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Atlantic Film Festival

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

AFF Reviews: The Lobster, Room

The Lobster hits rock bottom while Room is an exquisite portrait of love and healing

Posted By on Wed, Sep 23, 2015 at 2:23 PM

John C. Reilly and Colin Farrell star in The Lobster
  • John C. Reilly and Colin Farrell star in The Lobster

Movie reviewers everywhere are loving The Lobster, the first English-language film by Greek director, Yorgos Lanthimos. The absurdist comedic satire is set in a UK near-dystopia where it's illegal to be single. So when David (Colin Farrell) gets dumped, he's immediately transferred to this freak-show singles hotel where he has 45 days to find a mate or he's turned into an animal of his choice. Like Salem the cat from Sabrina the Teenage Witch. David's choice is a lobster. 

I don't even know where to start with this movie. I liked the fantastical animal concept (which feels Greek to me, shout out The Odyssey), the cinematography is stunning at times (even if it's very boring), and Rachel Weisz is perfect in everything she does. But that's really all I enjoyed about this movie. The satire was too heavy-handed, the classical Hermann-esque score was fucking annoying, and within 20 minutes, I was praying for this goddamned stupid movie to end. Excruciating. Also, the lady sitting next to me kept burping very pungent smells, which hampered an already blah experience. I'm still not sure why I hated The Lobster so much. I just did. I'm also still not sure why it's being so highly praised. Yes, the satire is effective: society does place pressure on people to find a partner, and yes, it's ridiculous because it's just an old-fashioned construct that serves society and not the individual. Sure, that sucks, but those conventions are changing, and The Lobster just seemed to make single people feel shitty about being single. Because, in the end, it gives in to the very thing it critiques. Plus, it's entirely heteronormative and racially exclusive and the comedy was redundant. And then the forest of 'loners' (a bunch of runaway singles) is depressing and violent. I can't tell which way this movie is swinging. You can't satirize both sides of the coin and expect to be coherent. So. Like. Just. What? 

Aside from a few engaging scenes, and some great acting, I don't have much more to say about this one. Those two things alone don't save this movie for me. But if you're married and want to question your relationship, check this out! And if you're single and want to question your independence, check this out! If you can stand Colin Farrell's idiot face onscreen for more than 20 seconds (unlike me) then check this out! He's in every damn scene. I'm sorry I hated this so much. 


Jacob Tremblay (Jack) and Brie Larson (Ma) in Room
  • Jacob Tremblay (Jack) and Brie Larson (Ma) in Room

On Sunday, Lenny Abrahamson's Room won the People's Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival, an honour, and an omen of this film's potential. It screened that evening at the AFF; Halifax was the film's second audience ever. I'm going to keep this review short so that I don't blow anything for you. I think this film — based on the novel by Irish-Canadian Emma Donoghue — works better if you know nothing about it, so I'll just say this: go see it (limited release October 6; nationwide November 6). Very few films treat this subject matter with such sensitivity and compassion. Very few films can portray trauma beyond the characters; in Room, trauma is woven into the structure and pace of the film itself. It's an exquisite portrait of pain, perspective, love and healing. Exceptional performances all around. This one's a winner. 

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Monday, September 21, 2015

AFF Review: Sloan at The Marquee

Halifax homedogs celebrated with free donairs, the Marquee and the moon

Posted By on Mon, Sep 21, 2015 at 3:22 PM

 
Sloan's 2014 release Commonwealth - SLOAN
  • Sloan's 2014 release Commonwealth
  • Sloan

On Saturday night, Toronto-Halifax's Sloan returned home to celebrate the 35th Atlantic Film Festival at a pass-holders special event at The Marquee Ballroom. There were also performances by The Brood, Rose Cousins and Buck 65 but I only made it for my Sloan dogs. 

Just after midnight, Sloan appeared and jumped right into "If It Feels Good Do It." I suspect they played the hit from 2001's Pretty Together because it was featured on the soundtrack of How to Plan an Orgy in a Small Town, which premiered at the AFF earlier that day. They dig movies. Like, *Sloan-nerd alert* Sloan's "Everything You've Done Wrong" was featured in The Virgin Suicides and "Money City Maniacs" was on the Goon soundtrack. So that was cool. 

The whole set was a mixed bag, with cuts from Commonwealth between the classics: "C'Mon C'Mon" (Navy Blues) into "Carried Away" (Commonwealth) then back into the oldies, "Good in Everyone," "Snowsuit Sound," "The Other Man," which I sang pretty loud. Patrick Pentland seemed kinda stiff. Chris Murphy gave out high-fives and was kinda goofy. Jay Ferguson seemed very chill. Sometimes Andrew Scott, probably one of the best Canadian drummers, just becomes the drum kit. They jammed another Commonwealth track ("Keep Swinging") before "Who Taught You to Live Like That?" (Never Hear the End of It), which gave way to the night's most impressive song (and my new favourite from the album): Andrew Scott's "Forty-Eight Portraits."  

