmaking don’t necessarily allow for the same formal experimentation, especially when one works in Canadian dollars, and The Lockpicker displays an intuitive and economical approach to the medium. One can do more with less.


Get Swept Up in 'Sand Storm'

Sand Storm (Sufat Chol)
(Israel, 87 min.)
Written and directed by Elite Zexer
Starring: Lamis Ammar, Ruba Blal, Hitham Omari, Khadija Al Akel
Courtesy of TIFF
Get swept up in Sand Storm. This efficient whirlwind of a film from Elite Zexer is sparse and powerful. It’s Israel’s submission for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars this year and it could go all the way if the folks on the nomination committee dig Toni Erdmann as little as the Cannes jury did. There’s nothing to fault in this small film with a mighty heart as Zexer creates a delicately heartfelt story about a mothers and daughters.