Last fall, Sloan released the double-LP, Commonwealth, and unlike any other release, the band made a distinction by grouping the songs by songwriter rather than mixing the tracks as usual. It was a significant stylistic change that demonstrates each member's individuality, with a pun, as well, on the band's financial and administrative policies — Commonwealth implies the band's practice of splitting everything four ways. It's probably one reason they've been able to continue working together for over 20 years. Because, and here's another *Sloan-nerd alert* moment — Sloan has always produced hits, but not everyone is writing them. And by hits, I mean radio hits; some of the most cherished Sloan songs never hit the airwaves. But airwaves = money and so the idea of 'commonwealth' works to reduce an egoistic tension in the band, and anyway, everyone is playing those songs together. But it's always been said that some Sloan songs have incredible merit and yet rarely achieve 'hit' status or whatever. I think "Forty-Eight Portraits" is one of them. 


A few years ago, I interviewed Andrew for a music magazine. When he's not drumming in Sloan, he's painting in his west-end Toronto studio garage. He's an incredible visual artist, and back when he was a student at NSCAD, his grad show "48 Portraits" at the Anna Leonowens Gallery featured the installation of 48 Richter-esque dog portraits, all of which blended photorealism and monochromism that are still features of his work. In our interview, Andrew went into great detail about his creative process, about his time at NSCAD, about the influence of Richter's own "48 Portraits" and how all of his artistic practices have the same motivations. 

Is it a coincidence that I got Andrew talking about his art and then a little while later, he named his epic 17-minute song on Commonwealth "Forty-Eight Portraits," as well? Maybe but I don't actually know. The timing works out, and that'd be pretty cool. But either way, *Sloan-nerd alert*

Mostly, "Forty-Eight Portraits" is a killer track and I'm glad they played (most of it) live. It starts off with a dog barking, presumably Andrew's own dog, with some noise interludes and odd piano scales, which appear all over Sloan's catalogue. Then it veers into that particular Andrew quality, which is always retained in his songwriting. Andrew's songs are always the darkest, the most experimental and the least "Sloan," even though this one has some pop-melody moments, as well, but more classic pop like ELO or the last bars of "I Want You," and then a choral ending. "There's a tunnel I can't see through," he sings. What a fucking sick and multifaceted track. It was great. 

They switched it all back up and hammered out "Losing California," "The Rest of My Life," "The Lines You Amend," "Penpals," and then "Money City Maniacs," before a "Coax Me" encore. Every time I see Sloan I feel a little bit older, maybe because they look a little bit older, and we're all getting old here, but it doesn't seem to matter how many times I hear some of these songs, I still get flashbacks of moments in my life to which these songs belong. Seems appropriate that Sloan songs are on movie soundtracks when so many of the albums are life soundtracks. 
 
At the end, I realized that the hundreds of free donairs weren't being eaten so I took home as many donairs as I could carry, which means there were about 30 donairs in my fridge all weekend and I've eaten so much fucking donair, I never want to see one again. But this donair jackpot led to some great puns made by me, including: Slonair, Twice Donaired, Donair Blues, Donair Pact, 4 Nights at the Donair Royale, and many, many more. Hopefully we get to see Sloan again soon. 

The Lines You Donair
  • The Lines You Donair

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AFF Reviews: Bound, Undone, The Stanford Prison Experiment

Some film festival thrillers from the weekend that explore human psychology

Posted By on Mon, Sep 21, 2015 at 1:26 PM

The Apple (1980), I don't even know
  • The Apple (1980), I don't even know

This weekend, several selections at the 35th Atlantic Film Festival explored human psychology through various narrative styles. On Friday, I rolled into the Lord Nelson Hotel at 1:30am to catch 1980 sci-fi musical, The Apple, which was one of the best worst movies I've ever seen, a terribly awesome, tacky romp through the exploitative music industry, set in the futuristic year of 1994. I honestly don't even know what the hell I watched but I wish I had done LSD. 

On Saturday, I made it to the Reel East Showcase 2 at 12:30pm to see some incredible Atlantic shorts and animations. This particular showcase emphasized the skill, talent and resourcefulness of local filmmakers. Highlights included Seth Smith's Wind Through a Tree, which peered into vignettes of human experience from birth to the end of life. Equally comedic and dark, the experimental short had earnest moments of reflection on life's purpose. NSCAD film student, Raghed Charabaty, blew the audience away with Alia, a visually stunning portrait of the Lebanese Civil War (it also won the Starfish Student Art Award in May).  

FILM5 production, Bound, by Daniel Boos
  • FILM5 production, Bound, by Daniel Boos

The most powerful short of the bunch, however, was Daniel Boos' Bound, a FILM5 production that focused on the exploitation of migrant and foreign labour workers. Drawn from a true Irish story, Boos created a short film packed with as much tension as humanity, which was rendered through the visible emotions of the film's characters. It was poignant, important and yet tender. Boos, a 2010 youth festival winner at Cannes, displayed incredible directorial maturity. 

In the evening, Toronto's Director X looked fly as hell for the premiere of Undone, a story of a young Cole Harbour hockey player (Stephan James) whose social circumstances threaten his dreams. Written and produced by Floyd Kane (This Hour Has 22 Minutes, Salter Street Films), and shot in Dartmouth, the story uses 1989 high school race riots and social inequity to show how little things have changed in present-day Nova Scotia. Has anything changed? 

Undone, starring Stephan James (Degrassi, Selma)
  • Undone, starring Stephan James (Degrassi, Selma)

Nope. People are still fucking racist. Women are still being trafficked in the underground sex industry. Young adults with diverse backgrounds still face fewer opportunities and much larger obstacles. This was Director X's first feature, and that actually did show. His notable and impressive work with artists like Kendrick Lamar and Kanye West didn't necessarily translate to a longer narrative. The cinematography was sleek, the soundtrack was effective, the acting was especially promising, but the overall vibe was more Degrassi High than Hype Willams. Such important and relevant subject matter could have been handled with more severity. I was expecting something like Belly, I guess. Still, this movie is a huge accomplishment in many ways — as a film that gives voice to the African Nova Scotian experience, to North Preston, to the very real and very present realities of systematic oppression in this province. There need to be 200 more films like this one. Yesterday, Undone was named the Best Atlantic Feature of this festival.

Damn. Right. 

As AFF Program Director Jason Beaudry said, The Stanford Prison Experiment is "one of those smaller Hollywood films that slips through the cracks and ends up here." Starring Billy Crudup, who has the chops to be a bigger star than he is, and a roster of hot young male actors (exclusively), the film recreates the infamous Stanford Prison Experiment that took place at the Californian university in 1971. And when I say 'recreated,' I mean recreated exactly. Everything — the size and design of the simulated prison, the character costumes and appearances, the actual audio footage — was drawn from the archives of the disastrous but insightful psychological trial. The intention of Professor Zimbardo (Crudup) was to show that institutions create situations for violence and abuses of power. It's not that there's one bad apple; the barrel itself is bad. 

The Stanford Prison Experiment
  • The Stanford Prison Experiment

What started as a routine experiment quickly degraded into the worst examples of human behaviour just because it was sanctioned by the "institution." The trial was meant to last 2 weeks; after only 6 days, the experiment was terminated. It's a revealing look at how easy anyone can fall into the role of oppressed and oppressor. It's as simple as the flip of a coin. The performances in this film were superbly convincing. The overwrought scenes were actually an asset and this film might be one of the most accurate portrayals of a historical event. Because the real-life drama was so intense, no additional drama was necessary. Definitely worth watching!


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Friday, September 18, 2015

AFF Review: Hyena Road

The second Canadian war film by Paul Gross is better in fact than fiction

Posted By on Fri, Sep 18, 2015 at 12:24 PM

Rossif Sutherland and Paul Gross star in Hyena Road
  • Rossif Sutherland and Paul Gross star in Hyena Road

This week, Paul Gross (Due South, Passchendaele) premiered Hyena Road, the first Canadian contemporary war film, which he wrote and directed, at TIFF and last night at the Atlantic Film Festival. The Afghanistan-based, Jordan-shot film also stars Allan Hawco (The Republic of Doyle) and Rossif Sutherland (son of Donald Sutherland). And, just like the film, I'm conflicted. It feels like there are at least two elements that are at odds: its social value and its theatrical value. 

Under social value, there's a lot to be said about Hyena Road's cultural relevance. Is it a coincidence that this opens just before a federal election? I wasn't sure if I wanted to attend AFF's red carpet opening at the Rebecca Cohn until I watched a clip of Donald Sutherland at TIFF. He was asked who he supports in federal politics. Without a pause, he answered "Tom Mulclair," noting his familial connection to social democrat, Tommy Douglas. He said we are destroying ourselves and ended with "Go see Hyena Road." This makes more sense since I learned his son is in it, but at the time, I thought, well shit, if Don-Don is down, I should go. 

So I went. And after about 30 minutes of speeches by directors and sponsors, Gross introduced Hyena Road. He explained that he visited Afghanistan in 2010 and 2011 and "cobbled together" stories from soldiers there: "I saw a glimpse into this extraordinarily complex world we've asked our soldiers to operate in, a world with no fixed moral compass. The burden upon our men and women in uniform is absolutely enormous. And I have largely been ignorant of that burden and I don't think I was alone. Large swaths of our country have no idea what we've asked of our soldiers ... And I felt deeply ashamed. We should at least know what it is we're asking them to do." 

And so, as the first Canadian-made film about a contemporary war conflict, Gross delivered. As some form of historical record, Hyena Road was enthralling. In the last decade of war, despite American portrayals and occasional stories on CNN, I've never really considered the context or impact of the war in Afghanistan. I'd never thought about the landscape, the horrors of Kandahar, the class structures, the Taliban, the people whose lives are lost — Canadian and otherwise — the bodies flown home to families. I am, like so many North Americans, almost entirely removed from war. Almost entirely. For this reason, for lack of a better word, I was engrossed. 

Our country is preparing to elect new leadership and Hyena Road has some utility in reminding us to ask ourselves who we are as Canadians, and who we want to be as Canadians. Scenes in this film question or challenge our accepted moral and ethical practices. There were moments in this film where I felt ashamed like Gross — not because I had been ignorant of military duty, but because I can't reconcile our attempt to impose freedom on another country when freedom in this country, Canada, is on such flexible terms: What is 'freedom'? What is Bill C-51?  

As a tool to think critically about international conflict, and to see Canadian soldiers in a context for which many ordinary Canadians have no context, Hyena Road sympathizes with and honours our soldiers. But it also seems to question why we fought this war in the first place. How much is one soldier worth? How big is the impact of military service? The film accomplishes this, at least. 

But then there's Hyena Road's theatrical value — its execution from plot and character development to technique and cinematography. Early on, we are introduced to a roster of stock military characters, some of whom are accurate portrayals of people I've known in the service, complete with maple leaf tattoos and Newfoundland accents. But on a base with an estimated 60,000 people, Hyena Road lets us know only a handful, of whom only two were women (and superficial renderings to boot). Still, we are given reasons to like these characters. As much as they were token portrayals (the beefy Black guy, the horny female communications officer, the hunky sniper), we recognize these people. And while the film didn't take much time to explore their depth beyond what was useful to the storyline, and while some moments felt like they came out of the Criminal Minds writing room, it was all very human. And that's why I cried at the end. As Gross said, these soldiers are "our neighbours, our relatives, our friends and our fellow citizens."

In terms of the intricacies and motivations, Hyena Road relied too much on a flimsy intelligence operation between Afghanis and the Taliban that highlighted the obligation of Canadian intervention within it. At times, Hyena Road exoticized the Middle East by attributing magical powers to Taliban dissenters while it villainized the "Tally" through markers of wealth. Whatever reflection this has in reality was exaggerated. In short, this is a weak Hollywood plot with a strong background. Like any good war movie, however, there were some gruesome scenes that I did appreciate. After Gross told the audience how much he loved Hobo with a Shotgun, his interest in the accurate portrayal of violence gave some power to these scenes. It gave cause for PTSD, for high rates of suicide among retired soldiers and the overall trauma of military service. Unlike horror films, in which we enter a fantasy to escape, the horrors of Hyena Road are powerful because they are — indeed — real. Where the film lacks in fiction, it makes up in fact. 

Hyena Road is worth a view. It opens in Canadian theatres on October 9. 

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Retro vibes: the 2015 Atlantic Film Fest full program announced

A solid lineup of documentaries, bio pics and intense thrillers, plus Sloan is coming!

Posted By on Fri, Sep 18, 2015 at 1:25 AM

aff2015_digitalscreen_1.jpg

The 35th Atlantic Film Festival announced the full program this morning at The Lord Nelson Hotel. There was cake, popcorn and coffee and I also met my childhood hero, CTV's Liz Rigney. Along with the earlier-announced Atlantic Canadian selections, AFF 2015 offers an exciting lineup of award-winning domestic and international features and shorts hitting Halifax theatres from September 17 to September 24.  Here are a few of my must-see picks (I'm really into the retro throwbacks about singers and the world wars) plus a few highlights from the full program. Tickets are available online. The in-person box office opens September 11. 

Tom Hiddleston as tragic country legend Hank Williams
  • Tom Hiddleston as tragic country legend Hank Williams

My most anticipated film of 2015: I Saw The Light: The Hank Williams Story. Directed, written and produced by Mark Abraham, the film stars Tom Hiddleston as one of the greatest and most tragic country singers of all time. There's no trailer yet. My bucket's got a hole in it. 

Mavis! - Documentary Trailer from Film First on Vimeo.


Mavis! is a doc tribute to R&B/gospel singer and civil rights activist, Mavis Staples. With her Chicago-bred Soul Train family-band, The Staple Sisters, and as a commanding solo performer, Mavis' messages of peace and equality in the 1960s still need to be heard and heeded today. 



The Stanford Prison Experiment is a dramatic thriller based on professor Philip Zimbardo's fucked up psychological trials at Stanford University in 1971. The retro aesthetic looks cool as heck and the film's casting of almost-only hot dudes is turning me on. Analyze that, baby. 


*Oscar Alert* One of two Nazi-themed films, Labyrinth of Lies (German: Im Labyrinth des Schweigens) is set in 1960s Germany as the country attempts to forget the horrors of Auschwitz. A portrait of a nation ravaged by murder and shame; a man who wants justice. 


*Oscar Alert* Another Nazi one with a stellar Christopher Plummer performance, the Atom Egoyan-directed Canadian drama Remember is another story of memory and revenge after WWII. A portrait of a nation ravaged by murder and shame; a man who wants justice. 


Oscar-nominated director Deepa Mehta will be in attendance for the Closing Night feature, Beeba Boys, the untold story of Vancouver's Sikh drugs and arms traffickers. A first look at the true-crime world of Canadian-East Indian gangsters, Beeba Boys is an emblem of Mehta's bold filmmaking: "Mix bhangra beats, AK-47s, bespoke suits and cocaine and you get Beeba Boys.

In the heart-warmer category, comedy-great Lily Tomlin stars in Grandma, a hip and indie-looking reverse-Juno (knocked-up teen learns the meaning of life or whatever) and tear-jerker Brooklyn, a 1950s romantic-drama by love-sap writer Nick Hornby. It looks really pretty but it feels like an off-brand Titantic draft written by a male film student. Basically, if I'm getting my period that week, I'm into these, but I'm way more excited for twisted Nazi movies and Josua Oppenheimer's documentary, The Look of Silence. 


A companion film to the Danish director's 2012 The Act of Killing, with exec production by masters of doc-cinema Werner Herzog and Errol Morris, The Look of Silence focuses on an optician confronting his family's murderers in the Indonesian genocide of 1965-66. 

These are only a few of the amazing films at AFF 2015, so check out the full program now! As a very special bonus, AFF presents Festival Music House Atlantic on September 19 at The Marquee Ballroom, featuring performances by The Brood, Rose Cousins, Buck 65 and the best band in the whole damn world, Sloan. Yes, that's right. OUR BOYS ARE BACK.

It's going to be a great 2015 Atlantic Film Festival! Stay tuned. 


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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Adria’s Top 5 Atlantic Film Fest 2014 Screenings

And yours?

Posted By on Wed, Sep 17, 2014 at 2:48 PM

Wrestle fans will love Glen Matthews' Saving Face
  • Wrestle fans will love Glen Matthews' Saving Face



I hit the movie theatre hard this week and never want to see a bag of popcorn ever again. But I did experience some impressive and incredible locally produced and international films. Also, do not miss David Cronenberg’s critically acclaimed Maps to the Stars on Thursday night. Here are my top 5 so far:



Howard & Jean (Dir. Heather Young, 6 minutes)

There is a true simplicity and an easy but frightening silence in Dartmouth director Heather Young’s self-produced short, Howard & Jean. Young’s execution of cinematic pathos is marvelous for a six-minute two-character film, accomplished by the intimate lingering shots and the honesty of the situation. It made me cry. Sometimes the only thing you have is a little dog and everything that little dog has is you.



Relative Happiness (Dir. Deanne Foley, 94 minutes)

Based on a novel by Lesley Crewe, Relative Happiness is a dramatic rom-com filmed in Hubbards, Nova Scotia, made by the strength of performances by the supporting female cast. Denying a flat Hollywood portrayal of womanhood, Foley presented all the ways in which women experience shame: the layers of infidelity, the struggle for confidence, the assertion of sexuality. Women do and say and rationalize just about anything to avoid judgement, but the film’s message was that we have absolutely nothing to fear. 



Saving Face (Dir. Glen Matthews, 16 minutes)

Give me that fucking wrestle movie or give me death. Local actor and director Glen Matthews presents the dramatic myth of pro wrestling and the dynamic of good and evil in the tag-team of Red and Blue. The binary is paralleled by crisp shots and clean lines. The most compelling element was the portrayal of wrestling’s deeper psychology: it’s still real to me, dammit. Saving Face is the ultimate wrestle fantasy. 
 


Rainbow Valley (Dirs. Patrick Callbeck & Alexis Bulman, 42 minutes)

Part regional doc, part childhood memory, Rainbow Valley introduces the staff and visitors of PEI’s now-closed private theme park. The storytelling style is matter-of-fact, through interviews and home-videos from families as far as Massachusetts. The park itself was the glorious result of ingenuity, creativity and entrepreneurship that touched generations of tourists and locals; the film is very much the same. 



It Follows (Dir. David Robert Mitchell, 97 minutes)

Vintage horror movies are often minimalist, which intensifies the threat since real danger is possible. While there are paranormal features of It Follows, as a meditative metaphor on sex and technology, the decayed Detroit setting and very disturbing graphic imagery took this film to an extremely unsettling level. The score by Disasterpiece summoned Carpenter’s teen slashers and I had to get a cab home.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

AFF review: Santa Quest

A crude but entertaining look at Santa

Posted By on Tue, Sep 16, 2014 at 2:22 PM

screen_shot_2014-09-16_at_2.20.15_pm.png

John Dunsworth walked into a crowded Park Lane theatre on Saturday afternoon and sat down next to old friend, filmmaker Neal Livingston. Dunsworth chatted with his friend until it was time to stand and address the crowd.

Director PJ Naworynski and producer Edward Peill stood beside the Trailer Park Boys alumnus but it was obvious that no one was there to hear their introductions—the audience hung off Dunsworth's every word.

“I haven't seen the film yet and I'm pretty nervous about it,” said Dunsworth.

Dunsworth is a consummate entertainer. No matter how provocative or crude his comedy, Dunsworth is always engaging and endearing. He is intelligent, genuine and unremittingly energetic. Dunsworth's Santa takes after the man himself—he is totally subversive and totally charming.

Santa John is a horny, boozy, foul-mouthed, aviator-sunglasses-wearing, self-flagellating denigration of the traditional Santa Claus. This hilarious revision of the sanitized saint follows the footsteps of Billy Bob Thorton and expands the trope. The audience is introduced to the wayward Santa as he clings to a one-horned mechanical bull with a temporary red nose. The brutal antagonist bucks back and forth, up and down, unsympathetically testing the limits of the saint impersonator. It's Bad Santa meets Jackass.

Santa Quest manages to explore the true meaning of Santa Claus without shying away from Dunsworth's personal life or pervy old man persona.

The documentary follows Dunsworth around Halifax and around the world as he trains to be the best Santa Claus he can be, learns about the history of the beloved holiday saint, and goes for gold at the Santa Winter Games in Sweden. Dunsworth finds himself up against some stiff competition with delegates from countries like Brazil, Japan, Hong Kong and France in five heart-pounding competitions like porridge eating and present stacking. Although Dunsworth has moments of discontent and seeming regret, he never gives up on exploring the concept of Santa Claus or on giving to those around him.

In the end what the audience learns, or at least what this audience member learned, was that giving can take many forms. Giving can mean working at a soup kitchen or it can mean making people laugh. An idealized and sanitized Santa isn't necessarily the best version. Sometimes Santa says “I believe” and sometimes he says “I'm freezing my balls off!”

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Thursday, September 11, 2014

Ten films to catch at the Atlantic Film Festival

Or, you know, watch whatever you like.

Posted By on Thu, Sep 11, 2014 at 4:03 PM

Jackie Torrens' Edge of East is a look at Atlantic Canada's most interesting subcultures
  • Jackie Torrens' Edge of East is a look at Atlantic Canada's most interesting subcultures

With more than 150 films, the Atlantic Film Festival brings local talent, Oscar contenders and international flair to Halifax. Choosing what to watch is not an easy task. Here’s a top 10 list on what to check out.

Heartbeat
Halifax filmmaking takes centre stage in the drama Heartbeat. Set in the Halifax North End, poet/songwriter Tanya Davis plays Justine, a musician who can’t overcome stage fright or stop sleeping with her ex-boyfriend. A series of events lead Davis to turn back to music. Directed by Andrea Dorfman, the film is a follow up to the successful Dorfman/Davis collaboration, How to Be Alone, the 2010 short film viewed more than 6 million times on YouTube.
Friday, Sept. 12 at 7 p.m. Running time is 96 minutes.

Nightcrawler
Perhaps one of the most buzz worthy films at the festival, Nightcrawler is an intense crime thriller about the dangers of going too far for success. Anchored by a commanding performance from Jake Gyllenhaal, the film follows Lou Bloom, an overly ambitious freelance journalist building his career through broadcast crime reporting. Rene Russo plays a veteran journalist helping Bloom along in his dark, twisted journey.
Friday, Sept. 12 at 9:45 p.m. Running time is 117 minutes.

State of Mine
Photographer Chris Geworsky goes deep into the mind of musicians in the documentary State of Mine. The film follows 7 musicians as Geworsky and director Jennifer Hogg attempt to record the intimate connection between artists and their music. The result is a glimpse into the personal experience of performance. After the film, audiences will get to see the artists up close at through a photography exhibition at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design.
Saturday, Sept. 13 at 12 p.m. Running time is 45 minutes.

Relative Happiness
Lesley Crewe’s novel comes to life in the film Relative Happiness. The movie follows the adventures of Lexie Ivy, a young woman running a bed and breakfast in the south shore of Nova Scotia and preparing for her sister’s wedding. Crewe, a Nova Scotia native, keeps the story moving along nicely in this romantic comedy with lots of betrayal, love and a mysterious stranger in town.
Saturday, Sept. 13 at 7 p.m. Running time is 94 minutes.

Edge of East
Take a glimpse into the fringe communities of Nova Scotia in Edge of East, a tale of three different and interesting subcultures in the province. The documentary covers the UFO believers of Shag Harbour; the steampunks, a group of science fiction aficionados of steam power technology; and the Cowboy Yodelers of Kings County.
Sunday, Sept. 14 at 2 p.m. Running time is 45 minutes.

Winter Sleep (Kis uykusu)
This Turkish film caused a ruckus at the Cannes Film Festival with its whopping running time of 196 minutes. Yet deep beneath its marathon run is a really good film. Winter Sleep is a tale about class divide between the rich and poor through the story of a mountain resort owner and the locals. Audiences at Cannes certainly enjoyed the film; it won the coveted Palme d’Or.
Monday, Sept. 15 at 3 p.m. Running time is 196 minutes.

This is Where I Leave You
The dark comedy lives on in This is Where I Leave You. Four adult siblings arrive home for their father’s funeral and try to cope living together for one week. The supporting cast is quite stellar with Jason Bateman (TV’s Arrested Development), Tiny Fey (TV’s 30 Rock), Jane Fonda and Rose Byrne (Bridesmaids).
Tuesday, Sept. 16 at 6:30 p.m. Running time is 103 minutes.

Foxcatcher
The sports film subgenre continues to grow with Foxcatcher, a film following the wrester Mark Schultz (played by the hunky Channing Tatum) in his training for the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Just as Moneyball took a unique angle at storytelling, Foxcatcher is a not a typical sports film. This early Oscar contender takes deep psychological turns and showcases the complexities of human relationships. Steve Carell steps out the comedic world to play John du Pont, the wealthy heir of the du Pont estate, to help Schultz train for the Olympics. Mark Ruffalo plays Schultz’s brother and Vanessa Redgrave is plays du Pont’s disapproving mother.
Tuesday, Sept. 16 at 7 p.m. Running time is 134 minutes.

Maps to the Stars
AFF closes the festival with a satirical look at Hollywood celebrity in the film Maps to the Stars. Director David Cronenberg is the king of morbid, fascinating characters. He’s perhaps best known for his films A History of Violence and Eastern Promises. Cronenberg casts his cynical view on fame through the eyes of the Weiss family. This film is stocked with an eclectic mix of characters played by Julianne Moore, Alice in Wonderland’s Mia Wasikowska, Robert Patterson, John Cusack and Carrie Fisher.
Thursday, Sept. 18 at 7 p.m. Running time is 111 minutes.

The Guest
Remember the sweet, dashing Matthew Crawley from Downton Abbey? Dan Stevens is no longer the proper English gentleman in The Guest. He plays David, the young soldier staying with the Peterson family after claiming to be a friend of their dead son. Slowly, who David is and what he’s capable of is revealed in this intense thriller.
Thursday, Sept. 18 at 11:45 p.m. Running time is 99 minutes.

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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

AFF review: Tracks

A breathtaking tale of courage

Posted By on Tue, Sep 24, 2013 at 4:13 PM

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Closing night at the AFF was filled with some of the best films of the festival including the epic adventure film Tracks. The movie tells the true-life story of Robyn Davidson’s 2700km solo journey in 1977 through the western Australian desert with her four camels and faithful dog Diggity. Her journey is mesmerizing and powerful. Mia Wasikowska, known for her work in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, is outstanding as Davidson.

The audience goes along with Wasikowska as she goes through the struggles, triumphs, sadness and frustration along the way. Davidson had to learn how to train camels and get financing for the journey. Her stubbornness to complete the track on her own is constantly tested with the presence of Rick Smolan (Adam Driver), a photographer from National Geographic, the publication which funded the project. The Aboriginals in the film, particularly the hilarious Mr. Eddie (Roly Mintuma), add a rich dimension and history to the scathing landscape. The gorgeous, breathtaking scenes of the harsh desert underscore the remarkable courage of Davidson to take this trip. Tracks is a rare film that speaks about a woman’s journey completed on her own terms. It is truly amazing.

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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

AFF review: Michael Kohlhaas

Mad about Mads

Posted By on Tue, Sep 17, 2013 at 11:05 AM

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The faithful AFF audience was in for a treat on Monday night with Michael Kohlhaas, an intensely moving film that shows the value of justice in society. Based on the novella by 16th century author Heinrich von Kleist, the film follows the improbable quest of horse breeder Michael Kohlhaas as he tries to get remuneration for his badly injured servant and two stolen horses. Set in the Middle Ages, the scenery and costumes are well done. Danish heartthrob Mads Mikkelsen as Michael Kohlhass is magnificent. Best known for his work in Casino Royale and as Hannibal Lecter in the American TV show Hannibal, Mikkelson is a classic character actor. His emotional range and commanding force on the screen is spot-on. Mikkelson’s on-screen daughter, Mélusine Mayance is equally strong.

The best supporting character of the film by far is the cinematography. The stillness in the fields, the snorting of the beautiful horses and the clanking of the metal swords gives the film richness and texture similar to the look and feel of Winter’s Bone. The slow, deliberate pace of the film allows the audience to fully appreciate the danger of Kohlhaas’ journey. Many of the violent scenes are done in almost absolute silence with blood and gore rarely seen. This makes the violence even more chilling and powerful. Michael Kohlhaas is not a typical big budget historical drama and it’s not meant to be. It is a quiet, powerful story about how much a person is willing to pay to find justice.

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Monday, September 16, 2013

AFF review: La Passé (The Past)

Satisfyingly uncomfortable

Posted By on Mon, Sep 16, 2013 at 5:06 PM

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There are several scenes in Asghar Farhadi’s spectacular La Passé (The Past) framed with characters talking behind glass. Though their body language is visible, the words can’t be heard. It’s a delicate symbol for how we view past events. We can see the details, the lips moving, but what’s actually said is left impenetrable. Farhadi follows up his phenomenal A Separation with this vexing look at relationships. The story follows Ahmad, who returns to France from Iran to finalize his divorce from Marie. While staying in his old house, with his kids and her new fiancé Samir, Ahmad’s presence begins to unclog the debilitating truths everyone’s unwilling to face. After an uncomfortable first hour of feigned politeness, the film spins around a series of harrowing arguments born out of an enigmatic trauma. A final, purposefully vague shot underscores the ambiguity lingering on everyone's mind while giving audiences something to argue about. Everyone always says they want to move on, but what came before will just sort of sit there, comatose—unresolvable and refusing to die.

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Friday, September 21, 2012

Congrats to the 32nd annual Atlantic Film Fest winners

Big money, no whammies

Posted By on Fri, Sep 21, 2012 at 11:24 AM

Lowlife
  • Lowlife

So ends another AFF, with a bunch of happy film fans and even happier filmmakers. Lowlife's win constituted a whopping two times their original budget and generous filmmakers Jason Buxton and Jeff Wheaton donated their prizes to Telefilm/Film Nova Scotia First Feature Project and the NSCAD Film Program, respectively. See how great the film business is?

Best Atlantic Feature
$8,000 in services, sponsored by The Postman
Winner: Blackbird - Jason Buxton
Honourable Mention: The Disappeared - Shandi Mitchell
***Buxton donated his award to the recipient of the Telefilm/Film Nova Scotia First Feature Project

Best Atlantic Short
$500 cash, $1,000 services, sponsored by 902 Post
Winner: Better People - Mark O'Brien

Best Atlantic Director
$10,000 in services, sponsored by Panavision Canada
Winner: Jason Buxton - Blackbird
***Buxton donated his award to the recipient of the Telefilm/Film Nova Scotia First Feature Project

Best Atlantic Emerging Director
$500 cash, sponsored by OUTeast Film Festival
Winner: Ashley McKenzie - When You Sleep

Best Atlantic Cinematographer
$5,000 in services, sponsored by SIM Digital
Winner: Jeff Wheaton - Gravity and Grace
***Wheaton donated his award to the NSCAD Film Program as a scholarship

Best Atlantic Original Score or Song
$5,000 services, sponsored by Hideout Studios
Winner: Claude Fournier - Last Chance

Best Atlantic Sound Design
$500 cash, sponsored by HHB Canada
Winner: Andrew MacCormack - Here and Away

Best Atlantic Screenwriter
$1,500 cash, sponsored by Michael Weir Foundation for the Arts
Winner: Jason Buxton - Blackbird

The First Feature Project
Production Financing of $105,000 towards a first feature length film, sponsored by Telefilm Canada & Film NS
Winner: Bunker 6 - Writer/Director: Greg Jackson, Producer: Rebecca Sharratt, Mentor: Bill Niven

Script Development Award
$10,000 in development financing from Astral, sponsored by Telefilm Canada & Astral Media The Harold Greenberg Fund
Winner: The Magic of Boxer Connor - Wanda Nolan

RBC 10 x 10 Emerging Artist Award
$10,000 to be split between filmmaker & artist, sponsored by RBC Foundation
Winner: Crows- Director: Scott Simpson, Band: The Divorcees

Audience Award for Best Feature
$10,000 in post production colour correction services, sponsored by Creative Post & Theatre D Digital
Winner: Lowlife

Audience Award for Best Documentary
$10,000 in post production audio services, sponsored by Creative Post & Theatre D Digital
Winner: Revolution

Audience Award for Best Short
$10,000 in post production audio/video services, sponsored by Creative Post & Theatre D Digital
Winner: Lucky

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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Charles Bradley: Soul of America

Posted By on Tue, Sep 18, 2012 at 5:23 PM

If you aren’t already madly in love with Charles Bradley (the man and the music), you will be after you see this brief, but insightful, doc. (For Bradley fans, this will make him seem even more endearing, if that’s possible.)

Director Poull Brien weaves Bradley’s story together very effectively, beginning with the lead-up to Bradley’s debut CD release (“No Time For Dreaming”) at age 62, and stepping back through his past, as a James Brown impersonator, and even further back to his troubled childhood. Bradley, who lives in the projects in Brooklyn, NY, spends most of his time caring for his mother. He’s stoic, accepting his status in life, but he’s clearly riddled with conflict.

Bradley is the anomaly, the underdog, who’s getting his big break when many people are thinking about retirement. It’s a feel-good story, but as his own life is indicates, anything can happen, be it good or bad. What makes Bradley such an immense person to listen to, both on and off stage, is his apparent inability to hate any being on the planet; he holds no resentment for his misfortunes, and is brimming over with love of the world upon his successes.

He’s so upfront about his life struggles, that it would be hard to make a bad documentary about him.

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Monday, September 17, 2012

Jack & Diane

Girl meets girl, rips her heart out

Posted By on Mon, Sep 17, 2012 at 5:40 PM

A little ditty, about Jack and Diane — two teenagers in New York who are also lesbians. Their blooming romance eclipses personality gulfs, but frightens Diane, who's also kind of a werewolf.

Mellencamp tributes aside, this off-kilter film is mostly comedy that seems to think it's heavy drama and sometimes falls into scenes of horror. In that respect, the movie's a perfect encapsulation of the awkward beauty and soul-crushing terror of first love.

Juno Temple and Riley Keough perform in a mumbly, airy haze that's full of hyperbole and selfishness. Which is largely irritating until you remember that's basically how teenagers are.

An atmospheric soundtrack and some typically gorgeous animation by the Brother Quay add to the film's dreaminess, while Kylie Minogue shows up for some reason as a tattoo artist.

Aside from a tremendously out-of-place rape scene, Jack & Diane skates admirably along as a silly, emotional romp through teenage romance. A trip that doesn't shy away from showing love as the bone-wrenching, blood sucking monster it can be.

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Replicas

Domestic Showdown Meets Social Anxiety

Posted By on Mon, Sep 17, 2012 at 1:14 PM

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This isn’t the kind of thriller that gets you all settled in a nice, familiar atmosphere before pulling out the carpet. Canadian feature Replicas (titled Into Their Skin in the version that screened at the AFF) is very, very strange from the get-go.

Grieving after the accidental death of their daughter, Mary (Selma Blair) and Mark (Joshua Close, who also wrote the script) decide to escape with their son to a remote family cottage. Once there, they encounter their neighbours, the Sakowskis, whose admiration of Mary and Mark’s “perfect family” turns violent.

At first, it’s hard to locate the tone first-time director Jeremy Regimbal is trying to establish, because all of the character’s interactions feel weird. Paired with the colour-drained appearance of the film, which lends a monochromatic bleakness to the picturesque woods and posh cottage, it seems the stilted conversations just play into Regimbal's desired atmosphere, favouring a sustained, drawn-out tension over sudden scares.

There’s never any illusion that the Zukowskis are just being neighbourly; all three of them seem utterly bananas from the moment they start forcing bowls of salad on the newcomers. The initial socializing between the two families is a little creepy but a lot awkward: there are many long silences, inappropriate questions, and puzzling comments. Expect to squirm in the dinner scenes, not from fear, but out of desperation for someone to just please make some small talk. This state of discomfort, though, creates suspense in itself: we know the plot is going to topple over into menace at some point, but we’re not sure when or how.

When the inevitable does hit the fan, James D’Arcy and Rachel Miner are very good, milking their roles as the Sakowski couple and clearly relishing some of their more demented lines. Ultimately, Replicas is absorbing in its commitment to oddness from start to finish.

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